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In defence of Mumsnet

It should not be surprising that the site’s contributors are interested in trans and women’s rights
March 3, 2022

I remember interviewing the founder of Mumsnet, Justine Roberts, 22 years ago about what she hoped the new website would achieve. It was, she explained, a unique opportunity for mothers—often at home, caring for children, lonely and stressed—to find a place to talk to other women in a similar position about anything that concerned them.

Friendships would be formed, worries would be shared, politics discussed, information about the rights and restrictions around pregnancy and new motherhood examined. As a mother with teenage children, it sounded like a jolly good idea to me. I was at work every day with friends and colleagues in much the same circumstances as mine. I could talk about my worries with them, but I knew not all women had that. Sexual politics and culture were the subjects I addressed day after day on Woman’s Hour, and it was clear an online space for women to discuss these subjects could only be a good thing.

I did not expect such an innocent project to find itself accused of radicalisation over 20 years later but, in the current climate around transgender activism, that’s what happened. Mumsnet recently hosted an online Q&A with Labour MP Stella Creasy and Conservative MP and chair of the Women and Equalities Select Committee Caroline Nokes on their experience of combining their roles as mothers and politicians. It quickly became dominated by questions around the intersection between trans and women’s rights.

It should not be surprising that women contributing to a site called Mumsnet might be quite interested in the views of elected politicians about a campaign, led by the LGBTQI+ charity Stonewall, which has refused to accept that sex and gender are two completely different things, and incentivises organisations that are part of its Workplace Equality Index to erase some of the terms which mean most to women. “Mother,” they say, should be “person who has given birth.” The clue to the anger displayed by some contributors to the site is surely in the name. It’s Mumsnet, not Personsnet!

Questions to the two politicians included: “do you think the treatment of MPs like Rosie Duffield and Joanna Cherry, by their own parties, will put some women off standing for political office?” “What is a woman?” “How have you managed to deal with the personal comments about your appearance?” “Do you think that women-only shortlists should include trans women without a gender recognition certificate?” (that is, include someone whose biological and legal sex remains male).

I find nothing transphobic in these questions, only understandable curiosity about what has, for many women, become a frightening and upsetting period where the rights of trans women have appeared to supersede those of women who have been female from birth.

Why were women such as Duffield and Cherry not adequately supported by their parties when they suffered death threats for stating a simple biological fact—that gender can be changed, sex cannot? When women have struggled for so long to find their place in politics, is it not important to discover whether the chair of the Women and Equalities Select Committee believes “trans women are women,” as is so often claimed by trans rights organisations?

It’s politics, it’s important for women to know and there’s nothing new in women’s organisations coming together to discuss and learn about the political decisions that will have a profound influence on their lives. The Townswomen’s Guild, launched in 1929, soon after all women won the right to vote, and the Women’s Institute, from the late 19th century, existed to tackle subjects wider in scope than the domestic. It’s not just gardening and what kind of nappies to buy that has traditionally brought women together to seek a better understanding of the world in which they live.

It is infuriatingly misogynist to assume that women like those on Mumsnet are no longer concerned about rape, domestic violence or childcare and to allege that they have “become radicalised” in their seeming obsession with the impact of trans activism on women’s rights.

There’s nothing new in women’s organisations coming together to discuss politics

We have witnessed the cancellation of academics who have expressed their “gender critical” view that biological sex still matters. We have read about the damage done to teenagers like Keira Bell during her hormone-based treatment for gender dysphoria. Many of us have experienced gender-neutral toilets and hospital wards and felt uncomfortable. There are concerns about the admission of trans women to female prisons. Numerous feminists have faced trans activists being frighteningly threatening towards them. I saw a poster saying “suck my cock you cunt” at a conference last year.

Mumsnet’s moderators rightly ban aggressive threats and any posts that use the wrong pronouns for trans women. They also ban any reference to  the term “terf”—trans-exclusionary radical feminist—a word that has become associated with violent threats against women with gender critical views. I’ve been dubbed a “terf” for my concerns about women’s sex-based rights. I’ll go along with feminist—but trans-exclusionary? No. Radical? Never. Just a woman with a lifetime of fighting for my sex. I suspect those Mumsnet questioners are no more radicalised than I am. They’re just worried about their hard-won rights.