Jenni Murray says transgender women are not “real women”

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Moya Crockett
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Dame Jenni Murray, the presenter of Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio 4, has been criticised for saying that transgender women cannot say that they are a “real woman”.

Writing in the Sunday Times Magazine, Murray says that she is “not transphobic or anti-trans”, nor a “Terf” [trans-exclusionary radical feminist]. She also calls for “transsexuals, transvestites, gays, lesbians and those of us who hold to the sex and sexual preference assumed at birth” to be respected and protected from abuse and bullying.

However, Murray also states that she does not believe that transgender women can understand the “gendered socialisation” faced by girls as they grow up.

“It takes more than a sex change and make-up” to “lay claim to womanhood”, she writes.

Describing meeting transgender TV presenter India Willoughby on ITV’s Loose Women, Murray says she experienced “fury that a male-to-female transsexual could be so ignorant of the politics that have preoccupied women for centuries”.

During a discussion about the Dorchester hotel’s sexist uniform requirements, which included stipulations that female staff always wore stockings over shaved legs, Murray says that Willoughby “held firmly to her belief that she was a real woman, ignoring the fact that she had spent all of her life before her transition enjoying the privileged position in our society generally accorded to a man”.

The 66-year-old broadcaster adds that Willoughby described hairy legs on a woman as “dirty”, and says: “Did she not know that the question of whether a woman should shave her legs or her armpits had been a topic of debate among women for an awfully long time? And that to describe a woman who chose not to shave as dirty was insulting and again suggested an ignorance of sexual politics?”

In her article, Murray also recounts the first time she “felt anger when a man claimed to have become a woman”: during a conversation in 2000 with the late Rev Carol Stone, the first serving Church of England priest to have a sex-change operation

Murray says Rev Stone told her that “her primary concerns… were finding the most suitable dress in which to meet her parishioners in her new persona and deciding if she should wear make-up or not”.

The first women priests were not ordained in the Church of England until 1994. Given that Stone’s “calling, as a man, had never been questioned”, Murray says she asked Stone what she believed “she owed those women who had struggled for so long to have their calling to the priesthood acted upon”.

“I had nothing but a blank look and more concerns about clothing,” she writes.

Many LGBTQ activists and advocates were swift to criticise Murray’s article. Rachel Cohen, campaigns directly of LBGTQ charity Stonewall, wrote in a blog post that Murray’s views were hurtful and that the Radio 4 presenter had no right to question another woman’s gender identity.

“Whether you are trans or not, your identity is yours alone. I do not question your identity, Jenni, and in return I wouldn’t expect you to question mine – or anyone else’s,” Cohen said.

She added: “Being trans is not about ‘sex changes’ and clothes – it’s about an innate sense of self. To imply anything other than this is reductive and hurtful to many trans people who are only trying to live life as their authentic selves.”

On Twitter, New Statesman deputy editor Helen Lewis questioned the validity of a definitive concept of “real” womanhood, writing: “I think the idea of a ‘real woman’ is a dead end. I’m sure some think I’m not a real woman as I’m childless.”

Lewis continued: “I think about changing gender like moving to another country: if you grew up in Spain and moved to the UK, you’ll have different experiences to someone who was born and raised in the UK. But if you wanted to settle here, you could become British. [Different] experience but no less valid.”

Images: Rex Features