- Charlie Barnett
The issues behind Andy Wightman’s resignation are not new
Two weeks ago Andy Wightman, long-time serving MSP for the Scottish Green Party, handed in his resignation. The trigger for this, according to Wightman, was the party’s ‘intolerance’ and lack of ‘open-minded public engagement’ on trans issues. Namely, Wightman’s attempt to vote for an amendment to the Forensic Medical Services Bill, which would allow women who have been raped to request an examiner of a particular ‘sex’ rather than ‘gender’, was met with the threat of ‘disciplinary action…, deselection or expulsion’. For him, the actions of the Green Party represented a dangerous precedent.
The amendment’s proponents saw it as necessary to secure a woman’s right to choose who examines her. Its opponents, the majority of the Green Party included, saw it as a hostile attempt to allow women to discriminate against trans individuals. Both positions, however, are beside the point. There are not currently thought to be any trans individuals working as medical examiners in Scotland, meaning that this debate is essentially a symbolic one.
Wightman’s resignation is thus symptomatic of a broader political issue that has existed for decades. In every era, there is, and always has been, a deeply entrenched political divide attitudinally and generationally within feminism.
Earlier this year the UK Labour Party leadership contestants split over the signing of a pledge card that would expel ‘trans-exclusionist hate groups’. Its proponents: feminists Angela Rayner, Rebecca Long-Bailey and Dawn Butler, classed another feminist group ‘Women’s Place UK’ as one of these. Similarly, Germaine Greer, once considered the voice of 2nd wave feminism, is now constantly de-platformed and ridiculed by many contemporary feminists for her comments on rape and trans people.
These conflicts are often, but not always, fought on generational lines. Interestingly, Wightman (at 58) is almost twice the age of many of his Green Party colleagues; and Greer is in some cases four times the age of younger feminists.
Today, the feminists of past generations like to portray more modern feminists, who emphasise self-identification of gender and extending women’s rights to trans individuals, as a unique threat to women. ‘This is new’ they say. ‘Their positions will endanger the rights and safety of women everywhere’. The notion of seeing ones’ more liberal political counterparts as an unprecedented threat is by no means a new trend.
Take the feminist sex wars of the late 70s and early 80s. Perhaps the most contentious issue was the widespread availability of pornography in society. The feminist movement splintered between the anti-porn and ‘sex positive’ factions. The former, captured by Andrea Dworkin’s phrase, ‘I’m a radical feminist, but not the fun kind’, saw their rivals’ support of porn as particularly damaging to the plight of women everywhere. This group, they thought, would perpetuate patriarchal relations and sexual violence. So much so that they drafted a law, the Dworkin-MacKinnon Ordinance, which passed in several US cities. These laws proposed to treat all pornography as a violation of women’s civil rights.
A similar example of this was brilliantly depicted by the recent drama ‘Mrs America’. The story revolves around Phyllis Schlafly, a conservative, *debatably* feminist campaigner dubbed by the New York Times as ‘a different kind of feminist: the anti-kind’.
Schlafly fiercely debates left-leaning, feminist activists Betty Friedan and Brenda Feigen on the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). This was a law that would guarantee equal legal rights for all American citizens regardless of sex. Schlafly argued that the ERA would allow women to be drafted into the military putting them at risk and take away a mother’s right to full custody after a divorce.
Notably, the arguments deployed by Schlafly and anti-porn feminists against their opponents were very similar to the one’s used by the feminists of today against pro-trans groups. Namely, that these groups present a unique threat to the pre-established rights and safety of women.
Bringing this back to Wightman, the important point is that his resignation from the Greens is nothing new. The truth is that such conflicts not only pre-date the feminist movements of today, but arc back to similarly framed debates as early as the 1970s. The Scottish Green Party are simply indulging in the very tactics utilised by the feminists that preceded them.
The interesting thing will be to see what happens to other politicians like Wightman. There seem to be two options. Either they will be forcibly pushed out and replaced by a different ideology as Wightman was, or some compromise between the two sides will be reached. Much remains to be seen, but what we do know is that none of this is new or particularly unexpected.
Image: via PinkNews