Dame Jenni Murray, the longtime presenter of Woman's Hour, is facing criticism today after writing a potentially very damaging newspaper article in which she argues that trans women are not "real women."
Murray begins her op-ed for The Sunday Times, Be trans, be proud — but don’t call yourself a "real woman", by insisting she is not "transphobic or anti-trans." She also distances herself from Germaine Greer and Julie Burchill, two high-profile feminists who have made discriminatory and incredibly offensive comments about trans women in the past.
She then writes: "I know that in writing this article I am entering into the most controversial and, at times, vicious, vulgar and threatening debate of our day."
Murray proceeds to criticise Carol Stone, a late trans woman and Church of England priest, and India Willoughby, the first trans woman to co-host Loose Women, for failing to meet her standards of feminist thinking when she entered into conversations with them.
"India held firmly to her belief that she was a ‘real woman’, ignoring the fact that she had spent all her life before her transition enjoying the privileged position in our society generally accorded to a man,” Murray writes."In a discussion about the Dorchester hotel’s demands that its female staff should always wear make-up, have a manicure and wear stockings over shaved legs, she was perfectly happy to go along with such requirements. There wasn't a hint of understanding that she was simply playing into the stereotype — a man's idea of what a woman should be."
Later, Murray tries to justify her argument by claiming that "there are some trans women who willingly accept they cannot describe themselves as women and who agree that sex and gender are not interchangeable."
Murray's article is rightly attracting criticism on Twitter from trans activists and allies who point out that her argument isn't just ignorant, but likely to foster transphobia. Murray, who has presented BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour since 1987, is a well-respected voice whose opinions will be listened to, at least, by people who may never have contemplated the idea of a so-called "real woman."
Rachel Cohen of LGBT rights charity Stonewall wrote in a response to Murray's article: "Trans women have every right to have their identity and experiences respected too. They are women – just like you and me - and their sense of their gender is as engrained in their identity as yours or mine."
Cohen adds: "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. Why must this be so ‘vicious, vulgar and threatening’? And why do we think we have the right to debate others’ identities? In a world of increased hostility, fuelling divisions doesn’t help anyone."
Juno Dawson, a young adult author and Stonewall youth role model, also expressed her disappointment with what Murray has written, tweeting: "'So utterly dejected to hear Jenni Murray's divisive, clickbaity views on trans women. Who is she to decide what a 'real woman' is?"