That redoubtable Woman’s Hour warrior Dame Jenni Murray appeared at the Oxford Literary Festival this last Sunday, to talk about her book, ‘A History of Britain in 21 Women.’
I did not go along because I wanted to hear her views, I can do that most mornings on Radio 4. Neither do I intend to read her book. She described it at length and suffice it to say it contains the life of the cook and caterer Mary Seacole but not Florence Nightingale who invented nursing, challenged the War Office on humanitarian grounds and invented the use of statistics and the pie-chart.
Jenni told us most of her women had really good fathers. Florence had a Dad who taught her advanced maths, but that didn’t get her into the book. What she really liked was Boudicca, an Iron Age warrior chief who fought against the imperialist Romans, and whose daughters were RAPED. That is how she said it. That word now has almost sacred connotations for feminists.
She told us quite seriously, ‘If Boudicca had won, our sexual politics would have been so different, and we might have lived in a very different world.’
What did the Romans ever do for us? Quite a lot perhaps but sadly most of them seemed to be men. It was an hour long complaint about the male sex ‘ruling the roost,’ while women are shoved into ‘nurturing’ and forced into ‘making life comfortable for men.’
She even made a side swipe at James I who erected a large tomb for his headless mother Mary Queen of Scots, but not for Queens Mary and Elizabeth I. Jenni noted reprovingly that they’d had no children and he obviously didn’t realise that, ‘Producing children is not the only role for which we should be valued.’
After a litany of exciting historical ‘facts’ rather akin to the writings of Jean Plaidy, she told us that she would really have like to be a Suffragette ‘on active service.’ Like many on the Left she doesn’t seem to realise that the Suffragette movement was led by conservatives who wanted a vote for women on equal terms with men, only fifty eight percent of whom qualified to vote.
Perhaps Dame Jenni is feeling a bit punchy because after years of being on the right side of the right-on and pc, she has recently got into trouble and fallen foul of the latest permutation of identity politics.
Last month in an interview with the Sunday Times she said that men who undergo sex change operations cannot be ‘real women,’ arguing that many model themselves on a male view of what a woman should be. She added that men who had grown up with all the privileges that maleness entails did not have the shared experience of growing up female.’
She also had previous form. In 2000 she said she felt anger when the Rev Peter Stone underwent transition surgery and became Carol. She said his priorities as a ‘woman’ were not those of feminist women.
In March the transgendered community called for her to be sacked by the BBC which issued her with a warning about her impartiality. Transgender presenter India Willoughby, labelled her a ‘dinosaur’ who had misused her position for by ‘spouting bile.’
For awhile her job at the helm of Woman’s Hours seemed to be in danger. She is still in the sights of one of the most noisy identity groups now trying to control university politics. At the start of her talk on Sunday, while she sat at a table looking resplendent in her half-moon specs, assisted by gruff voiced Suzi Feay from the FT, a banner reading, ‘Transwomen are real women’ was let down by members of the Oxford University LGBTO+Society, OUSU LGBTQ+ Campaign.
No idea what it meant. But as I watched they were quietly asked to refurl it. They did so, looked peeved and left, regrouping outside.
They had tried to stop her appearing at all. The LGBTO etc and the Oxford University Student Union called for her to be refused permission to speak at the festival because of her ‘transphobic’ comments.
She said the move to ‘no platform’ her was ‘sad and frightening.’ She was right about that. Stepping out into the sunshine I saw a group of seriously ugly people, mostly girls I think, at least more girl than boy, and mostly American gathered around the exit holding up banners and looking resentful.
I say ugly with care, they were what might be called disadvantaged in the looks department, and through some kind of rebellious nihilism had emphasised that with Goth make-up, studs, ill fitting black clothing and matted hair.
An obese Japanese looking person with an American voice issuing from dark blue lips, handed me a paper declaring, ‘We the undersigned, are deeply disappointed at Oxford Literary Festival’s decision to host Jenni Murray to speak, and call for action to publicly condemn, if not entirely remove, her.’
Their paper contained an idea antithetical to democracy, but they just didn’t see that. In paragraph four they countered any of that democratic nonsense: ‘To pre-empt any responses which privilege Murray’s right to free speech, we would like to make clear that the right to free speech does not translate into the right to be given an uncontested platform at a high profile event where many people will be paying undivided attention to the speaker.’
Their attitude to audiences was touchingly naive. They objected to her being paid for her ‘transphobia.’ Their sheet said, ‘Paying her a fee is to both endorse and reward her transphobic view. Transmisogyny will be propagated, validated, and above all normalised.’
They seemed full of fear. Apparently they already live in a world where transgendered folk are cruelly crushed and beaten down, by whom I’m not sure, and picture a future where they will be exterminated, at best. In order to physically survive in this ruthless, fascist state they demand silence from any but their full supporters.
I felt angry with the Japanese person about the obvious denial of free speech. ‘You are not justified in hurting us,’ he, or she whined. Really irritated I suggested he or she should go and live in a country where free speech is not respected, there are plenty around. The Committee to Protect Journalists, founded in New York in 1981, estimates that only ten countries in the world currently have a free press.
As I spoke I could tell that what I’d said was fighting talk, smacking of ‘shove off back to your own country’ bordering dangerously on the great heresy of racism. He gestured with his/her shaved head for help. A small barrel shaped girl with a face like a mashed up custard tart came up.
‘People are not entitled to get on a platform and use words which will hurt and endanger our community,’ she said, again with an American accent.
‘How are you hurt and endangered by words?’ I wanted to know. ‘Words and writing cannot hurt you.’
‘I am a qualified social scientist’ she said with the pomposity of someone twice her age. You do not have the expertise to speak on this subject.’
So there was me silenced. I was not an expert on injury and offence taken in the transgendered community. No doubt there is a course on it if not at Oxford itself, at nearby Oxford Brookes University. I looked on line and found that sure enough they are working with the Brookes LGBT+ Forum and Brookes Union to develop ‘guidance and resources to assist line managers, colleagues and fellow students in supporting trans* staff and students.’
They are also trying to adjust the language of their staff and students to keep up with inclusive terms which, ‘describe all those whose gender expression falls outside the typical gender norms, including those who live continuously outside gender norms, sometimes with and sometimes without medical intervention drawn from GIRES (Gender Identity Research and Education Society) definition. This includes all those whose gender identity or gender expression differs from the sex assigned to them at birth and those who identify as non-binary, non-gendered, gender-variant, intersex or gender-fluid.’
I didn’t ask where the demonstrators came from, could have been either place or any university in the UK where transgenderism is now a major fad, but they were obviously educated and articulate in their own language, which they wish to foist on to us all.
‘The words Jenni Murray spoke and people with your attitudes hurt and cause damage to my community,’ said the pompous fat girl. ‘The transgendered community are entitled to live in a community which does not question the validity of their existence.’
At that, she burst into tears, obviously bitterly hurt in her young life long before Dame Jenni or I came along. She seemed far too fragile to take her place in mainstream life at the moment, expert or not. I felt very sorry for her and her friends, apparently so fearful and paranoid. Anyone would pity them, but not because of any sexual realignment they were doing. I felt threatened as they gathered around me in their flapping black clothes, nose studs dripping with tears, and felt relieved when a well dressed woman appeared at my side and ushered me away towards the Festival tent for a grown up glass of Bucks Fizz.