Well it seems that there is one virus that the former Chief Health Minister, Brendan Murphy, has been unable to keep out of Australia, and that’s the (generally) Western virus in which seemingly intelligent people at the top of the political, legal and cultural foodchain are unable to define what a woman is.
Because one thing is for sure that virus is spreading and it has some contagious, not to mention, toxic, undertones. Hence when the latest addition to the US Supreme Court, Ketanjui Brown Jackson, was in her final confirmation hearing, she was really, and I mean, really, unclear and uncertain as to how to answer the question: “What is a woman?”
“I am not a biologist”.
Well, that’s not a surprise. We didn’t expect her to be a biologist. But we did expect her to be a woman. The real surprise is that President Biden IS a biologist. “Really?” you ask. Yes, really. Well how do you know?
Well when President Biden was announcing his nomination for the vacant Supreme Court position he proudly announced that he was nominating a Black Woman for the role. It does not require one to be a biologist to realise that Ketanji Brown Jackson is Black. But since it does take require one to be a biologist to determine whether she is a woman, and since he indeed said she was a woman, then clearly President Biden is a biologist.
Okay, just messing with ya, but if you want to go down that rabbit hole, or Humpty Dumpty your way into linguistic contortions, then that’s the way it must be. You cannot have it any other way. A woman is able to be defined as a woman or she is not.
And so the virus spreads across the West, reaching our fair shores with a vengeance, as proven this very day. For as Nine News reports, when asked today at Senate Estimates by Liberal Senator, Alex Antic, what the definition of a woman is, Dr Murphy became uncomfortable. Nine’s online page reported it thus:
‘I think there are a variety of definitions,’ he said.
Mr Antic then requested a simple answer.
‘Perhaps to give a more fulsome answer we should take that on notice.’
Mr Antic then questioned why the health secretary needed to take notice on such a simple question.
‘It’s a very … uh … it’s a very contested space at the moment,’ Dr Murphy continued.
Now I am no big fan of Senator Antic and his er, antics, around COVID vaccines, but a broken clock tells the correct time twice every day, right?
The key of course is not the lack of intelligence from Dr Murphy, but the lack of bravery. Or to put it more crassly, the presence of cowardice. For what Dr Murphy means by “a very contested space” is that if he dares tell us what he really thinks a woman is, – and given his medical background he should be able to – he will find himself in the midst of a blitzkrieg of hate from Twitter and activists around the country.
I mean, he’s better than a biologist, he’s a doctor, and was a great and calming presence on our TV screens during the pandemic. What person with more gravitas and learning could we have in our nation to tell us what the definition of a woman is but the good doctor?
But he can’t. I mean, he won’t, because the cost is too high for him. Even Dr Murphy who by rights should be a national treasure, knows that to go there is going to cost him big time. Now maybe he has too much gravitas to lose his job, but activists will certainly make life very uncomfortable for him.
And if they will make life uncomfortable for him, then just imagine how uncomfortable they will make life for up and coming female athletes, who find themselves being accused of all sorts of phobias simply for asking for a level playing field. At least the likes of Lord Sebastian Coe is raising the issue in sport. Coe and JK Rowling are big enough players to see off the filth and abuse that goes their way.
And so is Dr Brendan Murphy. Or at least he should be. But apparently no. All that power and cultural kudos in the bank, and even he won’t take a hit for the team. For the girls’ team that is. The girls’ swimming team. The girls’ cycling team. So they are left to fend for themselves. Again. Put to the sword by a man. A powerful man.
I have just finished Abigail Shrier’s sombre book Irreversible Damage, and in it she documents the pain that many families are going through in the area of trans social contagions. And these pains are exacerbated by the horrendous outpouring of vitriol towards parents who dare to challenge the trans orthodoxy. Go and read some of the Twitter comments about Shrier. And don’t come back at me until you’ve read her book on the topic. She’s a kind, gentle, fulsomely hearted woman who reaches out to many trans people many of whom talk with frankness about how hard life has been. But she refuses to be cowered by threats from the ideologues and activists. In other words she is brave.
And not just brave. But a brave woman. In an era of male cowardice in this whole ” very contested space” it seems that too many men are happy to sit back and let the woman be assailed on the front line. And at the finish line.
Remember the poster?: “Sometimes the best man for the job is a woman.” We are well on the way to the mantra “Sometimes the best man for the job is a menstruating person” (assuming of course that that person has not reached menopause). Sound crass? Does that offend your sensibilities? Hold your judgement until you go over to Shrier’s Twitter and read the toxic nature of the comments people make against her.
Dr Murphy is right though: it is a “very contested space”. The key at the moment is to at least make a contest out of the space. They key is to have something to say that is brave and loving (for all concerned) into that space. It’s clear that fear is the motivating factor for so much of the silence around this “very contested space”.
And for the Christian, the key is to speak without being a coward, but also without being a crass, angry entitled person who is unable to hold the tension of loving someone but refusing to acknowledge their mistaken self-identify. The Christian has the spiritual tools available to wade into this issue with dignity, bravery and respect. The tricky thing, and it is tricky, is not what you think you wish to do in that contested space, but what you will do. Ironically, all of your decisions in the real world will end up being binary.
Yet clearly the tide is turning. There are an increasing number of articles in the mainstream media that are questioning how to navigate the cultural space around definitions. As Julia Szego wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald this week, the old idea (old in the sense the last few decades), that the victim hierarchy made the trans issue untouchable is running out of puff:
This line is getting harder to maintain. “Trans women are women” is less an affirmation these days than a political demand for women to cede their sovereignty and spaces to people who have not medically transitioned. At “women-only” baths, in changing rooms, in rape shelters, at Girl Guides, in setting up women’s prizes, in sport, in prisons.
You see, for a man like Dr Murphy, a changing room at the gym is not a “very contested space”, but for a woman (well my definition of a woman at least), it is. A very contested space indeed. And for a man a prison IS a very contested space, a brutally contested space in an all male prison.
Hence one can only imagine how contested a space a women’s prison will be when those who are not biologically women, but who self-identify as women (aka – men), can be placed there. I just guess not a lot of affirming academic women who work in the Humanities Departments of major universities end up in women’s prison. If they did, and the fruits of their intellectual labour was staring them in the face across the shower room? Well there might be a PhD in that.
Don’t think I mock. Or take this lightly. The issues around the definition of words are deeply theological. The definitions of personhood more so, as even the abortion debate reveals. But cowardice is also a theological issue. Deeply so. Christians must not go into this “contested space” all guns blazing and being boorish. But don’t coat cowardice with a lick of paint and call it “being wise”.
For we may well find that the wise – and brave – of the world, jump the gun on this issue, and we come lagging behind the culture as we so often have. That’s us so often: “A day late and a dollar short”. Let’s get involved in the conversation now, and ignore the rage. We need to be ready as a church to help pick up the pieces of this mess in two decades time when the truth, as usual, comes to the surface and the body count starts to rack up.
The virus of being unable to identify a woman is contagious. Very contagious indeed, and no Safe App seems to deter it. Dr Murphy has been telling us that for nigh on two years. Well so is this latest virus, this refusal to define a woman. Just as with COVID, let’s do what’s necessary to keep that virus at bay.