21 July 2022

What Kathleen Stock gets wrong about the Tories, trans and feminism


Earlier this week the philosopher Kathleen Stock waded into the national press to talk about Tories and our troubled relationship with transgender issues, using Penny Mordaunt’s tilt for the top job as commentary fuel. 

For Stock, the Tories’ flapping around on gender issues demonstrates ‘a special kind of indifference to half the population’, which she ascribes to a ‘hidden ideological commitment’ to individualism. She also suggests that the many Tory MPs who do oppose self-ID are motivated by ‘opportunism and cultural warmongering’, rather than concern about women.

As with everything Stock writes, the article is good, and I urge you to read it, as I urged people to read her book Material Girls when I reviewed it. However, in crucial respects, Stock doesn’t understand her opponents. That’s not a knock on her. I’d probably make a terrible mess of writing about Labour’s internal workings. After all, I’m a member of the Tory Party.

The most important thing to remember is that the Conservative Party is (famously) a ‘broad church’. Whether we’re broader than Labour’s similarly broad church, I do not know.

In any case, it is unquestionably true there has long been a spergy transhumanist element in big-C conservatism. People who are keen on open borders, eating bugs, free trade, GMOs, nuclear power, lab-grown meat, pro-fertiliser, effective altruism and so on. Call it the ‘Tom Harwood faction’ of Toryism, if you like.

I’m old enough to remember when The Economist used to run articles calling for the legalisation of drugs in sport. The Adam Smith Institute (ASI) is full of this sort of thing.

Not everything these people say is nonsense. If it were, I would not have consented to one of my novels being launched at the ASI. They’re often acute on economic matters, sounding early alarms on how quantitative easing would eventually lead to runaway inflation, for example. They’re also almost certainly right about addressing climate change by dint of nuclear energy, while their pro-fertiliser criticisms of organic agriculture have been emphatically vindicated by recent events in Sri Lanka

Some of Penny Mordaunt’s views are of a piece with this tradition. She also shows how one can combine elements of it – including things considered woke – with patriotism. (Mordaunt’s patriotism is genuine, by the way. It’s not possible to feign that sort of thing and sign up for the Navy reserves.) 

My problem with Mordaunt’s candidacy was her reverse-ferreting on gender issues (which Stock documents superbly), coupled with wider support for pseudoscience: she’s a fan of homeopathy on the NHS, for instance. Had she come out and admitted she’d changed her views, I’d have been much more sympathetic. After all, in 2012, I wrote the following (for my then professional association, the Law Society of Scotland) on aspects of transgenderism. Note: I don’t expect an apology from Mordaunt, just as I don’t apologise for present Helen disagreeing with past Helen. 

When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, Sir?

The broader issue is why most of the parliamentary party, the membership, and ‘rusted on’ Tory voters are opposed to self-ID while simultaneously disclaiming feminism.

In part, it’s because the ASI types are a minority of both MPs and the membership, and close to non-existent among ordinary voters. Genuine wokies in the electorate will almost always opt for Labour: why go for Woke Lite when you can have the real thing?

Contrary to Stock’s argument, it is emphatically not because Tories are indifferent to women or planned to use trans as an issue with which we can wedge Labour (although we’ll take the latter as a present). It is because most Tories think both gender self-identification and feminism are nonsense. 

Who’d be a feminist?

This isn’t just a Tory preoccupation. When the Fawcett Society got a famously honest and scrupulous polling outfit (Survation) to make inquiries of a decent and representative sample, only 7% of Britons self-identified as feminist. Huge, thumping majorities believed in male and female equality, of course, which is often taken to be the definition of feminism. Clearly, however, the public does not see it that way. Perhaps significantly, of those people who called themselves feminist, 68% were ‘more likely to think gender can be a range of identities’. 

Survation did not disaggregate based on political affiliation, which in itself is revealing. If even 7% of Tories self-identify as feminist, I will eat my Akubra. 

One of the great ironies of our time is that feminism has adopted the Victorian Cult of Womanhood: men are uncivilised brutes who women must morally tame. It is an unspoken assumption that the movement of women into, well, everything, is an unalloyed good.

Women are female homo sapiens. The notion that women have no statistically significant, systemic character flaws is nonsense.

Two of the biggest problems when it comes to forming decent, functional, social orders are male violence and male sexual incontinence. The victims, and even more the perpetrators of violence, are overwhelmingly male. A Swedish study found that 1% of adults generated 63% of all violent offences. But that 1% was itself almost 90% male. Males also overwhelmingly dominate sexual offenders, with a similar skewed pattern. Violent crime is a sex-based power-law on steroids.

Thanks to the movement of women into the professions, into creation of culture (women have always been important in its transmission), into management, politics, and media, we are now confronted with a new problem for sustaining functional social orders. Female emotional incontinence, what one old Tory friend calls ‘the blubbering woman problem’.

Women are systematically more hostile to freedom of speech than are men. As institutions, including universities, have become more feminised, they have become more hostile to freedom of expression and thought.

Many older Tory men are also angry that they were forced to give up male-only venues historically (they don’t use the word ‘spaces’) to admit women, and think feminists are hypocrites on this point. Some of these men are not simple-minded golf club bores, either. They see trans as an opportunity to break feminism into what they consider richly deserved pieces.

One reason gender-critical feminists have struggled to win what should be an easy argument is because they haven’t been able to mount a freedom of association case. And the reason they haven’t been able to mount a freedom of association claim (which would resonate with older Tories) is because feminism did more to wreck freedom of association in Britain than any other ideology.

Homo sapiens are much more cognitively dimorphic than many people realise. 70% of men have a pattern of personality traits that no woman has; 70% of women have a pattern of personality traits that no man has. 

For obvious evolutionary reasons (the elevated risks of pregnancy and childcare and the need to invest in emotionally intense relationships to sustain child-rearing) women are systematically more neurotic, more agreeable and more concerned with propriety (moralised status) than men are. Women are inclined to form cliques (emotionally-intense connections), to engage in relational aggression (attack reputations), and to hide from themselves and others that they are engaging in aggression by claiming it is moral concern. 

No, this is not as serious or nasty as sexual assault or violent assault more widely. That reality is something men must simply own. It is why the male prison estate is nine times the size of the female prison estate.

That clear difference in personality traits is also why sex non-conforming behaviour in children is so easy to spot. My father knew I was homosexual when I was five, long before I knew. I never played with the dolls mum and dad bought for me (‘I have never seen such indifference’) and constantly nicked my brothers’ toys. By the time teenager me was building a scale model of the Colosseum with Meccano, the jury was well and truly in.

Of course, these days, a kid like me would be at risk of transing the gay away.

Feminism has spent decades pretending men and women are interchangeable widgets, and that evolution only had an influence on human development from the neck down. When it has veered away from this claim, it’s indulged in biological essentialism (viz, ‘women are always kinder’) almost as pseudoscientific as Mordaunt’s apparent enthusiasm for homeopathy. Weirdly, this essentialism doesn’t draw on actual evidence of sex-based cognitive dimorphism. Then there are homosexuals. There may not be many of us, but on this sort of thing, we stand out like sore thumbs.

This – not ‘individualism’ or the search for a ‘wedge’ issue – is why the Tory Party’s relationship with both trans and feminism is like a Facebook status: ‘it’s complicated’.

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Helen Dale read Law at Oxford and won the Miles Franklin Award for her first novel, 'The Hand that Signed the Paper'. Her latest novel is 'Kingdom of the Wicked'; it was shortlisted for the Prometheus Prize for science fiction.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.