The truth about my raucous lunch with JK Rowling

This week a perfectly nice woman canvassing for Labour knocked on my door and I explained to her that I would not be voting for a party that does not know what a woman is. She looked utterly bewildered and I felt so sorry for her that I started talking about bin collection. But how can Labour be so unprepared for this question? A Democrat friend in the US tells me that the whole sports issues highlighted by swimmer Lia Thomas is really playing badly for Biden on the doorstep.

How perfect, then, that the lunch had been rearranged to take place on a sunny day when gender critical views are now becoming seen as the common sense they are.

And it really was perfect. Not only did we get extremely and gloriously smashed, but there is nothing like laughing with other women. It’s just the most life-enhancing thing. As Maya Angelou said: “I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t laugh”. That is in the end why we will win. We cackled away not just at the humourless little puritans who think they define us, but at our own silliness. As you can see from the pictures, if radical feminists did hen dos, this is how they’d look.

I got home with another goody bag and found amongst the many treats some beautiful Easter eggs, which I had to eat in the middle of the night, still giggling to myself about the brilliant day, the brilliant women, the brilliant feeling of being in the company of those who are not afraid to stand up and being counted. JK Rowling made this particular gathering happen but all over the country, all kinds of women are standing up too.

And though of course I am never drinking again, I raise my glass to you.  

Respect my Sex: what is it and why?

Not since Brexit has a cultural-political issue proved so polarising. The question of gender identity and whether biology matters has, perhaps improbably, cast a far-reaching shadow over public debate. 

On one side are those who believe we can define our own gender based on who we feel we are, and that any attempt to deny this is an attack on the rights, wellbeing and safety of transgender people. On the other: those who believe in the primacy of biological reality, and who would seek to defend it against erasure. 

Put more simply, the argument boils down to one deceptively tricky question: what is a woman?

The debate has rumbled on for several years, with frequent flare-ups whenever JK Rowling – the Harry Potter author, who sits firmly on the gender-critical side of the fence – says anything new. But if most politicians had hoped to steer clear of this particular minefield, silence is no longer an option. Now, in the lead-up to the local elections on May 5, a group called Women Uniting that comprises members and supporters of six political parties has launched a campaign called Respect My Sex – and it’s coming for every candidate.

“In corporations and councils, from parliament to playgrounds, the two sexes – man and woman, male and female – are being sidelined in language, law, policy and public spaces,” the group claims on its website. “Biological sex is a fact of life. It is simple and straightforward, and central to how we organise our world. But now the concept of sex is being undermined.”

Describing themselves as a “cross-party group fighting for women’s sex-based rights,” the campaigners are calling on local authorities and others to commit to protecting sex-based rights and to acknowledge “that sex matters. Women matter. Single-sex spaces matter. Female-only sporting events matter. Child safeguarding matters.” Those who don’t respect this will not receive their vote, they starkly warn.

Supporters are encouraged to ask canvassers the kind of questions that have been causing headaches for (predominantly Labour) politicians: what do you think is most important, sex or gender? Do you support the replacement of women’s single sex spaces with mixed sex ones? 

Politically speaking, there are no right answers: whichever side a candidate comes down on, he or she risks alienating voters who fervently believe the opposite. The number of those who have bravely (or gutlessly, depending on your perspective) tried and failed to straddle the divide is growing. Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, would not be drawn on whether a woman can have a penis in an LBC radio debate last month. Weeks earlier, Anneliese Dodds, the shadow minister for women and equalities, struggled to offer a clear answer to the question of Labour’s definition of a woman when asked on BBC Woman’s Hour.

It’s not just a Labour problem: Rishi Sunak, the Tory Chancellor, when asked on talkRadio, attempted to bat away the question by saying Prime Minister Boris Johnson had already given the answer – one that he seemed strangely unable to repeat on air.

Johnson’s answer – “I think that when it comes to distinguishing between a man and a woman that basic facts of biology remain overwhelmingly important” – was at least clear, and given in the knowledge he’s unlikely to lose too many woke young voters as a result, since they were probably never his to begin with. 

The Mumsnet vote, meanwhile, is up for grabs. And some vocal users are firm believers in the now-controversial idea that a woman is an adult human female. Their response to Labour’s fence-sitting has been predictably scathing. “I can hear Aretha singing it now,” wrote one, after Dodds’ awkward run-in with the woman question on Radio 4. “You make me feel like a natural context-dependent cervix-haver.”

For some, the cost of living crisis will determine who gets their vote. But for those invested in this thorniest of culture war issues, the question of how to define a woman goes to the heart of whether their elected representatives speak for them.

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