It’s not uncommon for feminists to point out the parallels between men’s rights activism and trans rights activism. But rarely are those parallels laid out quite so plainly as they were last week when India Willoughby, a UK trans rights advocate, appeared on Good Morning Britain alongside women’s activist and lifetime domestic abuse worker Karen Ingala Smith.
Hosted by Piers Morgan and Susannah Reid, the ITV breakfast show intended to discuss the news that UK women’s refuges are to consider employing self-identifying transwomen. But Willoughby quickly derailed the discussion into one about the use of domestic violence shelters by trans-identifying males. Willoughby repeatedly centred himself and his concerns for men in the debate, despite sitting next to Ingala Smith, CEO of a London-based domestic violence charity and founder of the Counting Dead Women project.
Willoughby refuted concerns that predatory men might take advantage of self-identification as a means to access women, declaring the suggestion “preposterous.” He went on to repeatedly deny that transgender women can and do pose a threat to women, despite recent research from the UK that suggests that trans-identifying males are two and a half times more likely to be imprisoned for a sexual offence than the male prison populace as a whole. Willoughby’s casual lack of compassion towards women’s need for and right to safety, privacy, and dignity, is clear.
At several points he appears to suggest that violent crimes committed by women are just as much of an issue as those of men. In challenging Ingala Smith as to why a woman who has suffered abuse in a lesbian relationship should be welcomed into a women’s refuge while a transgender woman may not, Willoughby not only ignores the nature of domestic abuse but promotes an unfair stereotype of homosexual women as more likely to be violent than heterosexual women. By pointing out that women can be perpetrators as well as victims, his intention is to deny that domestic abuse is gendered. Shelters are therefore “discriminating” in being run by and for women. This is nothing short of a mirror image of MRA arguments.
Not content with denying the reality and nature of male violence towards women, around half way through the debate Willoughby turns again to the question of transgender women in shelters, directly challenging Ingala Smith on whether he would personally be welcome in one of her refuges. In making the question personal, Willoughby attempts to undermine Ingala Smith by implying that she is participating in unreasonable discrimination. Before Ingala Smith is able to properly respond, Willoughby moves on to attack Counting Dead Women, a project that records women killed every year in the UK by men, of which there were 138 in 2017 in England and Wales alone. “With the greatest respect,” Willoughby says, “I visited your website, and you have a list of crimes committed by men, and there is a great demonization. I feel really sorry for guys this year — I think they’ve had it really tough.”
Yes, that is correct: India Willoughby, who claims to be a woman, can look at a long list of murdered women — the majority of which happen at the hands of an intimate partner — and his sympathies lay not with the women who have been killed or their families, but with men at large who Willoughby apparently believes are being made to look bad through discussing these crimes as gendered. At no point does Willoughby seem to consider that if men did not abuse and murder women, there would no need for such a list.
At the end of the debate, Willoughby actually uses the now-cliched phrase, “not all men.” He accuses Ingala Smith of having “one track” — presumably one that unfairly “demonizes” men as perpetrators of violence. Essentially, he suggests that women are just as inclined towards violence, so could everyone please stop pointing the finger at men? But crime statistics simply don’t support this. The homicide rate for males in England and Wales in 2016, for example, is more than twice that of females, while women were more than five times more likely than men to be killed by partners or ex-partners.
Willoughby dominated the discussion, interrupting and talking over Ingala Smith at least 11 times during the short six minute dialogue, to Ingala Smith’s obvious unease. Willoughby’s arrogant dismissal of Ingala Smith’s arguments, despite her having a wealth of experience in a field which he knows nothing about, is worthy of mansplain status.
Willoughby already made his misogyny clear during his appearance on Celebrity Big Brother earlier this year. He repeatedly talked over, shouted at, and interrupted female contestants, at one point yelling at an elderly woman who unintentionally used male pronouns to describe him, “I am a real woman!” and refusing to accept her repeated attempts at an apology. He centered himself and his trans status in virtually every conversation aired on the show, demonstrating a distinct lack of self-awareness and lack of regard for the feelings of women around him.
For trans-identifying males like Willoughby, “being a woman” is little more than a costume and a performance. Dressing “like a woman” and having the appearance of a woman’s body is, to his mind, what being a woman is all about. To Willoughby, womanhood is a place he has every right to conquer and colonize. Women’s material condition, our experiences, and our struggles are not real to him. He does not see them, and he does not care to. He may identify as a woman, but he does not identify with women.
On Good Morning Britain, Willoughby demonstrated not only his complete lack of awareness or empathy with women’s lived experiences in the world, but his utter lack of compassion towards them. Like so many other trans rights activists, Willoughby’s sentiments demonstrate a resentment and hatred towards women that is difficult to square with their demands to have access to women’s spaces, rights, and protections.
When trans activists display the kind of blatant misogyny that Willoughby does, it becomes clear that this activism is really about men’s rights, to the detriment of women. If we are to move forward to productive conversation, trans rights activists must begin by recognizing that women’s material reality and theirs differ.
Pris Corbett is a feminist and freelance writer, she tweets at @PrisCorbett.