Prominent biologist and writer Richard Dawkins has waded into the row over efforts to ban Germaine Greer from speaking at a leading university by asking "Is a trans woman a woman"?
Greer, who has controversially claimed trans women are not "real women", has come under scrutiny after students at the University of Cardiff launched a petition to 'no-platform' her from campus.
But in an apparent response to his own question, Dawkins wrote on his social media account: "If you define by chromosomes, no. If by self-identification, yes. I call her "she" out of courtesy."
Is trans woman a woman? Purely semantic. If you define by chromosomes, no. If by self-identification, yes. I call her "she" out of courtesy.— Richard Dawkins (@RichardDawkins) October 26, 2015
His comments, which base gender identity entirely on chromosomes, have sparked backlash from scientists and from within the transgender community.
Jane Fae, campaigner for sexual rights and writer on issues of political and sexual liberty, who studied under Dawkins, claimed the controversial atheist's theory was problematic.
"Dawkins adopts the same old binary thinking that has bedevilled debate on these issues lately: an attempt to create two frameworks - the social and the biological - and within those to identify two wholly separate categorisation systems: sex and gender," Fae told the Huffington Post UK.
Fae claims separating social and biological frameworks in this instance is redundant: "The problem goes much deeper, with recent research increasingly suggesting that some behavioural characteristics are significantly influenced by underpinning biology.
"No: not the old chesnut about 'male brain' vs. 'female brain': but rather the possibility that one's identity, one's 'gender allegiance', which may be viewed in terms of social expression, has clear biological roots."
Dawkins' comments also raise issues linking gender and biology using the example of chromosomes, as not everyone is born with just XX or XY chromosomes.
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Paris Lees, journalist and activist tweeted a response to Dawkins' comments, claiming "Nobody should feel the need to have a degree in gender theory OR genetics in order to justify their simple right to exist/express themselves":
Nobody should feel the need to have a degree in gender theory OR genetics in order to justify their simple right to exist/express themselves— Paris Lees (@ParisLees) October 27, 2015
Whilst Harry Taylor, a transgender filmmaker, claimed that Dawkins' comments made him a misogynist.
"If you define being a woman by chromosomes then you're a misogynist. Women are so much more than that. Like wise if you define being a woman only by having a vagina or menstruation; women are not just breeding grounds," he told HuffPost UK.
"By using someone's pronouns that they identify with you're being respectful to their identity. Pronouns, unless they are your own, are not your choice.
"Lots of things make up 'being a woman' there are plenty of issues with it purely being chromosomal, there are people with XXY chromosomes for example that don't just fit with XY and XX."
Dawkins' comments come after Greer stated yesterday: "Just because you lop off your d*** and then wear a dress, doesn't make you a f*****g woman. I've asked my doctor to give me long ears and liver spots and I'm going to wear a brown coat but that won't turn me into a f*****g cocker spaniel."
Feminist Greer's lecture, which was titled 'Women & Power: The Lessons of the 20th Century’, will be going ahead on November 18 as planned, HuffPost UK revealed yesterday.
A petition, which now has more than 2,300 supporters, hopes to pressure the university into cancelling the event.
Useful websites and helplines:
- The Gender Trust supports anyone affected by gender identity | 01527 894 838
- Mermaids offers information, support, friendship and shared experiences for young people with gender identity issues | 0208 1234819
- LGBT Youth Scotland is the largest youth and community-based organisation for LGBT people in Scotland. Text 07786 202 370
- Gires provides information for trans people, their families and professionals who care for them | 01372 801554
- Depend provides support, advice and information for anyone who knows, or is related to, a transsexual person in the UK.