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  1. Ideas
16 August 2023

Letter of the week: The secondary sex

Write to letters@newstatesman.co.uk to have your thoughts voiced in the New Statesman magazine.

By New Statesman

In the 1970s, feminists were often accused of denying biological reality in the name of equality. Now (Ideas lab, 28 July) some are accused of being obsessed with biology as a tactic of exclusion. I think it is important to remember two things that are not contradictory. First, having a female (or male) body has a significant effect on one’s life experience. Second, in many (maybe most) areas of life one’s biological sex is irrelevant and shouldn’t be used to impose restrictive ideas of femininity or masculinity. By recognising biological sex, we can talk about when it is important (fair competitive sport, some healthcare, same or opposite sex attraction) and when it is not (whether one can become a doctor or a nurse or look after a baby).
Rebecca Linton, Leicester

What a woman is and isn’t

Richard Dawkins and Jacqueline Rose (Ideas Lab, 28 July) both provided thoughtful pieces on a sensitive issue that often produces more heat than light. Like Dawkins, I despair at simple binaries (and complicated dichotomies to boot), but like Rose think we do need to understand viewpoints from both historical and lived experience perspectives.

A way forward needs to be found where this particular binary is not about sex or gender but about the oppressed fighting for rights from the oppressor. Where there are the inevitable contradictions, paradoxes or competing claims, surely these can be solved by people with good intent, working through solutions, compromises or sometimes even favouring the needs of one group over another?
Simon Stone, Worthing, West Sussex

Jacqueline Rose writes that “roughly 7 per cent of people changed sexual identity and/or orientation in the course of a six-year period in the UK”, and that women over 65 are as likely to change sex as the young. She appears to have misread research by Yang Hu and Nicole Denier in Demography, which uses the Understanding Society data set to examine change over time in sexual orientation, not gender identity. Not a single respondent in their sample of over 22,000 claimed to have changed sex during the six-year period considered. Rose has made a substantial error by relying on research on a different subject, but the study also makes some strange leaps of interpretation. The lesson is that empirical evidence should always be interrogated critically.
Professor Alice Sullivan, University College London

Jacqueline Rose makes the extraordinary claim that almost “7 per cent of people changed sexual identity and/or orientation in the course of a six-year period in the UK”. The research itself was a question about sexual orientation; the largest shifts it found were people moving into or out of the “prefer not to say” category. This is hardly a major social change, just a difference in willingness to answer an intrusive question on two occasions.

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Rose presents her counter-intuitive ideas as sophistication, but sometimes the simple answer is the right one. We already know what men and women are.
Maya Forstater, Via email

Green Rover

Harry Lambert’s profile of Dale Vince (Encounter, 28 July) was a welcome insight into a significant figure in the UK’s green energy industry. Therefore, I found it ironic that such focus should slip in the naming of Vince’s football club as “Forest Park Rovers”. Perhaps an even greater emphasis on “Green” causes is required in future.
Duncan Street, Birmingham

Staying out for the summer

Congratulations on the best poem in the New Statesman for many years – “Country Icon (a riddle)” by AE Stallings (The NS Poem, 28 July).
Kathryn Bell, London E7

The New Statesman Summer Special was, as usual, a high standard, but can I please make a plea for Becky Barnicoat’s cartoon “Outside the Box” to receive a more prominent position?
James Martin, Southend-on-Sea, Essex

Room with a view

It is not just London where high rents are pushing locals out (Deleted Scenes, 28 July). Bath is the same. The era when a minority on modest incomes could live in areas esteemed by the intelligentsia is fading.
Ivor Morgan, Lincoln

Great generalisations

Charlotte Stroud (Out of the Ordinary, 28 July) segues from her own early life’s lack of cultural capital to an assertion that the “modern left” is crusading against “elitism”, by which she presumably means the sharing of great works of art and literature (although as she seems to conflate elitism, generally considered a bad thing, with high culture, generally reckoned a good thing, it is hard to be sure). In a long career teaching English in disadvantaged state schools I did not know one colleague, nor do I have one friend, recognisable in her generalisations. 
Gillian Bargery, Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex

I gave the Summer Special cover (28 July) to my 14-year-old grandson and 18-year-old granddaughter and asked them to identify everyone. Both scored 13, recognising Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerburg, the King and Queen, Rishi Sunak, Boris Johnson, Liz Truss and Donald Trump.

Neither recognised Keir Starmer.
Martin Edwards, Nottingham

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This article appears in the 16 Aug 2023 issue of the New Statesman, Russia’s War on the Future

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team. The best way to sign up for The Green Transition is via spotlightonpolicy.substack.com
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