J.K. Rowling on the issue of women's and girls' rights

Posted on April 10, 2024

Writer J.K. Rowling has a pinned X/Twitter post, dating April 6th, 2024, where she has summarized her views on the issue of women’s and girls’ rights. You can find her on X/Twitter as @jk_rowling. For the benefit of readers not on X/Twitter, here is her statement.

You’ve asked me several questions on this thread and accused me of avoiding answering, so here goes.

I believe a woman is a human being who belongs to the sex class that produces large gametes. It’s irrelevant whether or not her gametes have ever been fertilised, whether or not she’s carried a baby to term, irrelevant if she was born with a rare difference of sexual development that makes neither of the above possible, or if she’s aged beyond being able to produce viable eggs. She is a woman and just as much a woman as the others.

I don’t believe a woman is more or less of a woman for having sex with men, women, both or not wanting sex at all. I don’t think a woman is more or less of a woman for having a buzz cut and liking suits and ties, or wearing stilettos and mini dresses, for being black, white or brown, for being six feet tall or a little person, for being kind or cruel, angry or sad, loud or retiring. She isn’t more of a woman for featuring in Playboy or being a surrendered wife, nor less of a woman for designing space rockets or taking up boxing. What makes her a woman is the fact of being born in a body that, assuming nothing has gone wrong in her physical development (which, as stated above, still doesn’t stop her being a woman), is geared towards producing eggs as opposed to sperm, towards bearing as opposed to begetting children, and irrespective of whether she’s done either of those things, or ever wants to.

Womanhood isn’t a mystical state of being, nor is it measured by how well one apes sex stereotypes. We are not the creatures either porn or the Bible tell you we are. Femaleness is not, as trans woman Andrea Chu Long wrote, ‘an open mouth, an expectant asshole, blank, blank eyes,’ nor are we God’s afterthought, sprung from Adam’s rib.

Women are provably subject to certain experiences because of our female bodies, including different forms of oppression, depending on the cultures in which we live. When trans activists say ‘I thought you didn’t want to be defined by your biology,’ it’s a feeble and transparent attempt at linguistic sleight of hand. Women don’t want to be limited, exploited, punished, or subject to other unjust treatment because of their biology, but our being female is indeed defined by our biology. It’s one material fact about us, like having freckles or disliking beetroot, neither of which are representative of our entire beings, either. Women have billions of different personalities and life stories, which have nothing to do with our bodies, although we are likely to have had experiences men don’t and can’t, because we belong to our sex class.

Some people feel strongly that they should have been, or wish to be seen as, the sex class into which they weren’t born. Gender dysphoria is a real and very painful condition and I feel nothing but sympathy for anyone who suffers from it. I want them to be free to dress and present themselves however they like and I want them to have exactly the same rights as every other citizen regarding housing, employment and personal safety. I do not, however, believe that surgeries and cross-sex hormones literally turn a person into the opposite sex, nor do I believe in the idea that each of us has a nebulous ‘gender identity’ that may or might not match our sexed bodies. I believe the ideology that preaches those tenets has caused, and continues to cause, very real harm to vulnerable people.

I am strongly against women’s and girls’ rights and protections being dismantled to accommodate trans-identified men, for the very simple reason that no study has ever demonstrated that trans-identified men don’t have exactly the same pattern of criminality as other men, and because, however they identify, men retain their advantages of speed and strength. In other words, I think the safety and rights of girls and women are more important than those men’s desire for validation.

I sincerely hope that answers your questions. You may still disagree, but as I hope this shows, I’m more than happy to have this debate.

This statement seems eminently reasonable to me, for I view it as a plea to let reality trump ideology and a reminder that women’s and girls’ rights can conflict with the rights (or demands) of trans-identified men.

I think it is commendable of Rowling to state her views clearly, and to invite questions and debate from all those who disagree. So this is a standing invitation to those who believe J.K. Rowling’s views are factually or morally wrong, to engage in a polite, honest and adult conversation with her. Sadly, as far as I know, we have yet to see the beginning of such an exchange. Please bear in mind that pouring vitriol is not a valid move in a quest for mutual understanding between grownups.

If you disagree with Rowling’s definition of women, the burden is on you to correct the definition. But please note that Women are all adult humans who have an inner sense of being women will not do as a definition, because it is circular. Disagreeing with Rowling’s definition without offering a replacement will not do either, for it seems obvious that we have to come to some agreement on what the word woman means, before we can even begin the discussion of women’s rights.

Rowling’s views on biology are entirely in agreement with what you can find in biology textbooks, but if recent statements about sex and gender by academics or medical doctors have confused you, you are entitled to some sympathy. An excellent summary of the biology of sex and the confusion around gender can be found in a recent article in the Boston Globe written by Alan Sokal (look up Sokal hoax if you never heard of him) and Richard Dawkins (author of The Selfish Gene). The authors explain how sex is defined in mammals and many other species:

Nearly all animals, as well as many plants, reproduce sexually. In all sexually reproducing species this occurs by combining a large gamete, called an ovum — or egg — with a small gamete, called a sperm. Though some hermaphrodite plants and animals produce both ova and sperm, there are no mammalian species that do. In mammals, each individual produces only one kind of gamete. Those individuals that produce (relatively few) ova are called female; those that produce (large numbers of) sperm are called male. Whether a mammal embryo develops into a male or a female is determined by a pair of sex chromosomes: XX for females, XY for males.

In short, sex in all animals is defined by gamete size; sex in all mammals is determined by sex chromosomes; and there are two and only two sexes: male and female. All this is, of course, hardly news: It has been known for over a century, and it is basic stuff from any half-decent high school course in biology.

As you can see, this agrees with Rowling’s statement above. The authors also have an explanation for the recent confusion around sex and gender, and they issue a stark warning:

The medical establishment’s newfound reluctance to speak honestly about biological reality most likely stems from a laudable desire to defend the human rights of transgender people. But while the goal is praiseworthy, the chosen method is misguided. Protecting transgender people from discrimination and harassment does not require pretending that sex is merely “assigned.”

It is never justified to distort the facts in the service of a social or political cause, no matter how just. If the cause is truly just, then it can be defended in full acceptance of the facts about the real world.

And when an organization that proclaims itself scientific distorts the scientific facts in the service of a social cause, it undermines not only its own credibility but that of science generally. How can the public be expected to trust the medical establishment’s declarations on other controversial issues, such as vaccines — issues on which the medical consensus is indeed correct — when it has so visibly and blatantly misstated the facts about something so simple as sex?

Finally, there is a moral issue of how to accommodate clashes between the rights of women and girls and the rights of trans-identifying men. Obviously, this is not an argument you can win by denying that these clashes occur. Also, it is hard to think of an argument for why the rights of trans-identifying men should trump those of women and girls, but who knows?