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Joanna Cherry: Guilty until proven innocent

I’m sure most people have heard that Joanna Cherry was recently sacked from the SNP’s Westminster front bench– but was it really because Nicola Sturgeon has a ‘zero-tolerance’ policy against transphobia? Has anyone bothered to find out what actually happened or just heard that Cherry is transphobic and hooray to Sturgeon for being woke?

The discourse in the SNP is about the Gender Recognition Act which would allow anyone to change their gender without having to be medically diagnosed with gender dysphoria or prove that they had been living as their chosen gender for the past two years. Cherry, along with other members of the SNP have been critical of the reforms, opposing Sturgeon’s views– and thereby inviting accusations of as transphobic among other things.

Of course, it would be rather surprising if things were so straightforward in politics and this was actually why Joanna Cherry was dismissed. Instead, it was Cherry’s constant criticism of Sturgeon’s Independence strategy for Scotland, and being relentlessly outspoken about it meant that the SNP leader decided she had to go. In a recent article for the NewStatesman, Cherry writes ‘the reasons for my sacking were not made clear’ and compares the brawl to a ‘performative histrionics redolent of the Salem witch trials’.                 

Just to clarify, I completely support the Gender Recognition Act and believe in what it is trying to achieve: namely, that one shouldn’t have to prove themselves to be a gender they identify with. It’s 2021 and it’s as simple as that, right? That’s my view. But does that mean we should be completely intolerant of anyone who even expresses concerns with what is, frankly, a very new topic of debate for society? Not to mention the fact that in Sturgeon’s political interests, considering that Joanna Cherry was the SNP’s chief inner critic, surely all political movements are better with a critical voice from the inside?

So, what was it that Cherry had actually said in relation to the Gender Recognition Act anyway? Well, if we cared to actually investigate, which most don’t seem to have done, we’d see the following: Cherry was opposed to the complete lack of mention of women throughout the act, such as in sections which discuss maternity leave, and expressed concerns on the erasure of women as a sex class.

In a video she released on her twitter account, she mentions that the term ‘chest feeders’ was used instead of women. Maternity rights are sex-based rights, and it is downright offensive to refer to a woman who is a new mother as a ‘chest feeder’. This is the argument she was making. Are we seriously saying that this attempt at defending women’s rights is transphobic?

The sacking of Joanna Cherry (an escapade?) is a prime example of the dangers of cancel culture now rooted in mainstream society, especially amongst university students and the youth. Perhaps in a country like the UK it is easier to forget that there is still so much inequality against women. Cherry says that ‘discrimination against women is rooted in their biology. That is our lived experience’. Is she wrong?

Being a Bengali woman and having lived in countries like Bangladesh, Thailand and Malaysia, it is frustrating to see the progress that’s been made here for women’s equality get regressed– because being a feminist is now synonymously thought of as not supporting transgender rights. There is genuinely immense inequality against women in the world and the erasure of women is certainly not the answer to that. It is definitely possible for us to both support women’s rights and trans rights.  

Coming back to the fact that Cherry wasn’t even sacked for this anyway, aren’t we allowing ourselves to be fooled by those in authority who seemingly appeal to the current ‘woke culture’ yet are merely using claims of transphobia as a smokescreen to further their own political agendas? A fine line to walk but I suppose it certainly kills two birds with one stone: remove those who are obstacles in your path whilst gaining youth votes for your party. And the mainstream media today only furthers their agendas by not bothering to investigate any throwaway claims– as I was researching for this article, it was incredibly difficult to find out anything remotely related to what Joanna Cherry had actually ever said that was transphobic. So, it seems it’s perfectly acceptable to fire anyone without cause for merely having differing opinions, and at least in this case, legitimate concerns.

The main point isn’t even whether Cherry was right, or wrong. The point is where was the debate? Like I said, this is a very new issue for society. Winning hearts and minds takes time, especially with social issues. If it turns out in hindsight that Cherry was wrong, how will the numerous amount of people who agree with her ever be convinced if they are shut down at the slightest whiff of dissent? What precedent does this set?  

In an age of cancel culture, one is certainly guilty until proven innocent.

Image: Wikimedia Commons