August 2021


Agenda bender

By Cordelia Fine
Image of anonymous office workers
What shifting notions of sex and gender mean for affirmative action in the workplace

Is it only a matter of time before Australia has its Pippa Bunce moment?

In 2018, Philip Bunce, a Credit Suisse director, was named among the Financial Times and HERoes Champions of Women in Business, which lists “female and male executives who have made a difference to women’s careers”, as one of the year’s Top 100 Women Executives. Bunce, who identifies as gender fluid and non-binary, had begun to sometimes come to work as Pippa – in a dress, blonde wig and heels – once he had reached a relatively senior position at the investment bank. The list also included Nicci Take, a self-described “corporate drag queen”, who characterises her “transition from Male to Female CEO” as a “metaphor”. Take told staff “they should stop seeing me as [a] ‘Wait until your father gets home’, you are in trouble kind of CEO but more of a ‘have you got your packed lunch, call me when you are home safe’ kinda of CEO, think of me as Mummy not Daddy”.

Both are brave. But if you are surprised that either would be considered female executives in the eyes of the Financial Times, buckle up. There are currently seismic cultural rifts erupting over the question of what defines someone as a woman. A few years ago on my university campus, a staff discussion with students turned to talk of protests taking place against a colleague involved in these debates. When one of the students asked what the offending academic’s views were, another colleague obliged with impressive succinctness.

“She thinks that women don’t have penises.”

The student was genuinely astonished. “What a strange idea,” she said.

Statistically speaking, it isn’t. Australian data isn’t available, but a 2018 survey in the United Kingdom found that 19 per cent of 2074 respondents would consider a person who identifies as a woman but who was born male and has male genitalia to be a woman. (Younger people made a disproportionate contribution to that percentage.) Nonetheless, the student’s view accords with progressive thinking, in which understanding of what it means to be transgender has expanded well beyond the more traditional conception of a medically assisted, arduous and permanent passage to live as the other sex. As Stephen Whittle, professor of equalities law at Manchester Metropolitan University, explains in The Transgender Studies Reader, contemporary trans identities span a very broad range of experiences, from:

… discomfort with role expectations, being queer, occasional or more frequent cross-dressing, permanent cross-dressing and cross-gender living, through to accessing major health interventions such as hormonal therapy and surgical reassignment procedures. It can take up as little of your life as five minutes a week or as much as a life-long commitment to reconfiguring the body to match the inner self.

“Gender identity” no longer necessarily refers to a strong, stable sense of oneself as a member of a particular sex. Contemporary trans identities include a proliferation of binary-busting, fluid and increasingly complex and idiosyncratic gender identifications that, in some cases, are part of an explicitly political project inspired by queer theory to disrupt gender binaries. (A complicating wrinkle is that only some people who identify as non-binary also identify as transgender.) The 2015 US Transgender Survey, conducted with nearly 28,000 respondents by the National Center for Transgender Equality, found that 15 per cent lived sometimes as one gender and other times as another. About a fifth of the sample were living as neither a man nor a woman, and 12 per cent identified with a gender term that wasn’t among the 25 provided in the survey. As one interviewee in a study of non-binary transgender people explained: “I’m neutrois and gender-fluid. My gender identity itself doesn’t ‘flow’ but my gender presentation does. I flow between femme and androgynous but even when I present as more femme I don’t identity as female/a woman. When I’m at work I use he/his pronouns and present as a guy; outside of work that varies wildly day to day. My gender identity is basically that of a shapeshifting being.”

Philosopher Kathleen Stock, who provides a whistlestop history of these developments in her recent book Material Girls: Why Reality Matters for Feminism, describes the resulting “gender identity theory” as:

… the idea that trans people are defined, not as people who have had surgery, or taken hormones, or who dress or behave in particular ways, but as people whose gender identities are misaligned with the sex “assigned” to them at birth … [G]ender identity is what makes you man, woman or neither.

Nor is this a niche view. Gender identity theory lies behind Apple chief executive Tim Cook declaring his pronouns as “he/him” – an act that implies that, with a change of pronouns, the world’s largest technology company would be run by a woman.

But what does this shift mean for the fight against sex discrimination in the workplace? If being a woman is something you simply identify into or out of, how does it affect feminist calls for affirmative action and the dismantling of patriarchal systems?

Like everyone else, trans people have a right to pursue their own conception of a good life. Identifying and living as a woman, man or as non-binary is, to some, the most graceful, genuine or only way for them to comfortably make their passage through the world. In a liberal society they should be free to do so. Trans people should not pay a price for being trans, in terms of unfair social, political or material disadvantages. The introduction of anti-discrimination legislation in Australia to protect trans people hasn’t made the inequalities they nonetheless suffer disappear. But it is a necessary step towards that goal, and symbolically important.

In the meantime, in a society organised around binary sex classifications, one in which trans people are considered “basically unfathomable” as the academic Dean Spade puts it in his book on trans politics and the law, Normal Life, simply to be transgender creates disadvantage from square one. Trans people challenge deep-rooted gender norms that dictate how males and females should identify, look and behave. As with most nonconformity to gender norms – homosexuality, for example – being transgender risks social and economic exclusion, and even physical violence from those it offends. Anticipation of these responses may make the freedom to express a transgender identity in the workplace, for example, more or less theoretical, or unacceptably costly. A 2019 survey by the Trades Union Congress in the UK found that nearly a third of trans women reported having been sexually assaulted at work and that 22 per cent had experienced serious sexual assault or rape. An Australian study of 273 trans men in 2015 revealed unusually high unemployment and low income, given the sample’s age and educational level. The study also illustrated pervasive obstacles for trans men navigating employment, whether or not they were out, in the process of transitioning or “going stealth” as men. Some interviewees had changed professions in order to be in more supportive (and less well-paid) fields, such as the creative arts or care sectors. Others, anticipating complications during their transition process, avoided the workforce in favour of a period of study to “hide out” in the more accepting higher education sector.

In the administrative realm, for trans people who pass as the sex with which they identify, the use of sex classifications on official documentation can lead to the constant threat of outing and, with that, associated discrimination and abuse. When spaces that people need to access – for security, safety or simply to live a normal life – are segregated by sex, trans people may be unwelcome in one and unsafe in the other. Outside the home, sex-segregated bathrooms mean that a basic matter everyone should be able to take for granted – access to toilets that can be used safely, and without public or private humiliation – can be a daily obstacle and source of anxiety.

Gender identity theory promises relief to trans people. Its mandate that society divest itself of sex categories and rearrange itself psychologically, conceptually and practically around gender identities would ease trans lives. But not everyone is on board with this wholesale redefinition of concepts. Kathleen Stock is a leading academic voice within the so-called “gender critical” feminist movement. Contrary to claims that they are “anti-trans”, gender critical academics, journalists, politicians and activists support trans people’s right to claim and express their gender identity and to live free from discrimination and abuse. But they argue that sex is binary and immutable, and that in some contexts the biological and social consequences of sex matter. While some gender critical advocates are more open to compromise than others, in general they argue that society needs to find practicable solutions that balance everyone’s rights and interests and that this may sometimes justify retaining sex, or rejecting gender identity alone, as the criterion for inclusion and exclusion. This blend of basic biological distinctions, traditional feminism and reasonableness reliably leads to charges of transphobia and bigotry. Like a number of other gender critical academics, Stock has been smeared, defamed and deplatformed, and even requires security to give research talks.

Understandably, toxic debates around these issues have often focused on contexts where the materiality of bodily differences between the sexes is most salient. Stock has drolly noted that she hadn’t expected one of her philosophical contributions to be the argument that homosexuality is defined by the sex of the parties involved. As I write, there is a media stir over the inclusion of transgender woman Laurel Hubbard on the New Zealand women’s weightlifting Olympic team. But as the Bunce episode illustrates, controversy can arise even in less obviously corporeal realms. In one such ongoing conflict, the not-for-profit organisation For Women Scotland is challenging the Scottish government over legislation that allows anyone who declares themselves to be “continuously living as a woman” to count towards the objective of achieving gender balance among non-executive board directors of listed Scottish public authorities. Preparing an appeal following an earlier loss, For Women Scotland argues on its crowdfunding page that, among other issues, this “redefinition of ‘woman’ goes against … decades of anti-discrimination law”.

That might not necessarily be a bad thing, of course. Social progress is often simply the redrawing of lines with more generous boundaries, or erasing them altogether. Australia’s Sex Discrimination Act 1984 was one such example: following what has been described as a “protracted and sometimes hysterical debate in federal Parliament”, the line dividing males and females that allowed employers to prefer the former over the latter merely on the grounds of their sex was almost entirely removed. However, that same Act does still allow for sex distinctions. As part of an affirmative action plan, employers can undertake “special measures”, such as gender targets, preferences and quotas.

One approach to understanding the potential justifications for redrawing this line to include trans women is to ask why we care about sex classifications in the first place. In a thoughtful example of this approach, researcher Joanna Harper, a trans woman and competitive runner, said of women’s sport: “If women’s sports are valued as creating an arena for women to compete with individuals substantially physically similar to them, then individuals who are athletically male should not be allowed to participate in it.”

Harper proposed the concept of “athletic gender”, determined by an evidence-based performance metric, that is “separate and potentially either the same as or different from legal gender or self-identified gender”. So, in contrast to women’s elite sport, what is the purpose of the line that excludes men from special measures in the workplace? The answer isn’t obvious, because the line itself has always been controversial.

Affirmative action comes in many guises, and only the most determined misogynist could be upset by some of its mildest forms, such as efforts to ensure that word of job opportunities reaches women. Special measures fall at the other end of the spectrum of controversy. One common objection is that, ironically, the do-gooder proponents of such measures are po-faced and disapproving of discrimination against women, but laissez-faire about reverse discrimination against men. Another complaint is that these are crude and counterproductive ways to provide redress for past discrimination, or to re-tip the scales of justice weighted by centuries of sex-based exclusion. Why would we give preference to the wealthy, white, private school–educated woman over an immigrant man from an impoverished background? If the idea of special measures is to do compensatory justice, it has a funny way of going about it, or so the argument goes.

Then there is the substantial minority of Australians who think that existing relations between the sexes are fine. A 2018 national survey by the University of Canberra’s 50/50 by 2030 Foundation found that 41 per cent of respondents appear comfortable with women’s representation in positions of political power, and only 51 per cent considered it important that more women become leaders. More than a third of respondents thought women best suited to the primary care of children, and a similar number agreed that women “do not aspire to leadership positions” because of their family responsibilities. From this perspective, is there a need for affirmative action for women at all? Just over 40 per cent of men, and about a quarter of women, thought that boys and men get a raw deal in workplace gender equality strategies, and that “Political correctness gives women an advantage in the workplace”.

Firing bullets from a quite different direction are the feminists who argue that it makes little sense to treat women as a politically coherent category. Now that females are on the path to progress, and no longer share universal barriers in virtue of their sex (thanks to anti-discrimination legislation), “does it still make sense to base our [feminist] ideology around biological identities?” asks feminist critic and author Jessa Crispin. “With our needs, our desires, our obstacles, and our circumstances so diverse, what unifies us?” The gender system marginalises almost everyone, she observes.

The counter-response to each of these objections is that positive actions to promote women are necessary because the history and dynamics of sex discrimination mean that non-discrimination alone has not, and currently cannot, achieve “substantive” equality – that is, actual, rather than merely hypothetical, equality. As the US Commission on Civil Rights put it, in 1981:

Today’s discriminatory processes originated in our history of inequality, which was based on philosophies of white and male supremacy. These processes became self-sustaining as the prejudiced attitudes and behaviors of individuals were built into the operations of organizations and their supporting structures (such as education, employment, housing, and government). These built-in mechanisms reinforce existing discrimination and breed new unfair practices or damaging stereotypes. Such discrimination then perpetuates the inequalities that set the processes in motion in the first place.

In other words, although the song of male supremacy may have ended, the melody lingers on. The primary problem isn’t the occasional act of prejudice by a sexist dinosaur – that’s what prohibitively difficult and expensive lawsuits are for. It is the set of social practices – economic, political, cultural, organisational, interpersonal and individual – that organises relations between people on the basis of their sex, in ways that perpetuate inequalities in material resources, power and status. That this is often referred to as the gender system reflects the understanding that these are group-based inequalities. Amid the idiosyncrasies of individual lives, the processes and outcomes of the gender system have systematic patterns. Of course, this gender system also interlocks with other social hierarchies, such as race and class, that can ameliorate or exacerbate disadvantages, or create distinct forms, as legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw argued. But, contrary to popular applications of her insights into the “intersectional” nature of group disadvantage, this doesn’t mean that sex isn’t a useful category for understanding patterns of inequality, any more than the concepts of race or class should be jettisoned, simply because people’s experiences of being black or working class are also importantly shaped by their sex.

Roughly speaking, the pattern the gender system produces is as follows. Women, on average, shoulder a disproportionate quantity of the unpaid care and domestic work that help to keep households running and, ultimately, the cogs of capitalism spinning. This is ground zero of women’s, and especially mothers’, economic and social marginalisation. Women are much more likely to work part time or spend time out of the workforce altogether. These patterns are disproportionately punished in a labour market built around men’s lives, in the form of stagnant wage growth and career progression. Significant caring responsibilities remain especially incompatible with the best-paid jobs, manual or nonmanual, which remain male-dominated.

In short, sex-segregation of unpaid and paid labour results in men earning more, rising higher in the workplace, maintaining norms that ensure the best jobs are only available to people who delegate their household responsibilities to others, defining potential, merit and just deserts in their own image, and disproportionately accessing the resources, power and status to further centre their own interests and priorities in legislation, socially powerful institutions and at home.

This is the systemic discrimination that special measures of affirmative action are designed to remedy. It’s why the federal Workplace Gender Equality Agency collects data on metrics such as the gender pay gap, the proportions of women and men in different industries and occupations, the provision and uptake of flexible work and parental leave, and the number of women in senior and governance roles. The purpose of special measures is to change institutions so that women can enjoy substantive equality. This is why, so long as special measures are doing what they should, it’s misleading to describe them as “reverse discrimination”. Unlike traditional kinds of sex discrimination, neither the purpose nor the effect is to entrench women’s institutional privilege and power, and stigmatise men as inferior incumbents. Nonetheless, these measures do draw sex distinctions, and are not to be undertaken lightly. That’s why organisations need to carefully justify these kinds of moves. Quantitative data signals the possibility that opportunities aren’t genuinely equal, while qualitative data offers insights into what’s behind any unbalanced numbers.

Reasonable people can disagree on whether a special measure is justified in any particular case. A badly conceived special measure might well do more harm than good – stigmatising its beneficiaries as being in need of special assistance, and inflaming male resentment. All else being equal, extending a benefit to all employees, such as flexible work, is preferable to singling out women. But a legitimate special measure is one where there are good reasons to think that temporarily targeting a workplace resource or position for women will have positive effects for their group more broadly. It depends on the premise that women change institutions – structurally, socially or culturally – in ways that undo past and current effects of discrimination, and the mindlessly self-perpetuating nature of group dominance.

For example, a capable woman in a male-typical role helps to erode the mismatch between gender stereotypes and schemas of the ideal incumbent of that role. A “critical mass” of women may bring about a re-examination of previously unchallenged assumptions about what merit looks like, or what trajectory a successful career can, or should be able, to take. Students or more junior women may look up and think, if she can do it, maybe I can too. Women supported early in their careers will be more likely to continue on to senior positions. An influx of women who bring perspectives and experiences shaped by being female, or being female and Indigenous, may help professions, institutions or political parties better meet the interests and concerns of the entire community they are charged with serving. Undoubtedly, these mechanisms are imperfect, stochastic and context-specific. Without care, they will tend to most help women who are already best-off. But in general, if we agree with temporary special measures in principle, we accept them because we think that, through the ripple effect they have on the gender system, the opportunities given to individual women will create greater equality for women as a group.

How, then, should we go about responding to calls to redraw the affirmative action line? Some gender critical advocates might want to argue for keeping the line exactly where it is. Others, following Joanna Harper’s “athletic gender” example, might want to thrash out criteria for “affirmative action gender”. For example, there is a good case for saying that a trans woman who has lived continuously as a woman, and is socially labelled as female, will help to erode negative stereotypes, inspire others and bring the perspective of a career as a woman just as well as a woman born female (and better than her trans man counterpart). Including her doesn’t undermine the purpose of special measures and spares a pointless and hurtful trampling on her privacy and sense of self.

But recall that, according to gender identity theory, being a woman is not defined by appearance, visible markers of transition or a stable gender identity associated with clinically significant gender dysphoria, but by a self-declared inner psychological state at a particular point in time. So, what about a trans woman whose social and physical presentation means she is readily socially labelled as male? What about someone like comedian and actor Eddie Izzard, who recently announced that he identifies as a woman, but selects between being in “boy mode” and “girl mode”, including in his continuing to pursue male acting roles? What about a gender fluid, part-time cross-dressing investment banker? When we include people who have spent their lives passing through the world being socially labelled as male, on what grounds, exactly, are we excluding men from the opportunities created by special measures?

While even having such a discussion could be cast as an ugly elbowing away of certain members of a marginalised group from the crumbs that fall from the affirmative action cookie jar, this misses the point. It’s not about what is deserved. It’s not about who is the most oppressed. It’s about recognising why these special measures exist, and drawing a line that maintains the legitimacy of excluding males in the first place. Perhaps we might want to say that trans women whose social cues as to their sex remain largely unchanged represent rare cases, and that law and policies shouldn’t be built around those. Moreover, there is certainly something very unappealing about organisations or the state arbitrating on whether someone meets official cultural and biological standards of womanhood. But policymakers often bite that bullet, drawing imperfect lines across messy social reality to decide who is “adult” enough to drink, who is Australian or who has a disability. One British trans woman, broadcaster India Willoughby, said of the Philip Bunce episode: “As a transsexual woman with a recognised medical condition, who fights for credibility every day, who fights myths every day, who’s undergone lengthy surgery, whose life was unbearable in the wrong body, I find this story an insult. Transgender has become totally meaningless.”

Particularly where the distribution of rights and resources are concerned, we don’t normally invite people to simply self-identify into categories and walk right in.

But this is exactly the approach that gender identity theory mandates. Indeed, according to this perspective, since trans women are women, the very subject and purpose of affirmative action has to be changed, so that it no longer creates any tension to preference a male in order to promote equality for females. This entails disconnecting affirmative action from the long history of the denial of rights of female-bodied people, and decades of research documenting the gender mechanisms whereby the cultural and social meanings attached to sex sustain and reproduce sex-based inequalities. It requires abandoning the long-held assumption that, like race, sex is a protected attribute because, across every domain of life, girls and women are recognised as members of that group, and ascribed traits, roles and status on that basis. If it is gender identity that matters, and not sex, we must assume that inequalities between women and men arise because of a set of social practices that organise relations between people, not on the basis of presumed sex but on the basis of a subjective, unobservable and potentially fluid gender identity.

Without the concepts of sex and gender as a system, our account of society no longer has a way of anticipating which parent, in Australian society as it currently is, faces an earning gap of $2 million over their lifetime. We can’t understand why some non-binary people, but not others, experience pregnancy discrimination, or why only some women are in danger of being ridiculed and abused if they come to work in a dress. It is a model of social relations that appears to imply that, if we were all to identify as agender, gender inequality would disappear. It is hard to overstate the magnitude of the conceptual shift this entails. We can surely respond sympathetically and effectively to the needs of trans people without throwing overboard the hugely important conceptual tools of sex categories, and the gender system to which they are attached. Yet piece by piece, this is in effect what we’ve done in Australia, seemingly without a word of debate. Amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act in 2013 followed changes in some regional government legislation by introducing “gender identity” as a new proscribed ground for discrimination. The new protected attribute is defined – I use the word in its loosest sense – as: “the gender-related identity, appearance or mannerisms or other gender-related characteristics of a person (whether by way of medical intervention or not), with or without regard to the person’s designated sex at birth”.

Importantly, the legislation protects trans people, and those who express themselves in gender non-conforming ways, from discrimination and harassment. To be clear, this is a very good thing. But, in accordance with gender identity theory, the amendments appear to have the effect of redefining “women” for the purposes of affirmative-action special measures, as well as most other contexts, to include anyone who identifies as a woman. (In response to my query about this, the Australian Human Rights Commission responded that the purpose of special measures is to create equality of opportunity for a disadvantaged group, and that a measure that excluded an already disadvantaged group might not qualify.) Certainly, celebrated forms of affirmative action to promote women in public life have taken that route. The three Australian Academy of Science awards for women scientists, the Stella Prize for women (and non-binary) writers, the Telstra Business Women’s Awards, the Women’s Art Prize Tasmania and the Helen Anne Bell Poetry Bequest Award for women all welcome anyone who self-identifies as a woman.

Nor is this change simply a practical one. The term “gender”, long understood as either a euphemism for sex, or a system of norms, was redefined as an identity by the 2013 Australian Government Guidelines on the Recognition of Sex and Gender. These guidelines concern the collection, use and updating of “sex and/or gender information” in personal records, across all federal government departments and agencies. Gender now “refers to each person’s deeply felt internal and individual identity”, and “some people may identify as neither exclusively male nor female”. Gender also, according to the guidelines, refers to the “way a person presents and is recognised within the community” and “may be reflected in outward social markers, including their name, outward appearance, mannerisms and dress”. It is this vague, mixed-bag gender variable that is “the preferred approach for department and agencies to collect”. Startlingly – since sex is a globally fundamental demographic variable strongly linked to a broad range of differential outcomes – the guidelines state that “[i]nformation regarding a person’s sex would not ordinarily be required”. There is no explanation of why classifications based on a person’s internally felt identity, name, clothing or mannerisms are more relevant to policymakers.

Perhaps to reassure us on that front, a frequently-asked-questions section about the guidelines explains that this doesn’t mean that the government is “getting rid of male or female”. The guidelines themselves state that departments and agencies will continue to “collect sex and/or gender information” should this be “crucial”, such as for “the ongoing monitoring of equality between men and women”. But government communications seem to have rejected the concept of “sex”, as the stable, immutable, biological binary of oldspeak. (Yes, there are individuals who, either due to nature or design, have phenotypes that straddle that binary, but in human biology there are only two sexes, male and female.) The Australian Bureau of Statistics now holds that “a person’s sex can change over the course of their lifetime” and uses different questions to collect sex recorded at birth, versus sex at the time of survey completion. According to the Bureau’s “Standard for Sex, Gender, Variations of Sex Characteristics and Sexual Orientation Variables”, the latter is likely to be answered in accordance with gender identity by trans people. This was the sex question chosen for the 2021 Census (although the online help is clear that the question is about physical sex characteristics), together with a “non-binary sex” option which can be selected on its own or, confusingly, in addition to “male” or “female”. A federal consultation paper, on the legal recognition of sex in documents and government records, makes short shrift of concerns that its proposals move towards a definition of sex far removed from common understanding rooted in biological sex characteristics. After all, as noted by the Human Rights Commission, some hold the view that “sex is historically and politically specific” – as if in certain times and places it is males who gestate babies. The Sex Discrimination Act amendments replaced the terminology “opposite sex” with “different sex”, in part to be “consistent with the protection of gender identity … which recognises that a person may … identify as … neither male nor female”, according to the explanatory memorandum. Victorian adults can change the record of sex on their birth certificates by self-declaration, as often as annually, and to an approved identifier other than “male” or “female”.

Thus, although the Workplace Gender Equality Agency still uses the sex terms “female” and “male”, these classifications no longer capture sex, but a more complicated, mixed-sex variable. “Female” includes anyone who identifies as female, even if they are biologically male; it also excludes anyone who doesn’t identify as female, even if they are biologically female. Employees can alternatively be classified as “Gender X” if they identify as non-binary, or be excluded altogether from the dataset, if they prefer not to disclose their “gender status”. In practice, the process of moving in and out of these classifications may be as simple as making an online request through human resources. The agency is not tracking what proportion of those classified as one sex are, in fact, biologically a member of the other.

When I asked the agency to direct me to its rationale for no longer defining male and female categories in terms of sex, I was referred to the Australian government’s guidelines. The agency’s spokesperson then explained that, because its obligation to promote and improve workplace gender equality “includes analysing data and relevant research related to how individuals interact with and experience issues of gender equality in the workplaces … it is appropriate that the Agency collects data with respect to gender”. If I have translated correctly, this means that the “gender equality” of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency now has an additional referent. It is a mix of its original purpose, promoting “equality between the sexes” and a new one, “equality between male and female gender identities”, with no way of disentangling the two. Ideally, the government would collect both sex and gender identity data, so as to be able to monitor both sex-based and trans-based disadvantages, and their intersection, and to develop interventions accordingly. (Trans men, for example, seem at risk of falling through the cracks when they are simply folded in as male.) Instead, apparently by design, there will be no way of knowing to what extent changes in “gender equality indicators” reflect an alteration in sex inequalities in power, status and material resources, versus movement between gender identities.

If and when Australia’s Pippa Bunce moment arrives, then, any resulting furore should not be about the awarding of a place on a feel-good list, or a prize or a board position. It should be about whether females have lost the concepts to explain the disadvantages they face in virtue of their sex, and a commitment to accurate data to test and understand it.

Cordelia Fine

Cordelia Fine is an academic and writer. Her latest book, Testosterone Rex, won the Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize.

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