It took just 24 hours for a billboard displaying the dictionary definition of a woman to be taken down from the CBD in Wellington because of the number of complaints the media company received in relation to it. The company claims that the billboard, commissioned by New Zealand advocacy group Speak Up for Women, “could be in breach of the Advertising Standards Authority’s codes”.
Speak Up for Women is an advocacy group which, according to its website, is concerned about the impact of gender identity politics on the rights of women and girls.
The group lobbied against amendments to a bill which would allow people to self-identify their sex on their birth certificates without going to the Family Court. As a consequence, the group has been labelled a hate group and accused of making ‘derogatory and harmful comments’ towards transgender people. They have had bookings for events at public facilities cancelled, with a local mayor suggesting on his Facebook page that they could instead hold one of their events in a council waste bin. He has since apologised for the comments.
The group rejects accusations that they are a hate group, a claim which has since been affirmed in a recent High Court decision which was favourable to the group, with a finding that they should be able to hold an event at a public library, after the local council had previously cancelled their booking. A comment from the judge affirmed that the group ‘cannot rationally be described as a hate group’.
Their website states:
“We are dismayed by the way in which women’s voices, both here and overseas, have been silenced by slurs, smears and targeted harassment campaigns. Where there is a conflict between claims we believe it is critical that there is a need for respectful open discussion.
“We support respectful, evidence-based dialogue and freedom of speech. We support the rights of transgender people to live their lives free from violence and discrimination. Rights do not exist in isolation and a fair society balances the rights of all.”
The billboard contains the word ‘Woman’ alongside the dictionary definition of ‘woman’: “Adult human female”, and the website address for Speak Up for Women.
A representative of the billboard company Go Media, responded as follows:
“Go Media is an inclusive, locally owned New Zealand business and we support all communities. While we believe in freedom of speech, we do not condone content that upsets our community. We apologise unreservedly for any distress this may have caused anyone, and remedied the situation as soon as we could.”
However, the group is determined to continue to speak up for women’s rights. The group’s spokeswoman Beth Johnson has stated:
“We will not be silenced. We will hold our event. We will continue to advance conversations about the law and how we can deal with the tensions between biological sex and gender identity in practice.”
It seems that respectful open discussion is exactly what is needed in the current debate about the way that trans rights intersect with the rights of women. Removing billboards because they cause offence illustrates the extent to which even an assertion of basic biology is being reinterpreted as ‘hate speech’ by the transgender movement. It shows how much further our public discourse has to go when discussing such polarising issues, particularly in terms of ensuring women’s voices and concerns are not stifled when it comes to issues that profoundly impact their rights and welfare.