Our local great spotted woodpeckers are back visiting the garden after their autumn sabbatical, having successfully raised at least one brood last year. Seeing a bird hanging off the fat ball cage the other day prompted the usual question: is it the female or the male?
This brought Ellie Mae O'Hagan to mind; in particular, her contribution to a BBC's Politics Live programme before Christmas when she said that she didn't know why some people are women and some people are men, adding that "anyone who claims to know the answer to that question is a liar".
I presume that, biology being biology, Ellie Mae would not be able to tell woodpeckers apart either. The problem being that, if you take the notion of gender identity seriously you cannot directly differentiate between women and men (and hence between woodpeckers) by "looking or listening, or by any other perceptual means, for the thing that makes you a man or a woman is gender identity which is an inner psychological state that has no reliable correlation with outer appearance."
With this in mind, I then wondered how sure I could be that the woodpecker I saw was female. The bird in question had the colouring that is traditionally associated with biological femaleness in those bird guides which have not embraced the progressive way of thinking about such matters, and which still differentiate between birds by sex rather than by gender identity. But how can we really know this. It's a quite a quandary.
One thing seems certain, however; you can trust woodpeckers to know the difference. This is an outcome of evolution over millennia.
 Material Girls. Why Reality Matters for Feminism, (2022) Stock K. London: Fleet p.155