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Solidarity in action: Cátia Freitas

Cátia Freitas is socialist working class single mother of one who’s still struggling with mental illness following DV/male violence.

I write this in solidarity with Woman’s Place and all women out there who are now routinely accused of transphobia as they go about defending women’s rights.

The need for spaces for women to talk, question, and to disagree without being automatically seen as transphobic grows more urgent. We’re being interrupted as we speak; our words are deliberately misconstrued as we are told, “trans rights don’t impinge on women’s rights”. We see our freedom of speech restricted when women speak about their legal definition, rights and spaces being transgressed and then immediately being labelled “transphobic” in thinly veiled attempts to discredit us.

I attended one of Woman’s Place’s meetings in London. I also spoke at Basingstoke, the first and only time publicly and specifically about years of abuse at the hands of a man, about finding relief among women, about other consequences of abuse-related trauma. I spoke as a woman relating things that happen mostly to women because we’re women.

Last week was atrocious. It’s truly depressing that high profile members of the largest left wing party in Europe all decided to give all women the biggest “up yours” sign of their contempt for them.

You’d be forgiven for thinking they were taking the proverbial since women are living this outright dismissal of their concerns. The most eloquent of us are being hounded out of work, social and political spaces by any means necessary including being ostracised, physically attacked, sacked and no-platformed regardless of the subject they mean to address.

On the left, being on the socialist “Who’s Who?” list is no shield. If you’re a woman, you’ll be swiftly sidelined and portrayed as reactionary. Laura Pidcock has been no platformed by the Tribune and even a call at boycotting the Morning Star has been made because they report on the struggles of pesky women who will not shut up and be kind.

On leftie social media circles, women get mass blocked by people whom we previously stood with to oppose austerity, the corporate degradation of the environment and the increased privatisation of public services, especially the NHS, among other issues. In this age of purging people from one’s view I have found myself added to a Twitter list of undesirable people.

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Can I say WTF?! My left pointed at power and never the powerless. When Marx said “Religion is the opium of the people” he also expressed solidarity with believers  because he understood their living conditions were as traumatic as to be understandable they took refuge in justifications for suffering and rewards in the ever after.

I don’t see understanding being extended to women.

Where is the solidarity with women in all of this?

This morning I came across a man who insisted on an answer from Ruth Serwotka on whether she, as a socialist woman, agreed with him that some assertions by some woman who allegedly said some obnoxious things about Caitlyn Jenner were transphobic.

It hit me that we are deep in that transphobia-by-proxy terrain that women know so well because plenty have had friends and acquaintances abandon and stop talking to them to avoid “guilty by association”.

I find this an affront to the basic belief in the validity of every single human being. If every human being is worthy, they have the right to a political voice and those who take up the task of representing us politically have the duty to listen to all of us, even the homophobes, the transphobes and other “phobes”.

It seems to me more and more that solidarity is simultaneously a much used, underused and vacuously used word within the very left that I hold dear.

The world is not populated by perfect people. If it was we would have no need of governments and laws in the first place and, least of all, movements to agitate for change in the world; suffice to say, that women know only too well, how dangerous the concept of perfection is as well as how thin a tightrope it is to tread. We will revisit this idea in a moment and concentrate on the logical conclusions of the kind of reasoning on display.

Was the elderly lady who referred to my four-year-old son with a racist slur undeserving of the option of a female carer to help her with her personal needs if she felt more comfortable? Should women who commit crimes be thrown into a predatory environment because their infractions were within the law’s reach? Why do we lose our right to be heard if we’re less than perfect, in our ways, in our behaviour, in our speech, and in our attitudes to trans people when we demand for women to be properly counted?

I ask because that was, in essence, what was being asked of Serwotka and Woman’s Place. I value this organisation all the more for knowing they are listening to as many of those they took upon themselves the task of representing. Organisations which actually bother to do this are precious few and far between and that makes the work Woman’s Place does that all the more valuable.

I didn’t ask to speak. I was invited. It was my second speech ever. My first had been in London in a small vigil for victims of benefit cuts and the cruelty of ATOS organised by the wonderful Micheline Mason. Suddenly the mic is in my hands and an ad-hoc bunch of words poured out letting everyone know I knew what others too talked about. I was being driven mad by depression at the time and I’m still not quite sure how I got there (apart from my son and a friend accompanying me) but I decided I had to go. I didn’t ask if the people affected or the people organising were homophobes or islamophobes. Extending my solidarity was my objective, my aim, my small contribution.

I was also invited to the Women’s Liberation 2020 Conference. I couldn’t go even though I hoped I might do and have the opportunity of adding to discussion from the floor on women and class.

That being said, I think that within the wider left, Woman’s Place, the group that stands together, stands alone. One of the things that binds the left is our tolerance and acceptance for other views and opinions, but if we cannot do that for one another, our movement will collapse. The uncompromising and unsustainable way in which we apply purity tests to each other is a betrayal of our own values. More unites us than divides us, and we must recognise that in order to achieve our aims to create a better tomorrow.

Instead of engaging in the defaming and spurious discrediting of Woman’s Place the wider left should be learning from them and the wider women’s movement that solidarity is not just a token word to let everyone know you’re a “leftie”.

Solidarity’s meaning will be lost if it’s devoid of its radical nature. Woman’s Place is showing us all what solidarity means in action.

@Mocha_Soul

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