This is the text of a speech given by Jean Hatchet at our meeting co-hosted by Portsmouth University on Thursday 16th September 2021, A Woman’s Place is asking big questions.
The event is part of the “Big Questions” seminar series and seeks to create space for ongoing conversations about feminism, sex, gender and sexuality in the 21st century by inviting speakers and organisations who seek to shape public policy from a range of different – and sometimes diametrically opposed – perspectives.
The University did not allow the event to be filmed.
Jean Hatchet: Single sex services for survivors
I am here to speak about single sex services for women from a survivor’s point of view. Much as I don’t want to spill trauma everywhere, I do think it is useful to have an example of a survivor’s experience located within the context of discussing why single sex space is so absolutely vital.
Identity and belief, violence and reality
First though lets’ talk about identity. Every day the rising cacophony of voices asking women to “respect my identity”. If a man identifies as a woman and a lesbian then I must immediately accept that identity and more importantly respect it and the dictated language that goes with it. I must call him her and I must accept what I am told. If I won’t I am likely to be accused of “denying my existence” or “literal violence”.
Hold that in your head. It is NOT violence not to accept the belief of another person because they have chosen an identity. I am no longer minded to believe everything men say about themselves. As a victim of male violence that is self-protection. I was gaslighted for years. I am vigilant about it.
In 1998 when I met my abuser, I was a teacher, a strong socialist and member of the Labour Party, a feminist and a writer. I was a working-class woman from a council estate who had made my way to university and I was proud of it. I had an aunt and uncle who loved me deeply and who I saw regularly. I had friends I saw often. All of these things were part of my identity. What was not “identity” was being female. That is a reality and that is why he, the abuser, chose me to abuse me.
So, what happened to my identity?
I’ll tell you. That man took it and dismantled it and me until I felt less than human. I was a walking, talking, smiling shell of myself. He had targeted every part of what and who I thought I was and made sure he changed it. I had to give up my job, he had told me I was no good at it anyway, I had to agree with his politics and even speak them, distance myself from the family I loved or I was selfish. I rarely saw friends and if I did there would be accusations of cheating, lying and of being a slag, a whore, an embarrassment. He told me people did not like me really and that they had told him this. Some trans activists outside here tonight have tried to humiliate me with the identity he imposed upon me. Laughed at how brainwashed I was. They have put the name of my perpetrator on a leaflet and then deliberately handed it to me. It is an act of great cruelty. This is them… it was never me.
Spiraling out of control
In early 2013 I’d really had enough. Life had spiraled entirely out of my control and into his. I had become more and more scared and more and more lost. I was struggling to stay afloat and still maintaining an exterior of being “me”. I maintained a narrative fiction of being independent and fought to convince myself I still had some autonomy, that there was still some of me left. Even survivors don’t want to admit that he’s won. But at that point he had won and I was lost.
So, a quick run-down of the 15 years he had been abusing me included broken ribs, being choked, being pushed about and strangled whilst pregnant, sexually humiliated, humiliated, financial control, being called every name under the sun including bitch, whore, slag, useless, crazy, witch, and more. I left the relationship in 2010 first. I took him back 6 months later. I did not have any support. I did not know how to stay free.
I did not have women.
Within a couple of months he had started again coercively controlling me and one night he went out, got drunk, called me and left his phone on whilst he bought and sexually used a prostituted woman. I heard it all. I was meant to. The next day I thought about driving my car into a wall but something in me is too strong. I went home. A night or two later he threw me to the ground in the street and knocked me unconscious. A woman saw and called the police. When I got to the hospital, I was terrified. I thought I stood to lose everything and I panicked.
I needed women. But I did not have women.
Instead, a male nurse stood at the end of my bed and told me I was being selfish if I did not give them all my details. I was refusing because I was scared. He had told me that Social services would take my child if I ever reported him again. They do call you when you’ve reported. And they hold you responsible for continuing to live with an abuser who will not let you leave.
I needed women very badly to unscramble all this for me. I did not have women.
I ran away from the hospital terrified that night. I picked up my clothes from the side of the bed and left through a side door. I called the police and a male officer came out to collect me. He took me to the station and I said I would not make a statement in support of the prosecution, that the woman had been wrong in what she saw and I would say in court that she was drunk.
At this point I badly needed a woman to come into that room. I did not have women.
Stripped of my identity I was his puppet. I functioned entirely for him. When I went to collect him from the police station where he was held he was escorted out by an officer. As they approached the car the officer peered in at me and they spoke to each other. When the abuser jumped in the car he said “do you know what he was looking at?” I said that I didn’t. He said “He was checking to see if you were mad. If you’d shown any sign of being mad he was going to have you sectioned there and then so you’d better watch yourself.” I believed him. …….Why didn’t they send a woman to check on me? I badly needed a woman.
Finding women and beginning my journey back to me
In February 2013, I made my way to women’s services metaphorically on my knees. I made the phone call. I asked “am I being abused?”. The answer was yes. If you are asking the question the answer is usually yes. You need to hear that from feminist women who know what is happening to you. I had found women. Without those women and that answer I believe I would be dead.
But that wasn’t it. I began to attend a course in Sheffield for victims. I had to account for my whereabouts so I told him I was “getting help from counselling so I can be a better wife and stop upsetting you”. When I arrived at the place, run by the amazing VIDA in Sheffield, I hopped down out of his version of my identity, the thing he had made me into. I climbed out of a Range Rover in my Prada shoes and I looked around and thought “I’m not like these women! This is not my identity.” But…. Here’s the thing. After one hour and women speaking to each other about the abuse they were suffering, I realised something that shocked me to my core. I was EXACTLY like every one of those women. And he was exactly like every one of their men.
That was it. The thing he had made of me was broken. The spell shattered. And my journey back to me began. I began to take back who I was from him. But it was hard. I had an IDVA I could call at any time. I kept going to the meetings. One day… he called in the middle of the meeting, those women-only meetings where I felt relatively safe, and I saw my phone and I was terrified. I broke down completely. The female support worker took me into a room and sat with me and talked me through what was happening. Explained to me. Deprogrammed me. Helped patch me back together. I could not have done that with a male person, who I WOULD have perceived as male. I would not have spoken as freely as I did. I would have left and not gone back if a male person was in that room.
Woman is not an identity
I might have died without those women and that space. I needed women and they were there. They saved me. I was with women. At last, I was with women.
That means something. Woman is not an identity. Identity can be worn as some do, but it can be dictated to you to be worn by an abuser. It can be shaped. You can choose it if you’re lucky, or it can be coerced and imposed upon you as it was for me.
So, when someone tells me that their identity is more important than my sex, the reason I was abused, I say no. Not now. Not after all these years of remembering what being a woman is. Of becoming me again. I will not be lied to by men. I will not be told what to do by men who say they are women. It is cruel. I will be one of the women who is there when a woman needs women.
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