If you cannot define women, then you cannot defend them 

On May 25th councillor Sarah Field spoke at a meeting in Leeds which was the first U.K. discussion of The Declaration of Sex Based Rights. The Declaration re-affirms that women’s global human rights are based upon sex. 

Good afternoon everyone and welcome.

I’d like to thank everyone here for coming today, our panel and the Leeds Spinners for inviting me to Chair.

Our brilliant panel of academics will be speaking today about the Declaration of Sex Based Rights. But by way of introduction I am going to talk a little bit about Leeds and why I’m here.

So, I just want to start off by thanking the many women on the Mumsnet Feminism boards. You are a constant strength and inspiration. 

About three years ago, not long after I was first elected, I was contacted by a woman in Leeds, for advice. Her six year old daughter had been verbally attacked and then subjected to a violent outburst by a 17 year old male who had been allowed to join a local girls group as a helper. This was because he said he identified as a female. What had this child done? She had asked him if he was a boy. And then this six year old girl had been made to stand alone in front of the entire group and apologise to him.

And I couldn’t get my head around this. So I began to do some research. And this was how I found my way to gender critical thinking and radical feminism.
 

And these are the following statements I’d like to make:

Every single person on the planet is unique. And I don’t care what they wear. And I don’t care who they love or have sex with, as long as they are consenting adults.

There is no such thing as living as a woman. We are women. And it is our female biology which makes us women. It is our sex. And biological sex is observable in every single cell in our bodies: it is a physical, material and biological fact. And our sex is what makes us a class. Our sex which makes us uniquely vulnerable to male violence. Our sex which means we bear the entire burden of reproductive labour. The structural oppression which women face as a class is because of their sex. And that is why all women need legal recourse to separate and sex segregated spaces.

It is simply not ethical to categorise males as females based on their subjective feelings. To do so means the female sex no longer has legal protections or legal meaning and is instead reduced to destructive, regressive gender stereotyping.

If you cannot define women, then you cannot defend them.

Which brings me to Leeds City Council, which famously prevented a meeting here last year to discuss changes to the Gender Recognition Act. When the WPUK meeting was cancelled I read the email from a Labour Councillor and then I read the flurry of replies and actions that not once asked for clarification or any other viewpoints – just this blind acceptance of a hateful narrative – and it became clear to me that it’s become a virtue to dismiss, intimidate and silence women. 

I stand with my lesbian sisters

That meeting was to discuss proposed changes to legislation and the government’s consultation. Its purpose was not to tell Trans people what is best for them, but to tell politicians and law makers what is best for women. The vast majority of those who ask questions about Self-ID are lifelong left leaning, are lesbians, trade unionists, LGB allies and of all faiths and none. These accusations we face – transphobes, bigots, TERFs, religious fundamentalists, hate preachers – are utter nonsense. And I’ve had enough. And I must say I absolutely refute in the strongest terms any accusations of homophobia against gender critical women. A huge number of them are lesbians. And I stand with my lesbian sisters. Just as I’ve always done for years of solidarity with the LGB community. And since the woke brigade of word salad identity politics seems to love a good cliché, I’ll throw in a mention of my magnificent gay best friend and godfather to both my children.

Leeds City Council has brought in Self-Identification. Anyone can change their sex, or “gender marker” as they call it, across all council services and departments by completing a short online form.

When I asked, under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI), for the Equality Impact Assessments I was told they didn’t do any. When I asked, under FOI, how this might impact sex segregated services and spaces I was told Leeds City Council does not have any such spaces or services. When I asked, under FOI, for a comprehensive list of women’s and men’s clothes, as cross dressing is specifically defined in council policy as a protected characteristic, I was told no such list exists. When asked to define a woman, they said no such definition exists.

So to be clear: men in this city can access a woman’s changing facility, toilet, leisure facility or support group or service – anywhere they are vulnerable, traumatised, undressed or asleep – because men might at some point feel like they are something which the council says is indefinable, but might mean he once wore something which may or may not be something a woman might also wear.

Well, women fought for those spaces and they are not this council’s to give away.

It is absurd, it is dangerous and millions of women across the country are saying we have had enough. You cannot identify into an oppressed class because you cannot identify out of an oppressed class. And women are uniquely oppressed across the planet: reproductive health and autonomy, Female Genital Mutilation, violence, rape, child marriage, no right to vote, death in childbirth, post-natal illness, denied access to education, lower wages, chemical contraception, sex trafficking, surrogacy, pornography, prostitution and objectification.

I’ve had women in prisons and post-prison services in Leeds who have contacted me in fear and despair because they are confined with men who threaten them with rape, assault them, repeatedly expose their so called female penises and taunt them about playing the system and flushing their hormones down the toilet. 

We need statistics on women

Our statistics will be skewed and we will lose a tool of analysis that provides us with the ability to challenge the very inequalities for which sex based provisions and quotas were created.

And of course there is a wider underbelly of misogyny in Leeds. The so called managed zone of prostituted, emaciated and addicted women is our flagship. In the last few months I’ve visited Holbeck twice, once at night where I observed several men out on the street openly watching pornography in their cars as women stumbled to them to be used and discarded for a fiver. During the day I was approached by punters three times in 10 minutes while simply standing by a car for some fresh air at 2pm. We are spending hundreds of thousands of pounds so men can buy the addicted bodies of the most vulnerable women in the city. Men know what a woman is in Holbeck.

I’m often asked how I would feel if I was born in the wrong body. And I say, I’ve been feeling like that every single day for as long as I can remember. You only have to go into a shop, turn on the TV, open a magazine, click on the internet and women are assaulted with GET A BIKINI BODY, 12 WEEKS UNTIL YOUR CHRISTMAS PARTY BODY, GET THE BODY YOU DREAM OF, THE BODY OF SOMEONE 20 YEARS YOUNGER, THE BODY YOU DESERVE. Botox, surgery, hair removal, Photoshop, permanent makeup, designer vagina. We get it.

I don’t think all men are rapists. I don’t think all men are intrinsically violent, creepy or degenerate. God knows I love my dad and my brother and my dear nine-year-old son. But 98% of sexual violence is committed by men. And there is no way to tell the good ones from the bad ones. There never will be. That’s why we need our spaces and services and boundaries, for our privacy, our dignity and our safety. It’s why we need to preserve the social norms which generally prevent men from entering our spaces and preserve our confidence to challenge men who do so. Bad men will do anything to gain access to women and girls. That’s why every institution in the world attracts those who will use power and access to abuse us. If they do it in schools, the care system, churches and families then they will sure as hell do it in prisons, toilets, refuges and changing rooms. They already are.

In terms of protecting females from a significant minority of dangerous males, these reasons don’t cease to operate when males self-identify as women. And self-identification removes any gatekeeping, safeguarding or requirement for any man to do anything other than complete a cursory administrative process via an online form.

I’m truly sorry for any man who feels imprisoned and tortured by masculinity. But that is something for men to deconstruct, to dismantle and to overthrow. And there are men doing it. There are transsexuals and cross dressers and allies against the male stereotypes which damage everyone. But it is not the moral duty of women to facilitate that. If your feminism prioritises the internal identifications of men over the material conditions of women then you are not a feminist. In a world of structural and systematic oppression, and an epidemic of male violence, we owe it to women and to the legacy of every feminist who has fought before us, to stand for ourselves.
Thank you. 

The most vibrant feminist meeting of the year

Thanks to Lily Maynard for the pic.

Our meeting on Monday 20th May has certainly had a big impact. Lots of women who were there or who have heard about it have been in touch to say how positive and confident it’s made them feel to talk more freely about the importance of sex based rights.

Helen Lewis wrote in the New Statesman:

“The packed hall felt like the birth, or rebirth, of something. A feminism unafraid to talk about the female body. A rejection of the extremes of identity politics. And – just as radically – a movement that happens in the real world rather than purely online.”

You can read the whole article here.

Ros Sitwell in the Morning Star wrote a report which gives a flavour of the speeches from Julie Bindel, Selina Todd, Maya Forstater and Meghan Murphy. We’ll be posting the videos of these shortly.

In the meantime you can listen to Kiri Tunks, one of our co-founders, who recorded a podcast which you can download here for the women led volunteer organisation Filia.

Inspired, motivated, and ready to speak out

Kim Thomas was at our London meeting A Woman’s Place is back in town on May 20th. She was impressed.

Every once in a while, if you’re lucky, you have the opportunity to be present at history in the making. Monday night’s meeting of Woman’s Place UK felt like one of those occasions.

Several hundred women – and a sprinkling of men – gathered at a central London venue to hear four brilliant speakers: the young Canadian feminist Meghan Murphy; Oxford academic and historian of the working-class Selina Todd; Maya Forstater, recently sacked from her think tank job for stating a belief in biological facts; and  Julie Bindel, a tireless lifelong campaigner for the most marginalised women and girls. There was a great sense among the audience of women coming together to collectively resist the sustained attack on our rights.

Meghan Murphy spoke passionately and eloquently about the importance of authenticity and refusing to collude in the lie that trans women are women – a piece of virtue signalling designed to garner Facebook likes but that no one really believes. Yet nothing about the trans activist movement is progressive – instead the rights of women and girls to their own spaces and boundaries are being overridden. “The wrong side of history is an embarrassing place to be,” she said, pointedly.           

The second speaker, Selina Todd, spoke eloquently about the pernicious postmodernist idea that language creates reality and that we bring things into being purely by naming them. It’s a philosophy that negates the materiality of lived experience – and has more in common with neoliberal ideology than left-wing thought. She attacked the retrospective “transing” of women who lived their lives as men, ignoring the facts of women’s oppression that determined their choice. “Woman is not a monolithic identity but is an experience that we are born into and live – and it is that experience that binds us together as feminists.”

Maya Forstater talked about her work in international development and the importance of biological sex in understanding oppression: women, she pointed out, do billions of hours of unpaid care work each day; every year there are 25m unsafe abortions. It is women and girls who are the victims of forced marriage. Yet international agencies insist on using the word “gender” when they mean “sex”.

Julie Bindel, who was greeted with rapturous applause, gave a barnstorming speech, full of wit and humour, including a memorable reference to one well-known left-wing columnist as a “woking-class hero”. She talked about her experience of being bullied, harassed and abused over the past 20 years for her beliefs, including having a rape and death threats yelled at her as she made her way to a Stonewall journalism award. Many feminists had written to say they supported her but were frightened to speak out – and she urged feminists to find the courage to make their voices heard.

 It was Bindel who came up with the most memorable line of the evening when, discussing a newspaper’s use of the phrase “her penis” in reference to the rapist Karen White, she quoted an Australian feminist who said: “The only time the phrase ‘her penis’ should be used in a sentence is when a woman has castrated her rapist and is holding his penis up in the air.”

Among the hundreds of people in the audience were some of the leading lights of the women’s resistance – and during the question-and-answer session at the end, we were lucky enough to hear from impromptu experts such as @radfemlawyer, who spoke about defending women’s legal rights, and Helen Saxby of Transgender Trend, who has written a Children’s Rights Impact Assessment for of The Allsorts Trans Toolkit for schools.

We all left the meeting feeling inspired, motivated, and ready to speak out for what we believe in. In the words of Julie Bindel, who left the stage to a standing ovation: “Since when were we a woman’s rights movement who would keep schtum and let a few women take the shit?”

Feminism, postmodernism and women’s oppression

Professor Selina Todd is Professor of Modern History, University of Oxford. She spoke at our London meeting, A Woman’s Place is back in town in London on 20th May 2019. 

You can download or share her speech as a PDF

You can watch the speech here.

She is the author of The People: the rise and fall of the working class 1910-2010 and her next book, Tastes of Honey: the making of Shelagh Delaney and a Cultural Revolution will be out in autumn 2019. Follow her on Twitter @selina_todd

The people

How far we have come in a year and a half. A Woman’s Place UK has gone from protecting the rights we have, to now fighting for those we still lack.  

Among our demands are women’s right to same-sex spaces, and to self-organisation. They are vital in themselves, but also as means of destroying women’s oppression by men – an oppression that is based on our biological sex, and which socialises us in gendered ways. Working collectively to change this, is what feminism is all about. And as feminists, we have a long and proud tradition to draw on, which I want to talk about tonight.  

But feminism, like the definition of woman, is an object of suspicion for the opponents of women’s sex-based rights. I want to talk briefly about where this hostility comes from, drawing on what’s been taught in UK and US universities over the past thirty years. Some of what I say may sound esoteric, but two, almost three generations of students have been educated to see the world a certain way. They are now the teachers, journalists, civil servants and politicians seeking to negotiate the current debate over women’s rights. We need to understand how their education has influenced their worldview, if we are to set the record straight. 

Postmodernism 

Suspicion of feminism owes much to postmodernism, which began to prevail in British and US universities after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Dressed up as radical, it is really the acceptable face of neoliberalism. Many students were and are taught that people cannot break out of the confines of capitalism – though this is a strange form of capitalism, in which language, rather than money, makes the world go round. People cannot change the world, but individually they can alter their relationship to it, through their self-description and performance of gender. No reality exists other than self-description.  

By this logic, feminists brought women’s oppression into being by naming it. Feminism prevented people being ‘queer’ and gender fluid by insisting on the category ‘woman’.  

 Over the past thirty years, students have studied collective movements less, and individuals’ identities, emotions and desires more. While individual choice is celebrated, the very notion of collectivity is deemed oppressive. Revealingly in our neoliberal times, socialist, labour and feminist movements have been most strongly attacked. The leaders of feminist movements were, it is claimed, attempting to dominate those they purported to represent. The world was and is a collection of self-interested individuals seeking to dominate others or avoid domination themselves. In the words of that great postmodern theorist Margaret Thatcher, there is no such thing as society. 

 We’re now seeing the rise of scholarship on transgender people in the past, and museum and gallery celebrations of ‘queerness’. These university courses and exhibitions aren’t replacing the older focus on white privileged men, but rather taking over the limited space that we’d fought to create for women’s history. Often these ‘queer’ histories involve appropriating lesbian history, as the transwashing of lesbians’ contribution to Stonewall’s establishment shows. This is a glaring example of why we need single-sex, feminist spaces and organisations, to record and learn from women’s achievements. 

The attempt to reclaim transgender ancestors is deeply ahistorical. Transgender ideology argues that biological sex does not exist; and that gender is a personal identity brought into being by self-description. These claims do not speak to the experiences of people in the past. Before the late 20th century, gender and sexuality were widely understood as determined by one’s biological sex.  That’s why some lesbians understood their sexuality as a biological ‘inversion’.  

 

Postmodernism

 That biological sex does not determine gender was revealed by feminists, not postmodernists, in the 1970s and 1980s. They showed that the very existence of gender is due to historically specific, unequal relationships between men and women. Male oppression of women predates capitalism, but in capitalist societies certainly, women’s biological role as actual and potential mothers – and therefore as reproducers of labour power – explains their oppression as a sex. Gender and sex are connected by the exercise of male power over women. Social and cultural gender roles helped to control women.  

Who holds power? 

This analysis of power – who holds it, how and why – is often lacking in university teaching. Power is presented as diffuse and operated through language. Feminists can therefore hold as much power as white male capitalists. But gender was not and is not an identity, freely chosen. Gender norms are meant to keep people in their place. The minority of people who lived as members of the opposite sex in the past, did not make this choice freely. Very often, they were lesbians or gay men who faced social opprobrium or worse if they did not conceal either their sexuality or their sex. Others did so for equally material reasons. One of the most famous cases is Lilias Barker, a woman born in late 19th century Britain who lived much of her adult life as a man, was jailed for marrying another woman, and became a freak show on Blackpool pier. On one of the rare occasions that Barker was allowed to speak for herself away from court and salacious press reports, she explained that she had begun living as a man because it was easier for men to earn a living than for women to do so. This reasoning, which reflected women’s lack of economic power, is usually ignored by scholars. Instead of studying why women had so little power, Barker is celebrated as ‘queer’. But if a woman can only be economically independent, behave as she likes or love who she wants by living as a man, this tells us she lives in a society where gendered roles are very rigid. If we find ourselves in a society where many women apparently want to live as men – as is true among teenagers today – an appropriate response is not to embrace, but to challenge those gender roles – and, even more important, to smash the structures of oppression that underpin them.   

Feminist history reveals that women can do just this. They do so through solidarity, understanding that united we stand, divided we fall.  

Feminists in the 19th century 

The notion that feminism creates male oppression of women, by naming it, ignores that feminist movements don’t come out of nowhere – they are provoked by sexism. Take late 19th century Britain. As men’s education, employment and suffrage rights increased, feminists responded to the exclusion of women from these. They also reacted to new threats to women’s few freedoms. A scare over male syphilis in the army led to the forcible inspection of women – not men – for venereal disease. Women suspected of being prostitutes could simply be pulled off the streets and subjected to invasive examination. The government also debated legalising brothels. Feminists recognised that prostitution exists for men’s interests, not women’s. They campaigned against brothels, and for women’s right to walk freely on the street without arrest or assault.   

These feminists are sometimes represented as simply restricting working-class women’s freedom to undertake sex work. More generally, there is a branch of scholarship, and transactivism, which views legislation and the state as problematic. By naming something, you essentialise it. So legalising homosexuality, as occurred in Britain in 1967, forced ‘queer’ men to become homosexuals. Try telling a gay man who came of age before 1967 that he was lucky. There are, of course, transideologues and transactivists who are in favour of legislation, where this would further their own right to self-identification. This is not a consistent or coherent ideology. But the antipathy towards the state and legislation is played out, for example, in the demand that birth certificates should not carry a person’s sex, because in doing so they force people into essentialist categories that oppress them. If that was true, we’d expect to find that there was no oppression of women as a sex before 1837, when birth certificates were introduced in the UK. Alas, a quick read of Mary Wollstonecraft, who died thirty years earlier, shows that sadly, sexism already existed.  

Woman is a lived experience 

Many of these nineteenth-century feminists were also active in campaigns for the vote, for women’s trade union representation and for women’s education. Many also worked alongside male comrades in the labour movement, and against imperialism. Differences of opinion existed between feminists. Class and race inequalities that exist in wider society were and are reflected in social and political movements, and we should work harder to overcome this.  It was certainly a movement dominated by white middle-class women, but connections were made with, for example, Indian feminists campaigning for freedom from imperial rule alongside women’s political citizenship. Despite their differences, thousands of women in Britain and across the world found common cause in fighting their oppression. They were able to unite because they understood that ‘woman’ is not a monolithic ‘identity’, defined by an internal essence, but a lived experience, from birth, characterised by women’s oppression by men.  

Alongside these political campaigns, many women established single-sex spaces in which they could be safe from male exploitation, and could collectively create the opportunities that men denied them. They established girls’ schools and women’s colleges, nurseries, maternity clinics – the first in Britain were pioneered by women in the co-op and labour movement – artistic and cultural ventures, and nurtured women’s same-sex relationships.  When you are excluded from the centres of power and oppressed by those who control them, it makes sense to organise autonomously. Exclusion per se is not unfair – we need to understand context, and power. Women’s exclusion of men is not exclusion by a dominant class, as statistics on domestic violence, the sex pay gap and women’s woeful political representation show. That’s why we need single-sex spaces and the right to self-organise.   

Individual choice? 

In contrast to this history of self-organisation, transactivism, like neoliberalism, simply offers us individual choice. We can change our selves but nothing else. Not only is this woefully unambitious and nihilistic, but the doctrine of choice adds to women’s oppression. For it is WOMEN who now shoulder the burden of ‘choosing’ social care for their dependents in the absence of a robust welfare state- and the unpaid labour of care when no provider is available. It is WOMEN who are now spending more time in active parenting than they did in the 1970s – despite also doing far more hours of paid work – because they are expected to ‘choose’ their child’s school, friends and extracurricular activities in order to give them a head start in the great marketplace of life. And if that seems divorced from transideology, let’s reflect on the pressure that mothers face from those who claim that a ‘good’ parent will unquestioningly support their child’s ‘choice’ to transition. Of course, once you’ve lost your breasts and become infertile, ‘gender’ may not feel so fluid after all. Mothers will be there to pick up the pieces when the transactivists and their ‘allies’ have walked away.  

Grunwick strikers Morning Star

Historically, many feminists have fought for the right to act outside gendered norms, and in accordance with your sexuality. But they understood that individual choices over how to behave or describe yourself do not overcome oppression. Feminist movements have. To those who claim feminism achieved nothing more than the dominance of a few white, middle-class women, I say: go tell that to the women who organised against imperial rule in Latin America and Asia. Tell that to those black women who fought for sex as well as race equality in the US and South Africa. Tell it to the Grunwick strikers of the 1970s, those South Asian women who enacted one of Britain’s longest-running industrial disputes and showed that it is possible to forge solidarity across the divisions of sex and race, while respecting the right of women to self-organise. And, frankly, tell it to those white, middle-class women who fought for our right to walk the streets, have an education, and the vote. 

We will win 

Feminist movements are as varied in tactics as they are in membership. Many friends of mine are frustrated that they can’t be more involved in today’s women’s movement, often fearing that the hostility that feminists face will harm their livelihood or families. The past shows us that we need militant action and those who can speak out publicly. But feminism also relies on those who use their work to change hearts and minds; those who write trade union resolutions and articles, and those who give care – hugely undervalued in capitalism and patriarchy – to those in the firing line. And when we look back at the suffrage movement’s awe-inspiring rallies, in halls like this one, we know that every single woman there made a difference.  

I suspect that over the past year we have all had moments of despair – but our past shows that such moments can bring forth glorious movements and lasting change. Five years ago, I would not have dreamed that I would stand together tonight with hundreds of feminists, confident that we are just the tip of a growing, international movement for women’s rights. And by owning our history we have something that feminists in the past did not possess. They rarely knew much about the feminist campaigns that preceded them – that history wasn’t present in schools, universities, libraries or museums. But we do. We know that those feminists who went before us were reviled, as we are. But we also know that they won important victories. The struggle continues, and here, today, on May 20th 2019, we are also making history. Standing in sisterhood with those who went before us, we can say with confidence: we too shall fight – and we will win.  

Troublesome women

Kiri Tunks is a socialist feminist and trade union activist. She is a co-founder of Woman’s Place UK. This is a transcript of the speech she gave on International Women’s Day 2019 at a Morning Star Readers’ event: Women, Race, Class & Gender.

 

ms photo.jpg

 

Woman’s Place UK (WPUK) was founded in September 2017 to ensure women’s voices were heard in the consultation on changes to the Gender Recognition Act. Our experiences during that time led us to broaden our campaign to a wider set of demands which we launched in January this year. 

In just over a year since our inception, WPUK has built quite a following.  

We have also built quite a reputation. 

Actually, several reputations. 

Some of them bear no connection to our pretty reasonable demands.  

Because it seems that in debates around sex and gender it is easier to defame and slur than engage with very real concerns. 

Sex is a protected characteristic under the law.  

Our campaign has been based on the single sex exemptions which exist in the Equality Act.  

These allow for the separate provision of single sex services, spaces, places and employment in recognition of the fact that: 

  • women may need to only be with other women  
  • women may not use services unless they are delivered by women 
  • or that acts of positive discrimination help address a persistent inequality. 

Yet saying so is now portrayed as hate speech and fascism.  

And fascism must be crushed…

The latest example of this was a tweet this week from radical left campaign, Jewdas, which proclaimed: 

“Good afternoon. TERFs are fascists and should be treated no differently from Nazis. 

This produced responses which encouraged the use of the Nuremberg Trials and cyanide pills. 

Such a conflation is both offensive and dangerous in the extreme. 

This rhetoric minimises the history and impact of fascism which has violently suppressed and persecuted millions of people and caused the murders of millions more. It diminishes the murder of 6 million Jews by the Nazis and the horrors of the Holocaust. It belittles the current threat of modern fascism, growing fast across Europe and with real signs of growth here.  

To compare the demands of women campaigning for their rights to the cancer of fascism demonises any woman speaking up and silences her. This can only lead to a diminution of women’s liberation and the erasure of women’s rights.  

The “radical” left

Violent images of what you can do to TERFs are easily found on social media. Women identified as TERFs have been subject to violence, intimidation, threats, demonization, and vilification. Some have been cast out of organising/political groups or ostracised at meetings and events. 

It’s like the Wild West out there. Loads of trigger-happy gunslingers and not a sheriff in sight. 

Our demands are legitimate. 

In fact, they are in line with the law as it currently exists –  

 

And as it should exist in any properly functioning democracy 

  • We are calling for the rights of women to be upheld 
  • We are calling for the rights of women to self-organise 
  • We are calling for the right of women to be consulted and heard 
  • We are calling for an end to violence against women and girls 
  • We are calling for the legal system to work for women 
  • We are calling for the robust collection of data and evidence-based research 

Some have found these demands to be troublesome but they are no more than we are due and the very least we are prepared to accept. 

The reaction to women calling for these rights has been astonishing. 

We have been threatened, abused, vilified, demonised, slurred, libelled and cast out. 

WPUK has organised 21 meetings around UK 

Every meeting has been threatened.

We’ve had:

  • masked thugs demonstrating outside  
  • the beating of pots/pans drowning out voices of sexual assault survivors 
  • Threats to venues who host us 
  • Reporting of speakers or attendees to their employers 
  • Physical intimidation 
  • A bomb threat 

We have to hire security and release the location at the last minute. 

This is what is meted out to groups of women trying to meet to discuss issues of material concern to us 

And there is an appetite for our meetings – at our 21 meetings we have  

  • Sold 3,000 tickets 
  • Had 45 different speakers from academia, labour movement, feminism, women’s sector 

Our YouTube channel has over 1700 subscribers with 135,000 views of our films 

We have 16,000 followers on Twitter & over 5,000 on Facebook .

We are regularly sent messages of support by women too frightened to say so publicly. 

And we have held meetings all over the UK from Newcastle to Bath, from Cardiff to Norwich. 

All pretty much sold out. 

Civic and political society have largely failed us.

There are some honourable exceptions  

  • Quakers and other non-conformist groups,
  • The Marx Memorial Library,
  • Some universities,
  • Arts centres, pubs, and community hubs.

The way we have been treated is a terrible indictment of our society  

Although it should not have been a revelation… 

When, in history, have women won any rights without having to fight to make their voice heard?  

Without kicking up a fuss?  

Women are meant to know our place.  

Keep quiet.  

Stay in the shadows.  

Acquiesce.  

Do as we are told.  

Behave. 

Well, as Laurel Thatcher Ulrich declared: 

“Well-behaved women rarely make history”. 

So, if you find our campaign troubling, ask yourself what troubles you about women asserting themselves and their rights?

Because I’ll tell you what I find troubling:

  • Endemic sexual harassment & abuse suffered by women in this country 
    • Plan UK found that 86% of 18-24 year old women suffer routine sexual harassment in public;
    • Surveys by the National Education Union & Girl Guiding say 54%-64% girls do in schools 
      • There are 100s of sexual assaults recorded in schools 
    • 52% of women polled by the TUC have experienced sexual harassment
      • Women are three times as likely to suffer as men
      • 9/10 perpetrators are men 
      • 80% did not report to their employer 
      • Only 1% of women confided in a trade union representative
  • The sexual objectification of women and girls 
  • Violent porn and degrading or overtly sexualised images of women 
  • The lack of statutory Relationships and Sex Education  
  • The fact that ¼ of teenage girls suffer depression and self-harm 
  • A return to the reactionary gender stereotypes we thought we had left behind 
  • Levels of abuse faced by women in public life and on social media 
    • Abusive posts and tweets especially to women in politics (Women MPs received over 26,000 offensive tweets with Diane Abbot receiving over 50% of them)
  • The under-representation of women in politics, business, academia, culture and science 
  • The failure of the criminal justice system with high levels of sexual assault and only 6% of reported rapes ending in conviction:
    • Unfair treatment sentencing of women;
    • female victims blamed for the crimes perpetrated against them
      • for being drunk
      • being outside their house alone
      • being annoying
      • being women…
  • Shocking levels of domestic violence including very high numbers of women murdered, the perpetrators often pitied or excused 
  • The pay gap is 17% and growing
  • Maternity and pregnancy discrimination – 54,000 women lose their jobs every year 
  • A welfare system that the UN Rapporteur described as misogynistic 
  • The burden of unpaid caring falling almost entirely on women 
  • The racist treatment of migrant women and refugees 
  • The underfunding of women’s services – so that there are not enough refuges for survivors 
  • Poverty: it hits women and children hardest 

For all these, experience is exacerbated by class and race.

There has been a huge increase in racist hate and assault 

  • A hug rise anti-Islamic hate crime 
  • BME and disabled women are worse hit by poverty and austerity 
  • The growth of ‘misogynoir’ – the racist stereotyping and abuse of women of colour 

I find all that deeply troubling and so should you. 

I’ll tell you what else I find troubling 

The abject failure of any political party to

  • Step up to its responsibilities
  • Facilitate this debate
  • Listen honestly and broker a resolution 

We have actively tried to engage with politicians and parties of all hues. 

Only one party leader has attended one of our meetings – Sophie Walker of The Women’s Equality Party.

We have met key political figures across the political spectrum but most don’t want people to know that 

Something else I find troubling… 

The political cowardice of councils all over the country who are happy  to casually change the protected characteristic from sex to gender without a thought for their obligations under the Equality Act, but who won’t host a meeting for women to discuss their rights.

Leeds Council pulled a booking we had organised through the sponsorship of a councillor on the day of the meeting – pretending it was because the ceiling had a crack. 

A subsequent meeting with the Leader gave us no faith that women’s rights are safe in that city. 

Councillors in various cities have attacked feminists and gender critical women and motions asserting women’s legal rights have come under attack 

Another thing that’s troubling… 

The moral bankruptcy of organisations (funded by public money)  

  • In claiming to represent thousands of women in this country  
  • Without actually finding out what we think. 

The Equality and Human Rights Commission guidance on the Equality Act was wrong. A fact they only changed after it was pointed out to them 

They have failed to broker discussions between groups with protected characteristics as is their duty under the PSED. 

Stonewall, purportedly a group representing LGBT people in this country, lobbied to have single sex exemptions removed from the Equality Act without any thought of the impact this might have on lesbians and other women 

Many other women’s organisations have decided that self-identity is ok without consulting the women they claim to represent 

More troubling still 

is the blind arrogance of the labour movement 

  • which has a majority female membership but whose leadership is largely male 
  • who have largely delegated discussions and policy decisions on the GRA to small committees – not recognising the potential for a conflict of rights between groups with protected characteristics in their own unions.
  • And who have waved ‘process’ in response to complaints 

And this is troubling too… 

The failure of the liberal press to facilitate the debate and represent differing views 

  • The liberal and left press have been largely silent or antagonistic.  

A principled exception to this has been the Morning Star who stuck their neck out early on to try to cover the debate, and more recently Left Foot Forward.

Magazines like Red Pepper and Socialist Review have been happy to print libellous claims about us and then refuse us a right of reply. 

Largely, it has been the Times, the Spectator, The Economist and The Telegraph that has reported on the debate and women have been criticised for engaging with them 

Now the Guardian has published one or two pieces, but for the most part has been very one-sided in its approach – odd for a media site that proclaims its commitment to sharing many voices 

Coverage of women’s concerns and questions has been left largely to campaign websites, blogs and social media – often anonymous for very real fear of reprisals. 

Actually, all of that’s more than troubling. It’s a disgrace. 

Women have every right to proper representation and consultation. 

But when we complain or point this out, we are branded as TERFs and Nazis.  

Witches. 

Well maybe we are the modern-day witches.  

Or at least the granddaughters of the ones they couldn’t burn. 

In 2019, it seems that:

  • women are allowed to have opinions as long as they are the right ones
  • women are allowed to have rights as long as they don’t exercise them
  • women who step out of line will be put back in place.

So, yes.

We are troubled; deeply troubled. 

And we intend to keep fighting for our daughters, our sisters, our mothers and our friends. 

And we hope that you will join us. 

And if you think women have been troublesome so far, I’m telling you, you ain’t seen nothing yet. 

@kiritunks