In defence of Michele Moore

This is the text of a letter we sent to the publisher of Disability & Society in support of Professor Michele Moore, the editor, who is being targeted because of her campaigning on rapid onset gender dysphoria (ROGD) and the rights and safeguarding of children.

Michele spoke at our Sheffield meeting and the film of her speech has been viewed nearly 26,000 times.

We are the co-founders of a campaign group called Woman’s Place UK founded to ensure women’s voices were heard in the discussions around the GRA Consultation. Our campaign has now expanded to take on concerns about oppression that women and girls face in society. We have over 19,000 followers on Twitter and have held 23 meetings which have attacted over 3,500 attendees.

We are from a range of backgrounds including trade unions, women’s organisations, academia and the NHS. We are against all forms of discrimination. We believe in the right of everyone to live their lives free from discrimination and harassment.

We are alarmed to hear of the concerted campaign against Prof. Michele Moore as a result of the questions she has been raising publicly about young people and rapid onset gender dysphoria. She is not alone in these concerns. The government itself has announced an inquiry into the very high increase of teenage girls indicating a desire to transition.

As part of our campaign we organise meetings and Prof. Michele Moore spoke at the Sheffield event. You can see the video here. It has been viewed over 25k times.

Over the last few years we have worked closely with Michele and know her to be a compassionate, knowledgeable and principled person.

Michele is also courageous, speaking out when others have been silenced, and who is motivated only by concern for the welfare of all young people. This attack on her is a deliberate and concerted attempt to silence and intimidate Michele but it will also have a silencing effect on anyone who wants to critique or question ideologies which affect our young people.

We urge you to look at Michele’s long record as an academic and equality campaigner and reject all attempts to have her removed as Editor of Disability & Society.

Thank you.

WPUK

 

 

A Woman’s Place is turning the tide

Ali Ceesay was part of a team of women who organised a WPUK meeting in Brighton in July 2018.

Organising a WPUK meeting, may not feel like an easy undertaking. The notorious harassment of venues & speakers are well documented.

But times are changing. The baseless allegations, slander and smearing of WPUK are waning.

Why?

Because the more meetings they have, the louder our voices, the clearer the message.

In my town of Brighton our sex based rights are being erased.

Erased without debate, without consultation & without consideration. From council policy, to our Rape Crisis centre. I felt voiceless. I felt alone. I felt powerless. Women in Brighton needed a voice. Needed a platform. Needed Womans Place UK.

So I joined a small collective of local women to organise a WPUK meeting. I had never organised anything like this before. To be frank, it felt overwhelming. My head was buzzing with lists and outcomes. But it needn’t  have been. The combined expertise and passion of our local group combined with the experience of the WPUK team was formidable and exhilarating. For me- a newbie to this, it was the best work experience of my life.

We had disruptions, venue cancellations, misrepresentation in the press, protests. Each of these disruptions played out well. We got a better venue, the protests & smearing (although intimidating) simply served to demonstrate the bullying nature of many seeking to remove our rights.

All of the challenges, brought us organisers closer together. Humour, wine, righteous anger and a quiet determination bonded us all. We not only organised a meeting but we built a local network. Friendships stronger than ever, nearly a year down the line.  Still working together locally to represent the rights of women and girls.

And our meeting was a success. Helen Saxby, Kathleen Stock (both local), Gill Smith & Ruth Serwotka brought the house down. The people came, the venue held strong, the protesters were kept at bay & media coverage was good. Local influencers from politics, to charities, from the media were in attendance. We pulled it off!

So often as women we have to fight our battles alone.

Not now.

The experience of standing shoulder to shoulder in a congregation of women, learning from powerful orators, watching attendees finally given space, a voice and a microphone was exhilarating.

Knowing I had a small part to play in it, well that’s a feeling I will never forget.

Ali Ceesay

Organise your own public meeting where you livesee our guidance.

Watch the films of our speakers at A Woman’s Place is turning the tide (Brighton)

Helen Saxby

Kathleen Stock

Gill Smith

Ruth Serwotka

 

Stand up, speak out: Julie Bindel

Julie Bindel is a journalist, writer, broadcaster and researcher active in the global campaign to end violence towards women and children since 1979. She is talking here at the 22nd meeting of Woman’s Place UK.

Watch the film of Julie speaking at #WPUKLondon

17F28786-3055-4413-9C85-37A56FA57B08

I want to first give a big shout out to Woman’s Place, one of the most principled feminist organisations anywhere.

And my next point is about the female penis. Last year I was in Australia doing a book tour. So there were feminists were at the book tour and those Australian feminists say it as it is.

We were complaining about the liberal press and in particular one feature in one particular liberal broadsheet. They were reporting on the case of Karen White, the sex offender, child abuser, natal man who suggested to the prison service that he was in fact a transwoman and ended up assaulting, sexually assaulting, women in prison. These are the most vulnerable, assaulted women on the planet. One line stood out for me: “Her erect penis was visible above her tights.” And this Australian full-on lesbian turned to me and said, “The only time that her penis should be used in a sentence is when a woman has castrated her rapist and she’s holding it up.”

So I want to start a brief whistle-stop tour of my experience with the “trans Taliban”. It was in 2003, when I wrote my first article and the year before the Gender Recognition Act.

In 2003 I saw a small report in a tabloid newspaper about a teacher who had left her primary school as Miss, and was returning the following term as Mr, having gone through sex reassignment surgery. The press said she had had a sex-change and I realised I had not read anything in the British press about the misdiagnosis or the madness of transgenderism. I decided, having found absolutely nothing in the press about it to date, to write a feature on the diagnosis of transsexuality, and how misogynistic psychiatrists in the 1950s had come up with the notion of being “trapped in the wrong body”.

They were, as we know, anti-gay and anti-lesbian and totally reliant on sex stereotypes
In the piece I quoted a forensic psychiatrist called Fiona Mason, who I knew to be a feminist and who was expert on the effects of sexual violence on women and girls. She said:

‘I can’t imagine assessing anyone suffering from a serious disorder in under three hours. It can take three years to assess patients with complex problems. The trouble with some private clinics is that the patients are just given hormones after an hour-long appointment, which can have an irreversible effect on the body.”

I quoted the best known psychiatrist for diagnosing transsexuality, Russell Reid, who some years later would end up being forced to stop practising by the General Medical Council after it was discovered that he took approximately 45 minutes to diagnose someone as transsexual, before referring them for surgery and hormones. Many of his former patients regretted going through sex change surgery, including my friend Claudia, a great ally, who was one of his victims back in the 1980s.

And here I have to say that we cannot possibly ignore the fact that many natal males who live as the opposite sex – with hormones and surgery – are also victims of this hideous medical malpractice based on women’s oppression. Some suffer through this, and I hate hearing language used to demean people who’ve been through this – who are, to some degree, victims of patriarchy.

I wrote:

“In 2000 Reid was involved in controversy over the condition known as Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), where sufferers can experience a desperate urge to rid themselves of a limb. Reid was one of the psychiatrists who referred two patients with BDD to a surgeon for leg amputations. ‘When I first heard of people wanting amputations it seemed bizarre in the extreme,’ he said ‘but then I thought, “I see transsexuals and they want healthy parts of their body removed in order to adjust to their idealised body image”, and so I think that was the connection for me. I saw that people wanted to have their limbs off with equally as much degree of obsession and need.”

In the 2003 piece I also mentioned children. I wrote:

“Particularly disturbing is the apparent impunity with which children are diagnosed with ‘gender identity disorder’. Mermaids, a support group for children and teenagers with GID, has seen a dramatic increase in enquiries since it opened its doors in 1993. Children as young as 14 are receiving sex-change treatment, including being prescribed drugs to block the onset of puberty. Transsexualism is the only psychiatric or medical condition where the patients can, to all intents and purposes, diagnose themselves.”

The next year I left my job in academic research to do journalism full time and was asked to write a couple of columns for the Guardian weekend magazine. I had heard about the hellish legal case that Vancouver Rape Relief had been going through for 10 years that had recently concluded in their favour. A transsexual male called Kimberley Nixon had taken out a case against this absolutely superb organisation and on a “human rights” ticket, claiming to have been discriminated against because he wasn’t being invited to counsel rape victims because he had decided that he was a woman.

It was clearly a setup because the day after it was politely explained to him that he could not play this role, the human rights organisation in British Columbia issued proceedings against Vancouver Rape Relief.

So when I wrote this column I was angry and I went berserk about the diagnosis of transsexualism, male entitlement and the sex stereotypes that transsexuality promotes. It was shared worldwide amongst trans activists on personal blogs and list serves. It was before Facebook and Twitter. A forum, Gingerbeer, which described itself as an online social group for lesbians to chat and share information in the UK, had a policy of including transsexual males who identified as lesbians.

My article was a hot topic of discussion for at least a year. I could see, on visiting the site that the trans lobby had plans to come after the feminists. The Guardian received 200 letters of complaint about the column and the reader’s editor wrote his own weekly column on the issue saying that it was wrong to have published it. My editor, Katharine Viner, defended both me and her decision to publish it.

The gay press began to vilify me. I received hate mail and death threats on a weekly basis from all sorts of quarters. It was also the misogynistic gay male movement that ran the gay press. This harassment culminated in 2008 in a 200-strong demonstration against me outside the Victoria and Albert Museum where Stonewall was holding its annual awards ceremony. I had been nominated for journalist of the year, and quite frankly had it not been for the fact that I found out about the nomination via Pink News – or Penis News – in a “shock, horror – vile transphobe Bindel is up for an award” I would have not even attended the event, being no fan of Stonewall.

I happened to be escorted from the tube to the venue by Brian Padick, now a Lib Dem peer but a whistle-blowing police officer, past the 200-strong crowd calling for my blood, death, rape, whatever.

I didn’t win. But I had already found out from one of the judges who was appalled at what had happened that I was a clear winner, but that they did not dare give me the award in case the trans-activists stormed the museum. So instead it was given to a heterosexual agony aunt who had never been a journalist. A fair alternative, no?

That demonstration galvanised the transgender movement in the UK. From then on, everywhere I went to speak about violence against women and girls, there would be some kind of protest, picket, or attempt to disinvite me. Not me speaking about transgender issues – though I did try and on occasion succeeded in having a discussion with transpeople who wanted a reasonable conversation.

In 2009, I was given the honour of being the very first individual to be officially no platformed by the National Union of students alongside five fascist groups. The motion at the conference that decided my ban contained the sentence, “Julie Bindel is vile”. My name was misspelled – who says we are not paying for a decent education.

In 2010 I accepted an invitation to speak at an event called “Queer Question Time” at a notorious “queer” venue called the Vauxhall Tavern in London. There I was. Dozens of them turned up outside screaming and shouting that I was a Nazi, a bigot, a fascist, etc, etc. That I was Hitler (it’s always Hitler, never Pol Pot. None of your mid-range dictators ever get a look in).  And then they came into the venue itself, shouted and heckled all the way through my presentations, with one trans activist throwing an object at me on stage whilst screaming in my face. I thought – I’m just walking out. The videos can be found on YouTube.

As I walked out there was a queue of gay men saying they agreed with me and I was right to speak up.

It happened outside of the UK also, such as when Janice Raymond, heroic feminist and author of the 1979 classic The Transsexual Empire and myself spoke at a conference in Denmark in 2011 about the abuse of women and girls in the global sex trade. The pro-prostitution lobby, which is indivisible from the trans-Taliban, turned up at the event.

Outside of the venue they screamed and shouted about how bigoted, violent and dangerous we were, and proceeded to bang on the windows whilst a sex trade survivor was speaking about being pimped age 15.

You know if you took the words “actual” and “literal” out of their rhetoric there wouldn’t be much left.

In 2014 I did a debate at Essex University on pornography organised by academics, so the NUS was not involved.

It was with Jerry Barnett, producer of some of the most vile and racist pornography – including a parody of the taxi-drive rapist John Worboys.

I was screamed at as a fascist who was “causing actual, literal harm to transgender students” and biphobic, transphobic, Islamophobic, homophobic and not a real lesbian.

He got a free pass. That’s when I started to use the word Orwellian.

Probably their lowest point was when they attempted to get me disinvited from a talk I had been asked to do in 2017 at the Salford Working Class Library, the only venue of its kind in the country, on growing up a working-class lesbian in the north-east of England. They hounded and harassed the volunteers at the library, blocked their phone line, targeted all of their sponsors and supporters, tried very hard to get their funding pulled, and when they failed, turned up on the day to scream and shout. Leftist poster-boy Owen Jones was asked politely to give support to the library and denounce the bullies, but he declined. The brilliant Lucy Masoud has named him Talcum X. Faux working class, or rather: woking class.

The Working Class Library, because it is run by brave and principled people, did not for one second consider cancelling the event or replacing it with another speaker.

Which leads me to my key point. We saw this coming a long time ago. Those very few women you could count on one hand, with high profiles in the women’s movement, warned of this.

Some of you were not involved because you are too young or because of circumstances. But you are all here now. And that that, in and of itself, is a brave position.

I mean, I heard about Nina Power. This is someone who at the time went along with “transwomen are women” and signed a letter denouncing some of us.  Now she is being attacked for, I quote, “uncritically attended a Woman’s Place meeting”.

During the time I was being publicly and visibly harassed and abused, aside from my brilliant and close circle of friends, most people kept their heads down. I would get emails from feminist after feminist telling me they agreed with what I had said. They shared my position, but of course dared not say anything because they would come in for the same treatment as me.

I would then get the liberals telling me, an out lesbian since 1977, that they could not possibly support my position against transgender ideology, because the trans-rights movement, as they saw it, was exactly the same as the lesbian and gay liberation movement back in the 1970s. They refused to accept that this was a men’s rights movement, underpinned by the most pernicious misogyny, and supported by men who could scream “bigot, transphobe” and the likes at me and still be seen on the side of the progressives.

And then there were the free-speech warriors who told me that although they personally despised my transphobia, they defended my right to say it.

There were good people such as Mary Beard, until she saw the light. And then Peter Tatchell.

This deeply offended me. Caroline Lucas, the Green Party member of Parliament for Brighton Paviliongave an interview to Penis News in which she expressed dismay at my bigoted transphobic beliefs.

And then there were the women’s organisations.

Fawcett Society published its report on the organisation’s position on “gender” – meaning transgenderism – in order to look like good girls and cover their backs. They used me as an example of feminist transphobia that they disapproved of, quoting from a report in Penis News – not something I had actually said – that was as pernicious as it was inaccurate. I complained, and the reference was removed.

When I hear women and men say to me that they couldn’t possibly risk going through what we have been through, I tell them that the purpose of the abuse against those of us who have spoken out.

It is to act as a warning. I wouldn’t have chosen to be in that position. But I am.

Since when were we ever a women’s liberation movement that decided to keep shtum and let a few other women take the shit?

It’s not about me. It’s about 20-year old women at university or on the estates – facing being abused raped, their drinks spiked, denigrated. We all have a duty – moral, ethical and political to stand up.

Since when did we capitulate in case we were sacked or in case we were thought of as nasty women? Yes, some women have more to lose than others. If they lose their job, they are in trouble and might not be able to feed their kids. So we feed their kids, we do what women throughout history have done, during the time in the 1970s and 1980s when our refuges were run by volunteers who had to have a whip round to buy the food to feed the women escaping violent men.

But they can’t sack everyone. The most reasonable people – someone like Nina Power – are being called fascists. This is the unreality.

So we do what feminists have done in countries like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia where they have no rights.

I have just come back from Uganda, where there is a 14-year prison sentence for same-sex encounters. It is much worse for women where lesbians are punishment raped, rejected by their families, live on the streets, and often pimped into prostitution, for being lesbians. What do they do?

They don’t go around saying, “I’m too frightened to speak out”. Uganda has the most vibrant lesbian feminist movement I know in the in global south. If they lose jobs then have to go to other women and say feed me. If we have to do that, we do that.

We can’t sit at the comfort of a computer screen.

Speak up.

Stop doing that anonymous thing. Stop saying, “I can’t say this.”

Yes you can.

When I was on the way to the airport leaving Uganda I thought I’m going to have the conversation on the trans issue.

I spoke with one fantastic lesbian activist. And she said, “You know that meeting we had with 50 lesbians. meeting 50 lesbians?”

Yeah.

“Well do you know why I nipped out for 10 minutes?”

No.

“Well there were four transwomen demanding to come in and we were all telling our coming out stories and you were interviewing everyone. So I said to them: ‘I know you hate me. I know you’re going to kick up a fuss. But go away. There are loads of transgendered places for you to go. Loads of LGBT places for you to go. ’This is a women only space.’”

And she said she was raised with nine brothers and she just wasn’t having it.

So let’s just not have it.

Julie Bindel

20th May 2019

@bindelj

 

 

 

 

 

Sex, gender & development: Maya Forstater

Maya Forstater is an independent researcher, writer and advisor working on the business of sustainable development. She has worked with a large number of organisations, including the New Economics Foundation, UNICEF and the Center for Global Development. This is the text of her speech for #WPUKLondon on 20th May 2019

Her Crowd Justice fundraiser can be found at https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/lost-job-speaking-out/

Watch the film of Maya speaking at #WPUKLondon

 

1CD71115-DB32-4BE1-99BD-34BD319D8D46.jpeg
Picture by Lily Maynard

My name is Maya Forstater. I lost my job working for an international development think tank for stating a gender critical viewpoint, and I am taking the organisation I worked for to employment tribunal.

A couple of Sundays ago I had the most momentous day, sitting on sofa in my pyjamas. I watched the crowdfunder that I had launched to support my legal case rise faster than I could have hoped. It raised over £60,000 in three days in mainly small donations including, I am sure, from many people in this room, as well as support from people such as Martina Navratilova, Sharron Davies and Tanni-Grey Thompson and people who know me in real life.

I am grateful for all of your support, which has allowed me to take the legal case forward, but I think, perhaps more importantly the strength of the response showed just how much support there is for making the law work for women on issue. The message that the success of the crowdfunder sent to me and to everyone watching it was “This matters”. “We are not going to shut up”. “And we are not alone.”

I am not going to talk about my case that tonight. What I am going to talk about is about how the issues about sex and gender relate to international development. This is based on a blogpost which I wrote (and drafts of which were part of what I was investigated for at work).

By International Development I mean government-to-government cooperation: aid, but also beyond aid: trade, diplomacy, human rights, advocacy for open government and democracy, migration and even international tax rules (which is what I worked on in my day job). It concerns the policies of the UK government and other rich countries, and also institutions like the World Bank and the IMF, and charities like Action Aid and Oxfam, and human rights orgs like Amnesty.

Increasingly all of these organisations are all thinking more and more about ‘gender’ in relation to international development. And by gender they mean sex

The Sustainable Development Goals have specific goals on gender – violence against women and girls, reproductive healthcare & economic.

By gender, they mean sex.

It is used as a polite synonym and also to encompass the expectations and constraints that societies impose on people because of their sex.

OXFAM just came out with a document calling for ‘feminist aid policies’ which highlights the reasons why ‘gender’ is recognised as such a critical issue in development:

  • At current rates of progress, it will take 202 years to close the ‘global economic gender gap’ (and by gender they mean sex).
  • More than half of the world’s women are legally restricted from working in certain sectors because of their gender (and by gender they mean sex).
  • It is estimated that 650 million women and girls worldwide were married before the age of 18, many of them facing violence and other severe violations of their rights.
  • At least 200 million women and girls alive today have undergone female genital mutilation.
  • Thirty-five percent of women worldwide have experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.
  • Every day women do 16.4 billion hours of unpaid care work – at least twice as much, and in some settings ten times as much, as men.
  • Each year worldwide more than 200 million women want to avoid pregnancy but do not use modern contraception,
  • 25 million unsafe abortions take place.
  • Globally more than 130 million school-aged girls do not attend primary or secondary school.

None of this is to do with gender identity. These are things that happen to women and girls because of the way that society treats people because of their sex.

Organisations concerned with international development and human rights would struggle to articulate their goals, policies and research without a word to denote female people.

But as we know it is increasingly argued across Europe and North America, and by global elites that gender identity should overwrite sex as a legal and practical category.

Oxfam’s feminist aid document barely mentions the word ‘sex’, and I do not think this is accidental. Organisations working on gender and development are becoming coy about saying that by ‘women’ they mean, and have always meant, the female sex. They know it is controversial and few are willing to stand up for the biological definition of women, or even to hold open a space for clear, calm discussion.

Many influential funders such as George Soros’s Open Society Foundation foundation and international civil society organisations such as Amnesty International are calling for governments to allow people to change their legal sex at will, and to allow people to access single sex spaces of the opposite sex based on their gender identity. But none have promoted analysis or debate about how this would impact women and girls.

Others are just staying quiet – continuing to work on issues that affect women and girls and continuing to  say gender when they mean sex – and hoping that no one asks them to be clear.

When I raise this issue with colleagues in development, including those who work on gender issues, many say it isn’t a big deal. Debates on sex versus gender are toxic and controversial: what does it matter if they are not clear and explicit about the difference between ideas about gender identity and the reality of sex based oppression of women and girls? Where does it sit on the list of priorities of things that organisations should be concerned about, compared to big issues like climate change, humanitarian emergencies, corruption, economic development?

I think it matters.

Development at its heart is about organisations doing their job.

Countries become richer and people become better off  when there are more organisations, doing more complex jobs, better. And where people can influence the decisions which affect their lives. In other words; where organisations are accountable:

  • Schools teaching kids.
  • Universities building higher knowledge
  • Doctors and medics treating people
  • Governments and the firms they contract build infrastructure
  • Businesses investing providing products that people want and need, following rules
  • Governments collecting taxes, setting rules, delivering services.
  • Media reporting the truth

It requires ordinary people being able to hold these institutions to account.

If we can’t name things, and categorise them, and collect data. And speak the truth we can’t do this. And being able to name the difference between men and women is pretty fundamental.

If we can’t name basic truths it corrupts the heart of our organisations.

There are also specific reasons for international development organisations to find the courage and integrity to be clear about the difference between sex and gender identity.

Thinking about gender identity in international development and human rights organisations is often tied in with sexuality.

This reflects the fact that abuse and discrimination relating to transgender identity can be, in practice, an expression of homophobia. International development organisations are working to address the oppression and vulnerability of people based on what they call “SOGI” (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity).

Seventy-two states continue to criminalise same-sex sexual activity In some cultures gay men can be stereotyped as feminine, or as ‘failed men’; reduced to the status of women. In some cultures, men who have sex with men may get some acceptance if they adopt a feminine ‘third gender’ identity such as the hijras in South Asia.

But my understanding (and I’m not an expert) is that these identities are not akin to the idea coming out of elite Northern universities and debates in London and Washington which say that we must accept that “transwomen are women”.

When I talk to people working with these trans communities, in areas such as HIV and human rights, they say it makes sense to think about different groups, not to lump together the issues facing transsexual males with the issues facing women.

It is not at all clear that the way to address the very real problem of discrimination and violence against transgender people is to erasing the category of biological sex .

Human rights protections for people who are transgender do not depend on accepting the belief that men can become women. But rather to protect transgender status as a legal characteristic with its own protections from harassment and discrimination.

Secondly, this matters for international institutions in their work on gender (by which they mean sex), and in their own institutional cultures.

Development organisations are trying to shift from having headquarters in rich countries developing policy, and staff and partners in developing countries to implement it.

They are trying to turn that upside down – to support people to have power, control and agency.

These organisations already know they have hierarchy problems – white men at the top, diverse women at the bottom, and yet, in the name of equality and diversity, they are reinforcing this power dynamic by adopting the language and ideas of genderism.

This is not coming from the grassroots. It comes elite Northern Universities and it is being promoted as something which ordinary women must accept with “no debate”. I don’t think this is compatible with the idea of listening to women and respecting their agency. And I think it prevents us talking about and understanding structures of power.

It is polite to refer to people by the name and pronouns they request, and to treat everyone with dignity and respect. But inclusion does not demand that we forget about the power dynamics between men and women in society, or fail to notice when women are being told to be quiet and to be kind to protect the feelings, desires and status of male people.

Organisations, which say they are for participation and for giving power to ordinary citizens should pay attention to the upswell of grassroots, ordinary women standing up for the idea that sex matters, in the UK and around the world.

Human beings are a single species, and women and men exist around the world. The answer to these questions can not be the pragmatic one that some women are women because of their sex, and some are not. Development organisations think about women in developing countries are really talking about sex;  defined by biology, but at headquarters they define women as an identity based on womanly feelings.

Amnesty International for example recognise and promote the importance of single sex toilets in refugee camps. Yet at the same time it argues that allowing male people to self-identify into women’s spaces would pose no problem for women and girls in the UK.

So I argued in my blog  post: Human rights protections and public policies are needed both for women and girls, and for transgender people, whatever their sex. In order to do this we need to be able to talk clearly and openly.

I set out five principles to hold open a space for dialogue, debate and evidence on this in international development (adapting and borrowing from Women’s Place UK:

  1. Sex and gender identity are not the same. Be clear about what we mean.
  2. There should be open and evidence-based discussionon how potential policy changes will affect women’s rights, single-sex spaces, and safeguarding.
  3. Women and women’s organisations should be involved in policy debates. The human rights of transgender males should be protected, but it should not be assumed that the best or only way to do this is by undermining women’s privacy, dignity and safety.
  4. Data matters. Statistics on crime, employment, pay and health should continue to be categorised by sex. Information on gender identity may also be collected, but they shouldn’t be confused.
  5. People who express concern about impacts on women’s rights and women’s spaces should not be dismissed as hateful or bigots.

One of the things I said in the article was that you shouldn’t have to be brave to talk about this.

The more people who stand up and talk about it, the easier it is for the next people.

I only began to tweet and talk about it after reading and listening to so many people here.

And I thought because I worked at a think tank that does not take institutional positions and that supports academic freedom of speech I could talk about it.

But it turned out I was wrong. I don’t want this to be a cautionary tale, and I hope that what I am doing in taking the organisation I worked for to tribunal it will help to enable a whole lot of people to be a bit braver.

If I win my case will give some legal protection. But if more people speak up it becomes easier for others to speak up. If each of us speak up within our organisations, our professions and our communities we can turn this around.

___________________________________________

Post script: in the Q&A portion of the event a question was raised “Should women work ever work with the right?” This is the gist of what I said, and what I think (taking the liberty to polish it into what I wish I had said better).

The idea that sex exists is like the idea that gravity exists. It will be shared by people across the political spectrum. Women are adult human females, they exist across the political spectrum, and as feminists I think we should be concerned for all women. I try to follow the Mumsnet motto that we don’t throw any woman under the bus.

Women should talk to and work with whoever they feel like! I think that people need to make their own decisions about who they will work with and how. We all have different tactics and beliefs, and we don’t need to agree on everything to work together on some things.

This fight is going to take allsorts; we need to engage with people across the political spectrum, and with people who are not engaged in party politics. Many women feel politically homeless right now. We need the academics and the activists, we need the t-shirts, and the billboards. We need the carefully argued articles, we need the legal cases. We need people who can be talk seriously and carefully and we need the stunts and laughter. We need the women talking this through on Mumsnet, and in local groups, who are getting brave enough to speak up.

I think we can be clear about the difference between defending the definition of women based on sex, while rejecting the idea that gendered stereotypes are an inherent part of womanhood, and those conservative groups for whom ‘men are men’ and ‘women are women’ means upholding patriarchal ideals of masculinity and femininity. We can draw a bright line between wanting to give women more control and wanting to control women.

The principle that I am standing up for is the need for respectful, serious evidence-based democratic debate and disagreement on difficult issues– we need to hold open a middle ground for that.

Maya Forstater

20th May 2019

@MForstater

Thank you to Lily Maynard for the pictures

 

 

 

Authenticity & empathy: Meghan Murphy

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010, is the founder and editor Feminist Current, Canada’s leading feminist website and has published work in numerous national and international publications.

This is the text of the speech she gave at the 22nd meeting of Woman’s Place UK.

316EBE04-4F3A-4315-A822-992E151670B5
Picture by Lily Maynard

 

I’ve been thinking a lot about authenticity lately. We’re currently living in a culture wherein authenticity has been traded in for fakery. We support and reward virtue signalling and punish those who are real, those who tell the truth, those with integrity, those who insist on making political arguments based on critical thinking and what is right, rational, and ethical, instead of based on what is politically correct or popular.

I have a rather overzealous commitment to authenticity, which I think has played a sizable role in my insistence on pushing back against gender identity ideology and legislation. I know I have friends, or acquaintances, or friends of friends, or random internet followers with self righteous opinions who think maybe I should just back off of this. Or who claim I’m being ‘mean’ or unempathetic, because I continue to operate in reality rather than the fantasy land we’re told is the new normal, wherein black is white, up is down, and men are women.

But I see no empathy for women and girls on the part of trans activists, that is to say, those pushing gender identity ideology and legislation. What I see is bullying, threats, ostracization, and a misogynist backlash against the feminist movement and much of the work it’s accomplished over years.

I see no empathy for women who are now being forced to compete against male athletes in sport, essentially rendering women’s sport nonexistant, as they can no longer compete on fair ground, if forced to compete against men. I see no empathy for the female athletes speaking out against this reprehensible trend —  instead they’re being smeared and threatened. I see no empathy for the lesbians being bullied right out of their own events and communities, as the LGBTQxyz+++ whatever movement does nothing to support them, and in fact seems instead to support the men pushing them around and hurling verbal abuse at them, simply for asserting that lesbians are females who are attracted to other females, not heterosexual men interested in playing around with lipstick.

We held an event in Vancouver earlier this month, addressing the issue of gender identity and kids, and our venue — the Croatian Cultural Centre — received so many threats they had to file a police report, hire their own security, and bring in the Vancouver Police Department to keep protesters off the property. They, for once, didn’t blame us — women, feminists — for the threats of violence sent their way, and rather asked, with disbelief, how it was us the trans activists were accusing of being ‘hateful’, while simultaneously verbally abusing and threatening violence against the venue’s staff.

Somewhere between 150 and 200 protesters showed up, and stood outside with signs saying things like, “Support trans youth”, “Love and Solidarity”, “Love trans kids”, “be careful who you hate, it might be someone you love” and “love wins.”

All this branding around “love” has been incredibly successful, of course. We — women fighting for women’s rights, people fighting for the truth, those of us who insist on acknowledging that biology is real, that females and males are real things, and that, no, there is no such thing as a “female penis” —have been painted as hateful, intolerant, and bigoted, despite the fact that we are the only ones engaging (or trying to engage in) respectful, civil, rational debate and discussion, and being shut down over and over again.

Despite the fact that WE are the ones concerned about male violence against women and how gender identity ideology and legislation will hurt women, as well as kids, who are now being sent down a path towards hormones and surgery that will destroy their bodies permanently, simply because they don’t conform to sexist gender stereotypes, it is trans activists who have positioned themselves as caring and politically correct, and us as cruel and intolerant.

As I was leaving the venue after that event, the stragglers screamed at me that I had blood on my hands. Which of course I do not, and which, of course, is incredibly ironic considering how many times I’ve been told I should be murdered on account of my belief that you can’t change sex, and that it is not possible to be ‘born in the wrong body.’

I see no empathy in trans activism for the girls who will lose scholarships and opportunities to boys who can easily beat them in athletic competitions.

I see no empathy for women and girls who don’t feel comfortable with naked men in their change rooms at the pool. I see no empathy for youth being put on hormones that will have a lasting impact on them, including permanent sterilization, all to accommodate adults who don’t want to see trans ideology questioned under any circumstances.

I see no empathy for the women and their children who will have nowhere to turn if their local transition house is defunded on account of a women-only policy.

I see no empathy for Kristi Hanna, a Toronto woman and survivor of sexual assault, who had leave her room at Palmerston house, a shelter for recovering addicts, because she was made to share a room with a man, and did not feel safe.

I see no empathy for the 14 female estheticians who were asked to give a male a brazilian bikini wax, then dragged to court when they declined, saying they only offered the service to women.

I see no empathy for the girls allegedly predated on by this man, who is being protected by our very liberal, very progressive society that’s choosing to put male feelings and desires above all else, under the guise of ‘inclusion’, and thanks to trans activism.

Women and girls are being told they may not have boundaries. That they may not say ‘no’ to men. And this is what we are told it means to ‘choose love’. This is what we are being told is ‘feminism’.

Trans activism says women may not define their own bodies as female. That we may not have our own rights, services, and spaces, that ‘exclude’ men. It says gender stereotypes are real and innate, but the female body is a social construction. It says that ‘woman’ is based only on adherence to or an affinity towards femininity, something feminism has fought against for years.

So much of what women fought for over the past century is being rolled back, and progressives are insisting we all shut up and take it, because it’s ‘nice’, and of course, women must always be ‘nice’, even if it means putting our lives, autonomy, safety, opinions, and rights aside.

NOTHING about the trans movement is progressive and nothing about it is feminist.

I brought up authenticity earlier on, partly because I am sick to death of this social media based culture wherein we put forth personas we believe our audience will like, modeling perfect faces, lives, and thoughts, which I find incredibly boring and depressing, but also because I see this devaluing of authenticity as having an incredibly destructive impact on political discourse, and certainly it’s manifested itself powerfully in the trans movement.

I don’t believe that, aside from a few exceptionally delusional or troubled people, a majority of the population believes it’s possible to change sex. I don’t believe that all these so called progressives look at a man we call him ‘she’, and believe he is literally a woman. I don’t believe all these people claiming ‘love wins’ and insisting women be more ‘empathetic’ as they give up all their rights and spaces, while these activists spout vile, hateful insults and threats at us, are really very loving at all.

I think people are not telling the truth. I think they are repeating mantras and going along with ideas and policies in order to appease their Facebook friends. I think they value social status a lot, and are willing to give up ethics and truth in order to be liked. And I think it’s pathetic. I think that these people are throwing women under the bus and even selling themselves out in the process, knowing that they’re spouting lies for virtual cookies and using us all to fake politics.

And I refuse to be used as some kind of stepping stool for empty headed, cowardly hipsters — these extremely privileged people who have fetishized oppression, but have no idea what marginalized groups actually face and deal with on a daily basis, because certainly it’s not ‘misgendering’ that is keeping people poor and vulnerable — who can’t be bothered to read, listen, or think before announcing, boldly, that women with actual politics, who actually understand history, and who are  bold enough to take a stand against actual bigotry and oppression should be silenced, punched, or even killed.

The wrong side of history is an embarrassing place to be.

But unfortunately I worry that, by the time these people realize how much damage they’ve caused by going along with such a destructive trend, it will be too late. What does give me hope is all of you. This massive and growing movement of people standing up and saying ‘no’, we won’t take this silently and sitting down. This groundswell of people insisting on telling the truth, despite the fact that we lose friends, jobs, social status, and sometimes safety, for doing so.

And the more we keep doing it, the more will join us.

Meghan Murphy

20th May 2019

Watch the film of Meghan speaking at #WPUKLondon

Thanks to Lily Maynard for the pictures.

 

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.

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