Mansplainers Arrive!

I haven’t read Rebecca Solnit’s new book but it’s on my wish list because her essay on what is now known as mansplaining is absolutely bloody brilliant. I don’t know a single woman who hasn’t experienced mansplaining at some point. The utter arrogance of men who think they know more about absolutely everything than women never ceases to amaze me – one prolific mansplaining, abusive dickwad on Mumsnet swears blind that women are totally over-reacting to child birth with their use of the word trauma because he’s seen his wife give birth twice and she was fine. This level of fucknuggetry is hardly strange or surprising.

These comments have been submitted to my blog in the past few days, whilst they aren’t as abusive as Larry is on MN, they aren’t exactly an example of men respecting women’s boundaries and intelligence.

First:

Madame – I have never heard of The Good Men Project nor what it is they represent, but it is quite obvious that you disapprove of it. The open letter seemed critical of Mr. Rodger and his thought “process” (?), as well as the acts he committed. Maybe calling him a “good man” meant that there was nothing unusual about his appearance (just going by the photos) which would make any of us fear him. I would also hope that any male virgin at the age of 22 would not feel the pressures to do such a thing.

 Second:

I have spent the last hour or so reading your blog and while there was much I felt I would like to comment on I realised that I would not be allowed enter the discussion due to my gender. So failing being able to engage in discussion on these topics I would like to comment on your comment policy, to you alone if not to your readers.

I encourage you to open your mind and challenge your views regarding the shutting down of challenging discussion. Challenging our views is what makes us wise, how can you learn new things unless you are willing to admit you may have been ignorant?

I refer to a quote from one of history’s great leaders

“If someone is able to show me that what I think or do is not right, I will happily change, for I seek the truth, by which no one was ever truly harmed. It is the person who continues in his self-deception and ignorance who is harmed.”
― Marcus Aurelius

i urge you to revise your comment policy to increase the legitimacy of your writing as it stands your blog reeks of disillusionment unless you are prepared to engage in meaningful discussion and contemplate that you may be wrong on some issues.

Thanks for reading, you can email me if you wish to discuss.

My first reaction to these comments was to snigger at the total lack of self-awareness, but, like Solnit states in her canonical article, men’s disrespect of women’s intelligence isn’t just some dude on the internet whinging about being denied the right to comment on a women’s blog. It’s about the systemic silencing, derailing and gaslighting of women. It’s about ignoring women’s knowledge and taking credit for their work.

Choice Feminism and the Bra Wars

To wear a bra, or not to wear a bra – that is the question most don’t bother asking. So, I was rather intrigued by a thread on Mumsnet asking if women really do take their bras off as soon as they get home. It should have been one of those threads which are silly, funny and celebrating the differences amongst us. Instead, literally the second post was a rather dismissive: “surely no one takes their bra off as soon as they get home. If they do, they must be wearing the wrong bra size.” This was followed by a series of equally patronising responses suggesting that women who only wear bras when absolutely necessary must simply be too dim to understand that their bra doesn’t fit properly.

Now, it’s quite possible that many of the women were wearing badly fitting bras; just as likely as those who wear them constantly are wearing ill fitting one. I stopped reading rather quickly but I didn’t see any comments pointing out that getting a bra sized properly costs money. It’s not a service that Primark offers and many women can’t afford to spend £20 on a bra from Marks & Spencers or Debenhams, never mind the more expensive brands. Some women don’t even live anywhere near a store that offers proper fittings. Some women can’t even afford the cost of bus fair to travel to a store which offers proper fittings, never mind find £20 to buy a bra. Obviously, they could measure themselves but that would mean knowing the best places to get advice on bra fittings. Oddly, this isn’t always on women’s to do list. It ignores those cute little issues of disablism which prevent women from accessing service or even systemic racism which results in non-White women being trailed around department stores by security guards racially profiling them as shoplifters (and, around here at least, anyone wearing a track suit).

Granted, in the scheme of feminist thought, bras aren’t always high on anyone’s list of priorities. Certainly, coverage of the prison book ban rarely mentioned women not getting access to clean bras or knickers either. I never actually thought about it until it was pointed out by a friend who works with girls exploited by gangs.

Bras are just one of those silly things that you can spend a few minutes chatting about. At the same time, the discussion of bras on Mumsnet was a pretty basic model of why “choice feminism” is actually an anti-feminist position because it starts from the position that all women are equal and have equal access to resources, eduction and services. It erases the multiple structural barriers that restrict the ‘choices’ women can make. The implication being that women who remove their bras as soon as they walk in the front door must be wearing an ill-fitting bra through a somewhat unfortunate tendency to dimness. It ignores the very basic issues like access to money to buy a bra.

It also ignores the idea that some women don’t want to wear a bra. And, that it’s totally okay to not like wearing bras. It’s not okay to prevented from making the choice to wear or not wear a bra that may or may not fit properly but that it’s totally ok to be a little bit different.

If your first instinct to a discussion on whether or not women wear bras is to suggest that those who don’t are doing it wrong, well, I’d suggest the problem isn’t really with the bra-refuser.

 

UPDATE: This comment is posted below but it’s a really important critique of my post that I’m including it here so no one misses it (and thank you Kate):

Actually it misses even more than just who can afford a well-fitting bra. It misses can you afford to share your home only with those who you can comfortably walk about bra-less in front of. Or do you have lodgers, etc? It misses are you comfortable without a bra? It misses do you have a schedule that it fixed enough to know you won’t have to up and leave at a moment’s notice. It misses how you’ve been made to feel about your bra-less breasts growing up. Whether you’re embarrassed or ashamed. Whether they get sweaty underneath. Whether your own family might ridicule you for the way they look bra-less. I’m quite large and (1) I hate them out of a bra and feel self conscious if anyone can see the shape of them and (2) find bra’s (even expensive professionally fitted ones) uncomfortable. I compromise with pyjamas with a soft support top in and changing bras regularly. Even just writing this makes me think about them and hate them and feel sad though.

Feminism, Race, Class and The Lament of Meanie Feminists

The comments below were posted on a recent blog, which I’m not going to link to, but which was the usual complaint about feminists being rude, swearing too much and not supporting the rights of one woman regardless of whether or not her choices are actively harming other women. It is the lament of “if only feminists were nicer”, yet it is the blog itself which is unkind. It pretends that all women are middle class, well-educated with great jobs. It insinuates that women who are not within this cohort are failures. It ignores the structural barriers to women’s lives by pretending misogyny does not exist – nor, apparently, racism, classism, or homophobia. Feminists are mean for not supporting every single “choice” a woman makes – regardless of the consequences for women as a class.

The comments below are why feminist analysis must examine women as a class. Erasing the multiple oppressions of women is antifeminist – pretending misogyny isn’t real is anti-woman. Women face oppression as a class. It is not mean for feminists to point out that white, middle class women have more options than many other women. Its not mean for feminists to point out that women who do experience violence, whether from a partner or because of the community they live in, have less choices than women who live without the constant consequences of violence. It is not mean for feminists to point out that women who succeed in business, law, medicine or the civil service who are white and well-educate aren’t just succeeding because of their personal qualities or ambition. It is not mean to recognise that a Black woman, regardless of how ambitious, well-educated and talented, will struggle more than a white woman in the public sphere.

It’s not mean for feminists to point out that one woman insisting on wearing a tiara during a professional event isn’t exactly fighting a battle women need to win.

Suggesting that feminists are being mean for holding women accountable for the consequences of their choices, words and actions is, frankly, infantile and ridiculous. If you want to advocate for the liberation of women through kindness, by all means, go right ahead. But, you need to start by actually being kind to women who aren’t exactly like you. It’s hardly advocating love to heal the world if you are shitting all over other women.

This was my original comment on the blog:

There is a massive difference between women supporting other women and women never, ever challenging another woman for fear of being ‘rude’. It absolutely okay to challenge a woman who has written a post which ignores the reality of the lives of the vast majority of women who aren’t middle class, well-educated and white. It’s not rude to point out that Black women are grossly under-represented in every field because of structural racism and misogyny. It’s okay to point out that white middle class women who have 3 children are ‘good mothers’ whilst a Black woman in a low-income job with three kids would be treated as shit in the media.

Confusing kindness with never holding a woman accountable for expressing opinions which actively harm other women is not acceptable. It’s not mean or rude or aggressive to point it out. Feminism is about helping ALL women – not just individuals.

X’s response: Call me psychic or intuitive but I am just throwing a guess out there that you yourself Louise may be “middle class, well-educated and white” – Hhhhhmmm why do you have an issue with that?

I don’t, which is why my son is half Nigerian. Have you actually ever been to Africa?
Please don’t raise the race card here, when it is wholly unwarranted…….. and irrelevant.
What is as you say “mean or rude or aggressive ” is some of the things I have seen written above, in recent comments.

MeYep, I’m white and middle class and well educated and I know that my options have been greater since birth because I was born white to a middle class family with access to a good education. Suggesting that race doesn’t limit women’s options is an asinine position to take and one which flies in the face of several hundreds of years of history.

X’s ResponseSorry but I don’t feel the need to compensate or be apologetic for being white, middle classed or educated. My friends, peers and relatives many of whom are of colour, from several continents, are more enriched physically, mentally, spiritually and financially than the white people I know. A child in Africa often experiences more joy with one toy than our children do with 30. Women in Africa often do not get PND or such things, because they adhere to the old adage “it takes a village to raise a child”. It’s never worked out well when I have fought other people’s battles for them, so whilst I will battle against discrimination and obliterate it from the elements of my life I can control, I will not apologise for my sex, colour, creed, nationality, class or standing. Too many people think women for example are made to cover up, yet I know many hijab/turban wearing women, none of whom have been asked to don it by a man. It’s sometimes best to battle the things you experience and can understand and not those you don’t

Response from Another Poster (Y):  sorry but that is nonsense. Have you ever been to Africa? I can’t speak for the entire continent, but I will speak from my experience visiting Kenya – the women aren’t getting PND because they are DYING in childbirth. They aren’t getting PND because they are being ‘married’ (ie raped) when they are 13 years old. They are bearing several children before they are in their twenties, and if they survive that, they are very lucky.

It is not about being apologetic for being middle-class, but about looking beyond your front door and seeing that not everyone is so lucky.

X’s response: Of course I have which is why I asked the question of her, which interestingly she did not answer.

Y: If you have been to Africa, why are you spouting nonsense about children there being happy with just one toy?

I am sorry, but this makes me so angry. I saw a child whose head was swollen with encephalitis, he was very ill but his mother couldn’t afford to take him to the doctor. I met young girls who stopped going to school when they started menstruating because they would then be seen as ‘sexually ripe’ and be at risk of rape. I met women who lost their babies in a hospital that had been found to have been selling children. A hospital that the taxi driver told us that he wouldn’t take his wife to because of that and other previous scandals.

How can you perpetuate the myth of the happy African children, who just need one toy? And women not having PND. They don’t have PND because they are DYING in childbirth. They don’t have PND because they are too busy fighting HIV and TB.

You don’t have to go to Africa to see this, it is reported daily in the media, if you take a look.

ME: I didn’t answer it because your assumption of Black -women = living in Africa is crass and completely lacking in understanding that, oddly, Black people happen to live all over the world. Not just in Africa.

X: No, what IS crass is someone upthread taking the time and effort to assume that EVERYONE on this thread was white + middle class + educated (thanks for the compliment in the latter, as it is never a word I feel when talking to you guys). Sorry but I have no time for people who live in homogeneous places, yet escape to other worlds via their bookshelves and campaigns. The only thing white about me is my skin, and I say again, I am not going to apologise for it. I will change the world via the means I have at my disposal and not adhere to a prescription of what being good looks like to you. Still have NO idea how colour was brought into this. It was a way of putting down, the ladies on this thread, in a cheap misguided way, that lacked grace, thought and compassion, yet we are expected to feel those for women all over the world who desperately need our help. How about charity begins at home, get good at it, and then branch out

Me: I can’t tell if you mean that comment genuinely or not Liska because I have actually never read a comment as so stupid as “women in Africa don’t get PND”. Firstly, Africa is a continent – not a country and the lives of women differ greatly from Egypt to Nigeria to Sierra Leone to Rwanda and to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Parts of Africa have vast wealth and others are war zones. 48 women are raped every hour in the DRC. They are raped to force pregnancy and they are raped to cause miscarriages. 6 month old babies are raped – as 65 year old women.

Many women have no access to clean water and the maternal and infant mortality rate in such areas is astronomical. Do you seriously believe a mother whose infant dies at birth from a preventable disease won’t have PND? Or, a 12 year old girl sold, raped and forced to give birth to a stillborn child won;t develop PND? Or, a mother who gives birth prematurely having seen her whole family slaughtered? Or, a child raped by a family member who gives birth in private desperate to hide the baby lest they kicked out of their community? You don’t think these women will develop PND? Or, that women living in wealthy families are somehow exempt because they live in “Africa”?

What about young girls who have experienced FGM which, at its most severe stage, inhibits the bodies ability to urinate and menstruate. Do you think these girls, who have to be cut open to have sex or deliver a child, are somehow magically exempt from PND because they live in Africa?

I’m hoping you were being ironic with this comment.

 

 

 

 

Celebrate Sexual Violence on Campus with Cake!

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(image from here)

Columbia University, following the age old tradition of pretending rape doesn’t exist on college and university campuses across the US, has felt the need to celebrate Sexual Violence Prevention with CAKE! Because nothing says we take the safety of our female students seriously like cake.

And, not just any cake. Nope they’ve gone with one festooned with red roses and hearts. Because, celebrating sexual violence isn’t completely awesome unless it comes covered with the traditional signs of romance: red roses and hearts. It’s a wonder they didn’t go for the whole hog and have female students hand-deliver long-stem red roses to every male student on campus accused of sexual violence and rape.

Al Jazeera has recently published a damning indictment of sexual violence on American campuses with colleges replacing the term rape with non-consensual sex. There are countless examples every year of universities not punishing rapists appropriately and effectively stating that men’s rights to a post-secondary education are more important than the safety and post-secondary education of women.

This is rape culture in action: popping a cake into the canteen as an “awareness” raising comment which basically congratulates men on being rapists whilst helpfully telling rape victims that all they deserve for being a victim of a violent crime is a piece of cake.

Our young women deserve the right to access education without worrying about their rapist living down the hall from them. Men need to learn that rape is a serious crime with long-term consequences which should include immediate expulsion from university (and a long jail sentence).

All university staff need to have mandatory training in sexual and domestic violence awareness, and not by RAINN who do a great number in victim blaming. Universities need to use the term rape and not “non-consensual sex”. They also need to fundamentally rewrite their policies on dealing with violent crime so any reported is handled by the police and not the university. Expulsion can be the only appropriate punishment for sexual violence.

And, seriously, whoever thought this cake was a great idea needs to stop drinking the stupid kool-aid.

Defining “Real” Feminism: A response to Natasha Devon

It is fair to say I had a number of concerns about Natasha Devon’s article in Feminist Times on why feminism must learn to compromise. I wrote a response for the Feminist Times here about why feminism can never compromise on its goals. Natasha has since written a response for her blog  responding to some of the criticism. I don’t normally engage in discussions of this sort but I want to address two issues that Devon raises.

Firstly, I am very uncomfortable with the trope  of ‘militant feminists” being used to denigrate the activism of other women. I don’t think it’s helpful or appropriate to create hierarchies of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ feminists. And, I don’t think it’s ever acceptable to say that anger is bad or that women shouldn’t be angry. I am angry at the oppression of women and I do refuse to compromise my goals in order to placate the very men who (re)create the political, social and cultural structures which privilege them at the expense of women. I’m okay with being angry at women being raped and murdered daily and then blamed for being victims. I’m okay with refusing to believe that women’s only worth is in their physical appearance and that we must be super-duper nice to the men just in case we hurt their feelings. Labelling anger as ‘bad’ in women is a silencing tactic. It also ignores everything women have accomplished because of their righteous anger:

  • the right to have a career
  • to have her own bank account without requiring the signature of her husband or father
  • to rent or own a home without the permission of her father or husband
  • Equal pay legislation
  • rape crisis centres
  • refuges
  • domestic violence legislation
  • education
  • child maintenance
  • healthcare
  • the right to abortion
  • the right to prenatal and postnatal care
  • maternity leave
  • the right to serve as a politician
  • the right to vote
  • the right to be classed as a person

All of these are rights women have because of “militant feminists”; women who were angry at women’s oppression and stood up and fought back. The dismissal of “militant feminists” is to erase the entire history of our movement. It is to erase the work of generations of women.

And, really, could we not class Devon as a “militant feminist” because of her belief that pornography is not harmful to women as a class? What makes one woman a “bad (militant)” feminist and another a “good” feminist.  Why are the women Devon disagrees with automatically “militants”. Using words like “militant” pejoratively is a silencing tactic. It’s a way of dismissing valid concerns of other women and this isn’t feminism. We may not agree on these issues but classing every single woman who disagrees with you as “bad” helps no woman. It just reinforces the very patriarchal structures in which women live.

I also want to respond to one paragraph in that post which demonstrates the fundamental difference between Devon’s feminism and my own:

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Devon’s feminism is contextualised within capitalism as a positive force whilst I believe that capitalism is inherently harmful and toxic for women and that women’s liberation will not come through materialism, pornification or political structures created by men for men. Suggesting that “REAL feminism is strutting into a boardroom in 4 inch stilettos, cleavage boldly on display” erases the vast majority of women from the feminist movement. Capitalism requires a hierarchy which subordinates 99% of the population for the benefit for 1%; most of whom are male.

Suggesting that women are only “real” feminists if they leave men thinking how “witty and intelligent” they are is just requiring women to preform for men. It requires women to meet a very narrow definition of “woman” – one which is based on a harmful and reductive gender construction. This is inherently unkind and one that I find antithetical to a campaign for “body confidence”. Confidence, nor feminism, can come from stilettos and lipstick; nor can it come from an audience finding you witty or intelligent. It comes from within.

This definition of “real” feminism ignores the double bind of oppression faced by women of colour who very rarely see the inside of a boardroom (unless as a cleaner). Does this make them less of a feminist because they are victims of institutionalised and systemic misogyny AND racism?

What about women with disabilities? Women who can’t stride anywhere in 4 inch stilettos. Are they not feminists?

What about the women living in inhumane conditions, working in factories with no safety net who earn a $1 a day to make those 4 inch stilettos. Are they not feminists? Should we not care about them because they can’t meet this narrow-definition?

My feminism is anti-capitalist because I don’t believe women’s liberation can be found in a boardroom or via the very political structures which oppress us. I don’t believe our liberation can be found through our appearance or our performance of acceptable gendered norms. A feminism which ignores the fact that the vast majority of women in the world are living in abject poverty with inadequate access to sanitation and clean water is not a feminist movement I want to be part of. I want to dismantle our political structures which are based on the unpaid labour of women. I also respect the work of women who are fighting within the system for change – for equal representation in politics, the workplace and a welfare state to protect the most vulnerable (most of whom are women).

Devon and I have very different understandings of feminism but I am very uncomfortable with the idea that only one of us is a “real” feminist.

 

Owen Jones, Feminism and the difference between criticism and trashing

I only read Owen Jones’ article on the austerity cuts and violence against women late tonight.  I tweeted out that I wished a woman had written it but that’s my standard response to any topic involving women’s lives. Cultural femicide is a real thing and a young, white male writing about the effects of austerity cuts on the reality of violence against women is covered under that umbrella.

Violence against women, as Jones’ states, is a national crisis but it is one in which the perpetrator is consistently erased. It is women’s campaigning and research which led to the development of women’s services. It is women who have consistently supported other women whilst being threatened, denigrated and treated like shit for doing. We need to insist that women’s work in the field of VAW is kept centred in our development of public policy.

Jones’ writes about violence against women and the effects of the austerity cuts without once talking about the perpetrator.  It is absolutely essential to talk about male violence against women and children. It is men who  assault, rape, torture, and kill women and children. It is men who refuse to pay child maintenance preferring instead to allow their children to live in poverty. The reason we need refuges and rape crisis centres is because of male violence. Talking about the effect of cuts to women’s services without naming the reason we need them is to ignore the root of the problem. Domestic violence costs the UK economy approximately 23 BILLION POUNDS a year. Men cost our economy 23 billion pounds a year and instead of tackling this issue properly, the government decides to “save” money by punishing the victims of male violence.

When I tweeted out my disappointment in Jones writing this article, I did so not realising it was his weekly column spot. I still wish a woman had written it but I more concerned about the failure to name the perpetrator. I’m also surprised at how many reacted to the discussions around Jones’ article. I’m not sure when wanting a woman to have written the piece became confused with trashing. Or, why a valid feminist concern about naming perpetrators has become an example of feminists being big stinky meanie-pants.

The thing is I only read Jones’ article because I like his work.  He’s one of the few male journalists that I bother reading anymore. He’s written some brilliant pieces and he’s written some things I fundamentally disagree with, which, oddly, is pretty much how I feel about every single writer whose work I like. I don’t expect to agree with anyone 100% of the time and it’s absolutely sycophantic for people to claim they do this. Having a different opinion to another person is not trashing. Disagreeing with someone’s work isn’t ‘trashing’

Criticism is a valid and valuable tool. We need to be able to have these discussions. We need to have a space where women who agree and disagree with Jones (or who don’t give a shit either way) can share those opinions – and the reasons for them – without worrying about being attacked or subtweeted about.

It’s okay for women to disagree with each other and to disagree with men. It’s not ok to tell women that they are shit feminists for disagreeing with you.

Men who need cookies are not feminist allies.

Everyday Sexism are running a hashtag tonight called #EverydayAllies about the men who stand up for feminism.

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I get what they are trying to do, but, come on. Men who actually give a shit about sexism and misogyny don’t need a freaking hashtag.

And those men who do, aren’t allies. They are in it for the blow jobs and cookies and we need to ignore their shit. We don’t need to be giving them a hashtag. We don’t need to be wasting our time on crap like this. We should be directed our energy at other women: praising their work. Celebrating their accomplishments.

Feminism needs to be by women for women and about women. Anything less is just replicating the very same patriarchal structures. FFS giving men cookies for not being an asshole isn’t feminism. It’s expecting them to act like humans: not assholes. Which isn’t really a very high standard to hold them to. Most 5 year olds get it.

Let’s hear about #AwesomeFeminists not men who are in it for a blow job.

Selling Teenage Girls Short

Yesterday, a 10 year old girl started a fucking brilliant blog about Sexism in Schools which went viral.

It went viral because it’s fucking brilliant.  Hell, even the Huff Post picked up on it!

When I went to sleep last night, my timeline was full of people talking about an articulate fabulous feminist this 10 year old girl is and this morning I see people claiming it can’t be real because:

  • children don’t “write” like that as if all 10 year olds are identikits of one another
  • no 10 year old would be “aware” of the issue of body-shaming (unlike every 7 year old in peer-reviewed studies who call themselves fat)
  • 10 year old girls aren’t that smart

And, this is really what this issue is about: jealousy and misogyny.  People are refusing to believe it’s real because this is clearly a smart kid and it might make their kids look less smart in comparison. Which reflects on insecurities in those people saying it who need to grow up before they fuck up their own children.

But, worse, this is about misogyny. This is the constant dismissal of women’s work as “fake” because no woman could write like that. It’s part of the same erasure of women’s work which perpetuates cultural femicide. Women just aren’t considered smart enough to do “real work”.

Teenage girls have it even worse: we assume they are all brain-dead, orange-tanned, blond dumbasses who are too stupid to have a thought in their pretty little heads. They are deemed incapable of doing anything that doesn’t involve beauty rituals or being objects for adult men to lust over.

We need to stop selling our teenage girls short; stop believing the lies about them. We need to believe they can be whatever they want to be: activist, artist, athlete … before they can believe it themselves. It doesn’t matter how many options we give them on careers day if they’ve grown up believing that they just aren’t capable of doing anything. We raise them in a society which punishes them for being born female, doubly so for the crime of not being white, and then we wonder why they do everything they possibly can to fit in.  We punish them for fitting into the narrow roles we’ve prescribed for them and we punish them for stepping out of these roles.

We need to stop selling them short and trust that they are coping the best way they can in a society which hates women.

We to start believing they are the fabulous, brilliant, and interesting people and SHOW them that we believe it.

Sexism in Schools is clearly written by a pretty brilliant child. Let’s build up her confidence instead of trashing it.

 

 

 

The Kindness of Strangers

There has been a lot of discussion on twitter recently about sisterhood and whether or not it exists or should exist. And, yes there are very serious problems within the feminist movement which need to be addressed but sisterhood does exist . We just need to work harder to ensure that it doesn’t just exist theoretically.

Recently, my sister suffered a catastrophic fire in her house and women (and men) who I’ve never met donated money to help her. I have seen women, and its almost always women, rally around others on twitter with money to pay for medical treatment, emotional support and physical support. I have seen this time and time again. And, we don’t recognise it for what it really is : women supporting women as we have done for several millennia.

I cannot describe how much my sister appreciated the kindness of complete strangers; how much I appreciate the kindness shown to my sister. People are still offering to help my sister. She has received so much. Instead, could you all donate to the  Ending Victimisation and Blame (Everyday Victim Blaming) campaign instead. They are a small organisation run by only a few volunteers and they really need financial support to keep fighting victim blaming within the media and helping women, children and men who’ve experienced domestic and sexual violence.

This is what feminism really is: women helping women.

The New Turns Feminism Conference and the no-platforming of Julie Bindel

Last November, I was asked to speak at the New Turns: Feminism in the 21st Century Conference on the panel on Feminism and Capitalism. When I was invited, there were already a number of high profile women attached to the event like Prof Liz Kelly, blogger Glosswitch, Kat Banyard, Julie Bindel and Sarah Brown. I accepted the invitation because it was a great line-up with some fabulous panels planned.

I did not know until I arrived that the journalist and campaigner Julie Bindel had been no-platformed. She was originally scheduled to appear on a panel on transgenderism and feminism with Sarah Brown, a transwoman, who is a city councillor in the city of Cambridge. When I was invited in November it was with the impression that Bindel and Brown would both be appearing on the panel on transgenderism and feminism.

I do not know the exact timeline of what happened next but this is what I have gathered from various conversations on the day and on Twitter after the conference.

  • Brown objected to being on a panel with Bindel and said so on twitter on several occasions.
  • A number of people began campaigning to have Bindel no-platformed because of “transphobia” and “Islamaphobia”
  • The NUS have/had a no-platform policy for Bindel and QME ran a petition to have Bindel banned on this
  • The New Turn organisers then tried to have Bindel moved to the panel on Violence against Women due to her long career of activism on the issue.
  • This was not deemed acceptable and the boycott was not rescinded
  • There was also a sustained campaign of harassment against the organisers, specifically a female organiser not the men which in and of itself is misogyny.
  • In the end, the entire panel on transgenderism and feminism was cancelled and the other two panelists, including Sarah Brown, were disinvited.

As I said, the were numerous conversations about the situation on the day; I cannot say for certain what happened and when because I was not involved. I do think the conference organisers were placed in an untenable situation in which they are dependent on                                            NUS support and effectively had no choice. Responsibility for the no-platforming of Bindel lies squarely with the NUS, QME and those engaged in the sustained campaign of harassment. During the conference, numerous panel members made it very clear that they fundamentally disapprove of no-platforming any women. A statement at the end of the conference by the organisers also made it very clear that Bindel’s work on violence against women is important and dismissing this work is simply inappropriate.

During the conference, I heard a number of people say that Bindel was no-platformed for transphobia and that they ‘knew’ she was transphobic, yet none of them had read Bindel’s work. They also didn’t know who Sarah Brown is. Many others didn’t know there was supposed to be a panel on transgenderism and feminism or that anyone was uninvited. I have to wonder how many people demanding that Bindel be no-platformed are familiar with her work.

It was certainly depressing being at a feminist conference with women suggesting that it was ok to no-platform Bindel despite knowing nothing about her or her work. Considering the frequency with which women have been silenced through harassment, libellous statements and abuse from men, I would hope that feminists, at the very least, would personally investigate before demanding women be no-platformed. Frankly, I find it utterly hypocritical to demand the silencing of women you’ve never heard of.

This has become the state of feminist politics: we cannot simply disagree with one another. Instead, it appears that feminism is about silencing women you disagree with: preventing them from speaking by having them no-platformed and if that doesn’t work going with harassment and violent threats. And, now demanding women you’ve never heard of be no-platformed because someone else told you that they heard that the person did/said something you are now required to disagree with.

The New Turns conference should have been brilliant. All of the panels has a wide variety of speakers covering a spectrum of feminist political beliefs. My panel on feminism and capitalism included an investment banker, a Marxist-feminist and me on the incompatibility of radical feminism and capitalism. The panel called “Generation Y” had Liz Kelly and Viv Regan, the managing editor of Spiked, on it. I can assure you that I fundamentally disagree with absolutely everything Regan had to say about the state of modern feminism, the reality of rape culture and “victim” feminism. Regan represents everything I find offensive about liberal feminist discourse and I still believe that it was important that Regan spoke at the conference (if only to hear the brilliant Rosa from the new online magazine Bad Housekeeping demolish Regan’s arguments.)

This is precisely how feminism should operate: giving all women a chance to speak, hearing them and making informed decisions based on your analysis of information received and not just what someone said to you based on something someone else said one time.

Feminism doesn’t require us to all agree on everything all the time. It’s actually one of the things which used to make feminism a powerful movement: that we disagreed and argued and fell out. This is normal. As Liz Kelly said during the Generation Y panel: feminism is a movement, not a political party. There is no party line that we *have* to follow. Yet, we appear to have arrived at a situation where feminism is a hierarchy with a strict party line where the loudest and most abusive shout and silence others.

Threatening other women with violence, demanding they be no-platformed for not agreeing with you, and publicly trashing other women isn’t feminism and we’ve got to stop pretending it is.

We are silenced, harassed and ignored by men on a daily basis. They don’t read our writings, listen to our music or watch films which star women who are fully clothed. We should not be silencing each other.

We don’t have to agree. Hell, we don’t even have to like one another but we shouldn’t be silencing the voices of other women. Call them out if you disagree but don’t silence.

And, conferences like this are organised by unpaid volunteers. If you don’t like how they are running a conference, do your own. Don’t abuse the organisers.