Feminism in London, No-Platforming and the process of feminism

I have been watching the fallout around Feminism in London with a sinking heart.

Like many, I was surprised to see Jane Fae’s name on the FiL program as they are very clear on prostitution and pornography constituting violence against women and are vehemently pro-Nordic model. I am aware that they have refused to offer a platform during their conferences to feminists who are pro-sex work on panels talking specifically about prostitution. I assumed that their rules either applied only to panels specifically on prostitution and pornography or that they weren’t aware of Fae’s writing on the subject. Both were equally valid since it not every single feminist in the UK has a full working knowledge of the full employment history and writings of every single person who self-defines as feminist.

I’m not involved in the conference so I have no idea who and what were involved in the conversations surrounding Fae’s continuing participation once a number of exited women raised concerns. The public statement is that Fae chose to withdraw and I have no problem accepting this version of events repeated in numerous places by the organisers. In many ways, this was the only acceptable solution once women who were speaking on their experiences in prostitution spoke out.

Fae wasn’t no-platformed for being transgender. FiL is a trans-inclusive conference. It is asinine to suggest that they would remove a speaker for being transgender when the conference is trans-inclusive. It makes everyone look ridiculous to push a narrative which is clearly false. Without a doubt, a number of radical feminists raised questions about a transwoman speaking at a feminist event – as is their right. It is also the right of the conference organisers to ignore questions raised about a transgender speaker at a trans-inclusive conference.

Personally, I don’t believe that no-platforming is the correct term to use in this particular situation. FiL may be the largest feminist conference in the UK but it is an entirely different situation to the NUS. Julie Bindel was no-platformed by the NUS for being ‘vile’ – not for violating a specific policy but for the judgment ‘vile’ (the fact that Bindel has apologised repeatedly for the article written over 10 years ago is a tiny fact the NUS prefers to ignore). The NUS decision has an impact on all student organisations that receive funds from the NUS across the UK. One conference who have a specific policy on prostitution and pornography choosing not to have speakers who do not support their policies is not the same as a campaign to have someone publicly banned from speaking or writing at student unions, ALL feminist and academic conferences as well as rendering a woman unemployable as has happened to Bindel. There are other feminist conferences in the UK which are not trans-inclusive and ones which see sex work as empowering. Every feminist in the UK is free to create their own conferences -funding is a major impediment but many feminists have overcome this by holding them in women’s houses. You may not be able to get 1500 women into your house but it’s unlikely that any one woman will find 1500 women who agree with them on absolutely everything.0

I also understand why Julie Bindel and Caroline Criado-Perez have chosen not to speak at FiL following Fae’s withdrawal from the conference as both signed the public letter about the no-platforming of feminists written by Bea Campbell. I also signed the letter and disagree that withdrawal was the way forward – feminism being a political movement and not a dictatorship means women get to have different views on how to achieve the goal of liberation of women and fight the no-platforming of non-media friendly feminists.

I wrote parts of the above several days ago but chose not to publish it as I did not want to get embroiled in feminist disagreements amongst women I love and respect. I  was tempted to delete this post even 30 minutes ago but far too many women have been hurt in the past few days that it feels cowardly to stay silent.

Feminism isn’t circle time at kindergarten. We aren’t required to sit in a circle quietly whilst sharing cookies and listening to stories. It’s a political movement that involves anger, trauma, distress, conflicts but also love and support. We need to stop replicating patriarchal language patters and public shaming techniques. We need to lose the perforative aspects of feminism and concentrate on the politics.

 

Whilst the fall-out was happening in numerous online feminist communities, a woman I respect and admire reshared an article called ‘We need to talk about the process’ on Trouble & Strife. I love this quote from the the Black feminist Combahee River Collective in 1977 included in the article. I haven’t had a chance to read the full statement from the Combahee River Collective but it’s on my list for tomorrow:

In the practice of our politics we do not believe that the end always justifies the means. Many reactionary and destructive acts have been done in the name of achieving ‘correct’ political goals. As feminists we do not want to mess over people in the name of politics. We believe in collective process and a non-hierarchal distribution of power within our own group and in our vision of a revolutionary society. We are committed to a continual examination of our politics as they develop through criticism, and self-criticism as an essential aspect of our politics.

Recently, I have seen too many reactionary and destructive acts done in the name of real feminism. And, I’ve seen far too many women get hurt in the process.

Sharing information from private groups or posting FB/ twitter conversations for the express purpose of humiliating other women isn’t a feminist act. We need to be able to challenge each other, disagree and be downright horrified by the comments, statements and beliefs of other feminists. Sisterhood doesn’t involve ignoring inappropriate or destructive behaviour and it shouldn’t involve publicly trashing other women.

Public shaming is as damaging to the feminist movement when it is done by radical feminists as when it is done by liberal feminists. No side of feminism has a monopoly on good practice. I know I have fucked up numerous times failing to recognise my own privilege. I also know I’ve stayed quiet too long when I’ve seen women lashing out in anger or trauma but who cross the line into personal attacks. And. I’ve stayed too quiet when those who get pleasure out of causing pain attack a new person. I would like to say it’s because I’ve chosen not to give a bigger platform to someone behaving abusively but mostly it’s been because I’ve been afraid of becoming the target of abuse – even though silence never actually protects you.

Online spaces do so much to share feminist views – ones that are regularly no-platformed and ignored by the mainstream media. These spaces are vital to the health and future of our movement, but so are the individual members and we need to start cutting each other some slack.

The process of liberation matters as much as the end goal. We will not achieve full liberation of women if we continue to treat each other as objects of ridicule or pretend that racism and classism can be viewed as distinct entities from misogyny. Women are harmed as a class but BME women and working class women cannot separate the misogyny they experience from the racism and classism they experience. Ageism and lesbophobia can’t be separated either.

I’ll be at Feminism in London this year because it was the place that I met many incredible radical feminists for the first time. Some I had ‘met’ previously on Mumsnet and others on the day. Being with 1500 women is a powerful experience even if you don’t agree with many of them on issues fundamental to your politics.

None of us are perfect and we all start somewhere. For some women that somewhere is Feminism in London. Being with other women on their journey through feminism is a beautiful thing – painful, frustrating, enraging, but also beautiful.

Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that other women are hurting too.

 

 

Safe Spaces and Trigger Warnings

Earlier this week, I was asked to put a trigger warning on an article I published on A Room of Our Own. The request wasn’t to include a trigger warning about domestic violence or self-harm or rape or the consequences of limited options of women living in a patriarchy. It wasn’t about the reality of male violence. I was asked to include a trigger warning on a post written by a woman who regrets having an abortion. Apparently, a feminist space which includes a very personal post by a woman who regrets her abortion – an abortion she was effectively forced into – isn’t a ‘safe space’. The violence this women experienced did not require a trigger warning, but regretting an abortion does.

A Room of Our Own started in December 2013. Since then, I have published articles on rape, domestic violence, murder, infant loss, post-partum depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, racism, homophobia and all forms of violence against women and girls. The very first request for a trigger warning was on an article where a woman expressed regret about an abortion – an abortion that was a direct consequence of male violence. Seemingly, this one article where a feminist spoke of her regret was enough to invalidate the entirety of the blogging network.

AROOO was never intended to be a ‘safe space’. It was created to combat cultural femicide by building a space where a full gamut of feminist and womanist thoughts, musings, anger and reality was explored. It was never intended to be a space where everyone agrees with everyone else. And, this is the problem with the current rhetoric around ‘safe space’. It isn’t about ensuring that women have a place to discuss without experiencing male violence or silencing.

Currently, ‘safe space’ means a space in which no one disagrees with one another ever. There is no room for discussion or questioning. We see campaigns to have women no-platformed for daring to criticise the sex industry as criticism might hurt the feelings of women who work in it. The feelings of the many women who have survived prostitution don’t count in the rhetoric. Instead, we see sex workers referring to abolitionists with abusive names – a member of the sex-worker open university used the name ‘Rachel Whoran’ on their twitter account for ages. Former prostituted women who talk openly about their experiences of rape and abuse are mocked, insulted and harassed by supporters of the sex industry (including members of the Sex Worker Open University). Where is the safe space for women to talk about their negative experiences? Why aren’t they entitled to the same right to a safe space?

There are attempts to prevent university student unions from saying anything critical about the sex industry because it makes it an “unsafe space” for students working in it without giving a thought to the fact that many of their students working in it are actually unsafe. The motions put forward by some students unions would effectively bar their officers from supporting a woman leaving prostitution if she so chose because it wouldn’t be a ‘safe space’ for women who want to remain in it. How does this make universities safe for female students?

The answer is pretty clear: it doesn’t and it isn’t intended to make them safe. Young women on campus experience high levels of sexual harassment and violence and it is now individuals which criticise the sex industry that are blamed for making them ‘unsafe’. It isn’t the fault of the rapists on campus or the university management who collude with rapists, but feminists criticising pole dancing as ’empowerment’ for women (and until I see someone suggest that members of the UN take up pole dancing to empower themselves, I’m going to keep believing it is nothing more than a misogynistic attempt to limit women’s choices through perforative constructions of their sexuality).

This idea that universities must become ‘safe spaces’ free of dissent or discussion is infantilising an entire generation of students. Staff put content notes on lectures which some students might find difficult, but you cannot study history without learning about genocide, mass rape and religious wars. There is no literature, in any language, which is free from racism, homophobia, classism, and misogyny. Science is not free from these structures. You can put a content note on a lecture which discusses Sapphire’s Push, but that note isn’t about supporting the students who are living with child sexual abuse. It’s a clause that allows students to refuse to engage with material that they might find challenging. How many times have I heard students refuse to read about the Holocaust because the thought of it upsets them? And, those who want learn about the V2 rockets because machines are cool and not the thousands of slave-labourers who died building them because it made them sad.

We absolutely do need to make universities safer for female students – not by preventing discussions on difficult topics but by actually tackling rape culture on campus appropriately. Today’s tweet from the National Union Students Women’s Group asking the audience at their event to stop clapping as it “triggers anxiety” demonstrates the failure of universities and students unions to understand the difference between a space free from male violence and a space free from anxiety.

I suffer anxiety in these kinds of situations. I can fake it now but social situations make me incredibly anxious and I do not like loud noises, like prolonged clapping. My daughter still hates the sounds of hand dryers in public toilets and the flushing mechanism on trains and planes. The noise makes her visibly upset. Equally, the use of ‘jazz hands’ isn’t new. It’s common in BSL and is used with children who have auditory sensitivities. It is a way of managing specific situations where clapping would not be appropriate.

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Women who have survived sexual and domestic violence and abuse can be triggered by a million sounds: police sirens, stomping, whistling, a name. We cannot stop every single thing that might potentially trigger a student – we can help them access appropriate support and help them find ways to manage their anxiety, but we can’t pretend away the very things which caused their anxiety or PTSD in the first place.

NUS Women’s Group tweet requesting delegates not clap demonstrates the fundamental need for immediate, specialist training of all students unions officers and all staff on campuses in trauma awareness, as well as male violence. This type of suggestion doesn’t read as though it comes from someone with an in depth understanding of trauma, but rather from someone performing what they assume is social justice – as was the request for me to put a trigger warning on an article about women’s abortion regret.

This is the reality of discussions around safe spaces and triggers warnings now – its all about the performance and not actually making spaces free from rape and other forms of male violence.

 

 

The No-Platforming of Feminists

Today, the Guardian published an open letter written by Bea Campbell about the no-platforming of feminists at universities. I signed the letter because I am increasingly concerned by the silencing of dissenting views– particularly by women – on university campuses. It is absolutely essential that universities remain spaces which challenge orthodoxy. Students are spoon-fed heteronormative, white supremacist history in secondary schools, particularly in relation to the obsessive examining of children through SATs, A-Levels and Highers. Universities and colleges should be places where students are exposed to all manner of thought and theory – even those which make them uncomfortable.

The cancellation of Kate Smurthwaite’s show at Goldsmith’s last month was the latest in a long line of questionable decisions by universities. I’ve read accounts from all manner of people who were involved in the situation prior to the university’s security firm deciding it was “not safe” to go ahead with the event due to protests. Smurthwaite should not have been un-invited due to her stance on prostitution and the sex industry.

Equally, students who wanted to protest outside the venue should have had that option. Frankly, it’s the responsibility of university security to maintain the right to peaceful protest. I am sure they were worried about that gang of men, who normally self-define as anarchists but are mostly pro-violence, showing up to cause havoc. They do so at every single protest going and take great delight in causing damage and engaging in threatening behaviour. The fact that a group of people intent on violence *may* have shown up is not serious enough to cancel either Smurthwaite’s performance or any potential protest on site.

University and college campuses (and one day secondary schools) should be hotbeds of radical thought, protest and anger.  It should be where students are challenged, provoked and forced to confront ideas antithetical to their own. It doesn’t mean they will change their minds and it doesn’t make changing your political position a sign of weakness. It means we are teaching students to think for themselves – something which is sorely missing right now.

I cannot count the number of times I’ve been told Julie Bindel is transphobic by people who have never read any of her work and had no idea that she was involved in feminist campaigns like Justice for Women. If students find her work transphobic, they have every right to say so. BUT, they need to actually read this work for themselves and not just parrot what someone else has told them.

It is ironic the number of people tweeting out #JeSuisCharlie in defence of freedom of speech for a deeply racist and misogynist magazine who have no problem whatsoever in telling women to shut up.

We need to insist that our children grow up with critical thinking skills and the ability and desire to challenge anything they deem incorrect and dangerous. The right to protest is a fundamental right of democracy – but this right is not predicated on ensuring that everyone thinks or believes the same. I have written before about my concerns on the rhetoric of “free speech”  being guaranteed only for those in power to engage in abuse towards those without power. This is what universities need to change: ensuring that political debate is encouraged and that the right to protest remains protected.

This is why I signed the letter written by Bea Campbell: silencing women you disagree with is simply replicating the same heteronormative, capitalist power structures that exist.

The fate of Kate Smurthwaite’s comedy show, cancelled by Goldsmith’s College in London last month (“What could be more absurd than censorship on campus”, Nick Cohen, Comment) is part of a worrying pattern of intimidation and silencing of individuals whose views are deemed “transphobic” or “whorephobic”. Most of the people so labelled are feminists or pro-feminist men, some have experience in the sex industry, some are transgender.

Last month, there were calls for the Cambridge Union to withdraw a speaking invitation to Germaine Greer; then the Green party came under pressure to repudiate the philosophy lecturer Rupert Read after he questioned the arguments put forward by some trans-activists. The feminist activist and writer Julie Bindel has been “no-platformed” by the National Union of Students for several years.

“No platforming” used to be a tactic used against self-proclaimed fascists and Holocaust-deniers. But today it is being used to prevent the expression of feminist arguments critical of the sex industry and of some demands made by trans activists. The feminists who hold these views have never advocated or engaged in violence against any group of people. Yet it is argued that the mere presence of anyone said to hold those views is a threat to a protected minority group’s safety.

You do not have to agree with the views that are being silenced to find these tactics illiberal and undemocratic. Universities have a particular responsibility to resist this kind of bullying. We call on universities and other organisations to stand up to attempts at intimidation and affirm their support for the basic principles of democratic political exchange.

Beatrix Campbell

Lynne Alderson

Ruth Ahnert

Dr Lucy Allen

Nimko Ali

Dr Kerri Andrews

Lisa Appignanesi

Prof. John Barrell

Prof Mary Beard

Melissa Benn

Rosa Bennathan

Katie Beswick

Dr Sue Black

Prof Jenny Bourne Taylor

Alison Boydell

Fiona Broadfoot

Paul Burston

Dianne Butterworth

Prof Deborah Cameron

Ivy Cameron

Dr Rosie Campbell

Cynthia Cockburn

Anna Coote

Caroline Criado-Perez

Hannah Curtis

Dr Liz Davies

Kim Darwood

Dr Sukhwant Dhaliwal

Jane Diblin

Sarah Ditum

Stella Duffy

Dr Victoria Dutchman-Smith

Louise Evan-Wong

Dr Katharine Edgar

Jayne Egerton

Carol Fox

Kim Graham

Rahila Gupta

Prof Catherine Hall

Prof Jalna Hanmer

Jeremy Hardy

Dr James Harrison

Heather Harvey

Lorrie Hearts

Prof Nicholas Hewitt

Dr Rachel Hewitt

Deborah Hyde

Bridget Irving

Susan Jack

Darren Johnson MLA

Claire Jones

Jane Clare Jones

Judith Jones

Prof Liz Kelly

Karen Hanna Kruzycka

Jenny Landreth

Claire Lazarus

Kate Leigh

Prof Alison Light

Prof Ruth Lister

Dr Julia Long

Sonia Long

Prof Joni Lovenduski

David Lusted

Dr Samantha Lyle

Shakila Maan

Dr Finn Mackay

Nancy Mackeith

Rosina Mcrae

Sarah Maguire

Dr Sarah Mansfield

Elizabeth Mansfield

Heather McRobie

Gia Milinovich

Lucinda Montefiore

Dr Helen Mott

Hannah Mudge

Sonali Naik

Dr Peter Newbon

Jill Nicholls

Sian Norris

Juliet Oosthuysen

Sue O’Sullivan

Femi Otitoju

Ursula Owen

Sue Parrish

Pragna Patel

Louise Pennington

Cat Peters

Prof Jill Radford

Dale Rapley

Dr Rebecca Reilly-Cooper

Dr Victoria Rimell

Roweena Russell

Dr Adam Rutherford

Gita Sahgal

Dr Joan Scanlon

Sandhya Sharma

Vanessa Shaw

Dr Ben Schiller

Prof Sophie Scott

Shelley Silas

Karen Ingala Smith

Prof Francesca Stavrakopoulou

Sian Steans

Mary-Ann Stephenson

Prof Ann Stewart

Marina Strinkovsky

Southall Black Sisters

Julka Szymanska

Felicity Tarnell

Peter Tatchell

Steve Trafford

Dr Sue Tate

Dr Matthew Taunton

Lisa-Marie Taylor

Helen Thompson

Dr Megan Todd

Janet Veitch

Judith Vidal-Hall

Nicky Wallace

Dr Jim Walsh

Liz Waterhouse

Prof Nicole Westmarland

Lisa Whelan

Dr Michael Whitworth

Jim Wild

Dr Heather Williams

Clair Wills

Prof Alan Winfield

Harriet Wistrich

Miranda Yardley

The No-Platforming of Feminists

Today, the Guardian published an open letter written by Bea Campbell about the no-platforming of feminists at universities. I signed the letter because I am increasingly concerned by the silencing of dissenting views – particularly by women – on university campuses. It is absolutely essential that universities remain spaces which challenge orthodoxy. Students are spoon-fed heteronormative, white supremacist history in secondary schools, particularly in relation to the obsessive examining of children through SATs, A-Levels and Highers. Universities and colleges should be places where students are exposed to all manner of thought and theory – even those which make them uncomfortable.

The cancellation of Kate Smurthwaite’s show at Goldsmith’s last month was the latest in a long line of questionable decisions by universities. I’ve read accounts from all manner of people who were involved in the situation prior to the university’s security firm deciding it was “not safe” to go ahead with the event due to protests. Smurthwaite should not have been un-invited due to her stance on prostitution and the sex industry.

Equally, students who wanted to protest outside the venue should have had that option. Frankly, it’s the responsibility of university security to maintain the right to peaceful protest. I am sure they were worried about that gang of men, who normally self-define as anarchists but are mostly pro-violence, showing up to cause havoc. They do so at every single protest going and take great delight in causing damage and engaging in threatening behaviour. The fact that a group of people intent on violence *may* have shown up is not serious enough to cancel either Smurthwaite’s performance or any potential protest on site.

University and college campuses (and one day secondary schools) should be hotbeds of radical thought, protest and anger.  It should be where students are challenged, provoked and forced to confront ideas antithetical to their own. It doesn’t mean they will change their minds and it doesn’t make changing your political position a sign of weakness. It means we are teaching students to think for themselves – something which is sorely missing right now.

I cannot count the number of times I’ve been told Julie Bindel is transphobic by people who have never read any of her work and had no idea that she was involved in feminist campaigns like Justice for Women. If students find her work transphobic, they have every right to say so. BUT, they need to actually read this work for themselves and not just parrot what someone else has told them.

It is ironic the number of people tweeting out #JeSuisCharlie in defence of freedom of speech for a deeply racist and misogynist magazine who have no problem whatsoever in telling women to shut up.

We need to insist that our children grow up with critical thinking skills and the ability and desire to challenge anything they deem incorrect and dangerous. The right to protest is a fundamental right of democracy – but this right is not predicated on ensuring that everyone thinks or believes the same. I have written before about my concerns on the rhetoric of “free speech”  being guaranteed only for those in power to engage in abuse towards those without power. This is what universities need to change: ensuring that political debate is encouraged and that the right to protest remains protected.

This is why I signed the letter written by Bea Campbell: silencing women you disagree with is simply replicating the same heteronormative, capitalist power structures that exist.

The fate of Kate Smurthwaite’s comedy show, cancelled by Goldsmith’s College in London last month (“What could be more absurd than censorship on campus”, Nick Cohen, Comment) is part of a worrying pattern of intimidation and silencing of individuals whose views are deemed “transphobic” or “whorephobic”. Most of the people so labelled are feminists or pro-feminist men, some have experience in the sex industry, some are transgender.

Last month, there were calls for the Cambridge Union to withdraw a speaking invitation to Germaine Greer; then the Green party came under pressure to repudiate the philosophy lecturer Rupert Read after he questioned the arguments put forward by some trans-activists. The feminist activist and writer Julie Bindel has been “no-platformed” by the National Union of Students for several years.

“No platforming” used to be a tactic used against self-proclaimed fascists and Holocaust-deniers. But today it is being used to prevent the expression of feminist arguments critical of the sex industry and of some demands made by trans activists. The feminists who hold these views have never advocated or engaged in violence against any group of people. Yet it is argued that the mere presence of anyone said to hold those views is a threat to a protected minority group’s safety.

You do not have to agree with the views that are being silenced to find these tactics illiberal and undemocratic. Universities have a particular responsibility to resist this kind of bullying. We call on universities and other organisations to stand up to attempts at intimidation and affirm their support for the basic principles of democratic political exchange.

Beatrix Campbell

Lynne Alderson

Ruth Ahnert

Dr Lucy Allen

Nimko Ali

Dr Kerri Andrews

Lisa Appignanesi

Prof. John Barrell

Prof Mary Beard

Melissa Benn

Rosa Bennathan

Katie Beswick

Dr Sue Black

Prof Jenny Bourne Taylor

Alison Boydell

Fiona Broadfoot

Paul Burston

Dianne Butterworth

Prof Deborah Cameron

Ivy Cameron

Dr Rosie Campbell

Cynthia Cockburn

Anna Coote

Caroline Criado-Perez

Hannah Curtis

Dr Liz Davies

Kim Darwood

Dr Sukhwant Dhaliwal

Jane Diblin

Sarah Ditum

Stella Duffy

Dr Victoria Dutchman-Smith

Louise Evan-Wong

Dr Katharine Edgar

Jayne Egerton

Carol Fox

Kim Graham

Rahila Gupta

Prof Catherine Hall

Prof Jalna Hanmer

Jeremy Hardy

Dr James Harrison

Heather Harvey

Lorrie Hearts

Prof Nicholas Hewitt

Dr Rachel Hewitt

Deborah Hyde

Bridget Irving

Susan Jack

Darren Johnson MLA

Claire Jones

Jane Clare Jones

Judith Jones

Prof Liz Kelly

Karen Hanna Kruzycka

Jenny Landreth

Claire Lazarus

Kate Leigh

Prof Alison Light

Prof Ruth Lister

Dr Julia Long

Sonia Long

Prof Joni Lovenduski

David Lusted

Dr Samantha Lyle

Shakila Maan

Dr Finn Mackay

Nancy Mackeith

Rosina Mcrae

Sarah Maguire

Dr Sarah Mansfield

Elizabeth Mansfield

Heather McRobie

Gia Milinovich

Lucinda Montefiore

Dr Helen Mott

Hannah Mudge

Sonali Naik

Dr Peter Newbon

Jill Nicholls

Sian Norris

Juliet Oosthuysen

Sue O’Sullivan

Femi Otitoju

Ursula Owen

Sue Parrish

Pragna Patel

Louise Pennington

Cat Peters

Prof Jill Radford

Dale Rapley

Dr Rebecca Reilly-Cooper

Dr Victoria Rimell

Roweena Russell

Dr Adam Rutherford

Gita Sahgal

Dr Joan Scanlon

Sandhya Sharma

Vanessa Shaw

Dr Ben Schiller

Prof Sophie Scott

Shelley Silas

Karen Ingala Smith

Prof Francesca Stavrakopoulou

Sian Steans

Mary-Ann Stephenson

Prof Ann Stewart

Marina Strinkovsky

Southall Black Sisters

Julka Szymanska

Felicity Tarnell

Peter Tatchell

Steve Trafford

Dr Sue Tate

Dr Matthew Taunton

Lisa-Marie Taylor

Helen Thompson

Dr Megan Todd

Janet Veitch

Judith Vidal-Hall

Nicky Wallace

Dr Jim Walsh

Liz Waterhouse

Prof Nicole Westmarland

Lisa Whelan

Dr Michael Whitworth

Jim Wild

Dr Heather Williams

Clair Wills

Prof Alan Winfield

Harriet Wistrich

Miranda Yardley

What is feminist activism: Jessica Valenti, Julie Bindel and the loss of criticial analysis

Jessica Valenti’s latest article in the Guardian made me roll my eyes. It’s yet another in a long line of dreary “who gets to be a feminist” that doesn’t actually discuss what it means to be a feminist, so much as taking out 10 minutes to trash the reputation of other women who call themselves feminists. Interestingly, it’s precisely what Valenti suggests Bindel does in Bindel’s latest Guardian article.

There is a very necessary discussion of the definition of feminism to be had – both in law and praxis. Valenti’s definition rests on gender equality. My definition is the liberation of women, as a class, from male violence and that our liberation requires the abolition of gender. It recognises that capitalism is intertwined with patriarchy and that both are predicated on inequality in law and culture. Women can never be “equal” to men when capitalism requires many to live in poverty in order to allow a small group access to wealth. Gender equality means nothing when we have laws that grant women equal pay in existence for more than forty years and women are still consistently paid less than men and this is without acknowledging the fact that women of colour are paid less than white women. I believe pornography, prostitution, and all other forms of the sex industry constitute violence against women and girls.

Jessica Valenti and I have very different definitions of feminism. I think her feminism actively harms women and I’m sure she would feel the same about my definition. The difference is I don’t doubt Valenti’s commitment to feminism and to supporting women. I fundamentally disagree with her political stance but not her activism.

This is why I am quite disgusted with her article in the Guardian likening Julie Bindel to Sarah Palin. It demonstrates a complete failure to fact check Julie Bindel’s 30 years of feminist activism and erase it based on one article that Bindel wrote over ten years ago. Feminism needs critical analysis. We need to read the research, the personal testimonies, and then make judgements based on fact. Basing the entire career of one woman on one article from 10 years ago isn’t critical engagement. It ignores Bindel’s work with Justice for Women and supporting the Emma Humphreys Prize for Ending Violence against Women. It ignores Bindel’s work on the harm of pornography and prostitution – you don’t have to agree with her position but erasing her work is patriarchy in action.

Julie Bindel is a gender abolitionist – this doesn’t mean she “oppose(s) the very existence of trans individuals” as Valenti claims. It means she is a gender abolitionist who campaigns to eradicate the hierarchical oppression of gender. Bindel is extremely critical of the behaviour of a small group of transactivists, not all of who are transgender, but Bindel is very clear this is a small group who engage in abusive harassment. She is very consistent in stating that the behaviour of this small group is not representative of transgender people as a whole. This is the exact same argument that liberal feminists use when discussing “not all men”.

Critical analysis is essential to a healthy feminist movement. I have seen far too many feminists claim that Julie Bindel is ‘transphobic’ because they read that fact on the Internet. They know nothing else but that Bindel is transphobic and the NUS no-platformed her for being “vile” (the fact that the NUS engages with all sorts of violent dictators and men whose financial wealth is predicated on human rights abuses of their employees goes unremarked).

Being a feminist isn’t just about a label or recognising “gender equality”. It’s a political theory that requires critical thought. This doesn’t mean that all feminists agree with one another on issues but it does mean that we are required to come to our own political stance ourselves – and not because some dude on the internet thinks a woman is a vile because she wrote an article 10 years ago and has since retracted it. Accepting what we are told without thought is patriarchy in action – not feminism.

 

No-Platforming, Radical Feminism and Violence

There is yet another petition demanding that Julie Bindel be no-platformed. This time  it is students at Essex University demanding she be no-platformed from a panel on pornography during an event dedicated to critical thinking.

I’ve been at a number of feminist conferences this year where women have spoken about Bindel’s “hate speech” and “violent language” – the first was the New Turns Conference in February and ending with the FWSA Affective Sisterhood conference in September. Not one woman I spoke to about Bindel actually knew anything more than that she;s “transphobic”. None had read her work. They certainly weren’t familiar with her work on pornography, prostitution, and other vulnerable women. They hadn’t read of the news articles and opinion pieces nor any of her research. All of these people – female and male – had heard “somewhere” that Bindel was transphobic and violent.

I did snigger at this comment under the petition:

I’m not capable of discussing ideas with those who may hold different opinions. University is only for those who think the same way as me.

but it raises some interesting issues. University is not an institution where students should expect everyone to have the same opinion as them – it’s kind of the whole point of attending university. You will be exposed to alternate view points and you will think some of the people attending are racist or stupid or nincompoops or one of a billion other things. Demanding that someone be no-platformed when you have never bothered to do any research on the person or read anything they have written is anti-education.

Now, I have no idea if the tweet below is one that Bindel actually wrote or yet another myth created by people who aren’t familiar with Bindel’s work, but the statement below, taken from the petition, demonstrates the fallacious logic of much of the accusations:

Julie Bindel, in solidarity with the rest of her ignorant TERF bigots castigates transwomen purely because they were born with male genitals. Moreover, she falsely accuses all transwomen of being paedophiles, rapists and murderers, because – just like ALL genders – some are. Need proof? Text of a Tweet by Julie Bindel, 19 March 2013:

Some trans women are rapists and predators/child abusers that are in for killing/raping born women”

Bindell is no friend to transwomen, just as she is no friend to women. Her fanatical feminazi outporings actually damage feminism, which can only be detrimental to the rights of all women. (my bolds)

Ignoring the use of the term “feminazi” which in and of itself is a ridiculous and deeply offensive hyperbole, some and all do not meet the same thing. We do know that “some” transwomen are rapists. Dana McCallum pled guilty to two misdemeanours including domestic violence and false imprisonment. We know that Christopher Hambrook claimed to be transgender in order to access vulnerable women in shelters – he was allowed in these shelters because he had been taking hormones and despite his history of convictions of sexual violence.

We need to recognise that violence is perpetrated by some transwoman and that women aren’t lying when they disclose this abuse. We can’t pretend that it doesn’t happen or that their crimes should be forgiven as transwomen experience disproportionate abuse as the Sylvia Rivera Law Project did with Synthia China Blast. It is not transphobic to discuss whether or not McCallum’s rape was an example of sexual violence within lesbian relationships or if it is yet another example of male violence (for the record, I believe committing rape with a penis is male violence). We can’t pretend that some men claim to be transwomen to access women’s spaces to perpetrate sexual violence and can do this because the laws on gender recognition are open to abuse. Men who kill transwomen make that choice but the murder and sexual assault of some transwomen does not negate responsibility for the perpetration of violence of other members of the Trans community.

Julie Bindel has not been invited to speak at the University of Essex on the topic of transgenderism. She’s been invited to speak on a roundtable on pornography: a subject in which she is highly qualified to speak.  No-platforming someone who’s work you aren’t familiar with is censorship – it’s the kind of censorship that gets sniggered about in liberal circles when banned book week comes up. Yet, these same people think it’s okay to censor a woman for something that they don’t actually know what it is but only that it’s “vile” – a term that pro-pornography people claim has no actual definition. Unless it’s applied to radical feminists and not pornography.

 

UPDATE: Julie Bindel’s invitation to speak at Sheffield University next week has been withdrawn.

The epidemic of no-platforming.

No-platforming has gone from a powerful tool to prevent people who spew hate to be given public platforms to the silencing of anyone who was rude to you once in a queue in Tescos. About 30 years ago. And, more times than not, it’s the no-platforming of someone who was rude to your third cousin, five-times removed baby-sitter’s hamster breeders next door neighbours cousin who you’ve never actually heard of being no-platformed for crimes as yet unspecified. The no-platforming requires mass twitter harassment which, for those who continue to be incapable of understanding, is actually a CRIME.

Personally, I think Jonathan Ross is sexist bellend. I find his television program beyond embarrassing: he doesn’t want to be there, the guests don’t want to be there. I can’t begin to fathom how it constitutes entertainment. And, despite the bookcases devoted fantasy and science fiction in this house, I’ve never heard of the Hugo awards. I’m going to assume this is because they very rarely have female winners and there are very few books written by men in this house. I wouldn’t want to attend anything Ross presented at but, then, I feel that way about most award ceremonies: mostly white men congratulating other white men on being white men.

They are dire.

But, this no-platforming Ross because of a twitter campaign by a bunch of people who have never heard of him is dangerous territory. The comparisons with McCarthyism are apt. No-platforming is no longer about preventing hate speech but assumed crimes without evidence or basis in law. And, is deeply hypocritical when people who actually promote hate speech, like David Irving and Nick Griffin, aren’t banned from major platforms.

By all means, object to sharing platforms with people who you believe promote hate speech but, first, you should check you actually know what you’re talking about. Because, twitter is full of nincompoops who’ve got the political acumen of a hamster with late stage rabies who think they’re the shit. Mostly, they just are shit.

Twitter mobs must not be allowed to dictate policy when huge swathes are involved just for the sake of a ruck rather than politics.

And, honestly, when did it become acceptable to allow people who threaten violence to dictate what social justice is? I mean, come on.

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.

 

 

Dear Salon, What’s with the victim-blaming of Julie Bindel?

Dear Salon,

You are normally one of my favourite media outlets. I don’t always agree with everything you publish but you’ve got a great track record with feminists writing about women’s issues. You also report the actual news, which is increasingly rare in a mainstream media which seems to have confused the scripted twaddle of ‘reality’ television with stories of actual importance: like genocide, healthcare and human rights violations.

I was really quite disappointed by your recent article by Mary Elizabeth Williams entitled : Was a feminist writer threatened off a debate? It contained both factual inaccuracies and victim-blaming language. Granted, your statement about the campaign by Caroline Criado-Perez and The Women’s Room UK isn’t an uncommon error in the media; so much so that Criado-Perez got bored of correcting each inaccurate statement and wrote a blog on the issue.

So, for the umpteenth, and hopefully last, time: Caroline Criado-Perez did NOT  campaign to have Jane Austen on the ‘British’ pound note. First off, the campaign was about the English pound note. I know English money is frequently classed as ‘British’ in the press but this isn’t quite right. The Bank of England and 7 retail banks have the right to print money. The seven retail banks are in Scotland and Northern Ireland. These are not considered ‘legal tender’ but they are accepted as currency. Wikipedia has a handy page on the differences.

Secondly, Criado-Perez was not campaigning to have Jane Austen on the English five pound note, nor was she campaigning to have Jane Austen on the ten pound note. If you read the text of the petition, you will note that the Bank of England chose to replace the only woman on English money, who is Elizabeth Fry on the five pound note, with Winston Churchill, a man not renown for his feminist principles. Criado-Perez was campaigning to have A WOMAN on English money in line with the Equalities Act of 2010. The Bank of England responded to the campaign by choosing to place Jane Austen on the ten pound note.

This isn’t semantics. The campaign was an important test case for forcing the government to acknowledge the existence of the Equalities Act of 2010 and implement it properly. This campaign was about more than just Jane Austen on a bank note: it was about insisting the government recognise that women are human too. Trivialising the campaign to just being about Jane Austen is disrespectful and wrong.

That said, what really worries me about this piece is that it blames Julie Bindel for being a victim of abusive and threatening messages. I’m sure Williams didn’t mean to insinuate that Bindel’s gender-critical stance means that she deserves all the abuse she’s received.

I’m sure Williams didn’t mean to list Anita Sarkeesian, Hadley Freeman, Mary Beard and Caroline Criado-Perez as ‘good’ victims of male violence deserving of our sympathy and support whilst Bindel deserves it for being ‘controversial’. Just using the word ‘controversial’ involves an implication of personal responsibility for being a victim of harassment and threats. If Bindel were a “nice” woman, then it would be okay to feel sorry for her but she’s “controversial” and therefore responsible.

Williams also wrote this: “(s)he claims that since her appearance was announced, she’s received over 30 harassing messages.” It’s a subtle point but there is a difference between “she claims” and “Bindel has received”. One implies that Bindel is exaggerating and the other starts with the premise Bindel is telling the truth. This is the type of language that is used time and time again by violent men and in the media to negate male responsibility for the violence they perpetrate. 

This paragraph is disingenuous at best: 

And perhaps most notoriously, a decade ago, she wrote a piece called “Gender Benders, Beware,” in which she opined that “I don’t have a problem with men disposing of their genitals, but it does not make them women, in the same way that shoving a bit of vacuum hose down your 501s does not make you a man.” Disagreeable stuff? Hell yes. Rape threat-worthy? Well, is anything really rape threat-worthy? (Hint: No. Never.)

Firstly, Bindel has apologised, repeatedly, for what she wrote in that article. Ignoring the apology is making a point: it says the author believes Bindel’s own behaviour is responsible for people sending her rape and death threats. You might say “No. Never” but that’s not how the article reads. Bindel made a statement deemed transphobic and ten years later, despite numerous apologies, Bindel deserves rape and death threats.

The use of quotation marks within the piece is also problematic. The first sentence in this paragraph requires quotation marks. The second does not: 

In the U.K., Bindel, who writes regularly for the Guardian, is a polarizing figure. She’s the founder of Justice for Women, an organization that “supports and advocates on behalf of women who have fought back against or killed violent male partners.” She’s vocally anti-porn, which she states “causes harm,” and sex work, which she calls “violence against women.” 

The first is a direct quote; the second are statements common within radical feminist discourse. They do not need quotation marks and the use of them implies that Bindel’s statements are wrong. Again, this creates a dichotomy of ‘good’ victims of violence and harassment versus bad. Believing that porn causes harm and sex work/ prostitution are violence against women are theoretical statements which have been subjected to countless research and debate. There was no need to put quotation marks around them unless you are trying to make a point about Bindel’s status of “good” victim.

Make no mistake about this, Bindel’s decision to step down from the event at Manchester University is censorship. Williams is flat out wrong when she claims that Bindel wasn’t censored because she has other platforms. Yes, Bindel is fortunate in being able to financially support herself through her feminist writing and activism but that doesn’t mean Bindel isn’t a victim of censorship.

Julie Bindel received around 30 harassing messages which included rape and death threats. As a consequence, she stepped down from a debate on pornography. 

That is censorship. 

It is forcing a woman to withdraw by threatening to rape or murder her. This is why violent men, and it is almost always men, threaten rape and death: because they know women will put their personal safety first. It doesn’t matter how many other platforms Bindel might have, and that most women don’t have, this is of male violence.

There are no excuses for rape and death threats.

It doesn’t matter how much you hate someone’s politics, NO ONE deserves to be sent rape and death threats. As I’ve said multiple times, if your “activism” involves sending rape and death threats, you aren’t just doing activism wrong. You are doing humanity wrong.

And, it is mostly certainly censorship to send a woman rape and death threats in order to silence her. It doesn’t matter if that woman has no public platform or a huge public platform: there is no excuse.

Claiming that Bindel was not censored just proves that William’s doesn’t believe Bindel was a “good enough” victim. 

This is victim-blaming.

The moment you try to excuse the violence targeted at women because they have a “public” platform, is the moment you cross the line into victim-blaming and excusing male violence. 

There are no “good” or “bad” victims of harassing and threatening behaviour. 

Those who sent Bindel rape and death threats need to be prosecuted, just as those who sent threats to Anita Sarkeesian, Hadley Freeman, Mary Beard and Caroline Criado-Perez deserve to be prosecuted. 

And, I expect better from Salon.

Free Speech for ALL … except for Feminists


Julie Bindel has canceled her appearance at a University of Manchester Debating Union event on pornography and “empowerment”.  Bindel was invited to participate in the debate due to her long career of campaigning on women’s issues, feminism, lesbian and gay rights and against the sex industry. She has withdrawn after receiving rape and death threats; 3 of which she deemed serious enough to report to the police. 

In 2004, Bindel wrote an article for the Guardian using language that many deemed transphobic. Bindel apologised. Yet, Bindel has been forced off a panel by a campaign of harassment which included rape and death threats. 

Another feminist campaigner has been silenced by rape and death threats because people dislike what she has to say. And, somehow, this is Bindel’s fault. Bindel is being blamed for being the victim of rape and death threats.

The standfirst of the article in the Independent says it all:

The high-profile feminist writer and campaigner has dropped out of a student-run debate at the University of Manchester after allegedly receiving hate mail.

Bindel did not “allegedly” receive hate mail. Bindel was sent hate mail that included rape and death threats. She then handed it over to the police.

There is no “alleged” crime. A crime was committed and referred to the police for investigation. Whether or not this results in criminal prosecution is irrelevant to the fact that a crime was committed. I hope a criminal prosecution follows since the silencing of women by using threats of rape and death is becoming standard fare.

Rape and death threats are male violence. They are attempts to control and silence women. 

There are no excuses. No valid reasons.

Using rape and death threats to silence women just proves that free speech is only the preserve of men.

If your activism involves sending abusive or threatening messages to women you disagree with, you aren’t just doing activism wrong. 

You are doing humanity wrong.