The Elephant in the Room. Part One
Updated: Jul 25, 2019
There has been a surge of Feminist activism across the UK in the past year. Women are agitated and organised. We Need to Talk, Women’s Place UK, ManFriday, ReSisters United, Standing for Women, ForWomen Scotland. They are a reaction against a movement which wants to reduce womanhood to a parody of sexist stereotypes. Women are rising up and saying no - womanhood is not a costume. We exist. Our bodies exist and they are the root of our oppression. We are finding our voice and our voice is saying NO.
Being a feminist splits you from the Left. Porn, prostitution, surrogacy, BDS&M - in 2019 women's subjugation has been repackaged by capitalism as empowerment, and The Left are lapping it up. They call us prudes and bigots; SWERFS and the TERFS. Meanwhile mainstream feminism has become a sham. They’re shills. Male run, male led and gaslighting young women to embrace the word slut. To revel in their subjugation and attack unruly women, demanding their pound of flesh. We say NO. Fuck. That. Shit.
Even as committed feminists and activists thinking outside the leftist box there is some disagreement within our movement. Whilst broadly agreeing on most things, there are some issues which even the most zealous feminist may be guilty of turning a blind eye to. What a great topic for our first feminist talk, we thought, and so we decided to invite women from across the gender critical movement to Manchester this Saturday and discuss what they think is feminism’s elephant in the room. What are the great feminist taboos that we are not supposed to talk about?
Tomorrow we will publish the topics of the women we invited to speak - Posie Parker, Jo Bartosch, Charlotte Hughes & Sarah Phillimore. Because it sparked such interesting discussions amongst the editorial team we decided to ask prominent feminists and campaigners for their take. We allowed them to speak, unmediated, on whatever subject they liked.
Julie Burchill is a journalist who started writing for the NME when she was 17 years old. She was one of the first victims of the woke war on women after a column she published in 2013 resulted in her expulsion from the left wing media establishment.
Until January 2013, I’d never thought much about transsexuals. If pushed, I’d have said I felt vaguely sorry for them, as I do white people who pretend to be black or my teenage self when I pretended to be Jewish. It’s unfortunate to be confused about what you are once you’re past adolescence. And then they went after my friend.
I don’t mind anyone having a pop at me. I’ve enjoyed copious fame and fortune from dishing it out, and not being able to take it would make me a sissy and a hypocrite. Also, kinkily, I enjoy a bit of verbal abuse, finding it bracing in the manner of a cold swim.
But my weak spot has always been people picking on my mates; when that happens, I see red. Ironically, the piece that the angry trans-mob took exception to was part of a compilation about Female Anger, in which my friend mentioned that are women are sick and tired of being told to aspire to impossible ideals in all areas of their lives, one of which was achieving ‘the body of a Brazilian transsexual.’
I was exchanging some bitchy quips on Facebook about the ensuing Twitter brouhaha while getting ready to go out when an Observer commissioning editor asked me - BEGGED ME! - to fashion them swiftly into a piece. When I said they were just for my friends entertainment and that I was busy, I was offered twice my usual word rate. I’m only human! I dashed off a quick piece, in which intemperate language such as *bed-wetters in bad wigs* may have been used. But I was by now an Angry Female - my mate was getting death threats and the police had been called in. I went out and thought no more of it.
I awoke on Sunday morning to a right old rumpus in the small and self-important world of the media. Some Lib-Dem MP with delusions of adequacy was calling for me to be sacked from the Observer; this would have been difficult because I had no contract with them even though I wrote for them regularly - a situation which, the editor John Mulholland was soon murmuring comfortingly on the phone, would continue.
Within 24 hours the column had been expunged from the Guardian/Observer website and I was never hired by the Observer again. Luckily, I was richer and tougher than all the bed-wetters (bad-wigged or otherwise) who both pilloried me and lost their nerve when it came to hiring me and survived my Wilderness Years pretty well, writing only for the bold and unbowed Spectator and Spiked until the Telegraph hired me last year.
Looking back, I see that I was the first person to be demonised by the allegedly liberal, free-thinking Establishment who have continued to crumble in the face of the surreal demands of the Call-Me-Madam mad-men; in academia, in psychiatry, in medicine and now, most bizarrely, in the case of the Canadian beauticians being prosecuted for refusing to wax the scrotum of a repulsive cross-dresser. Whereas misogyny was historically Right-wing, it’s now hysterically Left-wing. We see it best in those vile cry-bullies the Woke Bros, who have found a fresh’n’funky way to hate women without seeming like sexist dinosaurs.
There’s a really good way to justify hitting women if you’re a Woke Bro - just call them TERFs and punching them becomes a brave anti-fascist action instead of the default setting of every cowardly wanker who would never dare to hit a man. 62% of women at university have experienced sexual assault, 56% by known perpetrators - a lot of them will be Woke Bros. Women report being choked by male sexual partners - ‘Breath-Play’ to give it its innocent-sounding sex-name - to an extraordinary extent; that’ll be those Woke Bros who feel no guilt about watching porn because, hey, sex work is work like any other kind. (Except when it comes to their sisters.) Pornography-using men who call themselves feminists are so monumentally dumb that they probably delude themselves that the reason why the average age of death for a female performer is 37 is because they die of pleasure - having all those orgasms! An astonishing number of the showbiz sleazes called out in MeToo identified as feminists - Woke Bros to a man. But most of all, you’ll find them taking the side of female impersonators against born females.
The Woke War Against Women is well and truly under way and the Woke Witch Trials have started. So I’m extraordinarily pleased that I called out the poisonousness of the New Misogyny right from the start - and to be financially supporting this event by MAKE MORE NOISE. I’ve said it before - but I knew I was right. What a fascinating time to be a feminist!
Amy Desir is part of the new wave of gender critical activists who shot to infamy in 2018 after she self identified as a man to access male only services with the activist group ManFriday.
The feminist orthodoxy equates most organised religion with patriarchy: women’s subordination in a world dominated by men and male systems. So going for topless swims, changing in male changing rooms, wearing a mankini and having photos of those activities all over the media challenged norms both in my religion and in feminism.
The #ManFriday admin team wanted us to provoke serious questions in a fun way. It was great fun but also the most socially daring and emotionally draining experience I’ve ever had. It was necessary to highlight the painful distinction between the shouts of ‘burn the TERF’ levelled at women expressing concerns over policies allowing sex self-ID and the lack of condemnation when men do the same. #ManFriday challenging men’s social and special boundaries showed up transactivism’s inherent misogyny.
Gail Dines is a radical feminist who studies the porn industry and the harms caused by the normalisation of hardcore gonzo porn.
The core of radical feminism is telling the truth about how patriarchy works, and all the horrors that this system gives rise to. Radical feminists are not afraid to tackle any “taboo,” because it is these very taboos that allow for the continuation of a system that has relegated women to a subordinate sex-class. We must dig deep into the dirt of patriarchy because our analysis and theories inform our activism. Sugar-coating the truth will take us down the path of capitulation, and collaboration with our oppressors.
This willingness to face down patriarchy is why radical feminism was THE feminism that uncovered the truths of the sex industry. Rather than buying into the “porn is empowerment” or prostitution is “sex work” arguments, we unmasked the ways that the sex industry is violence against women in its purest form. By listening to survivors, watching more porn than we could stand, and joining the dots between patriarchy and the sex industry, we shattered the idea that sex is a “taboo” topic.
The more we unmask how “sex”, as constructed in patriarchy, is a way to normalize and eroticize violence against women, the more we shred the taboos that legitimize silence, passivity and acceptance of women as “fuck objects.” The last taboo that needs to be destroyed is that women are sugar and spice and all things nice. We are not sugar coating our abuse, and we are not nice. We are angry, we are brave, and we are ready to do whatever it takes to end patriarchy.
Dr Julia Long is a radical lesbian feminist activist, lecturer and author. Her research interests include feminist theory and practice, male violence against women, media representations of women, gender and the politics of sexuality, and social movements and activism.
The assault on women’s rights waged by ‘transgender rights’ activists has seen a dynamic and expanding counter-movement, broadly known as ‘gender critical feminism’. But actually, how critical of ‘gender’ is this movement? In spite of its name, ‘gender’ is the elephant in the room of gender critical feminism.
The proliferation of ‘gender critical’ meetings and events over the past couple of years demonstrates impressive levels of knowledge, expertise, commitment and dedication. A central tenet of these events – and the movement more broadly - is that sex and gender are not the same thing: that sex is a biological reality, while gender is an oppressive social and political construct. Much time and effort has been spent producing a wealth of literature elaborating this distinction.
However, if we look out over the room at these ‘gender critical’ events, what is being said verbally is frequently at odds with what is being said visually. We may say that sex and gender are different things, but overwhelmingly what we do is to act as if they are intrinsically tied to each other. A room full of women with long, dyed and styled hair, make up, jewellery and ‘feminine’ clothes is manifesting an idea of ‘gender’ at odds with the verbal content of these meetings.
Any expert in the field of communications will tell you that what we do is more convincing than what we say. If our non-verbal communication is at odds with our verbal communication, people will believe the former. So as long as ‘gender’ remains the elephant in the room – as long as we conceive of the problem as being ‘over there’ and not ‘right here’ - there is a glaring contradiction at the heart of gender critical feminism, and a serious limitation to its potential.
Amy Dyess is an American filmmaker, journalist and writer who campaigns for lesbian rights.
When I see feminists ignore lesbians and give so-called “political lesbians” the mic, it reminds me that feminism has historically thrown lesbians under the bus. The current abuse is nothing new, and I wonder if feminists will ever value lesbians.
It’s not a choice to be gay, and one can’t identify as a lesbian. I’d like to see feminists stand against the homophobic “choice” rhetoric and defend homosexual women. Instead, they applaud it and award our oppressors with panels and publications.
Why do feminists hate actual lesbians so much? We exclusively love women and can’t choose to do anything else. In most of the world, the religious right punishes us for “choosing” to be gay, and in the UK “political lesbians” are using the same anti-gay and lesbian rights language.
Feminist leaders aren’t defending real lesbians. I’m a butch, the original gender rebel. Butch lesbians started the whole gay and lesbian rights movement, but PLs like Sheila Jeffreys have nothing but contempt for everything I love about lesbian culture, including butches like myself.
Feminists, here’s an ethical choice you have to make. It’s time to finally choose lesbians over political lesbians. You can’t have it both ways anymore.
Julia Vigo is independent scholar, filmmaker and activist who specializes in anthropology, technology, and political philosophy.
“Woke feminism,” the age-old class hegemony directed by elite women against working class women, is proving to be the biggest issue facing women today. More precisely, a narrow clique of feminists are using the trans debate to cement their careers as they cast others with whom they disagree as a “liability” or not being “a good look” [for them] while oddly believing that theirs is the epicentre of this movement.
The division is as old as time: tese privileged feminists believe that they represent the “good” (eg. white, left-wing, middle-class). Yet, these feminists appease the very ideology they critique by calling men “trans women” and “she” as they climb on the backs of other women, publicly shaming those who refuse to call men “women.” Largely a social elite, these women perpetuate the same divisive structures that for centuries punished women.
Many of these “woke feminists” write for right-wing publications or collaborate with politicians on the right, yet claim others “cozy up to the conservative right” condemning other women as a “liability”. This is political grandstanding and it hurts women’s rights more than any other force today. “Woke feminism” subscribes to the rigorous surveillance and public disdain of lower class women and women of colour by using the master's tools to spin misogyny anew as they carefully preserve their social status.
Gemma Aitchison became an activist after her sister was murdered by an abusive partner. She has since founded the charity Yes Matters and campaigns to help sexual assault victims.
For me the elephant in feminisms closet.
The feeling like a fraud when you fall victim to things you feel like you should have been strong enough to fight. When I was trapped in a domestic abuse situation, one of the things that kept me covered in the shame he tried to drown me in was that I was supposed to be a strong feminist who knows the signs, who knows the abuser profile and tactics. But I was still a victim. What sort of feminist was I, how could I talk about being strong, not believing what he was saying/doing out of entitlement and control when I was affected too.
On reflection I think part of the answer is that, like the rest of the world, women have higher expectations of other women including ourselves. If a man does something great, that is used to excuse the multiple bad (Winston Churchill, Micheal Jackson, Jonny Depp etc) however with women, if they do one thing we don't agree with, we dismiss the many great things she has done. Because of this we become the MRA cliché "they will be too busy bitching amongst themselves"
I agree with feminists about somethings and don't about others but the reality is that there is no queen of feminism with a list of things you must adhere to, to earn enough points for your shiny feminist badge. I disagree with sexual objectification and that working in the sex industry is in any way empowering, however I have worked on campaigning to address unpaid work of women and the pay gap with women who think it is. Because the reality is it's all linked and by working together on the issue, will change things for the ones we don't. If unpaid work was paid, it would affect how many women saw the sex industry as a viable option. We have to be more aware of the divide and conquer tactics.
If we don't shout together, we are easier to ignore. We are all learning and developing. We are all shaped by different experiences. Feminism needs to be less hard on women.
Check back tomorrow when we drop our concluding part when our guests to tell us what they think is feminism’s great taboo. If you would like to buy a ticket to our talk on the 27th of July in a secret Manchester location tickets are available here.
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