Saturday, 3 March 2018

When girls can't hear feminist voices....

I raised my girl single-handedly. Even when her father was “around”, I still raised my girl alone. We all three know that.
She, like many girls, declares that she is not and will never be a feminist. Every time she says it I wait quietly for the “but”.

“But ...” she tells me... she admires my work. She knows all the things I say about sexual and domestic violence are true. She knows of the statistical data and she knows the bodies of dead women murdered by men they knew are mounting up behind the two of us. She respects that I ride my bike to raise money for refuges with Ride For Murdered Women, and she knows I volunteer my time elsewhere.

Yet she cannot and will not say she is a feminist.

So why? Why is it that young girls, even those raised by feminists, are afraid to name themselves feminist? Loudly. Openly.

When I ask her this she says that some feminist action is “stupid”. I ask for examples and she tells me of a feminist demand that traffic lights sometimes feature a female figure crossing instead of a male. It’s a fuss over nothing she tells me and makes feminists look silly. I consider myself a feminist. I never even saw this action. "Oh no", she tells me. "I'm proud of the stuff you do. That's real. It's just the other feminist stuff that puts girls off."

Misogynist males distribute these examples in the hope that it invalidates objection to more insidious forms of oppression of our sex class. Examples of the actual extent of male violence against women and girls, just in the UK, include the 85,000 male on female rapes a year. Or the fact that one in four women will experience intimate partner abuse. Or that two women a week are murdered by men in the UK. Or that between 2009-2015 936 women were killed by men and 598 of those women were killed by a current or former intimate partner and a further 75 by their sons. Or that more than a quarter of rape is “no crimed” by police. There are no alternative statistics that will suggest a parity in these figures. None. 
Yet other women, frequently young, are quick to leap in with "but women are violent too" or "women kill men" or "men are victims of domestic violence and have less help when they are!" In 2017 I rode my bike for 93 women who were murdered in 2016 by men they knew. There were 5 men murdered by current or former partners who were women. In 2 of those cases there was clear evidence that the woman had endured prior and prolonged domestic violence from the male who died. 
Why do women and girls jump in so quickly with this challenge to any discussion of domestic violence led by feminist women in the sector? One of the reasons is that if you google anything about the topic you will find male voices. Men who are in power sometimes abuse that power to drown out the voices of women. Literally. Phillip Davies MP uses his position to silence women by deliberately preventing them from speaking during important debates in the House of Commons. He uses the Parliamentary debate system to interrupt and then keeps talking, not allowing a woman to interject,  until a debate is timed out and no woman can speak further or move the motion to a vote.

The World Health Organisation estimates that there are 3 million girls at risk of female genital mutilation every year. FGM 

Most are are "cut" before they are 15 years old. To be cut involves a some of the following:
1. Clitoridectomy - : partial or total removal of the clitoris
2. Excision : partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora,, with or without the incision of the labia majora.
3. Infibulation : the narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the inner, or outer, labia, with or without removal of the clitoris.
4. Other; all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g. pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterising the genital area. 

(Hibo Wardere, Cut -2016)

Do our young women hear about this? No. It is often considered to be too graphic and too distressing to speak to girls of the reality of how they are targeted because of their biological sex organs. Men don't talk about this unless it is to demonise and "other" men from minority ethnic backgrounds. Farage was "keen on" discussing FGM. Men often care about feminist issues when they can use it to advance their own power base. Tommy Robinson formerly of the EDL is "keen on" rape. He enjoys finding rape cases where the perpetrators have a specific ethnicity. He is quite prepared to sacrifice the protected anonymity of female rape victims to do so as he did this week when appealing for anyone on Twitter to identify a woman and "get in touch". This backfired when the woman herself contacted the press to say that her attackers had been white. Men like these care nothing for women. 

Male voices, misogynist voices, are all over the internet with views for those young women to find instead of the voices of women working in the fields of sexual and domestic violence. Those male views are not backed by the data I link to above. Or any alternative data that is credible, peer-reviewed or statistically robust. But... young women are used to listening to male voices tell them things. They are not used to saying... "hang on a sec... is that credible research from a peer-reviewed source?" 

Demonising feminism and preventing women from accessing it is not new but it has accelerated quickly in some sinister corners of society. One culprit is the right wing “manosphere” often to be found thrusting itself loudly around the internet. Those misogynist views are amplified by other male voices in the lives of our daughters and are dragging them back into the shadows of a pre-feminist past. The whispers in their ears are the same as they have ever been. “No boy likes a feminist. You will never have a boyfriend. Feminists are ugly. Hairy. Lesbian. Man-hating. Stupid.” It is basic, but effective. It’s message is simple ... “you will never successfully oppose our oppression of you so shut up and sit down”. Girls are sitting quietly all over the UK right now.

Or they are saying they are feminists and therefore need access to feminist space and debate or it is "sexist". Girls and women acquiesce. Girls and women defend the right of males to be there because they are very used to yielding way to demanding males in their physical space. They have been socialised to do so by the patriarchal system in which they were born. Girls are therefore frequently unable to discuss issues pertinent solely to their sexed bodies because it is not "inclusive". More importantly, even the most confident young girl might struggle to vocalise her experience of difficult menstruation or worries about contraception or abortion in front of boys. Girls and women are often not afforded the same time in debates about their rights as they would be in women's space that was free of males. 

And who can whisper back for and at our girls that they are being manipulated and duped and cheated out of the women's movement they deserve? Not feminists. Because feminists are locked in fierce and bloody battle elsewhere about how to define what a woman is and what her rights should be. Respected feminist voices are being suffocated and their extensive and tireless work against male violence is being dismissed. Hands are being placed over screaming mouths. This is The Handmaid's Tale. Not in a fictional dystopian future.This is now. 

Feminist women are being erased online and elsewhere. The left wing media previously, and ostensibly still, supportive of feminist aims are simultaneously demonising the radical feminist fight to retain rights for women that are enshrined in law. Gaby Hinsliff’s article, in The Guardian on Friday 9th February, Hinsliff - 9th February. resulted in Victoria Smith, a well-respected gender-critical, feminist journalist, leaving Twitter because Hinsliff was unable to accept criticism of her article. Feminist women are being removed from the Labour Party via suspensions and possible expulsions while other women are being placed on a “transphobic hit list” led, in part, by the trans gender self-identified woman Lily Madigan. Labour Party Hit List. Lily Madigan allegedly took part in an extended bullying campaign to evict lifelong Labour activist Anne Ruzylo from her role as Women's Officer. Madigan Bullies Ruzylo Lily meanwhile has become the first trans-gender women's officer. Madigan now has a prominent voice in declaring which women are and are not feminist. I asked Madigan last weekend to declare whether I was considered a feminist. I was blocked for asking. Just for asking. 

Feminists are being refused access to court hearings which directly affect them as happened recently in the hearing of the trans activist who attacked humanist Maria McLachlan. Maria was attending a debate on self-identification. Attack - video embedded. Seasoned feminists like Linda Bellos and Julie Bindel are routinely no-platformed. These are women who have spent the majority of their lives working in the field of women's rights. This week Bristol University Students voted to "ban" speakers they deemed as "transphobic" after a debate in Bristol by 'A Woman's Place UK'. These were women who simply wished to debate the issue of gender self-identification and how it might affect women and girls and their safety. They are not women seeking to offend or impose their view. Simply to widen a vital debate. Debate is a crucial part of the learning process of University students.  The "party for women" - Women's Equality Party - dismissed Dr Heather Brunskell-Evans, a research fellow at King's College London, and their spokesperson because she took part in a debate on gender self-identity featured on the BBc's 'Moral Maze'. Dr Brunskell-Evans had raised similar concerns about the effect on children of self-identification and associated medical interventions. She was therefore summarily silenced. 

Females who speak about their knowledge of their own bodies and the rights they have to protect those bodies are being told to shut up and shut up fast. They are being excluded from feminist societies. They are being disciplined in their jobs and removed from their own political parties. Their fingers hover above keyboards paralysed at the thought that if they speak/type or even think about their biological bodies and ideological/philosophical/feminist beliefs they will suffer the physical and financial consequences. Women running refuges are terrified that if they voice concerns about issues of women's space proposed amendments to the Gender Identity Act their funding may be affected. Women helping women are being affected by this silencing most of all it seems. Women who desperately need help will end up dead as the voices of women who established those services, radical feminist women, are smothered and extinguished. 

Men’s voices meanwhile remain ungagged. Men are using those voices loudly and silencing feminist women with the acronym TERF. This was not a term ever utilised by radical feminist women (though some have tried to reclaim the insult by using it to refer to themselves - much in the way feminist women have previously tried to reclaim insulting terms for her genitalia to lessen the sting of the insult). This is a term invented to insult and undermine feminist women who object to the redefining of their bodies, their protected safe spaces and their legal protections. It is name-calling and we must not afford it any greater respect than the technique of an abuser. It is no longer used as an acronym. Merely uttering the word demonises a woman. It points her out as a "bad" woman and a bigot. Other women and other men can then vilify that woman. They can harass her from her job and her political party and all other areas of her life that they think she "deserves" to be expunged from - solely for wishing to debate how legal change may affect her rights. Only women sanctioned by males, or concurring with the views of dominant males may openly express feminist views now. Women are very afraid and rightly so. If they are targeted for their views about their own oppression and their own bodies they may lose their homes, jobs, children. This is a time as fearful for women as any in our history. 

Saying that female biology is real and immutable and that women are oppressed because of their sexed body is currently a revolutionary action that many women are too fearful to take part in. It is costly. 

One day our girls will look for feminist voices. They will find only the voices of men.