My speech to ‘A Woman’s Place’ public meeting in Cambridge on 23rd Nov 2017

After the events at the Anarchist Bookfair, I was invited to speak at a public meeting ‘A Women’s Place is on the Platform’ organised in Cambridge by ‘A Woman’s Place‘ – a new campaign to fight for women’s rights and to preserve sex-based legal protections.  There is an ongoing campaign by some trans activists to silence women through the use of both physical threats, smears and lies as well as mentally draining tactics akin to SLAPP suits such as individual complaints to employers, professional bodies, trade unions and political organisations asserting that women are being ‘transphobic’ when they discuss women’s rights and should be reprimanded or removed from their posts. This has made many women (and men too) scared to speak on the issue. The Cambridge meeting itself was subjected to efforts to undermine and shut it downDespite this, the meeting went ahead.  My speech is available to watch here, complete with quite a few stumbles and at one point saying 1994, when I meant to say 1944! In the text below I have provided sources and made a couple of corrections to the statistics on sexual harassment and violence against women.

Speeches by other women at the meeting, including Linda Bellos and Ann Ruzylo are available here, along with speeches from subsequent meetings.

 

Speech to ‘A Woman’s Place’ public meeting in Cambridge on 23rd November 2017

Thank you for inviting me here to speak. I wanted to start by saying that I’m actually quite nervous, this is the first time I’ve spoken publicly on this issue.  And I also wanted to start by saying my opinions are not necessarily fixed. I think that all of us need the space to discuss these issues, to hear each other’s experiences and to formulate our ideas and solutions to the problems that we face.  But it’s absolutely critical that women are not excluded from this debate about the proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act.  It’s also critical that women are not expected to meet set perfection standards before they’re allowed to open their mouths, because basically no men are expected to or required to meet those standards!

I was invited to speak here after being surrounded and threatened at a bookfair by a mob of around 30 people who claimed to be advocating on behalf of trans people.  This was after I intervened to stop the bullying of two women who were distributing leaflets about the Gender Recognition Act and proposed changes to it. 

The Government is planning to amend the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) to allow anyone to self identify as a man or a woman, and this ‘Gender Identity’ will become a protected characteristic in law.  To me it seems apparent that this has serious implications for women because if it becomes law, effectively it will make it impossible for any woman to challenge the presence of a male in women only spaces, because to do so would put the woman at risk of being accused of discrimination against trans identifying males.  

There is no reliable way for anyone to tell from external appearances whether or not someone identifies as trans, so women would have to accept without question any man who enters women’s toilets or changing rooms or any other women only spaces.

Clearly this legal change is an issue on which women should be free to discuss their fears and be actively involved in the decision making process about how any legal changes are defined. Sadly there are a significant number of trans advocates who seek to silence women entirely, refusing to acknowledge the reality of widespread sexism in today’s society and its impact on those who were born female.

Some of those who surrounded and threatened me at the Bookfair were also involved in a physical attack on a feminist at Speakers Corner when women met there in September after trans activists successfully bullied a venue into closing down a debate about the proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act.  I was lucky enough that people stepped in to defend me from attack at the Bookfair, but the mob surrounding me shouted abuse at me for over an hour and would not leave me alone and it was an extremely intimidating experience.

Since the Bookfair, I and those who stepped in to protect me from the attack have been subjected to a sustained bullying campaign of lies, smears and even death threats.  All of this for women holding opinions which those trans activists disagreed with.   

But rather than focusing on the bullying now, I’d like to start by talking about why I value women only spaces – because I think that the life experiences of those who are born female and the discrimination which we face in our day to day lives, is the part of the debate which is not being heard.  

How are women affected? / How common is sexual harassment?

Despite the recent ‘#MeToo’ reports, most men still have no idea just how commonplace sexual harassment is for those born female, or of the impact it has on our lives and our feelings of safety.  It is treated as a joke, or a bit of harmless banter, or as if we should see it as a compliment which somehow demonstrates our worth.  

My first recollection of sexual harassment is when I was 10 years old.  I was out playing with some girl friends in woods near where I lived.  A man approached us, exposed his penis and started masturbating a short distance away.  We had to stop playing and leave the woods to get away from him.  We weren’t allowed to play in the woods again on our own, so I lost some of my freedom to that man’s sense of entitlement.

When I was 12 I was abducted from beside a hotel swimming pool where I had been swimming with a family friend (another girl actually younger than me).  A man asked me to come to his hotel room for a drink, put his arm around my shoulder and guided me to the lifts. I was too scared to resist or say anything.  When we reached the 3rd floor he guided me out of the lifts along the corridor.  I was really lucky to escape when some other people appeared and I managed to break free and run into the lift with them just as the doors closed. 

But I lost some more of my freedom to that man’s sense of entitlement, I tried hard from then on to avoid being alone in places where there were unknown men.

When I was 16 I was walking home from my job in a supermarket, in the dark with my hood up.  I was grabbed by my breasts from behind, pinning my arms to my sides.  When I struggled to escape the man ran off into a park which was right beside where he had assaulted me.  Friends told me I should report it to the police.  I did and they weren’t interested.  They didn’t even take a statement. I learnt to modify my behaviour and never walk with my hood up after dark, even if it was raining and I wanted to stay dry.

Around this time, walking home with a female friend in daylight, a man stopped in our line of sight, got out his penis and began masturbating in front of us.

Then when I was 17 and had moved to South London, a male stranger reached out and grabbed my left breast as I walked down the street in broad daylight.

When I was 18 and living in North London, the same thing happened again during the day on a busy high road.  And another time as I waited for a bus to pull into the local bus station where I wanted to get off, a man put his hand on top of mine on the support pole. He pressed his body against me.  Twice I moved my hand from under his and he moved his hand back on top again.

And besides all that, there were at least three incidents I can remember of men exposing their penises while I was sitting on fairly deserted tube trains, which was quite intimidating.

When I was 19 I lived in a shared house.  One night just after I had gone to bed, one of the men who lived there came into my room, got into my bed, got on top of me and started kissing me and giving me ‘love bites’ on my neck.  I managed to slide out and I slept on the floor instead, too socialised into subservience to ask why the hell he thought he was entitled to get into my bed and do that without being invited. 
And besides all of that and sexual harassment at work or touching up in pubs and social spaces, there were the countless leery comments and sexist remarks as I walked along the street, especially past pubs or building sites or any other place where lots of men were congregated.  And if I ever answered back or challenged any of this I was called a bitch or a slag or worse.

All of those experiences taught me to be ever alert to danger.  It could come at any time, when I was least expecting it.  But all from males.  It’s not all men, but it is a very significant number and they don’t come with ‘abuser’ stamped on their forehead, so women have no way of telling in advance. 

This is why I and many other women really value women only spaces – as a respite from the ever present risk of attack from self entitled males.  Women are particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment and assault when we are in a state of partial undress.  In toilets, changing rooms, fitting rooms.  That’s why it’s important to so many women to preserve these spaces as women only.  We know that if a man enters those spaces we really need to be on our guard, it makes our time there so much more stressful.  But if the law is changed so that any male can identify as a woman, we will no longer be able to challenge the presence of men in those spaces.   Many women will end up avoiding using the facilities rather than run the risk of being harmed.

My experiences are not unique and in fact many women have endured much worse at the hands of men.  So it’s both irresponsible and offensive when prominent trans advocates like Paris Lees have articles in national newspapers which portray women as irrational bigots (here’s one of them – Fears around gender neutral toilets are all in the mind – Paris Lees) for being concerned what might happen if trans advocates get their way and the definition of ‘women’ changes from ‘adult human female’ to ‘anybody who identifies as a woman’.

There are endless articles which appear in major newspapers in support of transgender ideology, which repeatedly downplay women’s oppression and deny the reality of sexism.  

They never repeat the reality that every year around 400,000 women are sexually assaulted and 85,000 women are raped in England & Wales. 

That 79% of women aged 18-24 report sexual harassment is the norm on nights out.

That an average 130 women a year are killed by violent men in England and Wales.

And that one in three women experience domestic abuse in their lifetimes.

 

Anyone who has respect for women and our lived experiences, and who is opposed to sexism, should not be attempting to silence women who want to talk about the risks of allowing men to self identify as women and thereby gain entrance to women’s spaces.  

Preserving women only wards in hospitals when women are ill and vulnerable is also critical.  As is preserving refuges as women only spaces to allow women to recover from male violence.   

Sex and sexism is real 

Women are oppressed in our society on the basis of being the female sex.  We don’t choose our sex, it is a biological fact.   

People are not ‘assigned a gender at birth’, we are categorised according to our visible sex organs.  This is useful in terms of acknowledging that we will experience different health issues throughout our lives, but shouldn’t otherwise dictate what we can do or wear.

Instead, society attempts to enforce gender stereotypes which are a socially constructed hierarchy used to facilitate the dominance of men and subservience of women.  The stereotypes promoted tell us that girls like pink and boys like blue and that girls are valued for being pretty while boys are valued for their actions.  As we get older the stereotypes encourage us to think that men are better suited to physical tasks, decision making and power, while women’s main purpose is still to look attractive to men and to put men’s desires before their own and to take on most of the caring and cleaning within the family and within wider society too.

Feminists view these ‘gender norms’ as oppressive stereotyping so we want to destroy them, break them down.  Trans advocates appear to want to make the stereotypes real, but instead to have individual ability to choose which stereotype to adopt. More recently some seem to believe it is actually possible to even change sex purely by identifying as a different sex.

This is a conflict of ideologies.  The biggest conflict lies over the use of the word ‘woman’ and the demand that females adopt the prefix ‘cis’ before the word ‘women’. 

Who gets to claim ‘women’?

Throughout history and according to the dictionary, the word woman means ‘adult human female‘.  Adult human female cannot include male.  For women to make this statement now however, is now described as hate speech and bigotry. 

There is clearly a difference in lived experiences between those born female and those born male.  One obvious example is that no male will have to cope with periods or run the risk of pregnancy.  

In the new vocabulary, the terms ‘trans’ and ‘cis’ are then used to distinguish between males who identify as women (trans) and women who were born female (cis).  However, the definition of cis is “someone who’s gender identity fits the sex that they were born”.  I and many other women see the word ‘cis’ as a term of oppression.

Not only is it inaccurate – we have been fighting the ‘feminine’ gender stereotypes throughout our lives, but also it is diametrically opposed to our beliefs of gender as a tool of sexist oppression, where expected gendered behaviour stereotypes are used to enforce that hierarchy where men are dominant and women are submissive.

Finally, it is actually used to invert reality and claim that males who want to identify as women are more oppressed than women who had no choice about being born female and who have endured that subservient status since birth.

Some women say they don’t mind being called ‘cis’, that is up to them, it may be that they don’t fully understand what the implications are.  But even if they are happy to be called cis, they can’t consent on behalf of all women to the adoption of that prefix.

I think everyone would accept that there are differences in the experiences of those born and socialised as female and those born and socialised as male but who say they identify as women.  So there needs to be a way to describe that difference.

Why do men get to appropriate the word ‘women’ and force females to use the term ‘cis women’?  It basically comes down to male privilege and male sense of entitlement.  And male dominance and male control. 

Throughout much of history women have been the possessions of men:

  • fathers gave away daughters on marriage to become the property of the husband; 
  • until 1882 women weren’t even allowed to own property;
  • until 1944 women weren’t allowed to have a job once married, even when they got a job they were paid less, and despite the Equal Pay Act of 1971, they are frequently still paid less;
  • until 1991, women were not entitled to refuse sex once they were married, it wasn’t classified as rape.  Women were considered to be the possession of their husbands. 

So men (or vey many men) have always felt a sense of entitlement to women.  It continues with the groping, catcalling, masturbating in front of us, making rape jokes, talking over us, demeaning us.  It’s not all men, but it is a very significant number.   Women need to be able to set our own boundaries for our own safety.

All in all, forcing women to accept a new definition of our reality so that some men can call themselves women just replicates the gender norms of male domination and female submission and it cannot be considered remotely progressive. It prevents women from accurately describing and fighting the sexism endemic in our society.

Women are socialised to be nice and to be accommodating, we want to try and make people feel welcome, but actually, why should we trust those who show literally zero respect for our experiences when they repeatedly assert that there is no danger to women from self identification and the removal of our ability to challenge men entering women only spaces?

The experiences of me and other women being bullied over this just make me feel even stronger that it’s really important to stand up and fight on this issue.  I would like to encourage everyone to stand against this bullying.  It is actually quite intimidating to be met with this, I have been a campaigner for over 35 years and I have never encountered such a toxic, aggressive atmosphere as there is around this debate.  It really is designed to intimidate women into silence. It is absolutely critical that as many people as possible stand together and stand up against this bullying. Those trans activists and allies who are carrying out the bullying can be defeated by growing numbers of people resisting that bullying. 

That will then facilitate a proper space for the concerns of women and trans identifying people to be discussed. I would suggest that rather than replicating gender stereotypes and suggesting that as individuals we try to choose our way out of them, which isn’t in reality possible, that we all get together and break down those gender stereotypes and just let us all be individuals who fulfil our potential and choices irrespective of whether we are male or female.  Thank you. 

 

Sources for statistics in text & corrections:

Some of the statistics I gave in my speech were hurriedly grabbed from news reports on the day of my speech and some turned out to be underestimates, so before posting this I have tried to find up to date online sources to provide here (and I have amended the figures in the text above):

Every year around 400,000 women are sexually assaulted and 85,000 women are raped in England and Wales (I said in the UK during the speech and 80,000 not 85,000).

79% of women aged 18-24 report sexual harassment is the norm on nights out.

When I gave the speech, I said “at least 80 women a year in the UK are killed by violent men”.  That figure is actually the average yearly figure for women killed by their partner or former partner in England and Wales.  The ‘Femicide Census’ which reported in 2016, recorded that 936 women were killed by men between 1st Jan 2009 and 31st December 2015 in England and Wales which is actually an average of 130 women a year killed by violent men, so I have changed the figure in this text.

One in three women experience domestic abuse in their lifetimes.

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My Statement on events at London Anarchist Bookfair 2017

Statement made on 2nd November

I was in the process of writing a longer article around the events at the Anarchist Bookfair on Saturday, but I am also trying to stay on top of the rest of my life while dealing with the horrendous bullying of people around me which is underway by some trans activists and allies. I have been traumatised by my experiences on Saturday and by events since, resulting in a lack of sleep and inability to concentrate. I wanted to complete the longer article, but as lies are being circulated by those who attacked me, I feel I have to put out a shorter statement now.

When I refer to trans activists in this statement I mean people who are activists on trans issues, I do not mean that all of them were trans, nor that they represent the views of all trans identifying people. For those who don’t know what TERF means, it is an acronym for Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist, but whatever its origins it is currently used as a term of abuse to dehumanise women and so excuse violence and bullying against them.

I thank everyone who is taking a stand against bullying and I urge more people to stand in solidarity too. Those trans activists and allies who are carrying out the bullying can be defeated by growing numbers of people resisting that bullying. This will facilitate a proper space for the concerns of women and trans identifying people to be discussed.

Short statement on the facts:

  • The Tories are planning to amend the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) to include Gender Identity as a protected characteristic in law. This does affect women and as such, women have a right to express their views on this issue.
  • I am aware of three leaflets which were distributed at the Bookfair. I did not actually write or distribute any of them, but I supported other women’s rights to distribute them. The first leaflet I heard complaints about is available here.
  • None of them call for violence against trans identifying people, obviously I would not have supported them if they had.
  • Refusing to validate other people’s belief systems is not the same as threatening to harm them.
  • Bullying people to force them to accept your views does harm people.
  • If you think that other people should not be allowed to question your ideology, it makes you an authoritarian NOT an anarchist.
  • Women are oppressed in our society on the basis of our sex, those who deny this perpetuate that sexism.
  • It is a basic concept of progressive politics that oppressed groups have the right to self organisation and autonomy in their fight against their oppression.
  • I intervened to stop the bullying of two women who had been distributing leaflets about the GRA at the Bookfair and who were surrounded and being threatened by trans activists. Women’s voices have been silenced throughout history, which is why so many people have internalised misogyny and the assumption that women’s concerns are unimportant.
  • Half an hour later, I was surrounded for over an hour by a baying mob of around 30 trans activists who shouted misogynistic abuse in my face and at others, and who would not leave me alone. This included: ugly Terf, fucking Terf scum, bitch, fascist and more. That kind of behaviour should have no place in anarchism or any other progressive politics.
  • Despite that provocation, I did not at any time threaten or assault anyone. No trans activists were threatened by anyone else in my sight or hearing.
  • While I was surrounded, I saw a man’s hand moving towards my face and when it was within inches of my face I blocked it and pushed his arm away. He then started shouting that I had assaulted him and I should be thrown out.
  • Some of those in the baying mob tried to stoke anger and division by calling me a snitch, making false claims that I had filmed them assaulting a feminist at Speakers Corner and had handed that footage to the police. Footage of the incident is available and actually shows me intervening to protect the victim of the assault, not filming it. The videos embedded in this article show what actually happened, please do watch them and see the truth for yourself.
  • Their claim of ‘snitch’ in the circumstances is obscene in any event – when you assault women you do not get to claim the moral high ground by complaining that they have reported your behaviour to the police.
  • Those in the mob asserted that the leaflets setting out women’s concerns about the GRA should not be handed out because they amount to violence against trans people. They then used this to justify actual physical violence and intimidation. They didn’t care about the distress caused to others in close proximity, including children. Nor did they care about the trauma they cause to women by surrounding us, threatening us and using violence to silence women’s voices, repeating the patterns women face throughout our lives when reporting sexual harassment or assault or other sexist behaviour.
  • Women’s experiences are always erased – we are asked what were we wearing at the time, what did we say and do. Always the message is; as a woman it’s your fault, shut up. So what’s new here?
  • It is absolutely ludicrous that anyone could think that the behaviour of the mob was justified in any way by my actions or those of other women. That is victim blaming. People need to take a reality check.
  • Progressive people need to call out sexism, male dominance and violence and stop protecting sexist behaviour. Those offering support to bullies need to stop appeasing sexist behaviour.
  • Nonsense claims equating feminism to fascism are an insult both to feminists and to those who have endured racist and state violence under fascist regimes.

Of course I believe that all trans identifying people have the right to live their lives free from harassment and abuse, as does everyone. But I note the double standards that while women are repeatedly told to explicitly affirm that right, there is never a requirement on those advocating for trans issues to acknowledge the level of violence and harassment that women face or to state their opposition to sexist abuse, or to challenge the outrageous statements made by some trans advocates which repeatedly deny women’s experiences and silence women’s voices. This is a power imbalance based on the long held expectation in society that women should be subservient.

It is notable that a statement issued a few days ago calling for groups to boycott the Bookfair in future, makes no mention of sexism or of women’s rights or for the provision of women only meeting spaces. There is no acknowledgement at all that women are subject to oppression, sexual violence and harassment on the basis of our sex. It appears that those who have signed the statement are in denial about women’s experiences in much the same way that the rest of society is. Only the recent and snowballing reports of sexual harassment and assault in Hollywood, Parliament and via #MeToo have started to awaken people to reality. It is time those who signed up acknowledged that reality too.

The Anarchist Bookfair organisers do a huge amount of work to facilitate an amazing event which allows thousands of people to learn about alternative views and experiences of oppression and to discuss ways to improve society for the benefit of all. The self entitled mob attacking women for leafleting thought they had the right to dictate who could say what in that space rather than arguing their views and listening to the counter arguments to develop critical thinking. They need to think again.

I am lucky to have so many friends and comrades who put themselves in the line of fire to protect me, I thank them for this, especially those who were assaulted and abused. I also thank everyone who has sent messages of solidarity and support which are enabling me to get through this horrendous experience. I include in my thanks those trans identifying people and supporters who may not agree with my views but who recognise the importance of women being able to speak too and are resisting the intimidation they face from people claiming to act in their name.

I want to add that a couple of people have commented that while they agree with women being able to speak on these issues, they feel that in a few places the wording used is not helpful. The problem with requiring leaflets to be perfectly worded before they can be distributed is that it excludes very many people from being able to express their opinions. Only the confident will feel able to speak. It particularly excludes those born female who are generally socialised from a young age to keep quiet about their views and so who are less confident about expressing them. Perfection is certainly not a qualification used to prevent men from speaking. And ultimately, who decides what is right? That is the purpose of having debate, so we can all clarify our thinking.

Leaflets distributed at the bookfair about the Gender Recognition Act

I am attaching the leaflets so people can read for themselves rather than speculating about what they said. Before people jump to conclusions about the leaflets, I would like them to understand the violent misogynistic bullying and death threats that women are being subjected to by a really vile subset of trans activists, so that they are aware of some of the context of women’s concerns. This abuse has been going on for a long time now. People need to understand just how frightening and intimidating it is for women, and why women are fighting back and need allies to stop this abuse and create the space for discussion on these issues. Here are a few examples, there are plenty more on https://terfisaslur.com/

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24 years after disappearing my partner is confirmed as a spycop

In December 2016, 24 years after my former partner disappeared, the Undercover Policing Inquiry finally confirmed that John Dines was an undercover police officer.

Together with seven other women who had also been deceived into relationships with undercover officers who were spying on political protest groups, I began legal action against the Metropolitan Police in 2011.

Despite an apology from the Metropolitan Police in November 2015, The police still refuse to confirm my partners real identity.

While I welcome the official admission that my former partner John Dines was an undercover policeman in the Special Demonstration Squad, it is a travesty that the police have been allowed to take this long to confirm what I and others exposed years ago.  Even after they issued a public apology for serious human rights abuses to myself and six other women who had been deceived into relationships with undercover policemen, the police still argued they could not confirm the identity of my abuser.  To date, despite that apology, they have also refused to confirm the identity of Mark Jenner who deceived ‘Alison’ into a five year relationship.  We and other women similarly deceived have had no disclosure at all about how these abusive relationships were allowed to happen, instead we have been subjected to intrusive demands for evidence of the effects of the abuse.  None of those responsible for this abuse have been held to account – even those still employed by the police have kept their jobs.

It is an insult to the many victims of political undercover policing that the police who are responsible for serious human rights abuses have been allowed to cover up the truth and withhold information from those they abused.  The public inquiry should release as a matter of urgency the cover names of all these political police and also the files they compiled on campaigners, so that those spied on are able to understand what happened and give relevant evidence to the inquiry.

We know that over a thousand campaign groups have been spied upon by these political undercover policing units.  This represents a significant interference with the right to political freedom of thought and the right to protest.  Ultimately it is a means for those who hold power to preserve the status quo and prevent social change.  For this reason it is in the public interest for the cover names of all the political undercover police to be released, along with the files they compiled so that those who have abused their power can be held to account, the public learns the true extent of this political spying in this country and further human rights abuses by such units can be prevented.