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