Being a woman is not just a feeling – and it’s way bigger than a party-politics.
Political party activists are often accused of tribalism. That’s why, after several years of intense activity in the Labour Party, I was excited to be trying out a multi-party activity.
Obviously, in any group that’s gathered for any reason other than to do party politics, you’re likely to have members or followers of more than one party present, but I’ve never done it on purpose before. In my involvement in the women’s movement, I wasn’t exactly enclosed in the Labour Party social group the way some people can be, but the women’s organisations I’ve been working with were mostly founded by, and are mostly attended by, socialists of one kind or another. Feminism is a largely socialist endeavour – but this was different.
At the Women’s Liberation conference on 1st February, alongside a Green Party activist, I co-led a workshop on organising in political parties. We ran the workshop twice during the day. The first time around, we had members of four parties present. The second time, five. The spectrum ran all the way from the Communist Party to the Conservative Party.
And as women – with one or two male allies present, we had pretty much the same issues to deal with in our respective parties, based around the deeply ingrained sexism of our society, and the recent determination of most politicians to respond to any question or comment about women’s rights with “I support trans rights”, rather than the much-needed conversation about what is happening to women and girls in a porn-culture, under an austerity regime, where it is becoming increasingly difficult to record and understand the experience of the female, due to a battle over the meaning of words like ‘woman’, ‘sex’ and ‘gender’.
A woman can get quite cross
The Green Party in particular has suffered from the clashes between traditional feminism and the current queer-theory-driven ‘trans rights’ movement, because, in response to the surge in Labour membership, they offered free membership to young people, and by the nature of their registration system, automatically swept large numbers of people who identify as women or as non-binary into their women’s section where the resultant clash led to incidents such as bullying and assaults at conference, and the Challenor scandal.
In most parties, women have felt the force of this clash, with several members of our workshop talking about vexatious complaints handled in downright abusive ways by ‘disciplinary bodies’. The Labour Party is perhaps less antagonistic to sex-based rights than the Green Party or the Lib Dems, except for a few local bullies. To my knowledge though, the only party that officially recognises gender-critical feminism is the Communist Party.
My workshop partner and I talked about ways and means of women organising and supporting each other, and examples and advice from attendees were shared.
Get in touch
We ended with a networking session, and I hope lots of cross-party and intra-party discussions went on, and will go on, in the weeks that follow – I know it takes a while because, as I write this, I know I have not yet contacted the people who gave me their email addies for one reason or another. If you are reading this and you haven’t yet, don’t worry – that’s normal after a busy conference like the one we experienced. But don’t forget (and yell at me if I do!)
Green Party activist’s advice for organising around sex-based rights
The pressing barrier to discussion within the Green Party is the abuse of a dysfunctional disciplinary system.
gender critical members are specifically targeted in almost military operation to pick them off one by one using this process:
Private accounts and public accounts are trolled and scrutinized for any comments that could be taken out of context, the most innocuous being used as grounds for expulsion from the party.
Because individuals undertaking the attacks are very often the same people controlling and gate-keeping this disciplinary process, all complaints against gender critical feminists are fast tracked and all complaints against anti women activists conveniently disappear.
The strategic aim therefore, is to reverse this process and remove anti-women activists from positions of power within the party. This can actually be achieved in a fairly straightforward process since most of the positions are volunteer and had difficulty recruiting candidates, which has led to the problem in the first place.
Subsequently, Wildly unsuitable and inexperienced people are often given positions of authority simply because nobody else is willing to step up.
This is something we can change. Step up!
Labour Party activist’s advice for organising around sex-based rights
The Labour Party functions in a similar way, but on a larger scale, to the Green Party – so where ten members may action something in the GP, it would probably be ten branches in the LP.
The main difference, organisationally, is the affiliated societies and trades unions. In Labour, as well as working through your branch or CLP, you might approach policy discussions via your union or socialist society.
The situation for feminist campaigners is similar, but there would appear to be quite a wide, if tacit, sympathy with the more easily understood of our issues within the party, the trades unions and the shadow cabinet. Where we do have a problem is in the likelihood of wrong-headed opposition locally, and hot-potato responses nationally. Don’t try to operate alone. Politics is not supposed to work that way and it doesn’t.
Some women are in considerable danger – personally and professionally – if they speak out on these issues, so be careful who takes the lead. It is helpful if retired, self-employed or male ally members initiate discussions and offer support. It’s noticeable that men are less likely to be abused and bullied than women.
You may lose party positions – but you may also find you’re nominated/voted in for more – the silent support is huge – and it votes. You may however, feel freer to operate if you are not a party officer. It works better for some than others – try it.
Do not fear social ostracism though – you may lose false friends but you will make new – real – friends and if you’re new to active feminism, come on in – the new movement is social, educational and joyous!
Tottenham CLP is one of those in which women have managed to navigate these issues, and they did it by starting with smaller, informal meetings, carefully planning and facilitating discussions, and taking motions to the CLP only when the membership were well informed of the issues. That’s the way to do it.
[Links and documents from the workshop will be added here soon]
Labour Party structure (don’t forget to scroll down – there’s *lots* of it!)
The women’s pledges for sex-based rights. If you haven’t done so yet, please sign the one that corresponds to your party.
2 responses to “Tribes, parties and women’s politics”
I attended the conference. And your session. It was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my adult life. I had been sailing towards despair on women’s issues and it was amazing to be in the company of so many adult human females. Thank you.
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Thanks, and I so agree with you! All women should get themselves along to an event by and for women as often as they can – it’s a life-saver!