We were all anxiously talking about the founding of a People’s Assembly for our town:
It’s the People’s Assembly Against Austerity. The purpose is to facilitate a group coming together in each and every town in the country, to defend our services and demand the resources to provide for our people and our environment. It should not be contentious if we stick to issues everyone recognises as necessary for their lives – NHS, housing, climate crisis measures and so on.
Why were we anxious? Some of the mooted questions were:
How do we make it truly accessible for everyone?
What if one of the political parties stamps its identity on it?
What if a particular political lobby drives in?
Should it even be called “people’s”? Isn’t that a worrying word for some?
And then someone shows me a social media comment about it that ended like this: (snipped and names removed)
And the women – women I know, locally and nationally, who have found themselves embroiled in the sex and gender debate, women who’ve been political activists for decades, and who have worked as hard as any to further the People’s Assemblies and other anti-austerity campaigns, women such as you will find in every PA branch, groan, and say “I am *so* tired of this shit”.
We need to discuss this word ‘terf’…
Reality reminder: terfs don’t exist. I am accused of this thing and it’s annoying the heck out of me because I can’t see how I could possibly do it, even if I tried. Think about it: ‘terf’ stands for Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist – excluding who, from what? And anyway, ‘radical feminist’?
Firstly, very few women are radical feminists. Admittedly, many of us are becoming much more radical and much more feminist since we realised the outrageous unfairness of the way we’ve been hounded for doing something perfectly natural – that is, drawing attention to a conflict of rights that affects our legal status as women.
I made some enquiries, to find out exactly how you go about being a radical feminist. To some, the term refers to separatists – those women who, either by living as lesbians or by setting up communal living projects, centre their lives around other women, rather than partnering and living with men. The do it because they believe we live in a patriarchy, a society that always defaults to the definitions and interests of the male half of humanity, and that women need to step away from that to really see themselves and each other.
To others, radical feminists are the revolutionary ones. That kind of radical feminism is best understood in contrast to the more common liberal feminism, which seeks to make women more like men are in the society we have, and to win for women 50% of what men now currently have. Radical feminists believe women simply cannot thrive under the current system, which is inherently sexist, racist and classist, and inherently destructive of our environment and well-being, and therefore intend to overthrow the whole thing – total redesign required…
Now I come to think about it, maybe I have more or less finished becoming a radical feminist, in the latter sense – I don’t think *anyone* can thrive under the current system.
But what about ‘trans exclusionary’?
Radical feminists exclude *males*, not trans people, from their feminist activity. They believe that every female has specific needs and issues because they are female – gay, straight, or trans – whoever and wherever they are. Radical feminism says everyone who’s born female and brought up accordingly needs to centre other females in their lives, to raise their awareness of who and what they are, and how our society and our environment relate to our female bodies. Radical feminism says that to be properly understood, those things need to be experienced away from society’s (largely male) definitions, rules and behaviours.
Radical feminism states that it is essential that women who are thinking that way welcome all kinds of females, to understand their variety and potential. Naturally, that includes trans people as long as they are the ones who were born female. Admittedly that doesn’t happen much because those trans people who were born female are busy trying to be men, so wouldn’t want (I assume) to join a female commune, but they do qualify.
So if you are a radical feminist, you are not trans exclusionary, and vice versa.
The point is, radical feminist practices apply to radical feminist groups, services and spaces. There would be absolutely no point in a radical feminist joining a mainstream social or political space or organisation, and demanding that anyone be excluded. Have you ever heard of anyone doing that? I haven’t.
So to come back to this ‘terfs out’ notion, if you want to hound me, please do so accurately. I am a woman who’s noticed our legal, sex-based rights, especially our right to sometimes gather and work in all-female groups is being challenged, and I believe I have a right to say so, and to say why all-female spaces matter. Why do we say ‘sex-based rights’? Because our rights are based, legally, on sex. If you replace that term, in law, with ‘gender’ or ‘gender identity’ then our rights to gather and organise as females – as people who have that one fundamental thing in common – disappears from the law-books.
Yes, we’re angry.
So perhaps you can complain that I’m a woman who understands her rights and won’t shut up.
So, having got the ‘terf’ nonsense out of the way – there are loads of women trying to obstruct/roll back trans rights, are there? I don’t think so. I don’t think there are loads of women who are ‘transphobic’ either. I just think there are loads of women who are angry because they’ve been hounded, slandered and misrepresented for effing years over this issue.
Angry like this…
How to polarise and break up a movement
So, can you complain about me as a woman who gets very angry if persistently hounded, slandered and misrepresented? I guess so, but in the case this article’s about (my town trying to set up a People’s Assembly), all the women I’m aware of who are, like me, concerned about women’s rights, have been in those anxious conversations about how to avoid excluding anyone and all of them felt their optimism and enthusiasm evaporate when they saw that ‘terf-free’ social media comment because they know that however much we try to keep focused on NHS and housing and all the rest of the universals, sooner or later the ‘terfs out’ brigade will try to bring a motion or policy declaration to the People’s Assembly supporting ‘gender identity’ or ‘self-ID’ or condemning some undefined ‘transphobia’. It’ll be some motion that infringes women’s rights without saying so outright, and we’ll all be in *that* battle, yet again.
My last visit to a meeting in my local Labour Party came about because they’d put a motion that, probably inadvertently, stood against women’s legal rights. It said in the preamble that they didn’t believe there was a conflict between trans rights and women’s sex-based rights so I suggested that, if they saw no conflict, they could add an amendment confirming women’s rights as well. It was, I was told, ‘provocative’ and ‘unnecessary’ (although the amendment failed by only one vote, and that with the secretary’s admission that he’d lost track of several votes).
Shortly after that, Starmer’s Labour Party expelled our delegate to Labour Party conference *in the middle of the conference*. At that point, I gave up and left.
The Labour Representation Committee
I used to be on the national committee, and I will be forever grateful for the time I spent there – the people I met, the political history I learned – and also, for a while, the fact that members of the committee there acknowledged that we were at odds over the sex-and-gender thing, but didn’t let it get in the way of relationships or other work. But then the LRC put this daft statement on their website, stating that the oppression of women is not predicated on biological sex.
There we have a complete denial of what women are, a stance devised originally to pave the way for ‘trans rights’ to trump sex-based rights. I told fellow LRC members that I was in trouble, that I could not in good conscience promote an organisation that publicly denied the basic tenets of feminism.
They said they were very sad about that.
Red Labour held a meeting about misogyny in the Labour Party. In the run up to the meeting, women were encouraged to post on the event page comments, or email in questions of concern. Many of us explained our difficulties and our treatment around the sex-and-gender issue. Those comments were, as far as I could see, ignored. The chat was turned off, and the ‘hand raise’ did not appear to be working. Ironic, given the fact that the event was advertised like this…
I thought this was a refreshing change – during lockdown, Counterfire had some really interesting political education zooms that anyone could join in and, because there were hundreds of joiners, the discussions, the Q and A and the chat were always buzzing and – oh joy! – there did not seem to be any opposition to women who joined in either the discussions or the chat to debate the sex-and-gender situation.
But it didn’t last. In a recent newsletter, Counterfire reacted to Kathleen Stock being bullied for three years, hounded until she left her job, by telling the bullies Stock was ‘not a fascist’. It became clear that this was Counterfire’s sole and complete response to the nationwide hounding of women that’s been going on for years now, and in following zoom meetings that touched on women or identity politics, chat was turned off. I then heard that a number of members of the steering group had been ‘having little chats’ with women members, suggesting it was time to tone down their activity on women’s rights.
When I brought this up in an email to Counterfire, I was told they could do no more on women’s rights ‘because trans people’.
Call me the woman who won’t shut up if you like but, I am already seeing women saying maybe they don’t want to be in the People’s Assembly after all, and “I am *so* tired of this shit”.
This will go on until the left grasps the fact that identity politics is not ‘woke’ or ‘progressive’. It’s individualist. It’s a monster-child of neoliberalism, and collective action cannot survive it. The left should be challenging racism, sexism and classism – read your Marx – that’s what the left is for. The left should not sanction anything that slices up that effort.
Wrong side of history?
So are we a remainder in retreat? On the wrong side of history? I can see that’s the strategy the ‘terf-free’ crew are aiming at but, I know the membership numbers of those lefty organisations, and I also know the numbers of the growing women’s organisations. In each and every one of those instances I list above, that finishes with ‘I left’, I immediately fell into the arms of a group of women who had left those same organisations for the same reasons, and each of those new groups of friends are part of a national network that produces conferences of a thousand or more women a time.
And each time I go to one of those conferences, which are labelled ‘too radfem’, or ‘terfy’, I think of kids who are members of oppressed or marginalised groups, who get bullied and hounded, and then run into trouble with ‘Prevent’ at school. I think how the police and the teachers run around trying to find out who radicalised them, and never think of looking in the mirror.
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