It’s come around to toilets again, has it?

Very bored woman

Like many campaigners, I got bored long ago with the media’s habit of limiting the sex self-ID debate to whether transwomen should use women’s toilets – thing is for the most part they always have so whatever you think of that, it’s not news. Here are a couple of points that are, or should be news:

Bullies and thugs

Yes, it is different now because “self-ID” is so fashionable lately, that we’re not just talking about the very, very few people, mostly men, mostly late middle age, who actually do change themselves – have surgery, go for an op, create a new look – no, we’re talking about a very large group of men, of all ages, who quite fancied a battle for women’s territory but aren’t committed enough to change themselves beyond a bit of make-up and a dress.

We see you

It’s also different because we’ve realized just exactly the kinds of people who are driving this forward and they most certainly aren’t most of us. They are the bored and boring, middle-everything people – middle class, middle aged, middle income but very bored, it seems – or else they were famous, but saw their careers fading, and feared disappearing into irrelevance. Far too many of them came to the conclusion that giving themselves a trendy label like “queer” or “trans” and making a few token gestures like a bit of coloured hair or lippy would give them the right to throw their weight around and (in their view!) be more impressive.

Talking to some women in the publishing industry at the weekend, I heard about how in so many cases, those people who’ve been doing the slandering and the cancelling, the ruining of careers, of so many women writers and others in the industry, are generally white, middle aged men, owning a house somewhere in commuter-land, married to women and with the mandatory two-point-four children.

Those are the people, aging past their power years, perhaps less than satisfied with where their careers took them, who are so keen to take a swipe at any women who annoy them by being impressive merely for their achievements. Those are the people who are whipping up the thuggish movement that spends its time shouting at women outside meetings, and trying to get them thrown out of pubs.

Dreaming spires, red bricks and plumbing

So, the troublemakers live in the worlds of academie, of government, civil service, corporate services or publishing. They live their working lives in those big, modern, flat-pack buildings where for the most part, organizations have already responded to all this by installing little “mixed gender” bathrooms instead of two rooms with a row of cubicles each. There, there is no great problem. There, women got the habit of saying toilets are not the main issue (as they are not, when you’re campaigning for our beleaguered women’s refuges, or for women in prisons, terrified of being locked up with a male sex offender) but what about the real world?

The eternal saddo

We have always known – everyone knows – that downtown on a Saturday night, around the crumbling, often ancient, pubs and clubs and cafés, there will be nebulously aggressive people who have always, for generation after generation, dressed up in whatever is the current uniform for making trouble. Nowadays, they have the option of using the hair colour and lippy, the uniform of those who hang out in the “ladies”, planning to call the police and crying wolf if any woman so much as looks askance at them – and we have notoriously misogynistic institutions, such as the Welsh police force, who will quite happily join in the game.

Yep, in Cardiff, this weekend just gone, a woman found herself arrested for doing what women have always done for their own and their sisters’ safety – challenging a bloke in the ladies loos.

Cardiff police. Here’s what you could have been dealing with that night…

They have a slogan over in the US. I heard it from Amy Sousa –

Good men stay out so bad men stand out

This matters because who uses which loos has never been a matter of law, outside of publicly owned spaces. It’s a matter of custom, and it used to work like this: if an area is intended for women, men stay out of it. Most people saw the sense of it – I hope you do. It relies on men and women agreeing to maintain a custom that protects women and girls from an all too common threat.

Let’s get back to a culture where the weird bloke who hangs around the ladies loos can and will be challenged, because (yes, yes, not all men etc) that is the strategy we always used to spot the really dangerous ones, challenge them, and keep them away from our girls. That is the attitude we seriously need to get back to, if we want any kind of protection for girls and young women in our society.

I’m talking to the “bad men”, now…

Jin Jiyan Azadi

Nazanin Zaghare Radcliffe speaking at FiLiA
Click here to read about Nazanin in Nation Cymru

Let me tell you what really makes me furious (me and thousands of other women – so make no mistake, if you’re a saddo troublemaker, dressing up for a fight at the weekend, or throwing your weight around in a corporate office, you are not looking good). We – the vast majority of the women who gathered at FiLiA in Cardiff – came along for three days of intensive work, play and networking.

We gathered to discuss what we can do to protect our legal rights, yes, but above all to support the abuse survivors, the women in prisons, the refugees detained in crumbling army camps, and we came to decide what we can do to help the women of Iran and Afghanistan who are being beaten and killed, the women kidnapped and trafficked by the sex trade, the women who get raped by crazies and then ignored by the law. We did not come with our heads full of (non-existent) laws about pub toilets – but you (why, because you were bored?) showed up to cause a bit of trouble in a pub, got a woman arrested, and got the headlines, because the news dogs like the bit about toilets.


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