I’ve been wondering why feminism grabbed me so much the second time I looked, but not the first.
I remember feminism going on around me when I was a teenager. I had a vague idea it involved a lot of arguments about whether you should shave your legs or not. A couple of decades later, my daughter told me she’d had the impression for years that she couldn’t be a feminist because she likes dressing up, cooking and being a mum.
In the 70s, I couldn’t do feminism because I didn’t like dungarees. In the 80s, I couldn’t afford the ‘power dressing’ and then in latter years, I thought I couldn’t be a feminist because my partner was a bloke, and because the ‘feminists’ I saw on telly all seemed to spend their time making pointlessly rude and embarrassingly flirtatious swipes at men. And anyway, those somewhat boring organisations like the Fawcett Society and Labour Women’s Network were constantly bashing on about whether female execs in London were earning enough tens of thousands more than me, yet.
And then Stonewall tried to get women’s legal rights repealed. A new kind of women’s campaign (new to me) came along. I was so angry, so involved, and so excited, talking to so many great women, helping to put together ideas for the Women’s Place UK manifesto, getting involved with the Women’s Liberation Conference, and to top it all, I’d discovered FiLiA, with its glorious weekend every year of women singing, women cooking, women dancing, running businesses, making friends, building communities and doing politics, women escaping and traveling the world as fugitives, then coming together at last, singing, cooking, dancing, making friends, running businesses, building communities and doing politics.
People ask why women get so ‘obsessed’ with the sex based rights campaign, why we never ‘come down off it’. Well you know, there’s more to it than that. For those of us who were relatively new to feminism, the women we met on the way told us about real feminism, and Woman’s Place, and all the other organisations the benighted like to call ‘anti-trans hate groups’ set women’s worlds on fire. It’s VERY exciting. (Apparently, last time around they called the women’s groups ‘anti-men hate groups’.)
Read Julie Bindel’s REALLY exciting new book, and discover proper feminism. As she explains, the stuff that went mainstream – liberal feminism, they call it, IS boring. Radical feminism isn’t feminism only more so, it’s the growing, sustaining root of feminism. In manifestation, it’s any aspect of feminism that’s not acceptable to the establishment.
‘We don’t want half the seats at the table,’ says Bindel, ‘we want to break the table.’
Feminism is about rescuing and standing with fugitives, it’s about learning and teaching, about fighting back, about community politics and addressing the problems that are so big mainstream politicians barely dare touch them.
Buy the book, go to FiLiA. Get angry, get serious, get excited. You can sing, dance, make friends, dress up and cook as you go if you want to. You can also make up your own mind as to whether you shave your legs or not. You decide, it doesn’t matter – but you might have some interesting conversations over coffee about why mainstream society thinks such things matter so much.
Just read the book, in fact read all her books, and her journalism. I am!
Criticisms of Helen Joyce’s book 1. Is it antisemitic? and 2. She didn’t say who dun it!
Conspiracy hunters have had a bad attack of not seeing the wood for the trees. It’s like this…
I was told in college that if you see an exam question that asks what caused something, it’s a trick question. When significant events change the world, there is rarely one single cause. There will be a series of potential causes, that flow together and can become a trend that seems like an unstoppable force. We know that, when we think about it but there are always many voices raised demanding to know who or what ‘did it’.
Helen Joyce, in her most excellent book demystifying the global struggle over ‘the sex and gender issue’, has demonstrated and analysed a horrific trend which has proved very difficult to halt. The book got rave reviews, and the ultimate accolade in current politics – accusations of antisemitism. The latter is supremely significant because when lazy political activists run out of arguments, cries of antisemitism are always the fall-back. (See advance disclaimer #1 at the end of this post.)
The only reality-based criticisms I have seen of Joyce’s book is that she didn’t say ‘who dun it’. Those looking for the names of the super-rich manipulators they could blame for all this were a bit disappointed. Joyce does give the names of three hugely wealthy donors to gender-identity projects, but doesn’t put all the blame on them.
That is because very few things are entirely down to one person, group or organisation. I know it’s annoying, but life just isn’t that tidy. Straightforward history A level questions generally start ‘What are the causes of…?’ or even ‘What are the main causes of…?’
And the reason for this blog post is that I think in the eager search for a huddle of billionaires to blame, many readers have actually missed Joyce’s clear demonstration of the main causes of the pernicious trend towards letting gender-identity ideology trump sex-based rights, and setting off flaming rows where ever the trend is opposed. The gender-identity mob have so far, successfully hidden behind ‘trans rights’ placards but when Joyce’s book climbed the bestsellers list, they saw she had blown their cover. That’s why they are shouting from the rooftops that Joyce is antisemitic.
The main causes of the ‘sex and gender’ conflict are patriarchy and male sexuality. Here’s how it works…
If you haven’t learned to see patriarchy at work, then you don’t know why feminism is needed. In a recent Labour Party meeting, I suggested including protection for women’s legal rights in a motion about trans rights. I agreed with the proposer of the motion that trans rights and women’s rights need not be mutually exclusive. Because so many people believe there is an inevitable conflict, I felt it would be wise to state support for both ideas, as laid down in the Labour Party manifesto, so we were absolutely clear that we needed to proceed according to good trade unionist, socialist practice, and find a way to frame both sets of rights that doesn’t bring them into conflict.
Angry counter-speakers told me my contribution was ‘unnecessary’ and ‘provocative’. The chair threw her neutrality in the bin and stated ‘I don’t need that protection!’ If those women ever find out why they were passionately shouting down their own legal rights, they will finally have recognised the pernicious influence of patriarchy. It makes everything that’s good for women look stroppy and unnecessary to the casual observer.
Patriarchy loves gender-identity ideology, and paints it as virtuous *because* it can be used to counter women’s rights. Going along with it gives you that warm feeling of swimming with the tide. It’s also very, very bad for women and girls.
In a patriarchal society, male sexuality is closely bound up with power, self-aggrandisement and the dark side of those things, which comes out as a sort of sexy submissiveness and faux victim behaviour. Because of those traits, there has always been a theme in male sexuality of cross-dressing, presenting as ‘drag queens’ and ‘pantomime dames’ who exhibit a ‘humour’ that consists of flirtatious misogyny. We all know this. Girls and women often react with bemusement but, as it is so eternally embedded in our culture, we just go ‘oh very well’.
I believe the main reason there is so much aggression towards Joyce’s book is that she includes a dispassionate history of males trying to present as women for a variety of strange reasons, and demonstrates how this characteristic fed the growing ‘transgender’ trend, and also how it added the wild-fire streak of misogyny and sex-based threats that run through all the ‘gender v sex’ and ‘trans rights’ campaigns.
I also believe that it is the aggressive and misogynistic demands of men like that (yeah, yeah, not all men – I know that) and the way our legal system automatically favours the aggressive male stance over the female, that has given the would-be gender-identity revolution its power.
That is why it has to be unravelled and understood before we can find a rational solution, with clear, legal protections for all concerned. It is clear to feminists that there are many victims of gender-identity ideology – lesbian, gay, autistic and traumatised children who have been confused and misdirected into blaming the shape of their bodies for their pain, trans-sexuals trying to live an unconflicted life (See advance disclaimer #2 below), lesbian and gay people who’ve seen their culture and services aggressively taken over by ‘queer’ people who demand to be seen as homosexual because they think they ‘really are’ the opposite sex, and the many, many women who are already victims of patriarchy – women in prisons, hostels, refuges and refugee centres, who desperately need the safety-net of women’s sex-based rights.
The fact that organisations like Stonewall were so oblivious to women’s needs that they decided calling for the complete erasure of sex-based rights was the quickest way through for trans rights is both proof that gender-identity ideology is built on patriarchal misogyny and a very clear demonstration of why that movement is so aggressive, so anti-women, and so prone to sex-based threats of violence. As Jeremy Corbyn’s former policy manager, Lachlan Stuart has demonstrated, there are many things we could do for trans people under the banner of ‘trans rights’ that do not conflict with women’s basic legal rights but, for some reason, he found it impossible to get organisations such as LGBT Labour to show any interest in those things – they just wanted – primarily and forcefully – to fight against women’s sex-based rights.
That, Your Honour, is demonstration enough that gender-identity ideology is misogyny at work.
[I have written two versions of the concluding paragraph – please pick the one that suits your politics]
The enemies of socialism and democracy are sexism, racism and classism. Those are notoriously the most powerful weapons of division used by capitalism (or if you think we’re really in a post-capitalist world, of ‘neoliberalism’). As a socialist, you have probably gone a fair way towards understanding racism and classism. To see the picture whole, you also need to understand sexism in its new and vicious form of gender-identity ideology. If you don’t understand it yet, please read Helen Joyce’s book. It’s by far the best analysis, and a very interesting read.
For concerned people who aren’t socialist
Most people know that we live in a sexist society. Many understand that that makes life very difficult for women and girls. This isn’t an isolated situation in one or two countries, or the result of a conspiracy by one or two billionaires. Gender-identity ideology, which seeks to make gender expression more important than biological sex is the latest and possibly most pernicious incarnation of sexism. If you don’t understand it yet, please read Helen Joyce’s book. It’s the best analysis I have seen so far, and a very interesting read.
Advance disclaimer #1: if someone says nasty things about Jewish people as a group, or deliberately hints at ‘Jewish conspiracies’ etc, they being are antisemitic. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the weaponisation of antisemitism accusations which is so often the last resort of political activists who have no logical argument for their policies.
Advance disclaimer #2: there are, and will be for as long as patriarchy rules, people who feel so utterly, painfully at odds with the gender-based requirements of the society around them that they change their bodies, their clothes and their names. They present, and attempt to live, as the opposite sex. Generally, when speaking frankly and confidentially, they know they are not really the opposite sex – they just feel more comfortable living that way. They are in no way culpable in any of this, they are no threat to women’s rights, and they deserve support and tolerance. Most feminists, because we know how pernicious patriarchy is, understand the pressures that brought those people to that situation, and do support and tolerate such people.
Well, here we are in lockdown again and among the trials and tribulations, our beloved bookshops are closed once more. If you’re in Hastings, please remember Bookbuster and Printed Matter still have ordering systems in place, and other shops around the town – and everywhere! – are offering their titles through online stores.
Here’s a selection of Circaidy Gregory Press non-fiction books currently available to buy online at bookshop.org
This Damn Puppeteer
“I know everything about alcohol – except how to stop” – Brian’s book is a work of art and philosophy a story of the after-effects of child abuse and the realities of life on the street. It touches all of us.
You can read all about the book, the play and Brian’s doings in Hastings on the blog here You can buy Brian’s exraordinary biography online at bookshop.org here
Fish-heads, Fire-raising and Force-Feeding
Women’s fight for the vote in Hastings and St Leonards
When I read Sheri S Tepper’s ‘Beauty’ back in the early ‘90s, I thought she had done me an injury.
I enjoyed it, but the Ending (not the ending of the book, The Ending) was just too dark. Not fair.
I just read it again, here in 2020 and, when I got to the bit about the Ending (which she places in the 21st century, round about now) I just thought yes, fair enough – but she left out the climate crisis.
Sheri S Tepper’s ‘Beauty’ offers hope, inspiration, and a tremendous call to action. It’s rich, it’s complex and – ooh, I don’t often use this word – it’s seminal. Next time I find myself looking at one of the more recent popular fantasies – Terry Pratchett perhaps, or J K Rowling, I’ll enjoy seeing the star-fire flashes of Tepper’s ideas in them.
Read ‘Beauty’, and remember – a fantasy book is as good or as bad as the ideas and the actions it inspires. Read it, then – as Ursula K Le Guin was fond of saying – go do the next thing. It may well be a better thing than the one you would have done if you hadn’t read ‘Beauty’, and you can’t say fairer than that.
In the absence of hard evidence of a divine engineer in the sky, I’d say the patterns in your mind are who you are.
This is my thought for the day because it became necessary to clean and decorate the back room, and to do that, it was necessary to move two wallfuls of books, including the poetry and the political sections.
It isn’t a chore. If you’re one of nature’s librarians (ie, your childhood created bookworm patterns in your mind) – if that’s your story then you’ll know that moving and sorting books is the third best thing in the world, coming after reading them and helping to make new books happen (for me, that’s publishing – for others, it’s writing, or buying, or borrowing, or reviewing, or forming clubs around discussing…) books.
Are books better?
Funny thing is, most people don’t read books. In a recent survey among some schools, kids were asked who reads books. “Old people and people with no friends” was a common answer. How much they are missing! To all those who say ebooks are as good as books, or browsing the internet is as good as any kind of book, I say – look to the patterns in your mind. Does bouncing around on the internet, slipping from link to link and forgetting where you started, really lay down a strong, comprehensible and retrievable pattern in your mind? How much do you remember of the stuff you clicked through yesterday, last week, last month? Can you flip to-and-fro, contemplate and come to know an ebook the same way you can a book on your shelf (not just when you’re reading it – all the time).
How gullible are you, how confusable are you, how well do you know your history, your environment, yourself? I suggest to you, along with David Didau, that people who read books have better lives – and the reason for that is the quality and retrievability of the patterns in their minds.
From Ely to South America and Back
While I was moving the political section (remember, we’re clearing out the back room so we can decorate) a hundred and one worlds opened their doors in my head, and reminded me of the richness of the forest in the mind. Here’s one: When I picked up The Open Veins of Latin America, I remembered a beautiful bookshop in Ely. It was a day of beautiful things – the cathedral, the river, the teashop with the samovar and the gunpowder tea – and this bookshop. And this book which, I confess, I picked up because the colours on the cover caught my eye long enough for me to notice what a startling title they presented.
And then, as I look at the book, more and more doors open in my head as I remember reading this tragic history, and how it led me to watch a film about Hugo Chavez, and how I learned that socialism must, and can only ever be, international socialism (act local, think global) because socialism is about people, not flags.
Socialism relies on ‘class analysis’ and you just can’t do that by the kinds of hats people are wearing, these days. Who is the ‘them’ in ‘them and us’ these days? Isn’t it the international corporations? Is it not the case that the ‘them’ we are up against are the world champion border-jumpers? If they can put the cause and the effect of their actions in different countries. And hoover the profits into their (global) banks while you’re watching the misery and chaos on the national news and wondering what it all means, they have already won. You’ll probably end up losing everything, and all the while looking around the neighbourhood for someone who looks a bit different to you to blame it on.
Narrativium – the drug of the post-truth generation?
And then another set of doors opened, and I remembered the more recent discovery that the author of The Open Veins of Latin America had expressed some regrets in later life, that he’d got caught up in what Terry Pratchett called narrativium, that if he’d had time to write it again, he would have written it differently.
That doesn’t mean the book is wrong, or bad, it means that a story can have the same start and a thousand different endings, depending what lines the author gets a-running along. But sometimes, like the author of that book, you need to retrace your steps, and take a look at some of the things that got lost along the way.
And that opened another, more recent set of doors, about all the things from recent years that are beginning to be forgotten in the daily click-fest – I remembered writing an essay for my CLP, explaining the theory of the ‘Overton Window’, of how the movement that gathered around Corbyn was steadily leading us back to socialism, to caring about others and our environment, caring about the truth – but they really didn’t need my essay – a tide was flowing our way. It isn’t now – and that brings me right back round to today, and reminds me how I need to talk to our local socialist group about the importance of getting that report properly investigated, so the truth will be known properly, and the size of the victory of the anti-austerity movement will be seen, despite the loss of that election, and so that we remember who the enemies were, which brings me to the importance of getting down to some serious political education so that our local socialists don’t forget that socialism is, and always must be, internationalist, analytical, and founded on strong, joined-up ideas – which requires an enormous bookshelf and/or regular, good-quality political education.
And that’s just one book, on one shelf. Going to go move the poetry books now. I wonder what’ll happen to the patterns in the mind then.
Think global, act local
Many of our Circaidy Gregory and Earlyworks Press books are now available to buy online at bookshop.org
There was a time back in the last century, when I gave credence to the idea of ‘colour blindness’ as a way of solving racism. It turned out to be a way of convincing yourself it had been solved – if you happened to be white British, that is. While we were being virtuously, wilfully blind, assuming everything was going to be rosy from now on, Liverpool was in turmoil, and school kids were passing around those “Boot Boys” novels. Many of us had completely blinded ourselves to the renaissance of fascism.
It doesn’t work because we don’t have a level playing field. I can see that you are black and act as though it doesn’t matter, but you can’t see that I’m white and act as though it doesn’t matter. I can pretend we’re the same colour, and the problems disappear – from my view. Not from yours.
But now, we have another form of wilful blindness to deal with. Understandable, and well-intentioned, a horde of would-be progressive academics, activists and politicians – to give a random sample: Dawn Butler, Philip Pullman, Owen Jones – and now Margaret Atwood apparently – are pretending to be sex-blind.
As with race, the problem with pretending to be sex-blind is that women have very real, very practical problems that can’t be catered for and can’t be funded unless our sex is recognised. The police, pretending to be sex-blind, record cases of ‘women’ committing violent and sexual crimes, and every time they do it, the statistics that women’s services depend on for their funding get hazier until they become worse than useless; women’s health and wellbeing groups are trying to get by without using any of the words that clearly denote the female condition, and as a result, the grounds for their funding and the efficiency of their outreach go down and down; and teaching on sex and gender has gone the same way – now so far from reality that we have a generation of young people who really cannot tell sex from gender.
What we need to know
Black people can’t escape the problems of being black unless we sort out our institutions and our racist cultural heritage, and we can’t do that unless we see, and talk about, the realities of colour.
It is not wrong to talk about, learn about, and formulate rules about, colour – in fact we need to.
Women can’t escape the problems of being female unless we sort out our institutions and our sexist cultural heritage, and we can’t do that unless we can see, and talk about, the realities of sex.
It is not wrong to talk about, learn about, and formulate rules about, sex – in fact we need to.
Like many people, I’m busy reading up on anti-racism now, because I realise we really, really need to talk about it and sort out the injustices going on around us. I was hoovering up Reni Eddo-Lodge’s “Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race” and agreeing with every word… but I ground to a halt on page 181. Feminism, she tells us, must work to liberate everyone. Yes, in a sense. I do believe that if we can deal thoroughly with sexism, we will all be living in a better, healthier society – but, to revert to my first example, does that mean we should be yelling “all lives matter” when black people have something to say? I don’t think so.
Eddo-Lodge says that feminists should be thinking about “disabled people, black people, trans people, women and non-binary people, LGB people and working class people” – well yes, but am I allowed to add “if they’re female”, or is she doing the “all people matter” thing at feminists?
Having included absolutely everyone in the worklist for feminists, Eddo-Lodge then illustrates her statement by saying feminism will have won when we’ve ended poverty, and when women are no longer required to do two jobs by default (meaning the care and the emotional work as well as the money-earning – true, but that’s about female people, isn’t it?). Feminism must combat sexual violence (that is, almost always, males attacking females). Feminism must combat the wage gap (because females earn less). And it must be class conscious (true, absolutely, unequivocally true). And she says feminism must be aware of “the limiting culture of the gender binary”.
And she’s lost it. Feminism is, and has always been, grounded in challenging the social rules and practices based on ‘gender’ – that is, the social constructions that tell us how males and females should behave and should be treated – constructions that are different in different cultures, but that have some commonalities (based on sex). But like many commentators, she’s translated that into telling us we must also disregard sex – wrong. Then she slips from ‘sex’ to ‘sexuality’ and tells us feminism must recognise that sexuality is fluid – well, that’s a whole nother argument and I’m not going to go into that one here but the key point is that reality matters.
Eddo-Lodge tells us that feminism, like anti-racism, has to be “absolutely utopian and unrealistic, far removed from any semblance of the world we’re living in now”. And here, at last, we have the key to a clash that’s been causing endless pain and furore in recent years. Yes, we must deconstruct race and racism. But colour won’t go away, because people are different colours. That’s reality. We must deconstruct GENDER and sexism – but we can’t deconstruct sex, because biology won’t go away. That’s reality.
Rejecting reality in order to be wilfully sex- or colour-blind means blinding yourself to problems that need our attention. If you want to help find solutions, please don’t do either.
Reality matters. Sex matters.
Racism, sexism and classism are the errors to be corrected.
Do please read Eddo-Lodge’s book – it’s excellent, except for page 181. We need to think about, and act on, what she’s saying.
And if you haven’t already, do please go to J K Rowling’s website and find out what she actually said about sex. It is exactly what we need to be saying, and exactly what women are being repeatedly punished for saying.
Sir Keir’s recent comment on BLM (which he corrected apparently, after a lot of shouting) demonstrated that he can’t see why Black Lives Matter have made many of us want to change everything. He can’t see why people want to change or educate our institutions, including the police.
He’s a long way from being the worst on racism – just look at those Tories – remember Theresa May, Amber Rudd and their development of that ‘hostile environment?’ Remember the list of revolting, racist comments Boris Johnson has to his name?
I know many of us are busy learning to be anti-racists now. I see the books by and about black people leaping off the shelves in the bookshops. If you haven’t done so yet, please do some reading.
If you’ve started already,
please do this now…
Get a photo of yourself holding up a book you think would help Sir Keir understand. Spread it all over social media with these tags…
And then save the photo somewhere where you can find it again so that every time a politician does or says something that demonstrates they just don’t get it yet, you can post it again, with their name on the tag.
Virus response, climate crisis, for many of us, financial crisis – and now the new, national awareness of racism and other urgent social issues – these are definitely what they call ‘Interesting Times’. I hope all our authors and associates are getting through okay, and I remind you of the one compensation authors have against any kind of crisis –
May it all come out poetry
– or flash fiction – or stories.
Poets – a call to action
This year’s poetry comp closes in three weeks’ time. Click here for entry details, and get ready to send your poems…
Don’t forget, we have two categories for the short stories – up to 4000 and up to 8000 words.
It’s not clear whether we’ll be in a position to produce a paper anthology this time around, due to all the consequences of lock-down. If we don’t, the money not spent on the printer will mean more runner-up prizes for the comps.
We’d be grateful for any help spreading the news about our comps and books. It’s simply not been possible to run events or visit bookshops and libraries so far this year so, if you have social media accounts, or are a member of any online writing groups, please could you retweet/share this blog, and/or pass on this link to the Competitions Newsletter sign-up?
All the best – keep safe, keep well, and do keep writing!