They’re both well known, one extremely well off and the other at least comfortably secure. They both have ways of making themselves heard, and they also, according to those on the left, have allegiances to the wrong kind of Labour Party members.
Duffield and Rowling both recently spoke up about their worries over women’s rights – in Duffield’s case, merely our right to see and hear ourselves called ‘women’ – and I learned all the points above from comments about them doing so – but what matters to me is something else that they have in common.
Knowing your rights, knowing your needs
For various reasons, I made it my business to find, and speak to, as many women as possible who’d spoken up, or wanted to speak up, about what the queer-theory inspired trans rights movement is doing to women. Time after time, when I found those women and spoke to them, it would turn out they were abuse survivors: women who understood firsthand why we need women’s groups, women’s services and women’s health provision clearly signposted and easily accessible and also, why a distressing proportion of the women around us have a deeply emotional need to know that when they’re told they are approaching a women’s service, it will be women who greet them there.
That is why I am still angry. That is why I’ve bashed on with this campaign until I’m absolutely sick to death of it. Please get this, even if you don’t grasp anything else about this tortuous issue: a frighteningly large proportion of the women in this country are, or have been, traumatised by sexual violence at some time in their lives. They are the women most likely to speak out on this issue, and it costs them dear to do so.
And when they do speak out, the more polite trans rights activists tell them they’re being cruel to a group whose oppression and suffering they cannot begin to imagine. The rest send them piles of violent and sexualised abuse. Neither reaction is easily forgivable.
Please pass this message on to all who need to hear it
All women need women’s rights and services. Abuse survivors need them desperately, and need to know that ‘women’ means ‘women’. There are a million and one things we could be doing that make life easier and safer for trans people, things that do not deny traumatised women what they need. If you are so progressive, if you are so righteous and compassionate, could you please go work on those, and leave women’s rights and language alone.
If all you want to do is slap down any and every claim women make, accept that you’re not fighting transphobia, you’re fighting women – that’s just misogyny.
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.
Do you remember your personal experience of #metoo? Does it bear some lessons we can use to learn anti-racism?
All the stories
#metoo was a celebrity thing at first, but then it started flowing around social media and those posting their experience, and those reading those posts, began a journey. For me, it was a slow realisation that whilst I’d been ‘pretty lucky’ (a friend pointed out a story that started “apart from the usual groping…”) – although I’d been pretty lucky, I had never realised just what a morass I’d been ‘rising above’.
That morass included quietly accepting the blame for all the shame or confusion I suffered – of digging it quietly in, dodging the consequences of “don’t get yourself into trouble” – but not successfully dodging them – of growing up with a feeling that I ‘handled things badly’, or ‘put myself in the way of harm’.
And then came the #notallmen and the #getoverit and the outright aggression from men – and yes, some women – who took any talk of female oppression as an insult to any and every man. We’re seeing all that now in the ‘all lives matter’ responses to BLM.
I still clench my fists and cringe when I remember an incident from decades ago – I cringe, and send up a prayer of thanks to a woman I’ve only met once, the woman who stepped in and saved my then teenage daughter from a situation I’d been completely blind to – blinded by the horrible familiarity of unhealthy male attitudes everywhere I went.
I’m not blind to sexual exploitation any more.
#metoo was an excellent learning experience for women. It helped bring us together, and empower the latest wave of feminism. Despite the scary bits, I don’t regret it for a moment but what I’m thinking about now is how raw, undermined and vulnerable many women felt at the time. To participate, you had to speak your pain. To really spread the word, you had to speak your pain in public, on social media, in all the places that would invite the backlash, that would remind you of, and put you in the sights of, the people who want to hurt you.
#metoo was an excellent learning experience for men. Many men did get together and have enlightening conversations, and discuss what was going wrong, and how to help put it right. Even if it made them feel uncomfortable.
Black Lives Matter
Many of us are engaged now in a very similar exercise – we’re learning what’s missing from our history, and in finding out that “I’m not racist” isn’t enough. We have our ‘L’ plates on, and we’re learning how to do anti-racism. That’s great, but it does mean that we have our attention very much on ourselves – what can we do, what do we need to know, etc etc
Black feelings matter
But this morning I read some messages from black women about the emotional toll black people are currently suffering from all these statements and actions. Of what a slog it is to unburden and analyse a lifetime’s defensive reaction to racism, of how many times they’ve already had to try and explain, of the anxiety caused by the attention on them, and the anticipation of the inevitable backlash…
So – if anything I’ve said here about the experience of #metoo resonates with you, please use it to inform yourself about how black people might be feeling right now. We need to tread carefully, we need to be aware of all the stirrings of lifelong struggles that have common elements, but may be far more intense than we realise for some around us.
We need to be honest, and kind, and humble and do a lot more active listening than maybe we’re accustomed to.
Well done, Liz Truss, for implementing some of the vital elements of the 2019 Labour Manifesto.
If today’s leaked document is correct, Truss is proposing to maintain women’s protected spaces under existing sex-based rights; retain the current basis on which individuals can affirm changes in legal gender, and make so-called ‘gay conversion therapy’ illegal.
Now, just watch a load of ill-informed people go to war over imagined losses.
A bit of context
We are all being seriously misled by jockeying politicians and a malevolent media. At some level, we understand that the people who need support and redress now are, as ever, oppressed groups including black people, women, LGBT people, the disabled, the stateless, the poor and those denied a decent education.
Establishment in crisis
The coronavirus situation has brought many of those issues to a head, especially in the United States and the UK – it has also shown up the helplessness of either Trump’s people or Johnson’s people in the face of a real problem that needs managing. My, how the politicians and the establishment would like to deflect all that into an argument about statues rather than address the more deadly #BLM issues, and how grateful they are for any other available spat, like furthering the pretence that there are large groups of women trying to be nasty to trans people.
Let us be clear, most women wish to preserve sex-based rights and safeguarding for women and girls. Most women defend trans people whenever they come across them having a hard time. Those two ideas are not in conflict. What is in conflict is what constitutes ‘trans rights’.
Stonewall, LGBT Labour and many other well-funded, US-inspired groups have been touting the idea that cancelling sex-based rights (a necessity to make legal self-ID meaningful) is a ‘right’, rather than a ‘demand’, of a group they never actually define – Stonewall, under their favourite banner of ‘acceptance without exception’ include absolutely everyone who might fancy hanging around the girls’ changing rooms as under ‘the trans umbrella’ – thus providing an open door for rapists, abusive husbands, peeping Toms and whoever else. THAT is what you hear women getting angry about.
Ironically, it’s likely that the ‘woke’ left, including some otherwise very good socialists, are now going to set about attacking the Conservatives for protecting women’s rights. Is there any chance at all that they’ll put a significant amount of their energy into supporting this excellent decision by Truss to crack down on gay cures, and help her find a solution to the degradation of sex-based rights, a solution that also leaves room for helping trans people? Somehow, I doubt they’ll do that much thinking or debating before they act.
It’s my opinion that Labour created a conflict for ourselves by committing to both sex-based rights and on-the-spot sex self-ID in the same manifesto, without thinking through how both those things could work. It’d be really great if Labour’s self-avowed progressives would now resist the media-fuelled frenzy, sit down and do that thinking before they start shouting. If they do, I think they’ll realise that Truss’s announcement is largely good and that (as our manifesto also states) we have yet to come up with the best answer for trans people.
If you are one of those who insist there is no conflict between the ideas of sex self-ID and sex-based rights, please consider what happened to Jeremy Corbyn’s policy manager when he set about the perfectly normal process of running impact assessments on those policies…
Focus please, socialists!
Defend black people, women, the disabled, the stateless, the poor and anyone else who is being discriminated against. Defend anyone who is attacked – but where ‘rights’ and ‘demands’ conflict, don’t go in with hobnailed lefty boots on; check the law, check the policies, do some consulting and real thinking.
We’ve been warned and warned about extremism … meanwhile, whilst asking teachers and nurses to do the downright impossible, and the rest of us to panic over the day’s headlines – maybe Mr Cummings, or the arrival of a few desperate asylum seekers, the government has had a free reign to take our attempt at a constitution to bits, set up any kind of Brexit it likes, and sell off anything we still own, all the while blaguing their way into one of the worst covid-19 scenarios in the world.
Now, we’re angry. Now, we know who the real extremists are, and we’re all running in circles (without leaving home) trying to work out what to do about it. As a popular cartoon yesterday asked, is Laura K covering for Cummings, is Cummings covering for the govt? Is the govt covering for Murdoch? … is there another layer, called ‘the deep state’?
Did Cummings go travelling to further this or that scurrilous political or business plan? Yes, quite likely he did but how many years will it take us to work all that out? I’ve wasted a whole week’s thinking on it and now I’m bored with it.
Was supporting Jeremy Corbyn extremism? Is supporting Boris Johnson extremism? What about supporting XR? Or Julian Assange? Or sex-based rights? What about losing patience with lockdown, or saying there’s no point in sending your kids to school? Is Piers Morgan an extremist? Who cares! What the Cummings story did is push a lot of people over into ‘who cares’ but – would it be extremism to include in that mood not caring about what the media wants us to think?
Maybe real extremism is blaming whoever we’re encouraged to blame, or refusing to work with someone as soon as you find they take a different line to you on party politics, or Brexit, or religion, or one of the other things we’re so good at falling apart over, or maybe it’s spreading the propaganda we read in the less tabloidy papers, or just being noisy and angry because it makes us feel better. Maybe we’d better give all that up right now.
There is another option
If you haven’t already, take some time out to listen to Laura Pidcock and Noam Chomsky.
Or if you prefer a book, get hold of a copy of ‘The Shock Doctrine’ by Naomi Klein. It explains that the government wants a never-ending crisis-scandal-disaster. It wants us running in circles getting angry with people at random. It takes our minds off the real enemy. Come election time, we’ll be back to battling over whether we like the blue cardboard hero or the red cardboard hero, or whether to ignore both if the green one’s in with a chance.
One conclusion from watching the Pidcock/Chomsky interview is that we ought to give ourselves a break from arguing the toss over establishment figures and ballot boxes. Let’s think about our own, local resources. Many towns did remarkably well setting up local covid-19 help schemes. Generally, they are the same people who’ve been running foodbanks and all the rest of it – they did it no thanks to the govt, or what was said on telly.
We ought to do this all the time. Local networks coming together, doing their own thinking, doing local activism on issues that matter to themand choosing their own political education – and then doing more thinking, activism and education. And then more – it’s fun and it’s necessary. And let’s make sure the education we choose shows us the big picture, because we’re not just patiently doing the government’s job for them, but building our own way forward (we can still go and vote too, come the time but we don’t have to work ourselves to death over some party or candidate who wouldn’t walk half a mile for our sake).
The people’s extremes are about dodging the establishment ‘mainstream’, about focusing on localism and internationalism, instead of the Westminster-generated, big name ‘news’ in its blinding spotlight.
Localism and internationalism – there are real human stories to be found at those two extremes. With real humans in mind, we can leap-frog over what the government, the television and the newspapers think we should be worrying about.
Does it work?
Let’s consider the contrast between Pragna Patel’s speech here, where she cheers on a global rising and the gradual coming together of women’s movements…
…and Arundhati Roy and Naomi Klein here, where Roy concludes that people just don’t rise up.
Which one do you believe?
Maybe the point is that a massive rising of the people is not necessarily a crowd running down a street. Maybe it’s a tidal wave of new thinking and co-operation that we’re aiming for.
It only takes a few people an hour or so to set up a local action, it only takes a few minutes to set up a pol-ed watch-party – but each time you do it, you’re adding power to the movement – and every time you set one up, ask each of the people who take part to set up another one of their own. And if you remember to take photos, and film speeches, you can get on social media and make each action grow and spread and inspire more people…
The point Roy missed is – The Tipping Point. People don’t rise up, right up until they do. And what brings us to that point is persistent local activism and political education.
Remember the energy and the numbers at the peak of the Corbyn movement? We were nearly there – and although the Corbyn project failed, its gains in the population are not lost. It wasn’t a waste, all that activism and pol ed. We now have many, many more people with experience in taking the initiative and working together – keep going. Keep going until we have enough people, ready enough, willing enough, that the initiative is all ours.
And at the other extreme
One of the things Pidcock and Chomsky mention is a plan for a new international. Pragna Patel wasn’t imagining things when she said women’s action is going global. Lockdown does not change what millions of women have learned in the last few years. Keep your eye on the women and also, keep your eye on Sanders, Varoufakis and others. I hope that conference Chomsky mentions (The Progressive International Conference, in Iceland in September) isn’t really in Iceland – no more jet-set politics please! I hope that really, it’s going to be hosted in Iceland and held online, where it can be seen globally – but whatever.
Localism and internationalism are the healthy extremes, they are the people reaching out, and together, we have the widest reach. Have plenty of international stories in your local activism and pol ed. Find out what the people’s movements are doing in South America, in France, in India, communicate with them, learn from them and then act local – let’s learn planet-sized politics because after all, we have a whole planetful of people who need saving from the real extremists.
Some good sources for pol ed until we can get back to real world films and face to face discussions…