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And then Stonewall tried to get women’s legal rights repealed.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!
Being a socialist feminist in mainstream politics is a pain, it really is. If you intend to read this article, for your sanity, before you start could you remind yourself that outside of party politics, people have families, friends and colleagues with a range of opinions and ideas, and they mostly manage to get along, and even enjoy discussing their different opinions….
Then you have the Labour Party, which a friend recently said feels like this…
… a party which would appear to be full of ‘socialists’ who exclude anyone who talks socialism, and ‘feminists’ who support misogyny in the thinnest of disguises, and jump down your throat if you dare mention ‘controversial’ topics like women’s legal rights,
That may be a slight exaggeration – or is it? A significant proportion of my socialist friends who have been visible in lefty organisations and debates are now getting those ‘Are you or have you ever been….’ auto-exclusion letters but others, whilst yelling about that injustice, are scoffing at the idea women are being side-lined. Well, here is the only successful (if you can call it that) attempt to discuss women’s legal rights at the Labour Women’s Conference…
Or you have the Green Party, where as a woman, you are liable to find yourself being referred to as a ‘non-man’, so terrifying is that ‘controversial’ word ‘woman’.
They have a leadership election coming up. They have the opportunity to choose between Shahrar Ali, who has expressed the heretical view that people ought to be able to talk about women’s rights…
….or this (apparently women who disagree with Womack are sh*t that won’t go away)
Fortunately for Green Party members, it’s an STV election, so you could for example vote for Shahrar Ali and a civilised debate *and* vote for an effective activist woman, such as Tina Rothery (Ali is a socialist/environmentalist activist of long standing too by the way, so vote for both of them!) and if there’s someone you really, really don’t want, you just put ‘RON’ which means ‘re-open nominations’ ie, ‘this candidate is not acceptable’.
There’s even the option, if you’re a ‘civilian’ who broadly supports the Green Party, of joining for a while (it costs £3 per month) voting for civilised debate (Ali) and a focus on actual environmental issues (Ali and Rothery), then scarpering before anyone discovers you’re one of those foul people who is a socialist, thinks sex exists, believes in freedom to debate, and even dares to say ‘woman’.
Which reader are you?
You might be one of those Labour Party people who are intent on getting rid of ‘the hard left’ or ‘far left’ – please bear in mind that our country is way off track from a global or historical perspective. Terms like left and right are not static and, according to most progressive politicians outside the UK people who supported Jeremy Corbyn here, and Bernie Sanders in the US, are actually democratic socialists, and therefore relatively moderate.
There will be those whose political and trade union experience and general common sense tell them that allowing a proper debate is the way to solve a conflict. To them I say, please speak your truth more loudly – the hurlers of abuse are absolutely drowning out common sense from both socialists and feminists in ‘progressive’ politics at the moment.
There will be Red and Green people who think that gender-critical women are being silly about trans people. Please find out what these ‘trans activists’ mean when they say ‘trans rights’ – they aren’t fighting for what you may think they are. They are fighting for a law change to ensure the right of any kind of male, at no notice whatsoever, to just say ‘I am a woman’ or even ‘I am non-binary’ (a term no-one has yet found any material or science-based definition for) and gain entry to women’s spaces and services for any reason or none, or just for a laugh.
There will be those who just think this is a horrible, transphobic article, and that everything people like me say is ‘hate speech’ and that we can’t possibly be socialists. To think that, you have to also think there is absolutely no truth in the idea that any male would abuse opportunities of access to vulnerable women and girls. To you I can only say – what planet are you living on?
There will also be those who think women bothering them about women’s issues is an annoying distraction, some sort of obsession that gets in the way of serious socialism. I think they, above all else, are the main reason that I, a socialist feminist, can’t put up with the Labour Party any more. You know what? Even the Communist Party of Great Britain are doing a better job of listening to a range of women’s opinions. This is an extensive and useful debate about what’s going on…
Personally, I’m not going to join any of those parties but I am going to go to FiLiA, where among the genuinely women-centred events and talks, we will meet Women Uniting – an all-party political group, formed to try and persuade the political world that sex matters, and that women matter, whatever their political hue.
But we’ll no doubt have to put up with a cluster of pottymouths ‘protesting the meeting’. No-one seems to mind women from left and right getting together to debate but apparently, allowing all the varieties of feminism is not acceptable to ‘the left’ in Plymouth ‘Antifa’ and CLP. If you’re in the area, try telling them what you think about people bullying women when they meet to debate. At best, they’ll tell you about something nasty someone reputedly said, offering it as proof that Women Uniting is yet another ‘far right hate group’. But don’t try to tell them that conferences are debating arenas, and that there’s no such thing as a conference in which only one opinion is allowed, because there is, as Labour will discover in September – the Blairites are in charge again, and you know what happens to people who express divergent opinions at Blairite conferences…
[The Red-Green image in the body of this article comes from London Green Left. Please read the article and comments. It’s very informative…
The image at the head of this article comes from an organisation now proscribed by the Labour Party, I forget which one. I wonder what they said wrong.]
…but (don’t forget) outside party politics, people *can* discuss their differences so if you’ve still got the party-political bug, here’s Shahrar Ali’s pitch – if you want to rescue socialism in the Labour Party, there will be ‘alternative’ meetings around conference in September. Look here for socialist news – or here for feminist news or if, like me, you’ve had it with party politics, please don’t give up with *politics*. There is much that can be done, in a comradely way, from out here.