This has to be ultra-fast, and I’m working on something too long for a blog, but I wanted to post about Saturday’s historic Women’s Liberation meeting. It’s no accident that it was held on Brigid’s day, on the fiftieth anniversary of the first women’s lib meeting in London. There is nothing like standing in a space with 900 women who put women first to give you a much-needed energy boost at the beginning of the end of winter.
The feeling was very much that movement women have, through grassroots effort, brought about the beginning of the end of a winter for women’s rights. Attendees strode confidently past the rather pitiful protest. They were nearly all young women, many with immaculate make-up and pristine Doc Martens (you’ll want to wear those in, girls), who seemed to be enjoying shouting “Women’s rights are trans rights” (um, no) and “Trans rights are human rights” (eyeroll) at women many of whom were old enough to be their mums. Mummy issue, much, girls?
Placards-wise, there was the Alice Roberts-patented subtle shaming approach – “I Don’t Know…Show Kindness?” – and the unintentionally hilarious corporate motivational slogan, and instant legend which has caused no end of mirth – “THERE’S NO CIS IN TEAM” (so what? there’s no ‘trans’ in ‘group’, either, but that’s hardly an argument for abolishing the female). Then there was the terrific self-own, “Sisters not Cisters” (that’s one of ours, isn’t it?) – all written on shiny, mass-printed trans flags paid for by a ‘civil rights movement’ with strangely deep pockets to waste on such fripperies. That last slogan deserves quick unpack: the implication is that trans-identified males are the default sisters, and us humble females are to be relegated to a sub-category of non-trans women. Well, they can very heartily embark on a cruise to Mars with that absolute nonsense.
The TRAs, having slowly twigged that the optics of enormous, rangy male youths screaming in the faces of smaller, middle-aged women don’t play well for their (cough) ‘civil rights campaign,’ on this occasion they stayed in bed and sent the good little handmaids to do their donkey work for them. At least the girls seemed to be enjoying their right to protest, but it’s a shame there were no tickets left so we could bring them inside, sit them down, and get them to hear what real feminism is all about. Clue: it’s not signing up to ‘consent’ to be choked during sex, exploited as a surrogate mother, corralled into prostitution as a ‘liberated’ choice, and silenced by men in your university feminist group.
Inside, there was quite a buzz. Women were excited, smiling, disbelieving. Some of us (not me – you!) cried, laughed and leapt up to applaud during plenary speeches. Pragna Patel of Southall Black Sisters kicked off, with a speech focussing on the need for the left to adopt free speech as a core value, and to back out of the “cul-de-sac of identity politics.”
Joanna Cherry MP spoke about her sadness at the sexism, racism and lesbophobia apparent from the abusive treatment of female politicians online. She has needed security guards to hold her constituency surgery, and has had to fight to protect her reputation from the misogynist men who run Pink News. As a lawyer, she sees that one group’s rights cannot be made supreme above other groups.’
Maya Forstater brought the house down before she had even opened her mouth and, when she did, it was to say that she is an everywoman who lost her job because she wanted to speak about the differences between sex and gender. She spoke when the balance of caution and rage tipped, and has never looked back. Clarity is vital: “we can’t negotiate our rights in tortured language.” She reminded us that we are the grown-ups: there is no point waiting for anybody else to rescue us, and urged us to speak out in such numbers that dissenters from gender ideology become un-sackable.
The common thread was freedom of expression, and participation in public life, as the mainstay of our defence of women’s rights. It is incumbent on us all to team up, and to speak out, however small and home-made our platform.
When we all peeled off to our chosen workshops, it was a different story. In each of those I attended, women from all walks of life spoke about how afraid they are, and the many reasons they feel afraid. At the same time, it was apparent that all of them were doing courageous things in their lives, be it wrestling with HR departments, campaigning to get the voices of marginalised women heard where it counts, blowing the whistle on sex abusers and those who cover up for them, or organising to hold to account the governmental bodies imposing gender ideology policies. In the words of an ancient seventies self-help book I remember from my parents’ bookshelves, women are feeling the fear (I imagine you have felt it, too) but doing it anyway.
“When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid” – Audre Lorde
We reconvened late in the afternoon, fresh from making new connections and having new ideas in the workshops, for more speeches. Julie Bindel spoke of how hard it is for young women now that the ‘feminist’ movement is mere individualist “identity politics without the politics.” They don’t learn about structural analysis. Instead, they long to Be Kind, and feel patronised by older feminists attempting to show them that they don’t have to accept the indignities foisted on them in the name of ‘choice.’ Globally, women have something in common: fear of male violence. We have to climb the hill, be on it, but not die on it.
Joan McAlpine spoke about the history of the scold’s bridle as a way to silence women’s inconvenient speech. Getting kicked off Twitter is the new scold’s bridle, but women have to be able to participate in public debate if we are to accommodate female experience. Data matters, e.g. in the census, and must be sex-disaggregated. The feminist women who sounded the alarm about academic freedom in universities have normalised the sex/gender debate. Everyone needs to respond to the Scottish self-ID consultation as the gender lobby has flooded in with responses from around the world.
The speeches were rounded off by WPUK organising heavyweight Kiri Tunks, who explained that they started the group as a defensive move, in reaction to the GRA reform consultation, but it then grew into envisioning how to expand women’s rights with a simple manifesto. She thanked UCL for standing up for academic freedom and freedom of expression by hosting the event. Fifty years ago, Sheila Rowbotham and co staged an event expecting one hundred participants. Five hundred turned up. In 2020, they could easily have had two thousand if the space was available. Women’s liberation is well and truly back. “This is our movement. Let’s move.”
After regional meet-ups, we all reconvened and proceeded to drink the bar dry until we were all chucked out into the street. The levels of energy, excitement and relief in that space were tangible. We swapped Twitter handles, revealed our Mumsnet usernames, put faces to names, and talked and talked and talked. I think we could all have talked until dawn, so unusual is it to be surrounded by like-minded women, in a place where nobody is going to shut you down.
When it was time to take the train back home to my part of town, I floated all the way on a cloud of strange joy. I wanted to do it all again, soon. Knowing that there are so many of us, and that we are all pushing through our fear and caution, finding our courage, makes me feel a foot taller. If you haven’t had a taste yet, I would highly recommend you come and join us at the next Women’s Liberation meeting.