The Women's Room forum is about the vital importance of women's spaces to help protect women and girls and envision a future of equality in the midst of patriarchy.

This is a quote from The Women's Room, by Marilyn French :

“...the words of Pyotr Stephanovich come into my mind: You must love God because He is the only one you can love for Eternity.
That sounds very profound to me, and tears come into my eyes whenever I say it. I never heard anyone else say it. But I don't believe in God and if I did I couldn't love Him/Her/It. I couldn't love anyone I thought had created this world.”

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The Power of Feminist Writing Amidst a Patriarchal Backlash
Jeni Harvey, May 29, 2019

Last night I spoke at a wonderful event organised by Women Talk Back — a feminist group based at Bristol university. The bravery of young women prepared to stand up for their sex based rights in this climate of fear and repression moved and inspired me greatly. Thank you so much to the organisers for making this event possible. I was thrilled to have been asked to speak, so for those that couldn’t attend, here is what I had to say, minus a few ad-libs.

Hello, my name is Jeni Harvey and tonight I’m going to talk to you specifically about feminist writing on the internet, as that is mainly what I do. I write longform on Medium (previously for the Huffington Post before they decided I was a liability) and shortform on Twitter where I can be found enjoying a bit of argy bargy in our modern equivalent of the public square.

I actually came to the internet very late. About ten years ago when most people were already happily googling away, I was a single parent of three small children, living in social housing (I still do) and dependent on state benefits. I didn’t have either a computer or an internet connection. One Christmas my mother asked me what did I want and I said a set of encyclopaedias please. To which her reply was: “Fucks sake Jen, you really need to get on the internet. Nobody looks at encyclopaedias any more, what are you on about?” So for Christmas that year I got a big brick of a computer. And the first thing I did with it was start writing. I bought a big black and yellow striped book called blogging for dummies, somehow managed to set up a free blog on blogspot without a single clue what I was doing, and off I went.

So I started off essentially as a mummy blogger — I wrote about my life which consisted at that time almost solely of caring for small children — but with added feminist flavour because that is who I was, and it is who I am.

The internet blew me away. It still does. The idea that anyone with a connection had access to this vast wealth of information, that they could self publish and potentially disseminate their ideas to thousands upon thousands of people, just made my head go (exploding sign.) As far as I was concerned, the internet was the most disruptive technology since the wheel and I immediately saw how it could be an incredibly useful political tool. In common with this, feminism, done properly, is some seriously disruptive politics. And so put the two together and it was clear to me that feminists had much scope for being very disruptive indeed.

Growing up I was lucky enough to have a second wave feminist activist for a mother, and so to have been given a lot of feminist books to read. I read Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch which — whatever you may think of Greer now — I still believe to be a brilliant, seminal work. Gloria Steinem’s essay, ‘If men could menstruate’ made the newly menstruating me thrill at how transgressively funny poking fun at male power could be. But it was Naomi Wolf’s Beauty Myth that for some reason really spoke to me.

The basic premise of The Beauty Myth was that the more freedom women gained with regards to being able to work outside the home, leave unhappy marriages, and generally lead more independent lives, the more the forces of patriarchy applied their pressure in other areas. Now of course in this book Wolf was specifically discussing beauty standards — her argument being that they became more extreme, more restrictive, and ever more impossible to live up to, the more so called “equality” women enjoyed. But it was the more general concept of a backlash always coming out of left field that I found so resonating and it is an idea that has stayed with me and that features a lot in my own writing.

It’s a concept that I think could not be more relevant right now. If we think about the last few decades and the ground women gained during feminisms second wave in terms of reproductive rights, workplace rights, refuges built and issues of sexual and domestic violence brought more out into the open, we can still see this pattern as we find ourselves under attack from multiple directions yet again.

The recent drive to criminalise abortion across many states in North America, to further commodify women’s bodies by opening up the sex and surrogacy trades to the free market, and the push to erase biological sex as a meaningful social and political category altogether, replacing it instead with the ill defined and nebulous concept of gender identity, I believe constitutes the kind of backlash Wolf was talking about on a grand scale.

Only of course this time we’re not talking about lipstick and thigh gaps. This time we are talking about women potentially being put to death because they cannot bear to carry their rapists child to term. We are talking about women coerced into prostitution via poverty, addiction and violence, able to be traded and brutalised by pimps and punters with impunity, their suffering reframed as active and authentic choice. We are talking about the destruction of women’s hard won services, spaces and resources in the name of rights for those who identify as transgender.

Always we women are firefighting. One blaze dies down over here, another ignites over there. It is a backlash created by a system that cannot allow women to be free; to rise up and be unencumbered, because it runs quite literally on our backs. It is us who perform the vast majority of unpaid labour in the home; us who gestate, labour, and birth the future workforce; us who care for the children, the elderly, and the sick. It is only us whose status is so easily reduced to that of domestic and sexual convenience.

I believe the current backlash is the most clever and vicious we have ever seen. Today our own language and movement is being used against us in an effort to invisibilise the material, sexed reality of women’s oppression. This means the structural analysis of an entire axis of oppression being effectively disappeared in the name of so called progress. For when there are no distinct female and male sex classes - when you can opt in and out dependent on your individual identity - sexism, in other words the subjugation of women by men because we are sexed female (and please let’s remember it was twenty five men who decided that no woman in the state of Alabama may end an unwanted pregnancy under any circumstances,) disappears. Now who is to say who has the power and who does not? Who is the oppressor and who the oppressed? The truth of who dominates who has dispersed, cloudy, like milk poured in water. Now it is just people… oppressing some other people… sometimes.

Except of course it isn’t, is it. Because reality remains the same, no matter what you call it. The “people” spending great chunks of their adult lives unable to pursue their dreams because they are too busy wiping arses, cooking the dinner, and scraping by on any low paid part time work they can fit around their caring responsibilities; the “people” imprisoned because they miscarried a pregnancy and cannot prove it was not self induced; the “people” murdered two a week by other “people” who claim to love them, and the barely yet adults forced to stand on Swansea high street selling blow jobs for a ten bag. Those “people” are, and have always been, female. Those people are women and girls.

Back to writing then, and in particular the power of feminist writing. Reading feminists shaped my life. It informed my world view and helped me grow into the thinking woman I am today. Later, writing as a feminist, particularly on the internet, would give me an outlet when I needed it most. A combination of small children, single parenthood, and no money kept me stuck in my home for a very long time. Nobody would ever have heard what I had to say without the internet — this wonderful tool we have for spreading ideas.

There will always be girls and women out there hungry for information. And so we absolutely must disrupt this current narrative of choice feminism. This feminism for men, as Julie Bindel calls it. This third wave, pseudo, post feminism that does not seek to dismantle any power structures, but instead pretend they are not there. Nobody is going to do it for us. But we do now have the power to reach people fast. Every single woman in this room has a potential direct line into the public consciousness.

So I’m going to end this talk on the power of feminist writing with a call to arms, which is: go home and write something. It doesn’t matter if you think your grammar’s a bit shit — my grammar is definitely a bit shit. Nobody cares, except my mother. Seriously, roll your sleeves up. Be a part of this conversation. You have the power to change peoples minds.

Thank you for listening.

The Left Has Not Abandoned Us. Gender Ideology Has Abandoned The Left.
by Harvey Jeni, May 30 2019

During the question and answer session following a recent talk I and other feminists gave at Bristol university, the following question was asked by an audience member. I paraphrase:

“Women have been betrayed and abandoned by the left. What now?”

It’s a good question. A necessary question. Not least because so many feminists challenging the current narrative around sex, gender, and women’s rights have backgrounds in the trade union movement, the left leaning media, and the environmental and social justice movements of previous decades. Despite constant attempts to portray and dismiss us as bigoted right wingers in an effort to avoid any engagement with the fact that dissent among women on the left is gathering apace, we know who we are and what we stand for.

So what now indeed for those of us displaced and made politically homeless? For those of us heartbroken by old friends and allies who imagine that after years of shared hopes and values we might suddenly have woken one morning to find ourselves morphed into literal fascists?

And my answer is this: It is not the left that has abandoned us, but proponents of gender ideology that have abandoned the left.

Bear with me and my oversimplification. There can, I know, be so much more to say regarding men’s misogyny across the political spectrum. The view of women as private property by the right through the lauding of the traditional nuclear family, of marriage, and strict reproductive control; then as public property by the left with its worship of prostitution and pornography, coupled with an insistence on reframing women’s suffering within these industries as free and authentic choice. As though the sex industry ever existed for the benefit of women and choices were made in a vacuum. But whether seeking either to tightly restrict sexual access to women, or insisting loudly on sexual access for all on demand, misogyny itself has little interest in party politics. Certainly I don’t care what flavour it comes in. Women do not exist for the benefit of men and that is the end of that.

But I do know who I am, and what I stand for. And so I want to make clear:

There is nothing left wing about gender ideology.

Gender identity politics are rooted in an aggressive individualism, with an ever increasing kaleidoscope of identities based in unique, personal, and subjective experience. With identity being subject to definition only by the individual, it therefore becomes inevitable that one persons understanding of what it means to be trans, or non-binary, or femme, or polygender, will always end up anothers murderous oppression. And so we become ever more fractured and disconnected, each making up our own oppressed group of one. I do believe it was Margaret Thatcher who said there was no such thing as society.

In direct opposition, leftist thought has always been rooted in collectivism, in class politics, in solidarity. It understands the mechanisms by which dominant classes of people exploit and appropriate the labour of oppressed groups. Male people have sought to control and dominate female people in order to exploit and appropriate their reproductive, domestic, and sexual labour for centuries. Gender stereotyping, rampant domestic and sexual violence, low pay, lack of affordable childcare, and the removal of reproductive rights all serve to prop up this system of oppression. Crucially, it does not cease to exist because some women might experience infertility or some men and boys become victim to sexual violence. In other words, the exceptions do not disprove the rule. Class oppression does not disappear because Alan Sugar.

These are not left wing values.

Gender theory provides no such structural analysis — no comprehensive, thought through ideas around who exactly is oppressing who, and how, and why? Actual systemic oppression becomes conflated with individual experiences of discrimination, prejudice, and the failure of others to be sufficiently agreeable. We urgently need to ask ourselves who has the power and who does not when female people can be told at a moments notice that our biological sex is no longer of any social or political significance, that we no longer need a word to describe the material state of being a female person, that spaces we have relied on for safety and privacy in a culture where male violence runs rampant will now become mixed sex whether we like it or not, and that if we dare to kick up a fuss we can expect some serious consequences. We need to look at who benefits when an oppressed group, recognised as such by law, has their rights and resources taken away; their complaints and concerns dismissed.

These are not left wing ideas.

Gender ideology effectively disappears and denies the existence of an entire axis of oppression. For in the absence of distinct male and female sex classes — when anyone can, in theory, opt in and out dependent on their individual identity — sexism, in other words the subjugation of women by men because we are sexed female, becomes impossible to name, grasp, or fight.

Feminism was born of the left and will always have its roots in left wing thought. And so leftist, feminist women can (and must) say no to gender ideology whilst still holding tight to our wider principles. We can stand for more investment in public services, and for a fairer distribution of the wealth we all help to create. We can support trade unions and workplace rights. We can fight for an end to homelessness and the poverty that disproportionately affects women and children. We can demand better services for women, and for specific services to support trans people where necessary. And we can stand firm for an end to oppression based on race, class, and sex.

Because we know who we are and what we stand for.

Martina Navratilova on Wimbledon and why she won’t be silenced in the trans sport debate

The former Centre Court star talks to Decca Aitkenhead about her battle for female equality in sport

The Times, July 6 2019

Martina Navratilova was so puzzled when people started calling her a “Terf”, she had to google the acronym to find out what it meant. The former tennis No 1 and veteran LGBT campaigner had seen a tweet, arguing that anyone who self-identified as a woman should be allowed to compete in women’s sport. Navratilova didn’t consider herself an expert in transgender politics, but didn’t think her “gut reaction” would be contentious. “You can’t just proclaim yourself a female and be able to compete against women. There must be some standards, and having a penis and competing as a woman would not fit that standard,” she tweeted back.

“And then I just got a deluge. ‘You’re so hateful and you’re so ignorant and you’re a transphobe…


When Free Speech Clashes With Trans Power
A library that gave space to a feminist with the 'wrong ideas' found out the hard way that inclusivity has its limits.
By Libby Emmons • The American Conservative, August 9, 2019

While Vancouver, British Columbia, has been on the front lines of the trans and free speech debates, the recent Pride Parade was a real flashpoint, giving us a clear insight into what we might expect on the U.S. cultural front in the not-so-distant future.

In recent years, Pride has morphed from an LGBTQ-only celebration to one in which corporate and community sponsors want to stake a claim and be visible. It’s just good marketing. The Vancouver Public Library (VPL), a place so inclusive they actually welcome disagreement and discourse, wanted to be part of the parade, as they had been in the past. But Vancouver Pride said no. At issue, of course, is the conflict between the trans agenda and free speech, which has fractured and divided so much of the conversation on the Left.

Before trans took hold, the Left was much more united, and free speech was a cornerstone of that unity. All were in agreement about anti-racism, gay rights, immigration, gun control, health care, and women’s issues. Once the trans wrench was thrown into the works, however, the Left began to split. At issue: many gender critical women who believe that dressing in the stereotypical garb of women does not necessarily redefine a male to female, are often derided and shamed by trans allies and activists. As easy as it may seem to understand that costume and want do not change static reality, the trans ideologues that have taken over the discourse on gender and women’s rights reject that obvious truth.

Tennis legend Martina Navratilova was ejected from her position on an LGBTQ advocacy group because she questioned whether or not male-bodied persons should compete in women’s athletics. Maya Forstater, a senior researcher at the think tank Centre for Global Development, lost her job for saying men aren’t women. The leader of Girl Guides, the U.K.’s answer to the Girl Scouts, was “expelled for objecting to boys who identify as female joining.” Activist Julie Bindel was attacked for giving a gender critical talk. The experience of detransitioners have been largely ignored.

Journalist and women’s rights activist Meghan Murphy is one of these women. She has been banned on Twitter for misgendering Jessica Yaniv, the notorious trans woman who is litigating before British Columbia’s Human Rights Tribunal demanding that aestheticians who specialize in waxing women wax her private parts as well. Murphy has been protested, mobbed, and deplatformed. She has no qualms about speaking her mind, and while her views on pornography, sex work, and women’s issues used to be de rigeur in the feminist movement, they are now vilified. Murphy was the thorn in the paw of the VPL that caused their exclusion from the Pride Parade. But it was VPL’s dedication to upholding free speech in its community that was the real issue.

Murphy booked a community room at the VPL to give a talk to interested persons. VPL, being a public space, allowed the booking. The library is a natural advocate for free speech. Pride balked. The very act in allowing Murphy to book a room in a public space cause Pride to revoke the library’s inclusion in the parade.

Libraries exist for use by the community, having long since gone beyond books to become collective spaces for all people. That includes those who don’t toe a progressive political ideology. In being banned from Pride, the Library’s right to provide access to their public space came into conflict with their desire to express inclusion. Apparently, according to Pride, the only way to be inclusive is to exclude people Pride doesn’t agree with.

This penchant for exclusion under the guise of inclusion is a huge problem for a Left that was already beginning to buckle under a mentality that often advocates for group rights over the rights of an individual. In dis-including the VPL, LGBTQ activists are broadcasting that group determination on the correctness of trans ideology is more important than free speech rights. The Left used to believe, fundamentally, that nothing was more essential than First Amendment protections. They were out there defending all manner of atrocious speech because that’s what it means to be free.

Even for those who agree with Pride’s stance on trans, this should be a splash of red across the rainbow flag. Under no circumstances is it right to shut down speech. What was once a movement about sexual orientation and equal rights has transformed into an ideological crusade that’s shuts down dissent, punishes and shames any person or organization that dares speak against it, or even facilitate dialogue. This kind of dissent must be possible. If the Left abandons its foundational principles in favor of coerced group think, the culture of liberty and individual rights is at risk.

This fracturing is bound to get worse. The march toward silencing opposing views has gone further in Canada and the U.K. than it has in the U.S., precisely because we have such strong free speech protections. But as LGBTQ interests increasingly go beyond social media and to the courts, the stakes inevitably get higher. We have an obligation to vouchsafe individuals and our institutions against being branded simply because they defend the bedrock ideals of the Constitution.

Professors bullied into silence as students cry transphobia

Feminist academics say that organised groups are using university complaints procedures to stifle debate on campus
Ewan Somerville and Sian Griffiths | The Sunday Times | August 17 2019

More than a dozen academics, including several leading feminist professors, fear their freedom of speech is being silenced by students complaining they are transphobic.

They include Selina Todd, a professor of modern history at Oxford, and Kate Newey, professor of theatre history at Exeter. Rosa Freedman, professor of law conflict and global development, is believed to be under scrutiny at Reading University, and Kathleen Stock, professor of philosophy, has faced several formal complaints organised by students at Sussex. Some of the women, along with other academics, say questioning of transgender policies is being censored on campus.

Typical LGBT policies adopted by universities include the use of gender-neutral pronouns such as them/they and “ey” and “zie” as well as support for gender-neutral lavatories and changing rooms…

"More than a dozen academics, including several leading feminist professors, fear their freedom of speech is being silenced by students complaining they are transphobic.

They include Selina Todd, a professor of modern history at Oxford, and Kate Newey, professor of theatre history at Exeter. Rosa Freedman, professor of law conflict and global development, is believed to be under scrutiny at Reading University, and Kathleen Stock, professor of philosophy, has faced several formal complaints organised by students at Sussex. Some of the women, along with other academics, say questioning of transgender policies is being censored on campus.

Typical LGBT policies adopted by universities include the use of gender-neutral pronouns such as them/they and “ey” and “zie” as well as support for gender-neutral lavatories and changing rooms for those transitioning. Some universities also support the idea that people should be able to self-identify as male or female.

Todd, vice-principal of St Hilda’s College, Oxford, initially faced a complaint backed by a Facebook petition about comments she had made on social media. That grievance was dismissed by the university. Now, however, she has been told by students she will face a campaign in the autumn for her to be sacked.

“It is intimidating and isolating,” Todd said. “The view of these activists is that anyone who feels themselves to be a woman should be allowed to call themselves such. Questioning that desire is seen as hate speech that could be harmful. To me that is censorship.”

Stock says she has faced several “formal complaints against me organised by students, using public student Facebook groups to co-ordinate activity”. Now she is compiling cases of other academics who have had to defend themselves to their employers.

“I know of at least a dozen cases of students complaining to university managers about lecturers’ alleged ‘transphobia,’” she said. “In the face of this, it is tempting to many to just keep their heads down — including me. Yet this is a disaster. We desperately need scrutiny of emerging social, legal, medical, and sports policies in this area.”

Freedman is understood to be under investigation after students and members of the public alleged that her social media activity made her a danger to trans students. The academic denies transphobia. When contacted this week, she declined to confirm or deny whether proceedings were ongoing at her university.

Newey was placed under the microscope last year after students complained about tweets she had posted about the rights of women. “The university jumped straight to a formal complaint procedure,” she said. Several months later it decided against disciplinary action.

“It was stressful. I was told I couldn’t talk to anyone about it,” Newey said.

At Huddersfield University, a PhD researcher is under investigation after a student complained that his Twitter account was “transphobic”. Jonathan Best, 49, denies the allegation and says the complaints procedure is being used to stifle his academic freedom. “I am being bullied into silence,” he said.

Associate professor Chloë Houston, 39, who lectures in early modern drama at Reading University, escaped a formal investigation, but says her superiors had to address allegations from students that she was “breaching a safe space” for trans students simply by her presence.

“I only learnt about the complaints when the students concerned tweeted about having met the head of department . . . with concerns my department would no longer be a safe space for trans students,” she explained.

A spokesman for Huddersfield said it would be inappropriate to comment. Reading, Oxford, Exeter and Sussex universities said they were obliged to investigate any complaints, particularly in relation to discrimination and the equality act, and supported fostering a diverse and trans-friendly culture."

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