WOMEN-ONLY SPACE DISCUSSIONS AT A FEMINIST GATHERING: A RADICAL FEMINIST ACCOUNT
Some women have been gathering together for 3 years at a UK event called ‘North East Feminist Gathering’. Previously, the agenda seemed quite clearly centred on women’s liberation. This year, there was a turning off course where, as with other ‘feminist’ conferences and gatherings, anti-feminist rhetoric is mistaken for feminism. A failure to name male supremacy and, instead, promote anti-feminist ‘queer’ politics was an underlying theme. Some radical feminists, having enjoyed the women-only event previously, decided to go anyway to ensure that radical feminism was not marginalised and misrepresented.
A few days after the gathering an anti-radical feminist account was put out in public on tumblr. One radical feminist attendee gave a different version. As a radical feminist, it is my aim to ensure radical feminism is better understood. For that reason, I am publishing her account (with permission of course).
“There were two workshops held which are important to radical feminists, politically. These were: ‘why women-only space is important ‘and ‘trans-inclusivity in women-only spaces’. ‘Women-only space’ is at the heart of radical feminism. We cannot fight for our freedom with our oppressors in the room. See, for example: http://www.feminist-reprise.org/docs/support.htm
The radical feminist position is often misrepresented in hostile environments. Radical feminists did not make a coherent decision to go to these workshops. FACT. Many of us turned up feeling that we needed to do so, not knowing others were going. Women-only space is important to us; of course we are going to go where the debate is. I attended on my own. Others decided not to go at all.
The only account out in public about this event was written by 1 of 4 members of the Newcastle university ‘feminist’ society. This society on facebook is very queer-identified. Queer theory upholds, and reinforces, ‘gender’ and radical feminism seeks to abolish it. ‘Gender’ is a socially constructed vehicle designed to ensure women’s subordination under male supremacy. There is a clash of beliefs. The women’s account is a total exaggeration and misrepresentation.
In the first workshop, a radical feminist did walk out of the workshop. She raised her voice generally in the room, not directed at the mbt person whose behaviour had distressed her. She said: ‘I’m going outside for a fag. I can’t stay in this workshop and watch a young, black woman be spoken over’. Radical feminists believe that those who are male-born are conditioned to accept, and expect, male privilege as members of the dominating caste. The young black woman herself did not feel personally silenced. There are issues about whether it is appropriate for those with one structural oppression to get angry, and speak on behalf of, a member of another oppressed group. That is not peculiar to radical feminism. In fact, it’s far more common among queers who operate on the individualistic level almost entirely.
There were non-radical feminists in the workshop who said during the discussion that they felt uncomfortable in relation to transgenderism and yet didn’t feel able to critique it. They felt able to say this with the language radical feminism gives and because they were in a space where it was allowed to be said alongside other views. FACT.
At the beginning of the second workshop, the transactivists present said they would not be offended by anything said. The transactivist facilitators were polite and facilitated well. They wanted honest dialogue. They invited honest conversations. They did not insist on pronouns. They said they would not be offended by that. Generally, the workshop was not heated.
I am afraid this is more propaganda from trans allies this time as opposed to transactivists themselves. Their understanding of feminism was limited. Many younger women told us that they are frightened to question the trans issue but that they are uncomfortable with it. FACT. I did refer to one mbt as ’he’. That was in the context of what the transactivists had said at the beginning. No one said anything at the time. I usually try to use names but sometimes it’s impossible and I am not giving up. My reality. I get called a ‘lady’ and no one bothers that that offends me.
The main challenge in the second workshop was by a young woman. She said she is not a radical feminist. The workshop undertook some group work. The question posed was how should trans inclusivity sit within feminism. Of course, some of us said it did not. The workshop was presented by the facilitators as an open dialogue and so we expressed our views. The women who were most anti criticism of transgenderism were not making feminist arguments. Queer theory has leached on to a variety of ideologies and de-radicalised them. Those espousing queer theory will, nonetheless, argue that that’s not what they are doing.
I believe anti-radical feminists are trying to use a feminist conference to undermine and attack radical feminism. Some radical feminists believe we should only organise separately. I believe we should do that and be involved in the conversation. I hope that some women will now be open to radical feminist views as a result. When they met us, they were pleasantly surprised and interested in a critique of transgenderism from a radical feminist perspective. Some women have not got the language to express what they instinctively feel – that there’s no such thing as a ‘female brain’, for example.
In the anti-radical feminist account (which we are not linking here), the author states: “I felt just as unsafe as I would have in a room full of angry, misogynistic men.” Really? I don’t think so. Angry, misogynist men use violent and threatening imagery and, perhaps, real threats aimed at women. There were no threats aimed at anyone in that room. There were powerful emotions. Political disagreement becomes ‘putting other women down’ in this individualistic world of queer theory where everyone must feel ‘safe’ except radical feminists. Survivors of male violence find the misuse of the words ‘safe space’ offensive. It means a safe space from being, or feeling, threatened, personally, by those with structural power.
Some of us have been talking about the use of the word ‘unsafe’. Political debate has to have an ‘edge’ and certain robustness since challenge is essential. There are, of course, debates to be had about the most effective ways to challenge someone or a situation. What feminists can’t do is allow the concept of ‘safe space’ to silence differing political viewpoints. At no point were the ground rules, agreed at the beginning of the event, said to be broken or called in during either workshop. It is true only two slides were shown during the ‘trans inclusivity’ workshop. Some radical feminists thanked the transactivist facilitators. Some talked about having a day’s conference so that the entire debate could be out in the open – both sides of it.
Four women. I repeat FOUR women are now misrepresenting the whole experience. The account by the women involved in the Newcastle ‘feminist’ society is ageist in places. Some women who were vocally critical of transgenderism were younger and didn’t identify as radical feminist. They were speaking with their hearts and instincts. In feedback, I represented a view that unrelated women felt unable to explore their true feelings without being labelled ‘transphobic’. Women in that small group stated that they were happy for me to represent their views in this way. These women were not ‘middle-aged’ either. Many younger women have expressed a viewpoint that it is ageist to dismiss critical views of transgenderism based on age. Criticisms exist about transgenderism from women of all ages.”
NB: the account of the radical feminist walking out has been changed following feedback from other radical feminists present
The transactivists who ran the workshop had this to say:
“Emma and I (Tara) would like to thank everyone who attended our workshop today regarding Trans Inclusion. It was an emotionally charged session, but worthwhile dialogue was opened on this contentious issue.”
Their opinion backs up the radical feminist account published on this blog, rather than the tumblr ‘horrific gathering’ viewpoint.
You can read their comment yourselves on face book public page: