Monday, 26 November 2007

Giving Feminism a bad name.

More on Saturday's Reclaim The Night protest, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this week. It seems some opportunistic young sort snapped a photo of yours truly, looking bespectacled and cheery after my placard had detatched itself from the stick. NB: no revolution will carry through without liberal amounts of gaffa tape.

Elsewhere around the country, though, tie-in demonstrations were less well attended, with barely 50 women gathering for the usually activist-friendly Oxford's Reclaim The Night on Sunday. And with the current attitude to direct action - particularly feminist direct action - who can blame them?

In February 2003, everything changed. More than a million people marched through the streets of London to protest against the Iraq war. A very British protest: carnivalesque samba-bands were trailed by gore-tex wearing middle-aged couples eating sandwiches wrapped in foil. We carried placards bearing slogans like 'Not in My Name', 'Make Tea, Not War', and, memorably, a girl behind me carried a poster bearing the legend 'The Only Bush I'd Trust is My Own!', decorated with a stuck-on muff of genuine hair donated, she claimed, from her boyfriend's underarms. It being my first big demo at the tender age of sixteen, I spent most of the time shinning up traffic lights trying to get pictures of the crowd, which moved under the bridges of London like a breaking dam, slow and ominous and unstoppable. This wasn't a smattering of direct action from a small, frothing Left minority: men, women and children of all ages, races and backgrounds from everywhere in the country had come to London to make themselves heard. We did not want a war.

We wanted to be heard. And we were heard. We were heard, and we were utterly ignored: weeks later, amid waves of popular protest, Britain went to rattle Bush's rusty sabre in the Gulf anyway. That day, New Labour Democracy lifted its skirts to reveal its skeleton, and we stumbled blinkingly into the realisation that our politicians were not listening to us anymore.

The kids reading those headlines back in 2003 are now 19, 20, 21, votable, marriageable, arrestable, old enough and ugly enough to make decisions for themselves. What good does direct action do anymore? Far better, as F Word editor Jess McCabe said recently in conversation with the Guardian, to stay home, blog and answer emails.

The nail in the coffin of Women's direct activism has been struck, however, by the fact that the most outspoken of feminist activists are still spitting misandrist vitriol over the pages of respectable broadsheets and big-name rallies. Julie Bindel, the headline speaker at this year's anniversary event, spokesperson for the spirit of feminist direct action, genuinely hates men. Her speech at the Reclaim The Night rally is eminently summarised in the accompanying article in the previous day's Guardian, which can hardly have done anything to boost attendance.

Now, I am achingly aware that male violence - yes, male violence, thank you Julie - is one of the biggest problems faced by this, and indeed any, society. But the problem isn't who is perpetrating the violence, it's the violence itself: and women are equally capable of physical violence when the occasion arises. Domestic violence in lesbian relationships is a well-documented phenomenon, as is the terrifically under-acknowledged number of husband-beaters in the country. Furthermore, male violence is also perpetrated, with equal if often differently applied savagery, against other men. Men, too, are the victims of rape; I'm currently in a relationship with a male rape victim who is still on a brave and draining journey of recovery from the experience. Take a survey of your closest male friends and you're more than likely to find one or two who've been seriously traumatised by physical violence from a young age, at the hands of other boys. The fact that there remains a culture of male violence in the Western world does not mean that men as a species are ripe for helicopter culling, any more than the existence of racism against ethnic minorities means that all white people are incurable, detestable bigots. The existence of this culture of violence means that attitudes need to change, and tolerance of violent behaviour in society needs to change likewise. Blaming men - all men - for endemic societal violence purely because of their sex is tantamount to saying 'it's not their fault - they're just like that. Bar extermination, there's nothing we can do but take it'

Garbage; tooth-aching, frankly upsetting garbage. Men are not born monsters, just as women are not born innocent, wilting madonnas. Men are, like all of us, raised in a society that is deeply disturbed when it comes to gender roles, and men, like women, suffer deeply from the culture of male violence under which the Western world still labours. Men suffer from this culture of violence, rage and emotional constipation far more than misandrist radical feminists like Bindel will ever be able to understand. Our fucked-up cultural attitudes to gender demean and hurt not just women, but all of us.

Shouting for 'men off the streets!' is going to get us nowhere. Uniting to end violence in society is. I want to see a march that unites all victims of street violence against sexual and physical assault - not just women, but men too, and also transpeople -who are equally if not more vulnerable on the streets of London and Oxford at night, and whom radical feminists like Bindel would see excluded from the cause.

I can see where Bindel is coming from: like many radical and reactionist feminists, she's angry. She's probably been victimised in her time. But anger, hatred and violence are not the appropriate response to anger, hatred and violence, not once you're out of training bras (flaming or otherwise). The feminist movement needs to welcome as many men as possible into its ranks. To do otherwise is plain hypocrisy.


  1. Laurie, if you actually intend to use 'radical feminist' as a term of abuse, I am happy to talk to you about why I think this is misguided. If you don't and it's just sensationalist phrasing, I feel the need to call you on how it comes across. Thankyou x

  2. Hi - I'm not using 'radical feminist' as a term of abuse, as far as I'm aware I'm using it to describe a specific set of political values. If you're saying that the term has been hijacked then yes, I think you're right.

  3. Well, you're coupling it with 'misandrist' and 'reactionist', and saying "radical feminists like Bindel would see [transpeople] excluded from the cause". It's ambiguous whether that last means "a subset of radical feminists, which includes JB" or "radfems as a group, which includes JB" and knowing you I would hope the former, but still, your language casts 'radical' as meaning 'extreme or intolerant'. Which is not what the political theory - and, more often than not, practice - of radical feminism is: it means getting to the root. I don't know if JB identifies as a radical feminist, but even if so, I think you're using the term too broadly.

  4. (And yes, there is a personal element to this, because I identify as a radfem and constantly have to say "we're not all like that!" when JB&co come out with all their lovely transphobia. I don't really appreciate other people treating her as representative.)

  5. For the most part I love this article. De-coupling the anger with societal gender norms from anger with men is difficult. Ironically, I find it hardest when not to become angry men when they're accusing me of hating them, but this adds a bit of clarity. I echo the comments that the way you used "radical" was careless, although I also identify as such, so may be taking it personally.


  6. The One Million+ march against the Iraq War was on FEBRUARY 15th 2003.

  7. *massive love* - this blog is awesome :-)

    Sorry I was rubbish and failed to respond to your text at RTN - I was spitting chips about the sit-down outside Spearmint Rhino (we chanted "women workers join the fight, sex workers' union rights and got told off. Also Julie Bindel screamed at us for chanting anti-war slogans) - I should have found you for ranting!!

    We are eventually going to have to get it together to meet up - are you coming to No Sweat conference this weekend? (

    Love + solidarity

    Sofie x

  8. What Bindel says is

    'But only the men who perpetrate these crimes against my sisters, and those who do nothing to stop it. Are you in either one of those categories? If so, then I despise you.'

    Why sensationalise/distort like this, and critize other women so personally, seems to be a bit of a theme for you.

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

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