Sunday 17 January 2010

Saturday sisterhood

I spent yesterday at an all-day, all-women meeting of the Feminism In London planning committee, where I had been invited to make a pitch for a workshop about resisting trans misogyny and moving towards solidarity. The day was full of cake and excellent conversation. We brainstormed workshop sessions on biological essentialism, the history of women's suffrage, race, class and intersectionality, reproductive health, abortion rights. A lot of tea and wild plans were made, and wilder words were exchanged. It was my kind of day.

When I gave my presentation on trans issues, the drama that had been anticipated made an appearance. Amidst a deal of constructive criticism, one member of the committee became angry and combative, and the chair had to work very hard to keep the meeting under control. We wrapped everything up soon afterwards. I can't say I had the physical presence to storm out of there, but I certainly squalled out, or gusted out, smoked a cigarette angrily, had a little rant about derailing trans feminist arguments to the nearest bewildered marketing executive, and then we all went down the pub.

Where an activist check-in moment was had by all, as every single person in the bar turned to look at us - a gang of women between twenty and eighty with strange haircuts and loud voices.As I marched over to the bar to buy a drink for myself and a mate, a large, inebriated guy in his fifties rolled up to me. He stuck out his hand, grabbed mine, shook it, didn't let go, and without waiting for an answer, pulled me towards where he was sitting.

'Oright love?' he slurred at me. 'Come and have a drink with me, go on.' I explained that I was already having a drink with my friends. He became insistent, in that way some men have that combines what they believe to be a gentlemenly offer of company with a complete and utter lack of respect for one's wishes, human autonomy or personal space.

'No, thank you, no', I insisted, backing away towards where some of us had huddled outside. He had the four-pints look in his eyes of a person who might without warning flip from jovial-drunk to aggressive-drunk, and besides, you must always be polite in the face of a man's unwanted attentions, or else you might upset someone.

I began to feel more uncomfortable as another one of his party came past our group and singled me out. 'Not coming in for a drink?' No, thank you, no. 'So which one of them is your mum then?' I explained that none of the variously older women I was with was related to me, that we were friends. 'Thank Christ, eh?' he laughed, scanning his eyes up and down my body. The little intimacies that are taken rather than requested, the tiny ways in which men of a certain age declare their right to your sexual self; the attrition of little assaults on one's dignity and autonomy that, bit by bit, wear away the clifface of your selfhood.

And then the other feminists arrived, en masse, and it was decided that it was just too cold to sit outside. We weren't going to be intimidated; we were going to brave inside-the pub.

And we had a bloody great time. The presence of women who, twenty minutes earlier, had had me red faced and stammering angrily, made me feel strong and powerful; like we had as much right to be there as anyone else. We stayed there drinking for hours, and I wobbled back to my bedroom-full-of boxes (I'm moving house again) feeling like part of a sisterhood. Feeling like progress had been made, and will be made. I might be a strange, angry, uncomfortably political young woman, but as part of the reviving feminist movement, I'm powerful, and I'm at home.


  1. I had a good time too - it was quite an intense day! And I was also glad in the end we went back into the pub, despite my get-out-of-there instincts kicking in.

  2. Remember that old guy used to be 19. It probably got him laid in the past :) Men struggle getting older too.

    Anon of Not Searched

  3. How lucky we are to live in this time - the first moment in human history when we are, in fact, beginning to break down stupid gender roles.

  4. @CJ - You've not been exposed to much ancient Norse mythology. The men all run after head strong Valkories who can break a man in two.

    There are lots of unconsidered gender roles. Being a middle-England feminist is one too. It whether they're chosen or positive that matters.

    Anon of Not Searched

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