I doubt any readers of this newsletter have not seen at least some pictures and footage from the Let Women Speak open-mic event that was cancelled in Auckland on March 25th. If not, you can see clips here, here and here—the latter two, be warned, giving different views of a 72-year-old woman being punched in the face. Her skull was apparently fractured in the attack. The two-minute video clip below shows just how large and menacing the crowd was, and how close they were to the women.
Kellie-Jay Keen, aka Posie Parker, who emcees the Let Women Speak rallies, was hemmed in and jostled, pelted with eggs and tomato soup, and sprayed with liquid. She only kept her footing with the support of the private stewards around her. Metal barriers that were supposed to keep protesters back were picked up and used against women as weapons. Afterwards, Posie tweeted that she had feared for her life: “I genuinely thought if I fell to the floor I would never get up again, my children would lose their mother and my husband would lose his wife.”
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We’ve been building up to this moment, and it could yet get worse. Several women who had hoped to speak in Auckland wrote afterwards about how menacing the protesters were, and the abject failures of policing that let them act with impunity. Both were, in my opinion, a direct consequence of the way Posie, like other women who speak publicly on the threat transactivism poses to women’s rights, has been consistently vilified and dehumanised.
Everyone from politicians and campaigners to journalists and academics describes these women as hateful bigots; racists and neoNazis; transphobes who incite murder. (I am, of course, one of these women.) It is hardly a surprise, then, that instead of understanding us as women’s-rights campaigners seeking nothing except the exercise of women’s free speech on issues that concern us closely, police and public officials treat us as if we were the anti-Christ.
In case you don’t know how Standing for Women events go, the idea is simple: Posie and trained event stewards turn up in a public place, she says some introductory words and then any woman can take the mic and say what she wants. There have been women talking in favour of self-ID (not often, but it has happened); most give testimony regarding their experience of male violence, and the importance of sex-based rights. If every women who wants to speak has done so and there’s still time, men can speak too.
Attendees at previous Let Women Speak rallies have talked about their experiences in prison, locked up with men who identify as women; about needing intimate care and fearing that they will be unable to ensure it is provided by women; about fearing their children adopting neo-identities after school lessons; about ostracism by family and friends who think they are bigots; about losing jobs for speaking their minds. These events provide a forum where ordinary women who have no other platform—and sometimes women who have no one else with whom to discuss women’s rights—get to say what they think.
Last year (here and here) I wrote about a Let Women Speak event in Brighton, and the internal battles it kicked off among campaigners for sex-based rights. I now feel more certain than ever that those who advised me to stay away from Posie on the grounds that she was far-right-adjacent were on the wrong side of an important fight.
I wrote then about the contagious nature of allegations of bigotry, especially allegations of racism. These make it incredibly tempting to shun people as soon as such allegations are made, and very risky not to. Such allegations are therefore incredibly toxic—not something to be thrown around lightly, as they are when it comes to Posie, and not only by people who disagree with her broad points about the importance of sex-based rights.
When you’re used to being on the right side of history—to seeing yourself as someone who’s in the business of bending the moral arc of the universe towards justice—it’s really hard to suddenly be called a bigot and lumped in with your political enemies. So I suppose it’s not surprising that people who find themselves in this situation, in some cases after a lifetime of political activism, seek to identify some contaminated part of the group they find themselves unexpectedly part of, and create firewalls separating themselves from that part.
Thinking about the internal schisms in gender-critical feminism after the Brighton event, I wrote:
I think accusations of bigotry are often scapegoating: picking a single victim with the intention of allowing everyone else to avoid punishment. And sometimes I think they can be what I’m tentatively calling “figleafing”—trying to find some shred of commonality with people whose approval you seek, in the (usually vain) hope that this will convince them not to denounce you. The figleaf may be a single policy of theirs that you agree with, an individual that you both approve of—or a common enemy. The crucial point is that it gives the potential outcast the feeling that their apostasy can be concealed.
Anyway, so much for the infighting. We’ll never know how much less grief Posie would get if she hadn’t been selected as the community scapegoat—but her rallies would have been targeted by violent protesters anyway. We know that because women’s events all are. Just hours after the rally in Auckland descended into chaos, the newly formed Lesbian Project, headed by philosopher Kathleen Stock and journalist Julie Bindel, suffered a nasty, noisy protest outside its first conference.
Here’s an incredibly inaccurate report from Pink News (archived version so as not to give that rag clicks). No mention, strangely, of the attempted* murderer who was one of the leaders of the protest—Sarah-Jane Baker, who spent 30 years in prison for attempting to murder another prisoner, after being imprisoned for kidnapping and torturing his stepmother’s brother.
(Corrected to add the word attempted shortly after publication; thanks to the reader who spotted the omission and messaged me.)
Some footage here from a passer-by—to be clear, I haven’t had a chance to watch it, but comments on Twitter suggest that the videographer peaks in real time.
This barracking of very different groups of women who are merely attempting to talk about their own rights and interests without men around show how violence against women who refuse to centre men is morally licensed. They’re mouthy women, and mouthy women need a punch. As Victoria Smith (aka @glosswitch) wrote in the Critic, “These men will pretend they care about the political backgrounds of the women they threaten. They don’t. They threaten them if they’re right wing. They threaten them if they’re left wing. They threaten them if they’re Mumsnet mummies. They threaten them if they’re lesbians.”
The people primarily to blame are, obviously, those making threats and committing violence. But they are enabled by all those who praise the violence, or who say that although they don’t condone it, they understand why the people these women are trying to exclude (aka men) might want to lash out.
It’s really dangerous, and for the first time since stumbling on the nonsense of trans ideology five years ago, I’m seriously worried. It’s not just the glorification of violence against women in trans-rights forums—the posing with guns and t-shirts reading “TERFs get the wall”. It’s the intimidation recast as social justice (Pink News literally described those threatening agitators outside the Lesbian Project, led by an attempted* murderer, as a “joyful pro-trans protest”). And presiding over it all are the idiot politicians, academics and journalists who smear people like Posie, Kathleen and Julie by calling them “anti-trans” rather than pro-women—and then quickly link them to every sort of bigotry, up to Naziism.
When you suggest that people are outside civilised society, you position them as suitable targets for violence. And when the women thus described are as disparate as Posie, with her supposed “populism” and the far right occasionally turning up to make trouble her events, and Kathleen, Julie and other lesbians who insist that no matter who a man wants to sleep with, he can never be a lesbian—well, then you are positioning any woman who ever says no to a man as a proper target for violence.
If you think people are so hateful that they do not deserve their job, must not be allowed to speak in a university, must not be quoted in the media or invited to speak on panels, should not get books or academic articles published and so on—then you don’t think they are full members of society. Arguably, you don’t even think they’re fully human. And we know where dehumanising people leads. It leads to the police thinking that crimes against these people aren’t real crimes. That the protesters barracking their events and intimidating the organisers are striking a blow for, not against, human rights.
Well, there’s no way out of this except through, so we must just keep going. But it’s going to get worse before it gets better. And so I want to finish by saying two things clearly.
The first is that Posie has my full support, and from now on I’ll be at every Let Women Speak event that I’m able to get to. The second is that as far as I’m concerned, she and I are doing precisely the same thing, albeit in different places and ways. What she was trying to do in Auckland was what I did in Caius College last autumn: identify a place where people were very determined to stop me speaking about issues I think are urgent, namely women’s rights and child safeguarding—and bloody well insist on speaking.
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