What seems to have happened, certainly in the past decade, maybe a little bit longer, is that identity politics (which to me, is like the old 1980’s identity politics, but without the politics) has taken over on issues that are of grave importance to deal with. Whatever your position on the sex industry and whether its harmful or whether its labour, on gender and whether its a social construction or whether its innate, on religious fundamentalism and whether it’s the woman’s right to wear a full-face veil or whether its oppressive to woman — all of these issues that seem to have created an absolute hellish cesspit of vitriol… It’s almost irrelevant what your position is. What we need to get out of this discussion is that we move forward constructively, that those of us who identify as being on the progressive left recognize that [it is far more important to get this Conservative Government] out of office than it is to argue over who is “whorephobic.”
I want to start with a little bit of the history of how this no platforming of radical feminism began by using a bit of my story and bringing in stories of other woman who have been similarly targeted.
But I just want to make two things clear before I do that.
1) This isn’t about me at all. I’ve become a kind of whipping girl. I represent, as far as those on the other side of my debate are concerned, all that is wrong with anything to do with feminism that names men and men’s violence as the problem. So this isn’t about me, I just happen to have been the target of most of it.
2) This isn’t about the transgender issue. It really isn’t. It’s about whether or not you take a neoliberal approach to certain feminist issues or whether you take a radical approach to certain feminist issues. That is my view, though this is something that is absolutely up for grabs in terms of this debate and discussion.
But from my point of view — how I see it with my eyes, having been involved in this movement for thirty five years — is that it is the perfect arena for a backlash against radical feminism. It means that white straight men can stand up in any political or social context or on social media and scream “whorephobe” and “transphobe” at those of us who prioritize ending violence against women and children but still be seen as progressives.
Those men have got free reign to do that and unfortunately (because this is the nature of women’s oppression — we’re the only oppressed group that’s required or expected to love our oppressor) they are aided and abetted by a number of women. That’s either because those women are also threatened by, or hate, radical feminism (radical feminists) or because they are maybe new to the movement or young or both and are bullied and battered down if they don’t say, “Yes you’re right, Bindel, etc. is whorephobic, transphobic, islamophobic, biphobic, etc.”
And then I started hearing from a number of students — female and a couple of men — who said, “You have just been no platformed from our University, you may not know this… But here’s a copy of the minutes where it was decided. The majority of us didn’t want you to be no platformed, but it was carried through by the gender officer or the trans officer or the queer officer or whatever, and therefore you are banned again and I’d like you to know on what lines.” And it was that they couldn’t have me speaking because, [according to] these people who are banning me, I’m whorephobic, transphobic, biphobic and islamophobic. And the articles they chose to highlight this was me saying, about transgender, “this doesn’t stand up as a medical diagnosis from the fifties because gender is a social construction.” Whorephobia was, “the sex trade really harms women and girls.” Islamophobia was, along with many of my Muslim born sisters and colleagues, saying that the veil is a symbol of women’s oppression, like the nuns habit, etc. And the biphobia accusation was about me saying, “I don’t quite get why bisexual people are saying to lesbians that we are oppressing them.” It was just, you know, debatable stuff, some might even say controversial stuff, but definitely not hate speech and definitely not violent speech.
So these women who emailed me would say, “We don’t know what to do because we can’t speak out. The last student who spoke out in favour of you, just to say, ‘I’d like to hear her speak,’ was sacked from her position as an officer in the feminist society.”
Another one, I was told, who innocently sent around an article I’d written about rape and the low conviction rate was screamed at by the male “safe space officer” that she was a transphobe and a whorephobe — simply because she sent something around that was written by me.
So I have become toxic. It’s not that my “transphobia” or “whorephobia,” in their view, is toxic — I am toxic.
Then when I would go to universities (invited by staff rather than the NUS because, of course, the NUS no platform me and make sure that other student bodies lose their funding from them if they invite me), I would go onto campus… For example, last time I was at Essex University I was invited to debate a pornographer and the usual petition (I must say that Change.org has really benefited from this row — this online petition thing, I mean they are so busy with it all) went around: “Ban Julie Bindel from campus, her presence on campus for Muslim students, queer students, bi students, polyamorous students, sex working students and trans students will be an act of violence.” (This is all online, all for you to see. I don’t even need to exaggerate, which is breaking my heart because that is what I love doing more than anything.)
So they were saying that I was a physical danger and I realized, at that point, that what’s going on with student politics is that this neoliberalism that we are living under has given them the opportunity to think that they are doing great activist work and are achieving a huge amount by stopping actual violence on campus without stopping violence on campus — because it’s too big a job, because then you would have to stop all the men from raping the women — but just by banning me. Because I am violence.
So I went onto Essex University campus and I meet the pornographer on the train and we politely say hello. This is a man who has produced porn for years, has given awards to porn sites such as ExploitedAfricans.com, which completely pornifies women coming from the Congo on boats, that have to be fucked by anyone because they’ve got no choice, because they’ve got no papers. There is another one which is a parody of the John Worboys taxi rapist… And this man’s given awards to these porn sites and I’m there getting ready to debate him and we are walking through campus and I see this rag-bag group of students who’d obviously got up a bit late to meet me at the actual campus gates, shouting and screaming “transphobe,” “violent,” “phobic” this, “phobic” that, at me. And I thought, well, we are living in Orwellian times as well as McCarthyite times. Because in what way is this pornographer, walking through this campus, with no dissent and no concern at all from these so-called feminists and pro-feminist students, and I’m being screamed at.
And there you have it. That is the climate in which we are living.
So whatever your view is on the sex industry, on gender, on anything — there’s only one side being screamed down, and that’s the feminist side. I don’t mean the fun feminists — the pole-dancing-is-the-new-way-to-liberation feminists — I mean the feminists like me: miserable, hard-faced, going on about men being abusers all the time…
Now we have an absolute phobia about debate. There seems to be a view that there is a right not to be offended. The fact that we can be offended (which I am at least a hundred times a day) is now being seen as violence, so that we experience it as internalized violence and we are triggered and we are traumatized. In fact, I am my own trigger warning — I found an article with the trigger warning, “Julie Bindel.”
That, to me, is what this is about.
And the left now has this weird Orwellian view where everything is topsy turvy: The sex trade is empowering to women (in what way does capitalism not come into this?). That obviously there’s a male brain and a female brain… (In what way are you pro-equality if you think that we are different but equal? When people said that about black people and white people there was an outcry, and rightly so.) That the full-face veil is not in any way a symbol of oppression to women, when there are women in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, elsewhere who are saying, “Stop marching with these crazy fundamentalists who are fascists and support us.”
So the left has become, in a way, the new right and that’s why I talk about neoliberalism. We have no consistency within the left anymore because we have been battered down to take the view that anyone who says, “Me, me, me — I’m a Muslim woman and I have the right to do this. Me, me me — I’m a sex worker. Me, me, me — I’m a trans woman who knows I was born in the wrong body.”
We have no right, now, to challenge that orthodoxy. And this is what the left is built on. So unless we actually start to chip away at that — to challenge it and to be brave enough to stand up and disagree with it, then this will effect a damn sight more than me and a few others that are the targets, radical feminism in general, and the left in total. Because the right wing — I see this all online — they are laughing at us. (I mean they are writing some actually quite good and funny stuff about this whole nonsense, you know, “The Stepford Students,” etc.) They are absolutely laughing all the way to the election because we have been disabled by fear and by bullying and by this monolithic, crazy, view that what is actually oppressive is the new liberation.
Julie Bindel, from an edited transcript of a talk given on June 6, 2015 at the Quaker Meeting House in Sheffield, South Yorkshire. The event was recorded by UK Indymedia and was organized by the RadFem Collective.