A mock-Tudor semi on a residential street in west London is the nerve centre of the organisation that made history 27 years ago in a landmark domestic violence ruling.
Southall Black Sisters (SBS), a not-for-profit group, is celebrating the 40th anniversary since it began challenging gender-based violence and providing practical support to black and Asian women escaping domestic violence and forced marriages.
Most famously it supported Kiranjit Ahluwalia, whose successful 1992 appeal against her conviction for murdering her violent husband changed the law on provocation and the understanding of battered woman syndrome.
To less fanfare, a 20-year campaign resulted in changes to immigration rules that had trapped women from overseas in abusive marriages. The 2012 concession let women who had come to the UK on a partner visa claim benefits while applying for settled status after fleeing domestic violence.
Formed by Afro-Caribbean and Asian women, SBS arose when in 1979 Southall communities united to oppose a National Front march through the town. Pragna Patel, who has led the group since 1982, says: “The growing anti-racist consciousness and second wave of feminism came together with the recognition that you couldn’t prioritise the fight against racism at the expense of women’s struggles.”
She explains that the word “black” in the name was a political and unifying term, bringing together disparate minority communities with common histories of imperialism and colonialism. With funding from the Greater London Council, she started out with two others. SBS now has 14 staff and, through a trust, owns its premises. Her vision, inspired by the burgeoning law centre movement, was to bring the law to people to deal with their realities.
“I was 22 and very naive in lots of ways, but fearless in other ways,” Patel says. “If you asked me to set up something like that today, I’d say you were kidding.”
In 1980 one of its first campaigns followed the death of a local woman, known only as “Mrs Dhillon”, burnt by her husband because she had only given birth to daughters. “The same community that had shown such indignation about racial violence was silent on gender-based violence,” Patel says.
The same year, SBS exposed the racist and sexist Home Office practice of testing the virginity of Asian women coming to the UK to join their husbands. Officials at the time argued that the test was necessary to determine the authenticity of their marriages.
The organisation shot to national prominence when it took up the case of Ahluwalia. It was pivotal for two reasons, Patel says. “It laid bare the built-in discrimination in the criminal justice system, based on white male assumptions of behaviour and conduct. And it forced minority communities to acknowledge that gender-based violence existed and the way they treated women was partly responsible.”
Ahluwalia tells The Times: “When I got my life sentence and my trial solicitor said there were no grounds of appeal that was a big blow. I had no lawyer, no family. I lost everything.”
After receiving her letter for help, Patel visited Ahluwalia hundreds of times and painstakingly put together her history to support her appeal. “In my trial statement there were 40 pages,” Ahluwalia says. “When SBS took over my case, there were nearly 500. I don’t have the words for SBS and Pragna. Without them I wouldn’t be here.”
SBS also worked to introduce the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007, giving courts power to stop someone from forcing another into marriage. Until then, Patel says, authorities were reluctant to intervene in what they saw as “cultural matters” for fear of being branded racist.
Patel insists it is racist not to act: “Tolerance, diversity and multiculturalism are important in the fight against racism. But you can’t allow multiculturalism to be used to cloak abuse of more vulnerable people in the community.”
As SBS celebrates its anniversary, there is much still to do. The group has just been given a grant from the tampon tax fund to support migrant women escaping domestic violence. They are fighting for changes to the Domestic Abuse Bill, published this year, which leaves migrant women unprotected and trapped in cycles of abuse, exploitation and destitution.
These women do not need charity, Patel says — they need rights.
Join us in Leeds for a U.K. Launch of The Declaration of Sex Based Rights.
Academic, author and activist Dr. Sheila Jeffreys, sociologist and author Dr. Heather Brunskell-Evans, and lawyer and legal academic Maureen O’Hara will be presenting The Declaration on Women’s Sex-Based Rights, for the first time in the U.K.
The meeting will be Chaired by Sarah Field, Leeds City Councillor for Garforth.
The Declaration re-affirms that women’s human rights are based upon sex.
Our panellists will speak about how the idea of ‘gender identity’ is eroding the notion and practice of women’s rights.
‘Gender identity’ is increasingly being used in an official capacity – for example the ability to change your ‘gender marker’ on the Leeds City Council website, with no checks or documentation.
They’ll explore how the official adoption of gender, as opposed to sex, endangers the rights of women and girl children to safety and dignity, and leads to discrimination against women in areas such as political representation, freedom of speech and association, sports and culture.
Join with women around the world to make a stand to defend our sex based rights, as laid out in the 1979 U.N. Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), ratified by the U.K. in 1986.
I can’t come here as a friend, even though I might very much want to.” These are the words of Andrea Dworkin, addressing an anti-sexist men’s organisation in 1983, in her acclaimed speech I Want a 24-Hour Truce in Which There Is No Rape. “The power exercised by men, day to day, in life is power that is institutionalised. It is protected by law. It is protected by religion and religious practice. It is protected by universities, which are strongholds of male supremacy. It is protected by a police force. It is protected by those whom Shelley called “the unacknowledged legislators of the world”: the poets, the artists. Against that power, we have silence.”
Dworkin, who died of heart failure in 2005 at the age of 58, was one of the world’s most notorious radical feminists. She wrote 14 books, the most famous of which was Pornography: Men Possessing Women (1981). Now her work is being revisited in Last Days at Hot Slit, a new collection of her writing.
Many of the articles written about her claimed Dworkin personified hate. The media often said she hated men, hated sex, hated sexual freedom and absolutely hated the left. In 1998, a writer in the London Review of Books saw fit to give his view on her appearance (“overweight and ugly”) and how her “frustration” at not having enough sex “has turned her into a man-hater”. Another wrote after her death that Dworkin was a “sad ghost” that feminism needs to exorcise and that she was “insane”.
I knew the real Dworkin, and our decade-long friendship taught me far more about love than hate. “I keep the stories of the women in my heart,” she would tell me when I asked how she did the work she did and stayed sane. “They urge me on, and keep me focused on what needs to be done.”
She was motivated by an innate desire to rid the world of pain and oppression. Had more of us listened to Dworkin during her decades of activism, and taken her work more seriously, more women would have signed up to an uncompromising feminism, as opposed to the fun kind, the sloganeering sort you read on high-street T-shirts, that is all about individual “girl power” and being able to wear trousers, rather than a collective movement to emancipate all women from the tyranny of oppression.
We met in 1996. I was one of the organisers of an international conference on violence against women, and Dworkin was a keynote speaker. We hit it off immediately, as we had a similar sense of humour and a number of friends in common. A group of conference speakers went to dinner on the first night and we were raucously discussing our various wishlists of ways to end patriarchy. “Did you notice that we were ‘ladies’ when we came in, ‘guys’ when our order was taken,” said Dworkin the following morning, “and probably banned for life by the time we left?”
In the early 1970s, Dworkin spoke of her own experiences of sexual abuse and violence at a time when few did. And in today’s climate of #MeToo revelations, we can see how far ahead of her time she was. “In the 1980s and 1990s, reading Dworkin became, for many, a discomfiting and exhilarating collegiate rite of passage,” reads a recent piece in the New York Times. “Her writing is a strident and raw look at the systemic bias affecting the everyday experiences of women.”
Dworkin’s 1983 book, Right-Wing Women, could have been about how Trump came to power. Although I doubt she would have been so quick to lay the bulk of the blame for Trump’s election on white women, her razor-sharp analysis of why so many women are attracted to a politics that despises their rights is more relevant today than ever. Her central theory is that the right exploits women’s fear and offers us a chivalrous protection. It reassures us that we do not need to change the status quo, but accept it, and take whatever access to power is available to us. Dworkin despaired at what has come to be known as “lean-in feminism” which focuses on the ability of individual, privileged women to climb to the top, and always said that until women at the “bottom of the pile” were liberated, none of us could be.
A pornography festival in London this weekend has been forced to relocate after protests.
Faced with the prospect of a picket, organisers of the London porn film festival, which describes itself as “celebrating queer, feminist, radical and experimental porn”, pulled screenings from the Horse Hospital, an arts venue in Bloomsbury. The three-day event will instead be held at a new location disclosed only to ticket holders.
Multiple complaints about the festival were made to Camden council. Local authorities have the power to permit screenings of uncertificated films.
Despite the festival’s progressive intentions, feminist organisations branded it demeaning. Janice Williams, chair of the activist group Object, said the films on show promoted “degradation and oppression”. Rude Jude, one of the festival’s organisers, disagreed. “This is the next step on from the moral panic and the rightwing conservative groups that protested this kind of thing before … Britain likes to think of itself as a place tolerant of queer people, but when queer people assert ourselves, we’re attacked.”
The festival programme includes screenings titled Soft Tender Tuff Bois, described as a “love letter to all genderqueer and transmasculine people”, and The Kinks Are All Right, which takes the theme of “seductive humiliation”.
Rude Jude said the festival was staged as a response to 2014 legislation that extended pornography laws to films streamed over the internet: “It banned so many queer acts. It banned the depiction of female ejaculation, caning, breast play, flogging. These things are part of queer sexuality. The festival was formed as a protest.”
The coordinators of a separate pressure group, Women Against Pornography, said: “Feminist pornography is an oxymoron … feminism is not about individualistic wishes or desires, it is about liberating all women from the oppression of males. This can never be achieved by being tied up in a bed or by telling women that torture will make them free.” Women Against Pornography cited “security reasons” for not wanting to reveal their names.
In a letter to Camden council, Williams singled out a festival strand titled Sex Work Is Work, the online description for which included the hashtag #necrophilia. Williams claimed the festival was to show extreme pornographic images and pornography that is “likely to result in serious injury” to the performers. The hashtag has since been removed from the festival site.
In a series of Twitter posts, the festival claimed transphobia underlay the attack on the event. Women Against Pornography refute the accusation: “In the letters we sent there was no mention of transgenderism. However, if transgenderism is apparently so closely linked with pornography then that’s not a very good advert for it. As radical feminists we are gender critical, although this didn’t form part of our criticism of the festival.”
The Horse Hospital, which does not receive public money, is known for its grassroots art programming and has hosted the festival since its inception. “We’re in a difficult position here. We’re always up against it with somebody,” said director Roger Burton.
A myth has arisen, [Kirsten Swinth] argues, which says that second-wave feminism fought for women to “have it all” – family, motherhood, career, money, prestige, success – and then seeks to blame feminists for their failure to make this happen. This myth suggests, in some iterations, that feminists accepted a flawed, patriarchal image of corporate success and pursued it, failing to critique or challenge the problems inherent in the structures of patriarchy, capitalism and racism on which it was based.
Alternately, it suggests that elite feminists hijacked the movement and failed to understand or fight for the needs of poor, racialized, colonized, and otherwise marginalized women. In yet other iterations, it argues that “feminists overpromised”, and are therefore the ones to blame for the failure of society to make good on those promises. The result of these (mis)interpretations of feminist history is that today feminists find themselves under attack on the one side from a powerful and retrenched conservative patriarchy, and on the other from would-be progressives who have uncritically accepted the myth that feminism is to blame for its failure to achieve all of its aims.
While anti-feminist conservatives have always been around, the splintering of progressive thought is a more recent phenomenon. When progressives adopt an ahistorical critique of feminism, they risking aiding and abetting its subversion. They also risk reinventing the wheel: trying to set what they think is a new agenda while failing to learn from feminism’s long history in fighting for the exact same goals. In so doing, they risk repeating the struggles and often the failures of second-wave feminism, instead of building on feminists’ rich efforts to reinvent society.
In contrast to this myth of the blame-worthy feminist, Swinth argues that post-WWII feminism engaged in a broad and creative effort not simply to tap into the privileges of elite white men, but rather to reinvent and rebuild society in a deeply radical way. Feminists undertook imaginative efforts to restructure family relationships; to redefine masculinity; to achieve a more equitable distribution of wealth across lines of race and class; to support women’s rights to choose either to have children or to not have children, and facilitate the family structures and supports that women in either scenario needed to achieve their dreams.
No, feminist movements have not been perfect — and no one is suggesting that. Liberal feminists have sometimes capitulated on radical demands; white feminists have sometimes failed to stand up for women of colour; the anti-sexist men’s movement inadvertently spawned the virulent sexism of today’s “men’s rights” activism. Tremendous achievements have sometimes slipped from the movement’s grasp as a result of division and compromise. But Swinth’s point is that the history of post-WWII feminism is far more complex than today’s pundits make it out to be, and that we accept reductionist sloganeering at the risk of losing important lessons from our past.
One of the trademark responses of anti-feminists, Swinth observes, has been to co-opt the language of feminism in an effort to subvert public perception of feminist goals. Anti-feminists sought to brand themselves as defenders of “family”, much to the outrage of feminists, who rightly pointed out that they were the ones truly concerned with the well-being of America’s diversity of families: poor families, non-white families, immigrant families, single-parent families. What “pro-family” conservatives really seek is to retrench the primacy of the male breadwinner model; one in which white men have primacy of place and in which women essentially exist as household slaves.
Likewise, it was conservative forces that leapt on feminism’s so-called failure to enable women to “have it all”. They presented it as a structural contradiction within feminism – as though feminists had promised an unrealistic goal – while masking their own role in opposing equality-seeking projects. Women can have it all – it’s just that they’ve been stymied in this goal by the conservative forces that fear or oppose equality, and which successfully marshalled political opposition to equity-seeking initiatives.
Swinth’s main goal is to remind us of the variety and creativity of feminist activism in the ’60s and ’70s. Her book is a dense compendium of organizations, policies and struggles: a voluminous reference worthy of mining by researchers and activists alike. Her study is divided into three key areas in which feminists sought to redefine identity (self, fatherhood, and partners) and five key areas in which they sought to restructure social and work relationships (housework, care work, childcare, maternity, and flextime). Under each of these categories she examines American feminists’ movement goals and organizing efforts through the ’60s and ’70s. It’s a historical survey, crammed full of dates, organizations, bills and people. But it achieves the goal of depicting a rich and varied movement, full of difference, diversity, and idealism.
Swinth is attentive to the tensions and alliances between liberal, middle-class and poor women, and also between white women and women of colour. In fact, it is her thorough excavation of those tensions and alliances that really succeeds in reinforcing her argument that post-WWII ‘second-wave’ feminism was a more complex, diverse and idealistic movement than it is often portrayed as today. That’s not to ignore the proper concerns of contemporary equity-seeking activists about its shortcomings, but to warn against the simplistic and often ahistorical reductionism with which second-wave feminism is often dismissed and derided. Just as socialism is witnessing a renewed surge in the political sphere, so the goals of second-wave feminism continue to percolate in the social and policy sphere, and there’s much to learn from a rich movement history which is all-too-often glossed over.
From the origin of marriage contracts to the Women’s Strike for Equality; from the near achievement of a Guaranteed Income to the fight for pregnant women and mothers’ right to work; the historical sweep of Swinth’s survey is impressive and enlightening. But it is in her main goal – reminding us that second-wave feminists weren’t fighting merely for improved policies but to restructure and transform society and social relations between the powerful and the oppressed, the privileged and the marginalized – that Swinth’s book achieves its most impressive moments. Most importantly, Swinth reminds us that the purpose of learning (and re-learning) this history is not simply academic; it is to equip us with the tools to pick up a struggle which for many seems to have stalled.
“Second-wave feminism changed how Americans think and act so dramatically that we can almost no longer conceive how profoundly the movement transformed our society,” she writes, in conclusion.
“And it was not that feminists overpromised: their comprehensive conception of reorganized family and work lives carried wide appeal and elicited broad support. Rather, feminism’s opponents clawed back. They successfully resisted the legislative, legal, and workplace changes the movement’s champions sought. Their rhetorical triumph in distorting the movement’s goals has buried the breathtaking scope of the feminist dream. It is time to recover that vision, and to tell the world what having it all truly means.”
QotD: “When information is passed using words the listener typically weighs and assesses the believability of the message … But unlike words, pictures don’t work that way”
When information is passed using words the listener typically weighs and assesses the believability of the message. When we hear words we tend to hear them as ideas or opinions, often the listener is counter-arguing against those ideas inside their heads. You can be deciding right now that what I’m saying doesn’t make any sense and you can be challenging my verbal statements internally. But unlike words, pictures don’t work that way.
None of you are counter-arguing against the fact that I’m sitting here or that this is a table. Pictures are mentally processed as events, as facts, and are stored unbuffered and unchallenged. If you see it, then it happened and is true. Pictures are truly worth a thousand words.
The Internet is an ideal medium for the spread of sexual permission giving beliefs. The sexual Internet sites by their very nature say that sex is a commodity for sale. Anything that you can buy, you can steal.
Sexual images of women and children are entertainment, sexual access becomes an entitlement, the individuals who are in these pictures do not appear to feel degraded, abused, physically and visually invaded. They appear to be enjoying the interaction. It’s an event.
Perpetrators now ‘know’ that children like to have sex with adults, they know it’s true because they have seen it. Perpetrators show these images to children to break down the inhibitions of children. Children now ‘know’ that children like to have sex with adults. They know it’s true because they have seen it.
For both the predator and the child these images produce permission-giving beliefs.
Dr. Mary Anne Layden
(found on tumblr)
I worked for a decade under decrim. But before that, for a little, I was a stripper so we’ll start there.
One night, let’s call her Stacy, came in for opening and was extremely distraught because she’d been raped a few hours earlier, she came in to talk to me because she didn’t have anyone else. Our manager told her she could either work her shift or be fired. The only reason she was allowed to leave was because I said I’d leave too and I was making them too much money at that point for him not to cop it from the owner if that happened. She didn’t go to the police because she knew they wouldn’t care.
Then when I was nineteen I switched to working in brothels. People like to think drugs come before that but usually they don’t. Most of the time that comes after you start, to cope with it.
I routinely worked with trafficked women in legal brothels because under that system, it’s actually way easier to traffic them in. Most of them were South East Asian and I know at least three of them are dead, I’m fairly certain a lot more of them are now.
I’ve seen men come in and leave because they wanted ‘younger’ girls, despite there being girls working that were 18 and looked 15.
The night a john tried to choke me, I slammed his head into the mirror. I was warned by police after that next time I would be charged with assault.
I don’t feel the statistics accurately portray the history of abuse most if not all of us have experienced. I met maybe five women who said they hadn’t been abused in some way during childhood, whether it be sexually, physically or emotionally. In ten years.
Literally no one was there because they wanted to be. It was because if not, you starved or worse. I’ve never met any of us who was in the girl’s room between “”“clients”“” preaching about how great it was. We talked about what we would do if we had a choice and what we hated about johns and management, and every level of horror you can imagine that we’d experienced in our lives.
Decriminalization is just a different shaped cage. It’s still designed to trap and commodify women and girls as sex toys for men. I’ve seen women raped and beaten, I’ve known women who have been killed or who have ended up killing themselves.
The reason it’s not okay to people to exchange money to kill someone but it’s okay to exchange money to rape someone, is because the world we live in perpetuates that women and girls are lesser, and that our worth is based in fuckability to men.
And you could ask anyone who is exited the same and their stories don’t vary from ones like mine. But we’re called liars by people who have never set foot in a brothel in their goddamn lives, for challenging the bullshit notion that there is a class of women it is okay to exploit.
“Monuments across Wales and the UK have been dressed up as part of a new campaign against the erosion of women’s rights”
Monuments across Wales and the UK have been dressed up as part of a new campaign against the “erosion of women’s rights”.
The early morning rush hour crowd were surprised yesterday morning (Monday, January 29) as they came face-to-face with female statues dressed in black t-shirts or draped in banners emblazoned with “woman. Noun. Adult human female.”.
In the past 24 hours, South East Wales Resisters, known as SeWReSisters, alongside ReSisters United, have carried out a campaign across the UK using the hashtag #WomenStandUp. Statues of women all over the country are now dressed in similar attire.
The sculptures in the heart of Newport commemorate the Chartist rebellion.
SeWReSisters claim: “It is fitting that SeWReSisters honour this working-class movement which fought for the rights of the common people.”
ReSisters United, has co-ordinated this campaign across England, Wales and Scotland, to kick off a global week of feminist action called to protest what it claims is “the censoring of women on Facebook and Twitter and the gradual erosion of women’s rights”.
A spokeswoman for ReSisters United commented: “In today’s climate of hyper political correctness, the factual definition of woman has become taboo.
“The dignity, privacy and safety of women is at risk.
“With this action we send the message that women have the right to speak about our biology without shame, fear or retribution”.
“We’d say that we are not positioning ourselves against trans issues, we are standing up for the rights of women and girls.
“We’re not anti-trans, we are pro-women.”
ReSisters United proclaim that they are “committed to speaking out to protect the right to sex-segregated spaces, without the presence of men”.
Lunapads is a company I would like to be able to support, and to recommend to other women, but I am appalled by your recent behaviour on social media.
Calling women and girls ‘menstruators’ ‘bleeders’ and ‘womb-owners’ is dehumanising and degrading. Putting ‘content warnings’ for ‘gendered language’ (whatever that actually means) on articles about women and girls is turning femaleness into a taboo subject – the tweet (from November 2018) that upset me the most was about Girl Scouts on the International Day of the Girl Child, about “girls lifting up other girls”, apparently that article needed a ‘content warning’.
In a tweet (from September 2018) about ‘patriarchy-free periods’ you talked about ‘all bodies’ being ‘covered’. ‘All bodies’ do not menstruate, only female ones. Obfuscating female biology is not progressive, it’s reactionary, and you do women and girls no favours by making them feel like bigots for talking about their female anatomy.
It’s great that you make ‘gender neutral’ products (but does a woman have to identify as trans or ‘non-binary’ to be allowed to use them?), but if you want to be inclusive, why not just say ‘women and trans men’? It seems obvious to me that this has very little to do with including trans men, and everything to do with pandering to trans women by not using the word ‘woman’ in any context that naturally excludes them.
That this is pandering becomes even more obvious when looking at a photo you posted on Instagram (in December 2018) of a card with a picture of a toilet and the text “Feeling confused or maybe a little upset? Don’t worry! My gender has nothing to do with you and I am supposed to be here.”
Dismissing women’s reasonable concerns about safety in public toilets (and changing rooms, and locked hospital wards, and homeless shelters, and prisons, and overnight accommodation for school trips) as ‘confusion’ or ‘being upset’ is patronising, condescending, and arrogant; the card may as well have said ‘don’t worry your silly little head about it sweetie!’
Do you care about the safety of women and girls at all? You must be aware of the case in Canada of Jessica/Christopher Hambrook, a paedophile and serial sex offender, who assaulted two women while living at a women’s shelter in 2012. Do you think it’s a good idea to tell women and girls to ignore their instincts when they are in close proximity to a potentially dangerous male?
What exactly do you hope to achieve with this mindless virtue signalling? Are there really that many trans men to buy your products? Trans women have male bodies, they do not have uteruses, they will never menstruate, and your products will never have the same fetishistic attraction as scavenging for used tampons and towels from the bins in public toilets.
Have you noticed an improvement in sales? Is alienating your core demographic really a good business strategy?
How do you justify advocating body positivity and self-acceptance on the one hand, but on the other, promoting an ideology that says some women are born in the ‘wrong body’ and that those ‘wrong bodies’ need extreme medical intervention in the form of radical surgery and a life-long dependence on synthetic hormones? What message do you think you are giving to girls who are going through puberty, and all the natural difficulties that major life-change involves, when you put up aesthetic photos of mastectomy scars on your Instagram account?
But what really tipped me over the edge and got me writing this letter to you was a re-tweet (in December 2018) about ‘SWERFs’. ‘SWERF’, like ‘TERF’ is a thought-terminating cliché, designed to shut down debate and critical thinking. Are you aware that many of the women fighting the sex industry, like Rachel Moran and Fiona Broadfoot, have direct, personal experience of being commercially sexually exploited while minors? Are you aware that SPACE International (Survivors of Prostitution Abuse Calling for Enlightenment) have organised a conference in London for this February called Women of Colour Against the Sex Trade? Will you be listening to these women too?
I also found a 2016 post of yours on Instagram where you discuss a potential project with Buck Angel, a trans porn performer. Is collaborating with the sex industry part of your ongoing business strategy? What kind of message do you think you are giving to young women and girls by helping to normalise the sex industry?
Your Pads4Girls program (where you again refer to girls as ‘menstruators’) is designed specifically to help keep Global South girls in school and out of poverty. One of the undeniable purposes of keeping girls in school and out of poverty is to help keep them out of the sex trade, or situations where they need to get an older ‘boyfriend’ who can buy them basic essentials like sanitary towels. What impact do you think the normalisation of the sex industry as ‘just work’ has on the life chances of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable women and girls?
I look forward to hearing back from you,
Lunapads can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org. Screen-caps, of everything described above, in the comments