Paragraph 68 on page 26 of a 54-page document drawn up by the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Department for Work and Pensions reveals plans to remove refuges and other short-term supported housing from the welfare system, meaning vulnerable women will not be able to pay for placements using housing benefit.
Housing benefit is the last guaranteed source of income available to refuges and makes up about 50% of their revenue.
Charlotte Kneer, a survivor of domestic abuse and chief executive of the Reigate and Banstead Women’s Aid refuge in Surrey, said: “If this goes ahead, every single refuge will close and every woman who presents herself to a refuge is at risk of murder.”
On average, two women a week are killed by a partner or ex-partner in England and Wales.
Kneer’s refuge can house up to 11 vulnerable women and 24 children at a time. It offers clean, furnished rooms with televisions and tea-making facilities, a communal living area and kitchen, and a large garden with playground equipment.
The women who stay there have access to counsellors and advice on mental health, housing, job hunting and navigating the benefits system. It needs about £300,000 a year to keep running and just over one-third of the refuge’s funding comes from housing benefit – a room for a week costs £211. There are two full-time support workers, a part-time children’s worker and a part-time play therapist-cum-service manager.
Long ago, during the Suez crisis, both the Observer and the Guardian endured difficult days as advertisers were pressured to desert their “unpatriotic” pages. It’s a recurrent theme: the covert – and often unprovable – draining of revenue streams to exact retribution or change of editorial policy. And wherever, around the world, press freedoms are at their weakest, so the ad squeeze comes on.
It’s a matter of principle: which is why the digital bullying of Paperchase to renounce marketing deals with the Daily Mail has to be confronted. You don’t have to love the Mail to see the point. Stop Funding Hate may legitimately urge Mail readers to quit (and Mail readers may, equally legitimately, examine the causes SFH espouses and make up their own minds). But trolling rather nervous companies such as Paperchase isn’t legitimate. It’s the thin end of a dangerous wedge – with no winners in sight, from left or right.
As last week’s Ipso complaints ruling on Trevor Kavanagh’s “The Muslim Problem” column for the Sun mordantly observes: “There is no clause in the editors’ code which prohibits publication of offensive content”. Nor should there be.
An annual book fair that has served for more than three decades as the most important meeting point for the British anarchist movement has become the latest casualty of widening splits over the issue of transgender rights.
Organisers say that they no longer have “the appetite or the energy” to stage next year’s London Anarchist Bookfair, following fraught scenes at the event last month. A group of feminists were confronted by other activists who accused them of distributing “transphobic” leaflets that promoted prejudice against transgender people.
The acrimony follows highly publicised splits in universities, women’s organisations and political parties over the issue. Lily Madigan, a 19-year-old who has just won a vote in Kent to become Labour’s first women’s officer from a transgender background, has been at the centre of a row within the party.
The executive committee of another constituency Labour party resigned this month in solidarity with Anne Ruzylo, a women’s officer who claimed she had been the focus of complaints by Madigan and others.
This weekend it emerged that Madigan is applying to join the Jo Cox Women in Leadership programme, launched after the murder of the MP to encourage female participation in politics.
Meanwhile, the Women’s Equality party has confirmed that its executive committee is considering complaints about one of its members, Heather Brunskell-Evans, an academic whose invitation to speak at King’s College in London was cancelled after she took part in a discussion on transgender issues on Radio 4. On the programme she called for caution to be exercised in relation to children who expressed confusion over their gender. Brunskell-Evans said the party told her that three members had alleged her “conduct” on the programme had “promoted prejudice against the transgender community”. She is also alleged to have said on Twitter: “we have to #ROAR about the harms of transgenderism for children and young people”.
The leaflets handed out at the Anarchist Bookfair suggested that predatory men might be among those who choose to call themselves women, and might abuse the system by gaining access to women-only spaces such as refuges. Trans activists say the issue is being used by opponents – some of whom they label “terfs” (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) – to sow the seeds of hatred.
The increasingly angry disputes follow government proposals to streamline the process for how people can change their gender, under the Gender Recognition Act (GRA). A public consultation is to be held on speeding up and demedicalising the process, with the current need to be assessed and diagnosed by clinicians seen by some as intrusive.
Choosing whether one is a man or a woman is a matter of self-identification, trans activists assert. Some opponents of the GRA have warned that this may lead to young, vulnerable people making decisions they later regret. Others have suggested that self-identifying undermines the status, rights and experience of biological women.
The rows “are going on within all sorts of social movements”, said Helen Steel, the veteran social justice campaigner known for her role in taking on McDonald’s in the 1997 “McLibel” case.
Steel, who is among those caught up in the book fair controversy, said that until now, discussion had “taken place in a bubble that has agreed with itself”. She added: “Now that those ideas are actually going to be translated into law, other people are becoming aware of those proposals and say, ‘hang on – can we have time to consider the implications properly and let women have a say in how our lives may be affected by these changes?’”
She said she had been left traumatised by her experience at the book fair, claiming she was surrounded by a “baying mob” after intervening to stop the bullying of two women who had been distributing leaflets about the GRA.
“I have been aware that women have been bullied on this issue for a long time now but, until it happened to me, I was not aware of the extent of the bullying and am shocked by it,” Steel said. “I have been an environmental and social justice campaigner for most of my life. In all that time, I have never experienced such a toxic environment.”
In The Guardian this week, lawyer and writer Shon Faye claims “trans people in Britain have recently been subjected to a media onslaught” — an almost laughable irony, if it weren’t so dishonest. The truth is that, while indeed many women and journalists in the UK have been covering and speaking out about questions surrounding the transitioning of children, proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act, potential conflicts between gender identity legislation and women’s rights, and the attacks on those who question gender identity ideology, these articles and that activism do not by any stretch constitute an attack on trans-identified people.
By contrast, this week, a talk by author of Transgender Children and Young People: Born in Your Own Body and spokeswoman for the Women’s Equality Party, Heather Brunskell-Evans, on pornography and the sexualization of young women was cancelled after she questioned the practice of transitioning children. A couple of weeks ago, a lecture journalist Julie Bindel was scheduled to give about her new book, The Pimping of Prostitution: Abolishing the Sex Work Myth, at St. Edward’s University in Texas was cancelled, due supposedly to her arguments around gender identity and support for woman-only space. Anne Ruzylo, a woman’s officer with the Labour Party was subjected to months of bullying by a fellow party member, and smeared as “transphobic.” Pushed to resign last week, every member of the executive committee quit in solidarity with Ruzylo, though the young trans-identified male responsible for the harassment was elected as women’s officer in his local party shortly thereafter. Last month, Linda Bellos, a longtime lesbian feminist activist, was uninvited from speaking at Cambridge University after saying she planned to publicly question “some of the trans politics … which seems to assert the power of those who were previously designated male to tell lesbians, and especially lesbian feminists, what to say and what to think.”
In other words, it is very clear who is under attack within the transgender debate: women.
QotD: Miss Peru 2018 turned violence against women into morbid entertainment, not a ‘feminist protest’
Although the so-called protest was reported as being a contestant-driven initiative, the pageant’s organizers and hosts made clear that the “theme” this year was violence against women, repeatedly explaining that the entire pageant was dedicated to “respecting women and violence prevention.”
This is no coincidence. In recent years, feminism in Latin America and the Caribbean has explicitly centered the issue of violence against women. Last October, over 100,000 people took to the streets in Argentina (where a woman is murdered every 36 hours) to protest the gruesome femicide of Lucia Perez Montero. Similar protests were replicated throughout the continent on what was called “Black Wednesday.”
It was a sly move by the organizers of Miss Peru to feature a parade of women listing decontextualized facts about violence against women, and present the event itself as part of the movement against the epidemic. This move ensured the pageant would go viral and seem modern, despite the whole spectacle being inextricably rooted in women’s subordination and subservience.
As Spanish writer Barbijaputa argues at El Diario, stating facts about violence against women in a beauty pageant doesn’t change anyone’s attitude about that violence or about women’s rights. She writes:
The vast majority of society still thinks that the motive [for violence] is biology: that men can’t control their ‘sexual instincts’ and women can’t defend themselves because they are weaker. Stating facts about violence against us makes it seem as if this is inevitable: ‘It’s just the way it is,’ ‘men are crazy,’ ‘I wish it didn’t happen but we can’t fight nature.’
In other words, without understanding why men commit violence against women and without addressing the system that excuses and normalizes male dominance, we cannot successfully combat male violence.
A truly subversive act might have been for contestants to make statements that challenge the objectification of women. Barbijaputa suggests some alternate scripts for pageant contestants:
“I am Miss Tarapoto, and girls and women don’t die; each one of them had a man who killed them. Men are educated to think of themselves as superior to us, while we are being measured by our hips.”
Or perhaps, “I am Miss Cuzco and coming out here in a bathing suit so that men can judge whether or not I am beautiful is sexism and sexism kills.”
Instead, what Miss Peru came up with was little more than a marketing strategy that, in the end, still serves patriarchy. The event’s organizers and Latina, the TV channel that aired and sponsored the pageant, don’t have to pretend to care about women’s rights or liberation any other day of the year.
Peruvian writer Lara Salvatierra points out that Latina has “a misogynist editorial line” and routinely airs content that demeans and objectifies women, “including a TV show which ridicules Indigenous women and girls.”
The fact that it went viral speaks to the guidelines of a patriarchal system: a woman may demand justice, as long as she doesn’t try to escape the mold and the gender roles that the system has approved for her. Patriarchy will always search for ways to naturalize its existence. There is nothing empowering in modeling in a bikini to entertain the same misogynists who then violate us, commercialize us, and kill us.
In a beauty pageant, women are presented to be ogled and enjoyed for an hour or two, as pretty objects. Once objectified, they are put through a process in which, one by one, they are eliminated from the competition. In other words, beauty pageants present women as intrinsically disposable. This is the same thought process that legitimizes the discarding of women under patriarchy, through male violence.
What is an audience meant to feel or think as they read, “Man strangles woman with a cord,” while a young woman parades across the stage in a bikini, desperately seeking male approval and adhering to patriarchal standards of beauty and complacency?
How this capitalist marketing ploy could be interpreted as empowering or liberating is beyond me. But, as Salvatierra points out, this type of “feminist protest” is the kind of activism that a patriarchal system favours the most: one in which women voice opposition to their oppression, but do it within the bounds of the role the system constructed for them.
If so, the potential damage doesn’t conspicuously trouble many of the trusted adults associated, on the left, with Corbyn’s “kinder politics”. Some prominent supporters of proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) have been wondering, for instance, whether, if there really are diminishing returns in writing off as a “terf” anyone who disagrees, there might not be a better slur. What’s mean enough to mute the nervous, without actually being hate speech? Feminazi? Too Daily Mail. Nasty woman? Also taken. Transmisogynist? A popular option, but it uses up so many characters.
Progressive head scratching as to what word might project the same corrective menace as terf (originally a small group’s chosen acronym, now applied at random), seems to have ended officially with this offering from my Guardian colleague, Owen Jones. “If,” he mused last week, “TERF’ [Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist] is unacceptable, let’s just use ‘transphobe’ and ‘transphobic’, problem solved.” Given that this guidance comes from the man who admirably closed down “chav” because it “demonised” the working classes, there seems every chance that “transphobe” will become the approved term for people who think, for instance, that there might be one or two arguments for preserving certain women-only spaces.
Yes, given the heightened imputation of backward irrationality to women who might question, say, the value attributed by the proposed legislation to cultural norms of gendered behaviour, transphobe could well be the more effective insult.
And given that phobic is probably more widely understood than “terf” – even on the left – as being shameful, it could well be a better means of muting anyone who wonders, for example, whether if more and more children find their bodies and gender to be mismatched, it could be worth trying to ask what and where they are learning about gender.
Where the advance of terf, as a bullying tool, has already succeeded in repressing speech – and maybe even research – “transphobe”, while being less snarl-friendly, has the advantage of implying that any child-related caution – about, say, lack of research on the longer term outcomes of early transition – could never be reasoned, only pathological. To many campaigners, even to dispute that would be tantamount to ignoring trans suicides, and therefore tantamount to transphobia.
True, different views on the surge in female-to-male transition were reported brilliantly last week by the Times’s Janice Turner, one of the strikingly few women willing, in the face of concerted abuse, publicly to examine complex social and medical changes the authorities seem disinclined to explore. That such women are frequently and correctly described as “brave”, for all the world as if they were war correspondents, only underlines the extent to which conventionally abhorrent exhibitions of bullying and hate-speech have been allowed to flourish here – with some of our most trusted adults leading by example.
When noted equalities campaigners endorse the use of “terf”, events such as the recent walkout of Labour officials in Bexhill and Battle, following allegedly uninhibited bullying of a women’s officer, Anne Ruzylo, must be the predictable consequence. “If we can’t talk about gender laws and get shut down on that,” says Ruzylo, “what’s next?”
One thing that followed was an online compliment to one of her alleged denigrators, saying he looked, compared with her, “the more feminine one”. Sometimes, irked pioneers of gender inclusiveness can recall, more than anything, the instincts of a David Davis when denied a hug: “I am not blind.”
Even if one agreed, which I don’t, that the expression of any doubts about the GRA instantly identifies the speaker as a member of what our mentors call the “doomed anti-trans lobby”, the degree to which this debate has legitimised intolerance, targeting and recently, the physical harassment of women surely indicates a responsibility, on the part of undeviatingly debate-averse progressives, to do more than offer synonyms.
At Speakers’ Corner, a woman was punched last month as she filmed women gathering for an event called “What is Gender?”. More recently, at the Anarchist Book Fair, Helen Steel was surrounded, she writes, by “around 30 trans activists who shouted misogynistic abuse in my face and at others, and who would not leave me alone. This included: ugly terf, fucking terf scum, bitch, fascist and more.”
To suggest that transphobe makes the more acceptable insult is like saying the Telegraph should have written slightly different words over its target practice; that the Daily Mail should have called its three pilloried judges something a wee bit nicer than enemies: the intent to bully remains.
“Stop, speak, support”, then. Though not if the banter has only escalated as far as transphobe. That’s just the progressive way of telling women to shut up.
QotD: All Labour officials on local committee resign in support of colleague who was ‘bullied by transgender activist for months’
Every member of a local Labour Party executive committee has quit in support of a colleague who was allegedly bullied by a transgender rights campaigner.
The unnamed male activist is said to have harassed women’s officer Anne Ruzylo for months after they disagreed over ‘gender identity’ issues.
Miss Ruzylo, 52, claims the fellow party member carried out a smear campaign against her.
A leaked letter revealed the committee all resigned over what they believe to be Labour’s failure to deal with ‘disciplinary complaints’ regarding the reported abuse.
The six executive committee members in Bexhill and Battle, East Sussex, wrote that the alleged bullying had ‘seriously damaged’ their ability to function, and they had been forced to spend their time ‘being siphoned away into internal disciplinary matters’ instead of ‘fighting the Tories’.
‘We have been deeply disappointed by a lack of meaningful, timely and decisive action from regional and national party structures to support the executive committee in addressing these disciplinary issues,’ the letter added.
The unidentified activist, who is not transgender but is a passionate supporter of those who are, allegedly tried to prevent Miss Ruzylo, from Bexhill-on-Sea, from voicing her concerns at meetings. He supports Government plans to reform the legal definition of man and woman, but Miss Ruzylo believes critics’ fears of appearing politically incorrect could prevent proper scrutiny of the legislation.
Former prison officer Miss Ruzylo, who is a lesbian, told The Times she felt ‘violated’, adding that the way she had been silenced was ‘disgusting’.
She added: ‘Debate is not hate. If we can’t talk about gender laws and get shut down on that, what’s next? We’re going back to the days of McCarthyism. It is disgraceful.’
The local Labour Party has now been left without an executive committee and will have to call an early AGM to elect new members. Bexhill and Battle is a Conservative constituency.
A Labour South-East spokesman insisted the party took all complaints ‘extremely seriously’ and had ‘robust procedures’.
According to a new study, feminist theory can help treat anorexia. That comes as no surprise to me, based on my own experience of trying to vanish, one skipped meal at a time. Researchers at the University of East Anglia trialled a 10-week programme with seven inpatients at a centre in Norwich. They used Disney films, social media, news articles and adverts to talk about the social expectations and constructs of gender, how we view women’s bodies and how we define femininity. They spoke about the way we portray appetite, hunger and anger, as well as the ways we objectify women’s bodies.
Researchers published a paper in the journal Eating Disorders that suggested patients improved because they felt less to blame for their own condition. This makes complete sense. When I was 15 years old, I spent six weeks in an eating disorders clinic in Sydney. Staring at those pallid pistachio-coloured walls on my own in a cell-like room, I felt as though I may never recover. My emaciated companions and I were under the care of a former prison warden turned eating disorders nurse, who made sure we stuck to our strict daily routine of three meals, three snacks, two therapy sessions, no taking the stairs. I wasn’t alone in that fear of eternal sickness; recovery is elusive for many sufferers, and perhaps the cruellest part of the process is that anorexia convinces you that you don’t even want to get better.
Then, one day, we were allowed to go on a group outing. We filed in, rather miserably, to an enormous top-floor book shop. We were directed to the self-help section, but I took a sneaky detour to gender studies. There, among the Naomi Wolfs and the Germaine Greers, I felt strangely safe for once. I cherished books, I always have, and I remember stroking the spines tenderly, wishing for some sort of guidance. We were told we should get one book that day. I chose Hunger Strike by Susie Orbach.
Originally published in 1986 (just a year before I was born; a serendipity that appealed to me), it is a seminal feminist text about “the anorectic’s struggle as a metaphor for our age”. In it, Orbach argues that anorexia is both a deeply private struggle, and a very public one. Women’s bodies, she wrote, are still considered public property and so long as that stands, our desire to diminish them is a feminist issue.