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Women’s concerns should not be minimised

Many feminists and political activists feel they are being shut down for attempting to discuss gender issues, writes JO BARTOSCH

ONCE I was proud of my Labour Party card. I am member number L1608004 and, yes, I was one of the thousands who joined because Jeremy Corbyn seemed to signify a return to the principled values of social justice and fairness. Two years on and my membership card weighs heavily in my pocket.

I have been horrified to witness good women, lifelong activists, being attacked for trying to discuss the proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act.

At the time of writing, Linda Bellos has been reported to the Labour Party for comments she made at a public meeting, Jess Phillips is suffering a barrage of online abuse demanding she be re-educated because of a tweet she sent in support of feminist group A Woman’s Place, and after receiving a slew of accusations of “transphobia,” Anne Ruzylo has resigned her role as women’s officer in Bexhill and Battle amid accusations of bullying by a teenager who identifies as a woman.

The same teenager has taken up a post of women’s officer in the neighbouring constituency of Rochester and Strood. Incidentally, it should be noted that two of those allegedly targeted for harassment are lesbian. Many women now feel they are facing a purge for committing thought crime.

Sadly, this phenomenon is not just limited to the Labour Party — it now affects most of the “progressive” left. Women’s Equality Party (WEP) spokesperson for the policy on violence against women and girls Heather Brunskell-Evans is at present being investigated by the party’s executive committee for comments she made on BBC Radio 4’s The Moral Maze, where she urged caution and an evidence-based approach to treat children who consider themselves to be born in the wrong body.

The investigation of Brunskell-Evans arose from allegations made by trans women within the party itself that her comments “promoted prejudice against the transgender community.”  
In response, the WEP wrote a public statement placed on its website to distance itself from her words.

What is so shocking about all of these instances is that the insights and experiences of passionate, intelligent and experienced women appear to have been dismissed as irrelevant.

As a feminist campaigner of many years, I know women who work in organisations from across the domestic and sexual violence sector; many are scared to openly raise questions about gender identity theory.

Doing so could lose them their jobs, or worse, jeopardise the minimal funding that charities they work for depend upon.

One such friend, who asked not to be named, said: “There are no safeguards in place to identify trans women who suffer from gender dysphoria from men who might wish to abuse access to women-only space.

“We have to make our service trans inclusive, but I know this will put the very vulnerable women we should be centring at risk.”

Ruzylo was the subject of numerous complaints by a small group because of her stance on and offline as an outspoken feminist.

Like myself and many others, Ruzylo considers the sex-stereotypes that inform gender to be harmful to women.  

I don’t know Ruzylo in person, but I have a fair idea of the barriers she would have faced as a lesbian in the Labour Party. 

To have had the strength to remain in the party demonstrates in itself that she was an asset, but apparently one without the kudos of a teenager who has identified as a woman for less time that I’ve had the shoes I’m wearing.

One in five women aged 16-59 has experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 16. It is still the case that 85 per cent of rape remains unreported.  

When women created the hashtag #metoo it was to demonstrate how widely our experience is minimised and dismissed by a patriarchal world. #metoo shone a spotlight on the misogyny within Parliament, with the bravery of women such as Bex Bailey forcing some serious questions to be asked about institutional sexism and cover-ups. 

Women like Anna, Heather, Linda and Jess care deeply. They are not embarrassing bigots to be swept away; they are clever women, experienced women, women with integrity.

When I stop to think about it, I am shocked at how easily I went along with the idea that’s commonly expressed on the internet, that “trans women are women.”

I hadn’t really thought about the circular logic or the implications of the statement; I said it in response to a friend who was questioning the authenticity of Caitlyn Jenner’s womanhood. 

Once I began to investigate how trans activists tend to behave online, and after the first few threats and smears for crossing outside the acceptable “lefty” rhetoric, I recognised the mainstream pro-trans movement for what it is; a clique of well-meaning liberals led by misogynists who delight in telling women their concerns are irrelevant, hysterical and bigoted. 

It is tragic that those with the power to change this on the left have chosen to believe young men with large social media followings rather than older women with considerably more experience of both politics and sexist silencing.

At the moment I have no pride in my party membership. A party that silences uppity women at the behest of angry misogynist keyboard warriors is not progressive. It seems when the trans activist dogs bark the progressive left jumps.

Rather than focusing on the men who actually hurt trans people, it is outspoken feminists who are offered up for sacrifice.

 

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