Last November, I was asked to speak at the New Turns: Feminism in the 21st Century Conference on the panel on Feminism and Capitalism. When I was invited, there were already a number of high profile women attached to the event like Prof Liz Kelly, blogger Glosswitch, Kat Banyard, Julie Bindel and Sarah Brown. I accepted the invitation because it was a great line-up with some fabulous panels planned.
I did not know until I arrived that the journalist and campaigner Julie Bindel had been no-platformed. She was originally scheduled to appear on a panel on transgenderism and feminism with Sarah Brown, a transwoman, who is a city councillor in the city of Cambridge. When I was invited in November it was with the impression that Bindel and Brown would both be appearing on the panel on transgenderism and feminism.
I do not know the exact timeline of what happened next but this is what I have gathered from various conversations on the day and on Twitter after the conference.
- Brown objected to being on a panel with Bindel and said so on twitter on several occasions.
- A number of people began campaigning to have Bindel no-platformed because of “transphobia” and “Islamaphobia”
- The NUS have/had a no-platform policy for Bindel and QME ran a petition to have Bindel banned on this
- The New Turn organisers then tried to have Bindel moved to the panel on Violence against Women due to her long career of activism on the issue.
- This was not deemed acceptable and the boycott was not rescinded
- There was also a sustained campaign of harassment against the organisers, specifically a female organiser not the men which in and of itself is misogyny.
- In the end, the entire panel on transgenderism and feminism was cancelled and the other two panelists, including Sarah Brown, were disinvited.
As I said, the were numerous conversations about the situation on the day; I cannot say for certain what happened and when because I was not involved. I do think the conference organisers were placed in an untenable situation in which they are dependent on NUS support and effectively had no choice. Responsibility for the no-platforming of Bindel lies squarely with the NUS, QME and those engaged in the sustained campaign of harassment. During the conference, numerous panel members made it very clear that they fundamentally disapprove of no-platforming any women. A statement at the end of the conference by the organisers also made it very clear that Bindel’s work on violence against women is important and dismissing this work is simply inappropriate.
During the conference, I heard a number of people say that Bindel was no-platformed for transphobia and that they ‘knew’ she was transphobic, yet none of them had read Bindel’s work. They also didn’t know who Sarah Brown is. Many others didn’t know there was supposed to be a panel on transgenderism and feminism or that anyone was uninvited. I have to wonder how many people demanding that Bindel be no-platformed are familiar with her work.
It was certainly depressing being at a feminist conference with women suggesting that it was ok to no-platform Bindel despite knowing nothing about her or her work. Considering the frequency with which women have been silenced through harassment, libellous statements and abuse from men, I would hope that feminists, at the very least, would personally investigate before demanding women be no-platformed. Frankly, I find it utterly hypocritical to demand the silencing of women you’ve never heard of.
This has become the state of feminist politics: we cannot simply disagree with one another. Instead, it appears that feminism is about silencing women you disagree with: preventing them from speaking by having them no-platformed and if that doesn’t work going with harassment and violent threats. And, now demanding women you’ve never heard of be no-platformed because someone else told you that they heard that the person did/said something you are now required to disagree with.
The New Turns conference should have been brilliant. All of the panels has a wide variety of speakers covering a spectrum of feminist political beliefs. My panel on feminism and capitalism included an investment banker, a Marxist-feminist and me on the incompatibility of radical feminism and capitalism. The panel called “Generation Y” had Liz Kelly and Viv Regan, the managing editor of Spiked, on it. I can assure you that I fundamentally disagree with absolutely everything Regan had to say about the state of modern feminism, the reality of rape culture and “victim” feminism. Regan represents everything I find offensive about liberal feminist discourse and I still believe that it was important that Regan spoke at the conference (if only to hear the brilliant Rosa from the new online magazine Bad Housekeeping demolish Regan’s arguments.)
This is precisely how feminism should operate: giving all women a chance to speak, hearing them and making informed decisions based on your analysis of information received and not just what someone said to you based on something someone else said one time.
Feminism doesn’t require us to all agree on everything all the time. It’s actually one of the things which used to make feminism a powerful movement: that we disagreed and argued and fell out. This is normal. As Liz Kelly said during the Generation Y panel: feminism is a movement, not a political party. There is no party line that we *have* to follow. Yet, we appear to have arrived at a situation where feminism is a hierarchy with a strict party line where the loudest and most abusive shout and silence others.
Threatening other women with violence, demanding they be no-platformed for not agreeing with you, and publicly trashing other women isn’t feminism and we’ve got to stop pretending it is.
We are silenced, harassed and ignored by men on a daily basis. They don’t read our writings, listen to our music or watch films which star women who are fully clothed. We should not be silencing each other.
We don’t have to agree. Hell, we don’t even have to like one another but we shouldn’t be silencing the voices of other women. Call them out if you disagree but don’t silence.
And, conferences like this are organised by unpaid volunteers. If you don’t like how they are running a conference, do your own. Don’t abuse the organisers.