#RadFem2012 Redux: Manchester’s Women Up North Conference

Two days ago, I blogged about the (successful) campaign to prevent Sheila Jeffreys from speaking at the #RadFem2012 conference. The campaign itself was unpleasant with some very serious threats made against the conference as well as an unnecessary amount of misogynistic abuse levelled at the women organising the conference. Here’s a hint: if you want me to take you seriously as a Feminist, you do not call other women cunts. Ever. That term is nothing but misogynistic. It can not be reclaimed to be used as a term of abuse.

I was so very sad to hear that the venue, Conway Hall, had ceded to the demands of a vocal minority of aggressive people and banned Sheila Jeffreys. I do not see the need to have inclusive to everyone feminist conferences all the time. If the activists were so concerned about the silencing of transwomen from the conference, they could have organised a simultaneous conference. Or, gone for peaceful counter-protest. Violent threats and silencing tactics help no one. They only serve to cause ructions within the Feminist movement which is what the Patriarchy wants.

Today, the first thing that came up on my Facebook feed was this blog stating that the activists who have silenced the women from RadFem2012 are now targeting Manchester Feminist Network’s Women Up North conference because it is holding one session closed for FAAB survivors of sexual violence. The conference is trans-inclusive except for this one session so I am not sure why it would be targeted. It also has a space for Black-women only and I don’t see anyone campaigning against that deliberately excluding people.

This is the response by the Manchester Feminist Network to a question as to whether or not the conference is trans-inclusive:

We don’t see it as transphobic to have some seperate space for born women. Some of the women in our group are vocal advocates of trans-women’s rights. Some of us advocate for trans-women’s human rights but still want to be in born woman space sometimes and don’t see the 2 as mutually exclusive. Many of us have trans-women as family members, friends and work colleagues. As a feminist network of different women we struggle with these differences and yet try to still work together. The compropmise that we came to for Women Up North was that it would generally be open to trans-women but that the sexual abuse survivors and sexuality workshops could be designated born women only as the facilitators requested this. 

The vast majority of sexual abuse is committed on women by men. Most women seek out women only services for support and recovery e.g. rape crisis centres, survivors groups or women counsellors. This doesnt mean that all male counsellors or support services are rapists, but that unfortunately under patriarchy women are understandably sometimes fearful of and uncomfortable around men (just think how differently it impacts on women when having a man or woman walking behind them when alone out at night). Sadly, some of us would not feel as safe/uninhibited in the presence of people who have lived some of their lives as men, however those individuals feel/see themselves and whether they too are survivors of sexual violence. Blame patriarchy for this, not feminist survivors of abuse. Please work with us seperately when requested, and together at all other times to challenge male violence and patriarchy. We have alot of common ground and alot of work to do! Some of us like this article by Jenny Roberts, a trans-woman who used to run the lesbian bookshop and arts festival Libertas http://www.annelawrence.com/buildingbridges.html 

This is our response on the matter and we are unlikely to respond to individual comments, apologies.

It makes me very sad when women’s voices are silence because of political lobbying. As I said in my other blogpost, all women [whether they be FAAB or transwomen] have the right to safe spaces to discuss issues which are personal. Lesbian women should not have to discuss domestic violence with heterosexual women if they don’t want. Transgendered people have the right to close spaces so they discuss issues of “passing” or surgery without feeling the need to “educate” an audience with no personal experience on the issue. In this, a little bit of kindness and listening to the needs of others wouldn’t go remiss. Personally, I think the obvious compromise is to run a second session on sexual violence which is trans-inclusive for those who choose to attend it.

3 thoughts on “#RadFem2012 Redux: Manchester’s Women Up North Conference”

  1. While I am, as a FAaB who is very much still learning about this & related issues, not in agreement with you regarding the trans-exclusionary stance, I too have found that sadness was my main response to this news. Survivors are being caught in the crossfire of a debate; it’s a miserable situation and difficult to see a way forward. There is never any justification for the misogynistic abuse that you cite, and that aspect is one I’ve been made more aware of by your posts here and on Twitter (partic. the link to Monica Maldonado’s blog).
    The idea of a second session is an interesting one that I’m surprised wasn’t suggested in the first place, as it would at least have meant that nobody was (theoretically) being denied access to support. I can’t really imagine it being broadly accepted as a compromise, though, because the existence of any closed session at all would surely still be regarded as giving room to the core belief that trans women are not women, and legitimacy to the perception of trans survivors of abuse as somehow “in the same category” (being potential triggers) as the men who abused them.
    I get what you are saying about the virtues of listening, kindness, attempts to meet halfway. If only it were that straightforward. But when people are dealing with a deeply rooted sense of injustice, of being rejected and excluded by virtue of their biology, I can understand why any compromise would seem like a moral impossibility.

  2. @whodoesshethink: “I can’t really imagine it being broadly accepted as a compromise, though, because the existence of any closed session at all would surely still be regarded as giving room to the core belief that trans women are not women, and legitimacy to the perception of trans survivors of abuse as somehow ‘in the same category’ (being potential triggers) as the men who abused them.”

    Why, in the name of all that is feminist, is the need to be recognized as women by a few transgendered women more important than the need for born women to have a safe space to talk with each other? Why does one need trump the other? If these transgendered women are feminists, how do they account for behaving this way toward other women? If black women decided they wanted to create a workshop for just themselves and white women demanded to be included, would you be supporting the white women as well? Why are born women being treated like their issues and concerns and needs and feelings don’t matter in the all out focused effort to make transgendered women feel included and good about themselves?

    Why are the feelings and needs of one set of women so vitally important and those of another set of women considered not worth defending? The answers that transactivists give to this question are that they are the most oppressed group of women and that non-trans women oppress them. My suggestion to anyone following this line of thought is to really ask yourself this question: Is it feminist to create this ugly picture of other women (one up in the hierarchy), and especially those who are survivors of sexual attack and abuse, just so transgendered women can gain recognition?

  3. >Why, in the name of all that is feminist, is the need to be recognized as women by a few transgendered women more important than the need for born women to have a safe space to talk with each other? Why does one need trump the other?

    I get the impression these are rhetorical q’s, & I am aware that you have heard it all before and will not find this convincing. But for the sake of replying/acknowledging: as I understand it, it’s because from the inclusive pov, transgendered women are just a subgroup of the larger community of women, screwed over by the patriarchy in all the same ways. So it’s a question not of trans women’s rights trumping those of everyone else’s, but of them being equal to everyone else’s; so the idea that a space is not safe for born women if trans women are in it reads as bigotry.

    >If black women decided they wanted to create a workshop for just themselves and white women demanded to be included, would you be supporting the white women as well?

    No. For the analogy to work, you’d have to see privilege over born women as a defining characteristic of transgendered women as a group, which is another essential place where the inclusive POV differs from yours. And I have seen people invoke the race analogy in the opposite direction, too, to support the inclusive argument, but I don’t think it really holds up either way (though any attempt to unpick it in detail is probably best left to someone else).

    >Why are the feelings and needs of one set of women so vitally important and those of another set of women considered not worth defending? The answers that transactivists give to this question are that they are the most oppressed group of women and that non-trans women oppress them.

    I don’t recognize that from the opinions of anyone whose views on this have influenced my thinking. To me, as a relative newbie, it doesn’t really seem to be about that.

Leave a Reply