Category Archives: Feminism

The Caitlyn effect

Things got tense last night at the Miss America pageant, as one of the early rounds was disrupted by a small group of militant protesters shouting ‘we are sex objects too’ and hurling breast implants at the stage.

Their grievance, which has been brewing for several years, was the increasing dominance of trans women in major beauty contests. According to LouAnn Cray, a spokesperson for Ciswomen for Equal Objectification (CEO), it started back in 2015, when Caitlyn Jenner appeared in a corset on the cover of Vanity Fair and Kellie Maloney posed for another magazine in a swimsuit. ‘People went crazy about how hot they looked, and within a couple of years the pageant circuit was full of Caitlyn and Kellie wannabes. It’s like, when you’re done with your transition and you’re ready to show the world your new self, the first thing you do is enter a beauty pageant’.

And this new breed of beauty queen doesn’t just enter, increasingly she wins. The last three Miss Americas have been trans women, and two of them have been over 40.

Tanya Tosser, professor of Identity Studies at NYU and a regular contributor to US Vogue, agreed that young ciswomen have fallen out of fashion. ‘It’s trans women who are in demand now’, she said, ‘and their influence is changing the aesthetic. The ciswomen who manage to break through look bigger and stronger, and as though they’ve had a lot of work done even if they haven’t. But many of them just can’t compete, especially in underwear or swimwear, where a penis is a definite asset’.

LouAnn Cray emphasized the financial penalties women like her are suffering as a result of the trans invasion. ‘These are older, wealthy AMABs, and they don’t need to win pageants to pay college tuition’, she pointed out. ‘For girls like me, objectification was a route out of poverty and obscurity—just like boxing was for Kellie Maloney. It’s not fair to deprive us of our chance to be sexual objects—it’s taking away our future’.

But help may be at hand. The former reality TV star Kim Kardashian, who dropped out of public life in 2017 and is now rumoured to be studying for a PhD in feminist philosophy at London University, has broken her silence to announce the setting up of a United Ciswomen’s College Fund which aims to replace beauty pageants as a source of income for female students. In a prepared statement, Kardashian alluded to earlier protests at beauty pageants: ‘our foresisters did not demand the right to be objectified, they critiqued it’, she said, ‘and I am setting up this fund to honour their memory’.

Kardashian’s intervention was welcomed by veteran activist bell hooks. But leading figures in fifth wave feminism condemned it, while also dissociating themselves from the CEO protest. ‘Trans women are and always have been women’, said Zoe Stupid, founder of the think-tank Privilege Check, ‘and as such they have every right to objectify themselves in beauty pageants, if that is what they choose to do’. She added: ‘It is flagrant transmisogyny for ciswomen to demand equal anything, and if it happens in this country I will certainly picket the picket’. Asked for her reaction to Kim Kardashian’s statement, Mx Stupid replied, ‘she is TERF scum and should die in a fire’.

Meanwhile, the organizers of the pageant denounced the actions of the protesters as ‘callous and irresponsible’, and praised those contestants who bravely carried on despite being triggered by the sight of breast implants used as weapons. The title of Miss America was won by Brian Lynn/Lynn Brian, a genderfluid computer programmer from Maine who identifies as a woman in the evening and at weekends.

Owen Jones’s Diary

Feb 17th 2015

RTs: 150

New followers: 34

Dissenting tweets: 57 – v v bad

PANTS! Been asked to write a thing on Stonewall starting to represent trans people. NO IDEAS WHATSOEVER! Could always talk to trans people, I suppose, but had plans to watch some telly and hook up with Russell Brand later, which doesn’t leave much time for research… Just had an idea! Do you think anyone would notice if I pretended the drag queens who faced down the police during the Stonewall Riots were actually trans? Nah, it’d be fine, wouldn’t it, especially if I dropped in a bit of random TERF-bashing as a distraction technique (note to self: google all mentions of “female biology”). Should get it written in no time. God, I AM A FUCKING GENIUS.

Feb 18th 2015

RTs: 675

New followers: 103

Dissenting tweets: 392 – v v v bad

Cleaner late again. Thinking of sacking her. It’s impossible to spend time on twitter telling feminists they need a class analysis when I’m having to sit in such squalor … Anyhow, my Stonewall piece went up and I am like totally MR ALLY (could maybe shorten that to MRA?). Trans people are so fucking grateful for this shit, unlike those feminists who can’t be arsed to say thanks for each of my brave, groundbreaking retweets on male violence. I think the trans might be my next ‘thing’.

TERFs didn’t like my piece. BIG SURPRISE. Shows how right I am, tho. And how very, very brave.

Feb 19th 2015

RTs: 401

New followers: 98

Dissenting tweets: Lost count due to own heroism

Funny how many women turn out to be TERFs. They have this real issue with you telling them that female biology isn’t a thing, for instance. As if any of the battles for women’s rights – abortion, maternity leave, equal pay – were won by acknowledging that reproductive difference exists! It’s only when you ignore it that the world stops acting like it doesn’t exist (or something – might check this again with Paris, who knows all about this stuff). Anyhow, they’re such morons, and really shrill and strident, too. No recognition for how much of a feminist I’ve been, writing the odd piece while they’re all busy setting up shelters and caring for families and whatever else it is they do when they’re not out there TERFing. I feel disappointed in them, if I’m honest. I expected better. More agreement. And more praise. Much more praise.

Oh, and here’s the big thing: some TERF asked me if I’d perform cunnilingus!!!!!!! Actually, scrap “some TERF,” let’s say “all TERFs.” Apparently it’s some reference to “the cotton ceiling” which they then tried to explain to me with some links I’m obviously not going to read. Going to ask Paris about this, too (not sure, tho. Perhaps if I leave it as it is, I can just say this is homophobia and be done with it? I mean, who cares if it’s some comment on something or other that bothers some woman or other. Like, really? I’m the trans ally here! Leave me out of it!).

Feb 20th 2015

RTs: 700

New followers: 106

Dissenting tweets: fuck ’em, the bitches

Requests that recalcitrant women “untag me”: 37

Getting some serious abuse from the TERFs now, asking me stuff like why is female biology offensive (like, DUH!) and what language we can now use to challenge the structural oppression that drives male violence, rape and forced pregnancy (like, HELLO! Do I look like the Oxford English Dictionary?). Anyhow, can’t be arsed to answer such obvious questions. Gonna just stick with tweeting about the c********** thing. That and homophobia. And “I listen women who are trans inclusive,” which sounds dead good (might get it on a t-shirt). It’s not always easy to decide what “trans inclusive” means tho – got asked some stupid, irrelevant questions about shelters, which I obviously ignored – so I’ve decided it just means “agrees with me.” After all, I’m trans inclusive so anyone who disagrees with me isn’t. Logic, right?

Starting to know what it feels like to be trans, as in good trans (Paris, Roz, lots of people called Sarah), not bad trans (everyone else, about whom I couldn’t give a shit). The good trans get so much abuse, what with so-called feminists not agreeing with them about the joys of being eye-fucked and suchlike. It’s like I’ve become their spiritual martyr. Their 100% male, cis, spiritual martyr.

Feb 24th 2015

RTs: 572

New followers: 208

Dissenting tweets: Jesus level of martyrdom

The good trans have all been so great. It’s so purifying, this endorsement of my own 100% proof maleness cis privilege. They’ve even asked me out for drinks. Really looking forward to it, sitting together, downing a few pints in some nice TERF-free space, away from all their nagging and whining. It’s true what they say; you just can’t have a rational conversation with females TERFs.

Sacked cleaner for failing to agree with me that class is a more relevant axis of oppression than sex. And for not picking up my pants. Will get some other woman from the agency tomorrow.

March 5th 2015

RTs: 376

New followers: 72

Dissenting tweets: Martin Luther King and Malcolm X rolled into one, with a side order of Joan of Arc

Got a bit worried about the cotton ceiling thing. It’s like some of the TERFs just wanted me to say that I disagreed with it in theory, assuming it even existed – like, of course I’m against sexual coercion, even though none of us are sexually coerced ever anyhow! – but I thought I’d wait until Paris or Roz or someone said that would be okay. Anyhow, in the meantime someone else came up with a great way around it. Just compare lesbians whinging about being pressured for sex with penises to homophobic men making shit up about gay men! Genius! Now going to use this a lot.

March 11th 2015

RTs: 109

New followers: 50

Dissenting tweets: Come and get me, fuckers! (actually, don’t worry, I’ll name search. No need to @ me in)

Have hit Peak Ally. Now responding to all tweets with “Trans people FTW”. Is brilliant!

Spent rest of day staring at self in mirror, admiring own cis-ness while muttering “trans people FTW” under breath.

Man, this is ACTIVISM.

March 30th 2015

RTs: 203

New followers: 37

Dissenting tweets: 5 from men, no longer counting those from non-men thanks to my new Human Being/Other filing system

Beat my all-time record and wrote an article in 4 minutes 46 seconds rather than the usual 5 mins! To be fair, it was on porn and you don’t have to do any thinking, let alone research, on that. I couldn’t have done it so quickly if, say, it had been about proper politics and stuff that affects people’s lives.

Did include obligatory paragraph on things that are problematic about porn, like sexism and stuff. It’d be good if there was some proper research done into it (I mean, not good for me, as in I’d have to read it rather than make shit up from stuff I’ve seen on twitter, but good in general). It just doesn’t seem like any men have got round to doing it, but then there’s so much politics we need to do first.

Spent rest of the day watching telly and feeling cross about The Establishment, apart from High Court Judges and MPs who have wanks at work, cos that makes them just like the rest of us.

Replicating patterns of disbelief

When I think of being young I think of being scared. I was scared all the time. I remember lying in bed, listening out for sounds, or watching for faces to change and if one face in particular changed, it wouldn’t change back, not soon enough.

I used to blame my brother. I thought that if he didn’t get hit, I wouldn’t get hit. I thought he caused it all. Then I blamed my mother. I thought that if only she’d let my brother get hit enough for all the hitting to be “done,” it would end and none of it would spill over onto me.

I never blamed the person who did the hitting, obviously. You just don’t. When it comes to blame it has to be women and children first.

When I had a breakdown in my teens I tried to speak about what was wrong. Unfortunately, people who have breakdowns are a bit like rape victims who drank too much, or women who’ve been called TERFs. They are not credible, not to friends, not to doctors, not even police (god knows why I tried the latter, but at least it was only the once – when I think back, my overwhelming feeling is not one of anger but embarrassment, for being so bloody naive). People did want to know “the key” to what was making me distressed but not that key; the answer I gave was incorrect. It felt like being in a dream in which you’re trying to shout and no sound comes out.

Why are there bruises down her back?

She doesn’t eat enough and she drinks too much. They just appear.

 “You need to cover up,” my mother said, “it makes us look bad.”

So I stopped talking and carried on drinking. You can’t fight for validation forever, even if that feels like the thing that would make you safest. You swallow it all down and a bit of you won’t be the same but perhaps the rest of you can be preserved.

Ten years later I was sexually assaulted by a stranger when I happened to be extremely drunk (as I often was back then). When I went to the police (I know, stupid) it was the same feeling of opening my mouth and no sound coming out, even though there were words, real words. Not being believed is an empty feeling. You might as well not exist. Another bit of you goes.

These things – physical violence, sexual assault – are more than mere words but it’s the words that hurt too. I don’t believe you can be the worst phrase of all. And sometimes it doesn’t matter whether what they don’t believe you about is an online rumour or a fist in the face.

Over the weekend The Washington Post featured a piece by Michelle Goldberg arguing that feminist writers are “so besieged by online abuse that some have begun to retire.” It offers a great deal of insight into just how hard it is to be a feminist voice in a misogynist world. However, it makes the mistake of treating online abuse and real-life misogyny as either/or, as though female commentators are, as if by magic, in a position to choose:

.. stories today about Internet abuse inevitably elicit cliches about heat and kitchens — demands that women toughen up and grow thicker skin. Punditry and activism, after all, are relatively cushy gigs. […] … the creator of Feministe, Lauren Bruce, no longer has an online presence at all. “I had to completely cut that part off in order to live the rest of my life,” she says. “In order to work, have a nice family and feel like I was emotionally whole, I could not have one foot planted in a toxic stew.”

Many of us have sought refuge from and understanding of real-life abuse within feminism itself. There is no real distinction between those who write about misogyny and those who experience it because most of those writing about it are women. Many of us are still in the “toxic stew” or still recovering from the trauma of having been there. This is why the current backlash against feminists who complain of online abuse is nothing more than misogynist bullshit. It’s the replication of patriarchal patterns of disbelief. Contrary to what some would like to suggest, there are no women to whom you’ve earned the right to say “we don’t believe you, your experience of misogyny is imaginary and you’re not really oppressed.” If a woman says a word is a slur and a threat is a threat, it’s for you to deal with your knee-jerk disbelief, not her “phobia.”

Online rape threats don’t cancel out real-life experience of rape.

Tweets threatening violence don’t cancel out real-life beatings.

The “privilege” of writing about male violence against women doesn’t bring with it the real-life privilege of never having experienced it.

Online misrepresentations and lies don’t cancel out all those times you complained about real-life abuse and no one believed you or, at worse, dismissed your voice as sick, hateful or vindictive.

No-platforming doesn’t replace all those other experiences of being literally left outside.

Using words that misogynists describe as “violence” does not grant you superpowers to fend off actual violence. It doesn’t stop you feeling afraid, not just about what you might read but of what might break your bones.

It’s not just that all this is triggering (although quite obviously it is), it’s that it is the very same dynamic, the same entitlement, the same dehumanisation, the same disbelief when you try to make your case. It’s the same dreamlike speaking without being heard.

When women are disbelieved online or are told that their complaints are motivated by sickness (***phobia) or spite (bigotry), it’s a replication of the way in which people in the “real world” might accuse them of lying about rape or emotional abuse. You’re vindictive, you’re unreliable, you’re not well. And the chances are women have faced not one or the other of these, but both. It’s how male violence sustains itself and online discourse surrounding “mistrustful” or “unaccountable” feminists is seeping back into the real world, endorsing the age-old view that women are pampered princesses who lie about their fears and make up stories just to spite men. It’s a view that hurts all women.

I think it is fairly safe to assume almost every woman who has faced online dismissals of her ideas, false accusations of bigotry and crude acronyms has also been a victim of some form of male violence and/or assault and/or sustained emotional abuse. If speaking out against male violence made us magically immune to male violence then there’d be no need for refuges at all. Just say the sort of things misogynists dismiss as “violence,” become magically privileged and that’s it sorted. Alas, it doesn’t actually happen like that because guess what? Women have been trying that for years.

When you decide that a woman is “too privileged” to talk about feminist approaches to sex, gender and violence, what are your criteria? Were her bruises not dark enough for your liking? Do you need more evidence that she has experienced sexual assault (perhaps a male witness who is a pillar of the community)? Is she just not credible, what with other people telling you she’s a slag/slut /TERF/SWERF/[pick your own one-syllable female credibility eraser]? Would you believe her if you hadn’t seen her hanging out with “the wrong people” and hence asking for it? Is an opinion the short skirt of the internet unless it’s the wrong opinion, in which case it’s all a grey area and she might have provoked it, you never can tell…? What would make her lived experience of misogyny credible: more rapes? more beatings? death? Would you need to be on hand to watch, just to make sure? (Or would you merely interpret the very act of dying as passive-aggression on her part?)

Because if these are your criteria – if you replicate the aftermath of real-life violence in your attitude towards online abuse and public misrepresentation – then you are re-traumatising women due to your own misogynist assumptions regarding female authority and credibility. You have decided that female experience is either/or, helpless victim or privileged bitch who deserves taking down. You can’t imagine that a victim might not base her whole identity around victimhood and could instead have the strength and perspective to discuss the structures that perpetuate it (you might use the word “survivor” yet when women show signs of actual survival, empathy evaporates). Online abuse is not the great equalizer, doling out shit to women who you’ve decided aren’t getting enough misogynist abuse in real life (and the same goes for the harassment and misrepresentation of female academics and feminists speakers. If that’s your idea of activism – spreading shit around and adding to it, rather than trying to clear the whole think up – then you don’t like women. And you’re certainly not speaking truth to power in any way whatsoever).

Despite what men do to women again and again, women are not either utterly crushed or in need of a good crushing. We stand up again. That is, I think, what offends misogynists the most and forces them to create the myth of the real-life-abuse-immune feminist with no right to speak. How can we have done that to you and still you’re able to talk back? You must have been missed off our list.

No, we weren’t. We were always on your list. You never miss anyone out.

And if you’re the kind of feminist who doesn’t like women who don’t appear sufficiently crushed, you’re no feminist at all. Stop making us swallow your shit.

 

What if the left wrote about radical feminists in the same way it writes about trans women?

Can you imagine a world in which women who assert their basic humanity were believed? It’s difficult to picture. A world in which female people were not seen as whatever male people think they are, but in which their pain actually had some value and meaning.

Responses to the Bristol LGBT “they know best” posters have shown such a world is a long way off. For women even to express fear and pain is for them to be accused of violence. But is it possible to imagine another way?

Take this, for instance, in response to one attempt by feminists to challenge the rape victim-shaming original posters:

In going to university, young trans girls doubtless hope to make a fresh start. There they will leave behind traumatic school days and make new friends, none of whom will ever have known them in childhood, or will even have any idea that they were once thought to be boys. It will be their big chance to make a new life as the women they know themselves to be.

Instead a small group of TERFs at Bristol University decided to make them feel unwelcome. They wanted them to live in fear, not just of discovery, but of being accused of being potential rapists bent on victimising their fellow students. It is no wonder that the rest of the student body has denounced this vicious campaign.

You could, if you thought females were actual human beings, write this instead:

In going to university, young feminists doubtless hope to make a fresh start. There they will leave behind traumatic school days and make new friends, none of whom will ever have known them in childhood, or will even have any idea that they were sexually assaulted in Year 11, with photos of the attack being shared on Facebook, or that their father expressed daily disappointment that they were not born male, or that their brother took it upon himself to police their comings and goings, calling them “slag” and “slut” whenever the mysterious standards were transgressed. They won’t know about the beatings or the constant “you’re not good enough” or the shame at having breasts that apparently made them deserve whatever they got. It will be their big chance to make a new life as the women they know themselves to be.

Instead an enormous group of leftist bigots at Bristol University decided to make them feel unwelcome. They wanted them to live in fear, not just of another rape, but of being accused of being “TERFs” bent on victimising their fellow students. Yet somehow is not all that surprising that the rest of the student body has not bothered to denounce this vicious campaign.

Or what about this?

Research suggests that two thirds of trans people will be subjected to some kind of sexual assault over the course of their lifetime.

So, whilst the posters profess to care about protecting students from trans attackers, they gloss over the fact that the inverse is very much true and, in so doing, deny the experience of many trans survivors of rape.

For many trans students, an already vulnerable community, the vitriol of these posters preys on ignorance and transphobia and attempts to make trans’ students experiences even harder.

It is bizarre to think of the sustained hatred and self righteousness whoever behind this felt as they took the trouble to craft a logo, recreating a font and committing to ink their loathing of and disrespect towards their fellow students.

If you thought all human beings actually mattered, you could instead write something like this:

 Research suggests that a third of female students will be subjected to some form of sexual assault while still at university. A woman has a 1 in 6 chance of being raped in her lifetime and 9 out of 10 victims of rape are female.

So, whilst the original posters profess to care about protecting students from shame and fear, they gloss over the fact that the inverse is very much true and, in so doing, deny the experience of many female survivors of rape, who are being told “your cannot even set the boundaries of your own fear”.

For many female students, an already vulnerable community, the vitriol of these posters preys on ignorance and misogyny and attempts to make female students’ experiences even harder.

It is bizarre to think of the sustained hatred and self righteousness whoever behind this felt as they took the trouble to craft a logo, committing to ink their loathing of and disrespect towards all female students who dared to express the fears based on daily experiences of sexism, aggression and assault.

It’s funny, isn’t it? The people who wrote the feminist-bashing posts had two choices:

  1. listen to a cry from the heart from women who have repeatedly had their boundaries breached, both physically and mentally, due to male supremacy
  2. think “nah, they just want some pointless, never-ending fight because they’ve got some obsession with vaginas and men in dresses, or somefink. Fucking bigots.”

If you thought females were human beings, you might just go for the former. You might even feel ashamed at the shitty behaviour of those claiming to be inclusive while ridiculing and vilifying victims. But most people don’t think like that. Most people would find it far too arduous and messy to make space for another 52% in what we think of as “the human race”. Shit, that would mean actually being an empathetic human being rather than pretending to be one! You can’t have female people being victims unless they’re silent ones! That messes up the whole system! There’s no way we can accommodate so much humanity in one world. It’s so much easier – and so much more satisfying – to yell “bigot” at a rape victim.

That’s liberalism for you.

Female bodies matter

Isn’t it great when males tell you that fertility is totes irrelevant to definitions of womanhood? Sure, it might discount pretty much all of your own lived experience in the class marked “potential breeder” but still, one can’t blame them for trying. It’s total nonsense but if you squint a bit and don’t think too hard, it sounds great.

Back in the real world, women’s lives are defined by their perceived reproductive capacity. There, I said it. Cue charges of essentialism, cissexism, ableism etc. Nonetheless, this is a fact. From the moment you are born, whether or not you are identified as a potential gestator will have a profound, lifelong effect on your status (or lack of it) as a human being. This will be the case regardless of whether you can bear children or not.

It has been suggested by some that simply not commenting on potential reproductive difference offers a way out of this conundrum. A recent Slate article sought to reposition the identification of male or female genitals on babies as “infant gender assignment”, as though a gender hierarchy is an inevitable consequence of acknowledging the existence of male, female and intersex bodies (hint: it isn’t). Gender is an unnecessary but deeply embedded follow-on from this. We know that when baby girls are abandoned and left to die, it is not because of any misreading of their inner gendered selves; it is because they have female bodies and are therefore felt to be worth less than male babies. This is not gender as identity, but gender as hierarchy: the application of an oppressive ideology on human beings who are deserving of more. Challenging this hierarchy involves far greater social and political upheaval than proclaiming that even to discuss it is “cissexist” but it’s a damn sight more effective.

These people – these females, these women, with their bodies which could possibly gestate – will always exist, whether we acknowledge the meaning of these bodies or not. And they will suffer, not because of what these bodies do or don’t do, but because of the system which positions owners of these bodies as less human than their male counterparts. The mummy class (many of whom will never become mothers) will be trained up for their subordinate role. Their intellect will be devalued. Their labour will go unrewarded. Their voices will go unheard, or when they are finally raised loud enough, the response will be derision. Men will assume that these bodies and minds exist only to serve their needs. They will assume access to everything: body, mind, identity. To view discrimination against the assumed-to-be-womb-owning class in terms only of workplace discrimination against those who have babies is incredibly short-sighted. What happens to females starts much earlier than that and without feminism, there is no way of avoiding it.

You can’t identify your way out of other people’s perceptions of you based on your sexed body. You cannot, as an individual, create a narrative which transcends “biology is destiny” if your biology has already placed you in the subordinate class (regardless of anything your body actually does). You cannot assume other women, but not you, are deserving of this subordinate status (well, you can. But you shouldn’t). You can talk about gender and identity and your own special sense of self and feel that you are being listened to, but none of this will grant you access to the badge of humanity bestowed on men for something so pitifully insignificant as having a penis. And this is what it comes down to: under patriarchy, ownership of a womb does not mean “someone who will definitely give birth”. It does however mean “someone who is not male and is therefore not quite a person”.

Women’s lives shouldn’t be defined and limited in this way but they are. When males hold forth on how irrelevant this is, we shouldn’t listen. Ironically, if it wasn’t for their equally irrelevant piece of equipment, they’d never have been conditioned to believe they had a right to hold forth.

An apology to Paris Lees

This blog has hosted various pieces from a range feminists, all of whom wish to remain anonymous while exploring the implications of what it means to be a woman in a violent, exploitative patriarchal society. Some pieces have been angry, some confessional, some satirical. Today however we read a piece by activist and writer Paris Lees which made us realise we’ve been taking the wrong approach. We would therefore like to apologise.

Paris, we’re sorry. It’s only because we’re frustrated old harpies who aren’t getting enough cock and weren’t ever invited to parties while we were at school. We’ll try to change, starting from today. To prove this to you, here is a demonstration of our new approach:

You’re a sexist prat with bad eyeliner. And you smell. Probably. Lucky for us we’re having too much fun to care about any of this, you utter wanker.

Thanks for listening.

 

I am überpoor

I’ve always known I was working class, even before I had the words to articulate it. Aged three, I used to call my dinner “tea”. My father, a high court judge, hated it but I kept on doing it all the same. I’ve no idea how I just knew the word “tea” was working class for “dinner”. I guess it’s something that was just in me.

Back in the 1980s no one ever discussed working-class children who’d been falsely assigned middle-class status at birth. It was as though we didn’t exist. Because of this I’d retreat into a fantasy world where I’d been swapped at birth and Den and Angie off Eastenders were my real mum and dad. I couldn’t talk to my parents about this. My mother, a bus conductor’s daughter and the youngest of six children, was always telling me how lucky I was with my holidays abroad and ballet lessons. I don’t think she meant to hurt me; it was just her identified-poor-at-birth privilege that made her such an evil bitch. The children on the estate were even worse. They’d call me posh and make fun of my double-barrelled name. They wouldn’t let me play with them on the swings or smoke fags underneath the slide. I grew used to being excluded because of my class but it hurt.

There’s a word for people like me: überpoor (don’t worry if you’ve never heard of it; your ignorance just means you’re a privileged bigot). Basically, it describes the state of being poor while enduring the added oppression that comes with having money and a middle-class background. The queer poverty theorist J’amie Olivier came up with it in his brilliant work Whipping Chav. If you’ve not read it, please do. It explains so much about how poor people are not oppressed due to having no money but due to “poorphobia”: a widespread antipathy towards dog racing, Lambrini and the Waitrose Essentials range. Hardest hit by this are the überpoor: people who have been wrongly assigned middle- or upper-class status but are in fact poor. For centuries, such people have simply been invisible. No one has wanted to talk about us and our needs.

Thankfully, the release of Park Life in the mid-1990s came as something of a tipping point for überpoor people. Damon Albarn’s affected mockney accent finally proved to the world that yes, we did exist. To paraphrase Paris Lees on Conchita Wurst, Damon wasn’t middle-class or a millionaire pop star or any of these restrictive categories: he was just Damon, showing what it means to break through all the barriers! Obviously there was some opposition to such an image of liberation. Vile bigots such as Jarvis Cocker started releasing überpoorphobic anthems such as Common People, erasing our lived experience by claiming we merely thought “that poor is cool”. I always felt the NUS should have no-platformed Pulp due to that line about how we would “never understand how it means to live [our lives] with no meaning or control”. I never forgave them for letting the band play at the £400-a-head Cambridge May Ball I attended in 1996. The Bollinger leaves a bitter taste when there’s some northern-accent-privileged tosser up on a stage behind you suggesting that you don’t even know your own class identity. Seriously, just listen to Different Class (content warning: überpoorphobia); it’s as though people like Cocker want poor people to be oppressed.

I’ve since worked hard to live my life as an überpoor person in a society in which our needs are often overlooked. One of the worst things is being continually mis-classed. For instance, last week my cleaner accidentally called me “madam” rather than “you slaaaag!”. I felt so erased I had to sack her there and then, single mother or not.

The credit crunch and age of austerity have triggered something of a backlash. I’ve tried signing on but each time I am asked to provide documentation to prove that I don’t in fact have a £50,000 trust fund. When I’ve argued this is irrelevant – I’m a fucking human being, not numbers on a bank statement – the ignorant staff at the Job Centre have suggested I am not “really” poor. What is most upsetting is that they then allow other assigned-middle-class-at-birth people to sign on simply because such people don’t have money any more. Like, how do they even know these people are genuinely überpoor and not just rich people who’ve got rid of all their cash because they’re essentialist bigots who believe that’s the only way to be poor? I call these people überpoorscum. To be honest, I don’t think they should be welcome in überpoor communities. It just creates an extra pressure on the rest of us not to be incredibly wealthy.

My hope is that eventually, more and more assigned-poor-at-birth people are able to recognise how privileged they are, welcome us into their communities and hand over all their lager and pool tables. So many APAB prople think it’s enough just not to mind if I rent a flat above a shop, cut my hair and get a job, but this implies being überpoor isn’t in fact more valid and painful than simply being poor. It’s essential that these poor people put us first given that we bear the double burden of not just being überpoor but of having lots of money while being überpoor and hence being mis-classed (it never ceases to amaze me, by contrast, how welcoming the rich are to the überrich, allowing them to adopt plumy accents while continuing to do all the former’s domestic work). The activism is increasing, though. I’ve recently set up a change.org petition to try to get Cocker’s current Radio 6 show cancelled on the basis that mainstream media should not be giving a platform to überpoorphobes. The final thing I want to do is sleep with common people.

Common people like you.

Tracking the TERFs

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Throughout the twentieth century women (we call them feminists) fought against a system (we call it gender) which sought to deny them any interior life or right to self-define. The gender hierarchy ensured that women’s space and time was seen as the property of men. Feminists argued that this was wrong. No one could think of a way to counter the feminist argument so it was agreed, in principle, that women were individuals in their own right (even if the practical implications of this were not always followed through).

In 2014 things changed. Misogynists had finally, after years of false starts (the mummy wars, neurosexism, “masculinity in crisis”), found their ultimate backlash tool: trans women (not trans women as individuals, deserving of respect. Simply the idea of trans women, as and when it came in useful to misogynists both trans and non-trans).

In 2014 it was decreed that all non-trans women – previously identified by misogynists as bitches, feminazis, harpies etc. — should agree to be defined by their assumed betters in the realm of gender knowledge. In order to demonstrate their allegiance to the higher power, non-trans women must:

  • define themselves as “cis”
  • confess to enjoying “cis privilege”
  • never again discuss the structural oppression of women in relation to reproduction
  • never question the authority of their gender superiors
  • perform the role of “metaphorical mummy”, giving up space, time, personal identity and emotional resources to anyone requesting it

Failure to comply with the list of edicts will lead to the following punishments:

  • one will be harassed and threatened with violence
  • one will blamed for the actual violence of men
  • one’s name will be added to various lists of “undesirables”
  • one shall be forced to bear the name TERF and one’s fellow humans will be required shun said TERFs at all times

This is happening now.

To be clear, this is backlash. This is virulent, misogynist, anti-feminist backlash. What’s more, it is all about gender non-conformity – the gender non-conformity of women like me, and a million other so-called TERFs, women who do not perform the subservient role that has been imposed on us for millennia. I have never harassed anyone, never threatened anyone, never challenged anyone’s right to self-define. I have been told I have to bear the mark of the TERF simply because I refuse to accept that the limits of my personhood are for others to define. This is wrong.

If a TERF list comes into being, all non-trans women might as well be added to it straight away. Eventually, every single one of them will fail to comply with the rules. One day, some little sliver of individuality will be exposed and it’s onto the TERF list they go.

Perhaps one day we will look back and say “this was obscene. Why did no one say anything at the time?”

The fact is, they did. But no one listened because at the end of the day, it was just the TERFs. Just the feminazis, the harpies, the bitches. Just them.

Women are not to blame for male violence. Ever.

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Are TERFs – who can, let us be clear, be any women who wish to define gender on their own terms – responsible for the murder of trans women at the hands of men? The “creating the conditions” argument does, at first glance, seem a clever one. How could anyone want to seem even remotely complicit in harm done to another? Shouldn’t cis women shut up about how they feel about gender, just to be on the safe side? This is something one could, in theory, suggest (“your feelings are less important than my life”) but it requires ignoring the fact that trans women are not the only vulnerable group of women. Do the same rules apply to everyone?

For instance, violence against women can and should be seen in the context of a society that dehumanises women as a class. Does this mean that when my colleague is casually sexist he is responsible for creating the conditions in which two women a week are murdered by their male partners? No; he is contributing to an overall atmosphere of sexism but he is in no way a murderer nor is he implicitly condoning murder. He just has an entitled, reductive view of what women are without even realising it, as do most men. There is a difference.

Is this what TERFs do? Probably not; they are less guilty than my colleague. To argue – as some do, in all seriousness – that women who set up shelters to protect others from male violence are “killing” trans women if they cannot provide for them, is entitled, sexist bullshit. To say that one vulnerable group is responsible for another (but not vice-versa), lest the former group be considered as culpable as their mutual oppressor, is to utterly ignore the first group’s needs. It is to see their primary role as providing for others (which is how patriarchy has always seen cis women). This is not okay; this is dehumanising. It needs to be recognised that females are not born with some inbuilt protection from male violence or some magic shelter-building capacity. We are not innately passive, nurturing, there for others but never permitted to set our own boundaries. We are people, too.

So what does contribute to violence against women, trans or non-trans? It is not a refusal on the part of some women to see their primary function as defining others. It is a culture of violence. It is people who argue that women push them until they “snap”. It is people who argue that threatened violence is only “a meme”. It is people who do not respect the physical and mental boundaries of other human beings.  It is people who justify violent fantasies on the basis that someone else saying “I am as human as you” is “erasing”. It is cis men having the nerve — the sheer bloody nerve — to sit at their computers and castigate those who run shelters to protect vulnerable women from the violence committed by other cis men (you know what? You may have grown up thinking cis women are all like your mummy, with no visible interior life and endless emotional resources for others, but we’re not. You give your money, time and space. You sacrifice yourself for once. You rein in the anger of your peers instead of cheering  it on). Even so, these people – even the people who do all of these things – have not lost the right to be viewed as human beings and they have most certainly not committed murder themselves.

This is something victims of male violence tend to recognise. Those for whom vilifying vocal woman is an internet game, not so much.

Women are not to blame for male violence. Ever.

Hipster misogyny: pretending female bodies don’t exist

I am female and I have a female body. I know! How retro! Weren’t they last seen in biology textbooks from the 1950s? (My bleeding vagina says no.) I am writing this having just read a trans woman’s response to Laurie Penny’s recent article on trans rights the New Statesman. I am not interested in discussing that particular “controversy”; what interests (and angers) me is the following passage:

The British feminist media cadre — particularly its triumvirate of transphobes whose filter on current events is more or less penis shaped — has given Penny heaps of abuse. I will not link their statements, nor bother to once again speak their names, but I reckon you all know who I mean. And they’ve been utterly hostile to Penny solely for having critical thinking that is resistant to the nostalgic imaginations of feminism’s nature-over-nurture iconification of the True Female Body.

It’s hilarious, isn’t it? Let’s all have a laugh. Oh, those silly, silly TERFs, thinking that the female body is something that they, mere cis women, can define. How regressive! How conservative! That’s not how it works. As the opening sentence of the blog post shows – describing “the blistering zap of laser against upper lip” – having “a female body” isn’t having a womb and a vagina and all of the shit that comes with it. It is, on the other hand, having a hairless upper lip (a surprise to sufferers of PCOS, but never mind).

Few things make me viscerally angry but I read this and I can’t help thinking “how dare you?” How dare anyone that it is okay to dismiss the reality of a female body with superiority, smugness and snark? How dare anyone who does not experience female oppression from birth ridicule those who try to locate and articulate it? How dare anyone imply the very act of describing the female body makes one complicit in the objectification to which it is subject (nostalgic … iconification)? To write something like that is cruel, mean-spirited and heartless. It pisses all over the abuses women and girls suffer every day because of the bodies they are born into. It erases the disjuncture between male fantasies of what a female body is and female experiences of having one. It sneers at feminists who passionately challenge essentialist beliefs about what female bodies mean.

The True Female Body was never a feminist fantasy; it was and is a patriarchal one. The True Female Body is fetishized, objectified, used and then rejected. That those who attempt to put a better narrative in its place – one that is based on flesh, blood and the humanity of women – should then be accused of patriarchy’s own crimes is nothing short of shameful.

Female bodies are imperfect. If you do not have one, you will not know this. You may want one, but that is by the by. You can’t erase someone else’s existence because it isn’t yours. There are things that females experience that you would not want. You will not, from the day you are born, be told to fear men because you are smaller, weaker and less valuable. You will not experience puberty as becoming a piece of meat, all tits and arse for others to devour. You will not endure the pain of endometriosis. You will never sit alone on a toilet painfully passing out the bloody clots of an embryo that didn’t make it. You will never literally piss yourself laughing because that’s what childbirth has done to your muscle tone. You will never go through a premature menopause. You will never know what it is like to be born into a body that is not supposed to shit, urinate, stink, fart, sweat, burp, grow hair in the wrong places, make too much noise or take up too much space, and which nevertheless does all of these things. You will never feel the weight of millennia of disgust for the hole that is between your legs. This is not idealisation. This is not iconification. It is the very opposite – a plea for the female body to be taken seriously, not as an object for others to describe, but as something that is inhabited and experienced by real, live human beings.

The female body is not an imagining. It is not an object to be picked off a shelf. It is not lip lasering or hormones or implants or restructuring. It is pain and blood and guts and strength. There are few things so misogynist as to dismiss all that women and girls go through with a smug, superior quip while simultaneously deciding — you, the expert — precisely which physical experiences do count as “female” (hairless upper lips? What do you think women are? Barbie dolls?).

You accuse feminists who disagree with you of “nostalgic imaginings”. You write of “iconification”. There is nothing nostalgic in granting female bodies status and meaning. There is nothing essentialist, muddle-headed or sentimental in defending bodies that have been viewed as disgusting, dirty and the source of all sin for millennia. There is nothing shameful in describing female experience of female bodies. Women are not the sum of their reproductive systems but this very fact – that they are HUMAN BEINGS and not just walking wombs – means they damn well have the right to talk about what their body is and what it means.

To treat women who seek to articulate their own physical realities as naïve, bigoted earth mothers, consenting to the hatred directed at their bodies simply for daring to admit these bodies exist, is a disgrace. To say “I am female and this means something” is not to say “I am what male observers of the female body throughout the ages have reduced me to”.  Not to be able to see this is out and out misogyny. It is hateful and it is not okay.