We are being punished for insisting on our sex-based rights
The campaign for women’s equality at the University of Bristol has been a long and protracted struggle. In 1913, when students formed a Women’s Suffrage Society, 300 students vandalised the Women’s Social and Political Union office and attacked the women with missiles and eggs after militant suffragettes burned down a sports pavilion in the city.
Fortunately, such violence no longer occurs, but the battle for women’s rights continues. Earlier this year, the Bristol Student Union sanctioned the feminist society ‘Women Talk Back!’, of which I am president, for excluding trans women from female-only talks and debates about rape and sexual assault.
Unlike the historic suffragettes, we didn’t break the law in the course of our activism: quite the contrary. We merely insisted upon our sex-based rights, in accordance of the 2010 Equality Act.
Women Talk Back! welcomes everyone to our public events with renowned feminist speakers, but our consciousness-raising meetings are limited to the female sex. This is to protect women’s right to privacy, safety and dignity while discussing sensitive subjects like male violence, sexual abuse and reproductive rights.
The decision by the SU to sanction our group is part of a broader campaign waged against feminists at Bristol. Back in February 2018, the SU put forward a motion entitled “Prevent future trans-exclusionary radical feminists -TERFs- from holding events at the university.” The word “TERF” is an acronym for “trans-exclusive radical feminism”, and is often used as a slur to silence dissenting women.
After we affiliated as a group, the SU then rewrote the definition of women in their bylaws: “All who self-define as women, including (if they wish) those with complex gender identities that include ‘woman’, and those who experience oppression as women.”
In March 2020, our society held a meeting on ‘Boundaries and Feminism’ and trans activists demanded that we allow a male student into our meeting. We refused, citing the law, which resulted in a student complaint to the Bristol SU. Now the SU is forcing our members to participate in mandatory “diversity and inclusion” training and I have been ordered to step down as president.
The treatment of Women Talk Back! is reflective of how feminists in senior positions within academia are suffering at the hands of trans activist students: in Oxford, History Professor Selina Todd requires security to attend her classes. In Edinburgh University, former rector Ann Henderson faced sustained campaigns of abuse with little institutional support.
But nobody is more vulnerable within academia than students and early career researchers — and it is for that reason that I am suing the University of Bristol for facilitating bullying and harassment against me.
None of the 70+ members of our feminist society have any intention of complying. We will not be emotionally blackmailed nor coerced into breaking down our boundaries. Women have a right to say “no” and that is exactly what we will do.
Raquel Rosario Sánchez is a writer, researcher and campaigner from the Dominican Republic