In Portsmouth they behaved like they wanted a war, not dialogue
To the annual FiLiA conference in Portsmouth. A 1,000-strong gathering of women of all ages and viewpoints, united by a desire and commitment to ending male violence, oppression and domination of women and girls.
Everyone there is interested in dipping their toes in the water of the women’s liberation movement. A big focus is the campaign to end rape, domestic abuse, commercial sexual exploitation, and femicide, the killing of women and girls by men because they are women and girls.
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As I approach the Guildhall where the conference is taking place I hear the now only-too familiar chants by trans activists: “Trans women are women!”, “No TERFS on Pompey”. One sign reads: “Imagine calling yourself a feminist while trying to dismantle the rights of a marginalised group of women and girls.”
The protesters are talking about a subset of men and boys who identify as transgender. During my session on the themes in my book on feminism, trans activists positioned themselves directly outside the windows, and attempted to drown out my words with “Blow jobs are real jobs” (they also object to any critique of the sex trade). Amnesty, whose work is supposed to empower and protect people, was also sponsoring these aggressively anti-female protests, as could be seen from the placards plastered with their logo.
Afterwards, I approached some of the activists to ask whether we could engage in respectful dialogue. I said it would be better than being at war with each other, and that the feminists inside the building were no danger or threat to them whatsoever. They told me, barely able to look me in the eye, that when feminists talk about single sex spaces, such as prisons and refuges, that this leads to transphobic bigotry, which, in turn, leads to trans people being murdered.
A feminist journalist I know came along to join in the conversation, suggesting that the signs being held up by some of their comrades telling the conference attendees to “Suck my dick you transphobic cunts” was not acceptable, and certainly not suggestive of an oppressed group protesting their oppressor. It looked rather more like plain old-fashioned misogyny. They said something along the lines of, “that’s how young people talk these days”. I told them that the last time I was attacked by a man (he punched me in the face when I told him to “sod off”) the last words I heard before being knocked out cold was “Suck my dick you cunt”.
We at least tried to engage in dialogue with the protesters. Unfortunately, as we heard in the session, “Feminist fightback: beyond the gender wars in the academy” with Professors Selina Todd and Jo Phoenix, students are currently being given permission to trot out mantras, and adopt Orwellian opinions as opposed to engage in critical thinking.
At the end of today’s conference, there will be a vigil to honour the many victims of femicide. The plan was to be outside, in the weak autumn sunshine, reading out the names of the women who died at the hands of men and to call for an end to deadly male violence. The fact that we will have to do this on a pavement defaced with such misogynistic graffiti is as heart-breaking as it is infuriating.