I stand with Heather.
Dr Heather Brunskell-Evans is a public intellectual, an incisive and persuasive speaker, an energetic campaigner, and a passionate feminist. I have heard her speak, and also met her more informally, where I found her warm and funny. She campaigns on porn culture, and I entirely agree. She supports the Nordic model of sex work law (which has inspired the law in France and increasing numbers of jurisdictions). On that I am unsure, but clear she has important things to say and is worth hearing, as she has researched the arguments. And she does not like being called a TERF- perhaps a gender-critical feminist, radical feminist or just feminist.
She appeared on The Moral Maze on Radio 4, where she expressed concern about teenage girls transitioning to trans men. She is the spokesperson for the Women’s Equality Party policy on sexual violence against women and girls. A complaint has been made that she contradicts the party’s position on trans women, which accepts our self-determination as women.
The party has 65,000 members, as of July 2016, and while it has no elected councillors has won thousands of votes in various elections. It stands for equal pay, equal treatment in the media, and an end to violence against women. It will have difficulty while the UK parliament and local councils operate first past the post electoral system but it has value as a campaigning organisation; and it cannot be expected to enforce cabinet responsibility, with no spokesperson ever contradicting party policy, at such an early date in its existence.
That is, I want WE to flourish, and have the passion, skills and experience of Dr Brunskell-Evans, and I want her to be able to speak her understanding and campaign as she wishes- even though I do not agree with her. She does not like the word TERF, but when she says we should not be in women’s space it feels exclusionary to me. It is a bodge, I suppose. There are many people I will never persuade that I am really a woman, but I hope to persuade them that I am mostly harmless. Rape Crisis Scotland, which works against violence against women and girls, says We do not regard trans equality and women’s equality to be in competition or contradiction with each other. I can bear Dr Brunskell-Evans’s disagreement.
Twitter is not the place for nuanced argument. There, there is a campaign with the hashtag #standwithheather. “You are being anti-feminist and cowardly”, one tweets at WE. No, they are not, they are being practical and reasonable, allowing her to say things which other members contradict. Their own twitter stream is tweeting about toilets- not trans women in women’s toilets, but the impact of a lack of toilets on women’s health and dignity globally. They mark International Men’s Day by showing the men who have joined- for women’s equality benefits everyone. “They should be ashamed of themselves and their pitiful attempt at male pandering feminism”, thunders Quelizinha. Transgender Trend suggests WE is giving into bullies. “RemakingAdam” is obsessively tweeting again and again, claiming hundreds of women are leaving the party.
The Women’s Equality Party, like most feminists, supports trans women. That is the progressive cause. We subvert gender. We are an oppressed minority, and we need the support of society: we transition because we must, and we do so in far more dangerous conditions than in Britain. They could take a “gender critical” line, and escape censure from the likes of @Janice5E, who gloats that “@WEP_UK have had a lot of practice at losing women. Sophie Walker (@SophieRunning) made a complete arse of the party on Mumsnet…” Such people, though, tend to be only interested in one feminist cause, devoting a great deal of energy to excluding trans women. I wish they would take that energy somewhere else.
Because all we know about the WEP position is that complaints have been made, and they are investigating. Here are their statements. The paranoid response on Twitter only damages the tweeters’ own cause. No-one has threatened Heather’s expulsion from the party. The tweetstorm damages the cause of feminism.