It was cold. It was snowy. TBH it was bloody freezing on the evening of the ‘A Woman’s Place
‘ event. My friend missed her first train, so I hung around at the station; lured by the smell I popped into LUSH to buy some bath bombs for the kids. No sign here of posters promoting LUSH’s new trans-rights fundraiser
, but the gay guy that served me – they’re chatty in LUSH; he confided that his husband had told him to stop bringing so many products home- asked about my ‘Let Toys Be Toys
‘ badge. When I explained the campaign to him, he told me how he’d shocked his sister by buying his niece a construction set for Christmas.
“Girls need to KNOW about these things!” he concluded sagely, handing me my bag of smellies. I wondered what his position would be on people going into schools telling little girls who liked construction sets that they might be boys, but it seemed inappropriate to ask.
I headed back out into the cold of the station concourse and downed a take-away coffee, as much to warm my hands as anything, and was devouring four quid’s worth of organic cheese on rye bread sarnie when my friend (I’ll call her Emma) arrived.
Emma was a little late, but on a mission.
“We’re making history here,” she declared, striding off towards the underground. “In years to come people will remember these meetings. These meetings are important.”
I agreed, mumbling something incoherent through a mouthful of overpriced breadcrumbs, and trundled off in her wake.
Emma had arranged to meet some other women in the pub but, running late and unable to find them, we arrived at the venue on Shaftsbury Avenue a little early. A score or so of people were milling around outside the venue but I was surprised not to see any banner-waving transactivists. The venue had been kept secret until the last minute because of violent protests at previous women’s events, but I’d expected to see a few. Maybe they wouldn’t come. After all, it was cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey, as my grandad used to say.
I’d left my paper ticket at home (of course I had), but accessed my barcode via my email & showed my phonescreen and ID to the woman registering those whose names fell into the ‘H-M’ section. She smiled and ushered me in. I was elated to see a coffee machine and deflated to realise it wasn’t turned on.
Emma was already off networking. I looked around at the several hundred women, and some men, who were slowly filling the space and listened to the chatter echoing around the walls. I recognised a handful of friends and a few more aquaintances and as I stood around wondering where to sit (I’d lost sight of Emma) a few familiar faces came over to say hi, shake my hand or exchange a hug. I relaxed: it felt amazing, if a little overwhelming, to be there. Making history.
Left to right: Steph Pike, Pilgrim Tucker, Megan Dobney and Lucy Masoud.
Eventually the space filled up and Emma, myself and a few other friends took seats somewhere in the middle of the room. Soon there were no seats left and women spilled over into the upstairs gallery. The space echoed with the rumble of ideas being discussed and friends being greeted.
Meghan Dobney @mdobney called us to order and started the meeting.
Meghan Dobney called us to order and started the meeting.
When my mother told me I should learn shorthand, all those years ago, I scoffed. Had I listened to my mother, this post could have been more comprehensive. I hadn’t planned to take notes, but at the last minute I opened up ‘notes’ on my phone and started tapping.
It’s important to be aware that the snippets that follow are just extracts of what was said, not minutes, not a proper record, just moments I managed to get down and decipher later.
The event was filmed and in due course, A Woman’s Place UK
plan to release a video of the evening. You can see videos of their previous events here
You can read the A Woman’s Place UK
Equality Law factsheet here
First to speak was Steph Pike @spikeword
“We believe that sex based violence against women still exists …
Our aim is not the questioning of gender but the eradication of gender.
Trans people should not be attacked, abused or denied their rights in any way…
We should all be committed to a comradely and respectful discussion and debate.
Over and over again in this debate women are labelled as bigots. To have our concerns dismissed and silenced is completely unacceptable.
We have to be able to talk about sex based oppression… we have to be able to talk about female biology and female bodies.
Sex matters for if we cannot talk about sex, how can we talk about sexism?
The seeds (we plant) will bear trees that women of future generations will sit under.”
Next up was Lucy Masaud.
“I joined the fire brigade in 2005.
I was lucky enough to be one of the first recruits not to have to share changing facilities with men… had that not been available to me I would probably not have chosen that career.
Finally, in 2004 my union fought a long and hard battle … it demanded that all fire stations in London had proper facilities for women… Management tried to pit male firefighter against female fire fighter. Some tried to accused female firefighters of painting all male firefighters as predators.
Thanks to our ‘privacy for all’ campaign, every fire station in London has female toilets, changing facilities and accommodation. It’s important to know that it’s only London who has done this.
Our hard fought battle for ‘privacy for all’ may have all been for nothing. Gender neutral toilets may tick the box for the Stonewall Index but it will be at the expense of female firefighters.
As in fire stations, women must have spaces and areas that are for women only. This debate is about men demanding to have access to women only spaces: all this taking place right under the nose of the Labour Party.
We should be ensuring that the rights of genuine transwomen are respected within society- we should not be stripping away a century of women’s suffrage simply to indulge the gender identity mafia.”
“The Equality Act is a very, very important piece of legislation. It brings together all the struggles of marginalised groups. Different groups’ experiences of discrimination are different. Importantly for us, what the Equality Act has recognised is the ways women are discriminated against because of our biological sex.
The Gender Identity Act.. sets out how somebody can change from being male to female or vice versa. Self definition is where any man can be a woman just because they say they are one. No evidence, no doctors, just a signature on a form. All of the political parties have agreed to these changes.
We know that men are much more violent and sexually obtrusive than women. Abuse and the risk of it is a fact of life for women.
In the UK male sex offenders outnumber women by 50 to 1. Men have been socialised to behave in certain ways towards us… we have learned that we need to protect ourselves physically.
We are not saying that all transwomen are rapists or sex offenders, just that they are vastly more likely to be so than women are.
Most transwomen have no intention of having bottom surgery. And when women find this out, most women will say, ‘if you have a dick, you are a man’.
We are not being allowed to talk about these facts: trans rights activists want to stop women talking about reality… bullying, threatening, manipulating. This is wrong.
Evidence backs up how we feel about this. We can’t allow these laws to be changed when they negatively impact on women. The word woman means something – it belongs to us. And if its meaning is taken away there will be no way to talk about us. We need to enforce and strengthen the sex based exemptions. No matter what it takes, we will be heard.”
When the three main speakers had finished, the microphone was passed around and members of the audience spoke.
“There’s a new initiative on Mumsnet: ‘Man Friday’ where we go into male only spaces and point out that the self ID stuff seems to only go one way. We need to stand up to bullies because bullies are cowards.”
“The lesbian community has been taken over by transgender politics. At every meeting I go to, the majority of lesbians are calling themselves transgender. We are losing generations of teenage lesbians.”
I was taken off a Liberal Democrat Facebook group for pointing out that TERF is an insult. We are just being silenced, we are just being shut off. If I can get up and point out that TERF is s mysogynistic word then politicians can do the same.”
“I am at a school where I can’t run as Women’s Officer because I don’t self-identify as a woman.”
“I am a transwoman.. I am disgusted at the way women are treated in this debate. If the Labour Party do not get hold of this situation and facilitate a debate, asking how can we advance trans rights without impinging on women’s rights and autonomy, then what we will see is a growing bitterness- and who is going to benefit from that? Sexists, racists, transphobes and homophobes.”
Debbie Hayton “I’m a campaigner, a teacher and a transwoman. Can we call out that myth that Women’s Place is transphobic or anti trans? That is nonsense. Proposed reforms are not progressive. We need to talk about them. I’m keen to work with women to find real solutions that work for everyone. Debate is not hate or erasure.”
Julia Long and Ann Ruzylo
JuliaLong- “Whatever we’ve heard tonight we all know that it’s actually worse than this. Things are beyond serious; they are potentially catastrophic unless we can act urgently. There is no such thing as a transwoman. It is a complete fiction. Any man who claims to be a woman is acting out of male entitlement and I don’t think feminists should be allowing that sort of gaslighting.”
There was controversy afoot when Sophie Walker of the WEP spoke out. Some seemed impressed that she was brave enough to show up- after all, nobody from any of the other political parties did- others displeased that she dared, in the light of the WEP’s assertion that transwomen are women, and their ‘investigation’ of Heather Brunskell Evans claiming comments she made may have ‘“promoted prejudice against the transgender community’.
I missed the start of the exchange: someone I hadn’t seen for ages made eye contact from the other side of the room and I became distracted, but here is part of it.
Sophie: “I’m more interested in listening and I’m taking lots of notes. You can’t successfully be a politician if you aren’t comfortable in being uncomfortable . We are currently working on our policy around the GRA. We are not cowardly. We do everything through the grass roots of this party.”
After Sophie finished there were loud calls that Heather, who had risen, should be allowed to make a response, and she did, with dignity.
Heather Brunskel Evans
Heather: – I am horrified by what happened in the Women’s Equality Party: the whole process of me bring divested of my role. The policy of the WEP is that women are divided into two. Trans women and cis women. I didn’t sign up for that. The WEP is not protecting me by confidentiality, it is protecting itself. I assumed that to say that gender was a social construct was within the policy of the WEP. The WEP chose to make this investigation of me public… there are deep problems with the WEP.”
Heather’s comments were met with applause, and Sophie was heard to say, ‘that’s not true’
. You can read Heather’s statement concerning her investigation by the WEP here
– ” What I’ve noticed since I gave up my role is the motion going the rounds in a lot of Labour Party CLP. Liam Madigan tried to bring a motion, a tool to silence women, to prevent them from talking about the GRA. That same motion is doing the rounds in CLPs around the country, saying it is against transphobia, and people are voting for it when they don’t have a clue what they are voting for. There are people being told they can’t ask questions and they are voting out of fear and naivety. I’ve begun asking the Labour Party for the last six months to define woman and define transphobia. Don’t vote for something you don’t know anything about.”
A woman whose name I didn’t catch offered this up, ” I broadcast in FM, I have my own radio show. Woman’s Place are welcome to come and speak on my radio show.”
“I’m from Woman’s Place: my name is Judith Green, I’m not anonymous. We’ve been called an extremist hate group: told that we are bigots and nazis but we also had some lovely things said about us- that we are lesbians. We are not, but lesbians are the first and most courageous women speaking out on this issue. I have tried to be braver and we want more spaces like this where you can be braver. It’s not a generational divide.. thank you all for being here.”
“I have seen women being pushed out of women’s spaces, women like Jenny Murray- from Women’s Hour. I mean what the fuck? We think ‘poor men, they can’t cope with it.’ We come to it from a point of sympathy. We wander into the woods after some shiny red ball and BAM! I know midwives who are no longer allowed to use the word ‘mother’. Vaginas go way back to before Sappho and they are birth channels. When we deny the mother we deny the goddess.”
– “Today’s is the anniversary of the first women’s liberation conference. A message to every single political party- you ignore women at your peril.”
: spoke about Transgender Trend’s new guidelines for schools pack, which is proving so popular nad so controversial.
“This is the schools’ guidelines: apparently it’s really damaging. I’ve heard it’s been recommended in Gateshead: somebody in Liverpool shared it with all the schools. It’s received an overwhelmingly positive response. We have books in schools for 3 year old about how to change sex, and how’s that going? We created a monster there in Lily Madigan’s school. Parent power is really important. Please help to spread this.”
“A man said that abortion was a privilege. When our oppression becomes our privilege we end up apologising for our oppression.”
“I can’t sit here anymore and not speak up. So I’ve been speaking up and the sky didn’t fall in! Every time I spoke up people contacted me saying ‘I can’t speak up but I appreciate that you are’. It’s been liberating. I’ve lost two friends and gained hundreds and hundreds of brilliant women friends.”
“Women’s Aid are doing a push to allow men to work in women’s shelters. Can I urge everyone in this room to write to their local shelter and say this is not acceptable.”
“Hi, I’m Miranda fucking Yardley. You’ve got to be able to name your oppressor to fight your oppressor. It is cruel to lie to people about what they are. Being a transwoman is about what it means to be a man, not what about it means to be a woman. I believe that women have a right to their own language to describe what they are. What has become the most revolutionary thing s woman can do: to refer to men as men. I encourage all of you to stand up for your rights.”
A woman from Mumsnet: “Fill in the Scottish consultation. It’s not rocket science! WEP Sophie, you took notes, well bloody write a document and put it on Twitter tomorrow then. It’s not difficult”!
Pilgrim Tucker: “We are going to have to start organising. We need to go outside Marks and Spencer’s, outside swimming pools: we are going to win this if we can get out there”.
Lucy Masaud. “Growing up I was awkward… if I had been growing up now I would have been dragged off and given puberty blockers. But what happened was I grew out of it and I became a fabulous gay! LGBT is dominated by trans. I remember when Stonewall was an amazing organisation. Now it’s turned into a corporate monster with no concern for issues that affect LGB people, just obsessed with the trans agenda… I’m going to demand that we disengaged with a sham movement that has gone off the rails. I’m proud to be a she. I am a she!”
Meghan Dobney concluded with: “It’s been a fantastic meeting. We need respect on both sides… stay strong ,keep going and thank you for coming…. on behalf of A Woman’s Place I stand in solidarity with all oppressed people.”
At the start of the meeting there had been a muffled drone of ‘transwomen are women’ from outside, but it had died down during the meeting. Towards the end it started up again, but not loudly enough to disrupt us as as we sat inside, in the warm, discussing women’s issues.
As we left, a handful of transactivists waved banners outside and chanted something inane. They held banners saying ‘No TERFs on Our Turf‘ and ‘Sisters not Cisters’. I wasn’t sure if some of them were hiding their faces to look ominous or because it was so bloody cold.
Emma and I, and a large group of other women and allies, walked on past them and went to the pub.