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On feminist causes, alliances, and free speech. Letter one
Can feminist causes be furthered by working with right wing or religious people and groups? And should we support and defend blanket free speech?
This is part 1 in a 6-part correspondence series between writer Meghan Murphy and me, Julie Bindel. I will be writing parts 1, 3, and 5 here at Misogyny: what is it and why won't it die? Meghan will be writing parts 2, 4, and 6 on her Substack, The Same Drugs.
Meghan Murphy with security at one of her events
Julie Bindel at York University
You and I have been friends and sisters-in-struggle for years. We met in Vancouver, capital of what we now call Tranada, in 2015, when I was researching my book on the global sex trade. I had read Feminist Current, the brilliant blog you had founded, and been interviewed by you about Nevada’s grotesque legal brothels, back in 2012.
We spoke about the terrible bullying and misogynistic targeting you had endured from the blue-fringed idiots as a result of your principled decision to speak out against prostitution and the ‘sex work is work’ bullshit. They came after you because you refused to capitulate to transgender ideology. You had my gratitude and respect back then, as you do now.
We agree on a number of issues – such as the importance of naming male violence as a huge threat to the human rights of women and girls, and the necessity of resisting attempts to silence women like us who are speaking out about rape, sexual exploitation, and femicide.
We agree that trans ideology and activism are a major threat to the legal rights, safety and wellbeing of females. Both of us, along with a growing number of women (and men) seek to repeal laws and policy that elevate so-called ‘gender identity’ above biological sex, and to dismantle the ‘rights’ attained by trans activists that allow men who identify as women to access single sex spaces.
Where we disagree, I believe, is about how we overcome these monumental hurdles in order to bring about true liberation for women and girls.
I’m writing this on a train back to London after investigating the horrific murders of Raneem Oudeh and her mother, Khaloa Saleem. The victims were Syrians, living in the UK having escaped the horrors of war. The perpetrator, Janbaz Tarin, is from Afghanistan. If I, as a founder of the feminist law reform group Justice for Women were to approach right-wing campaigners concerned with upholding justice and honour, I would likely be told that Afghani men are ‘known to be violent’, and that he should never have been allowed to enter the UK.
And if I were to approach religious conservatives, they would look to the behaviour of Raneem, asking what ‘caused’ Tarin to flip and kill both her and her mother. Why did she not make the marriage work? Did she dishonour her husband? Was she, perhaps, having an affair?
Tommy Robinson, much praised by some so-called ‘gender critical’ women, would put the murders down to Tarin’s ethnicity.
Feminists put male violence down to patriarchy, not what is often referred to by white cultural relativists or racists as ‘culture’ or ‘tradition’.
In this right wing world, men are naturally superior to women, and feminism is an anathema. These people do, however, dislike trans people, along with lesbians and gay men, because we upset the patriarchal order and the traditional family unit. It is a case of ‘your enemy’s enemy…’. They are not on our side.
Although right-wing religious men hate feminism, they can get behind certain ‘women’s rights’. They support the right of women to be homemakers, mothers, and the protectors and moral guardians of their children.
Right-wing religious men often claim to loathe pornography and prostitution, even though many use porn and abuse women in the sex trade.
Left-wing secularist men tend to approve of a feminism that allows them to support the sex trade, masturbate to sadistic rape fantasies, and celebrate ‘choice’ and ‘agency’.
I have written reams and talked endlessly about misogyny on the left. I have also directly challenged individual men, at great personal cost. I have shouted from the rooftops about the left- wing appeasement of Islamic woman-hatred and have ended up on Islamophobia Watch for my efforts. I was the very first journalist to publish an investigation into the so-called grooming gangs in the UK, back in 2007 – yet I constantly hear (from women opposed to the left) that right-wing racist men, such as Tommy Robinson, first blew the whistle. This is a repellent misrepresentation of the truth: men like Robinson began talking about this issue many years later – and then only to provoke racism and rioting.
I want to ask those women who ally with the Right: “Do you ever challenge them?”
I became a feminist aged 17, in 1979. The idea that it is only in the past few years that women have been under attack, since gender ideology became mainstream, is madness. As the bodies of women and girls pile high in the morgues, some dead as a result of illegal abortion, others through prostitution, many killed by men for fun, we have fought right-wing and religious men who tell us all we need do to stay safe is behave ourselves – not answer back, not drink, not enjoy sex. I have been campaigning to end male violence for more than four decades, whereas most of the women hurling insults at those of us on the left for trying to counter this movement in a strategic manner, tend to focus only on trans ideology. They don’t seem to understand that the free speech warriors (most of them upper-class white men) only noticed that feminists were being silenced and bullied when we spoke out about gender ideology.
Where were they when I was being de-platformed, threatened, attacked and vilified before the gender war became fashionable? When I and other feminist activists were being cancelled from elite universities and elsewhere for speaking out against rape, child sexual abuse, and femicide, why did none of them come to our defence? The sex industry and the normalisation of rape, torture and degradation through the medium of pornography is a huge threat to women’s safety and dignity, and yet the fight against misogynistic trans activism has now been reframed as being about ‘free speech’.
When the pornographer Larry Flynt died in 2021, most headlines described him as a ‘free speech hero’. The man who masterminded the infamous Hustler cover depicting a naked woman’s head being pushed headfirst through a meat grinder was credited with protecting freedom of expression. And let’s not forget – that image of a woman being grotesquely mangled was just one of many: pictures of women being raped and tortured, subjected to bestiality, nailed to a cross, led by a leash – all of these have featured in Hustler.
In the US today, just as in the Hustler days, the most passionate First Amendment debates on pornography concern sexual violence against women. US universities often use examples of pornography in classes about the First Amendment, and whenever I’ve attended debates about whether or not porn is harmful and degrading to women, the counter-arguments are always about how, by protesting such imagery, feminists are curbing free speech. There was even a group, Feminists against Censorship (FAC) set up to protest feminist critiques of porn – despite the facts that a) the women in FAC were not feminists, and b) we feminists were not pro-censorship.
Free speech absolutists will not help women fight misogyny; they step up only when it suits them. If we rely on these men, who are often right-wing libertarians, to defend us, we will end up being consumed within their ideology – a set of beliefs that clash with those of feminism.
We cannot give up on the true principles and politics of the women’s liberation movement, because if we do, those women with least agency, who are most at risk, will face the brunt of the consequences. Right-wing religious men do not support feminism. We must reclaim the left, and refuse to be kicked out of our own movement.
As Andrea Dworkin wrote:
“The Right in the United States today is a social and political movement controlled almost totally by men but built largely on the fear and ignorance of women.”
In sisterhood and solidarity,