Can feminist causes be furthered by working with right wing or religious people and groups? And should we support and defend blanket free speech?
Thank you so much to you and Meghan both for creating this. What a necessary gift in this moment. I am an American feminist, have read your books and been very persuaded by your arguments. I also have been very persuaded by Meghan's arguments and others on the side of working with "the right." Your first piece tugs at me considerably. I really look forward to all your thoughts in this exchange. But like many American and Canadian feminists, I still veer more to Meghan's point of view. I am planning on attending one of the Speaker’s Corner events with Kellie-Jay in a few weeks.
I was on a panel that opposed a bill last spring in my state of Washington that destroys the public's ability to know if males are in the women's prison. The panel was organized by the Women’s Liberation Front (WoLF), who as you know partner with conservatives. It was my first time putting my face and name in the public record in opposition to the grotesque anti-woman policies of self-ID laws and policies. As a life-long Democrat who had worked for Democrats in my state legislature and knew the Senators I was addressing on a first name basis, it was terrifying. I almost did not do it because of the possible repercussions to my entire life. Still reeling from the mass exodus of my former friends and band mates, others in the arts and in politics-- my entire network really. But I did it and am glad I did it--and I was one of only three (besides WoLF staff) who were from the left. One of the evangelical Christian women who testified has become a very good friend.
Without WoLF opening its doors to all women, there would have been only a few of us of us standing up against this madness. Yes, we lost in my very blue state, but that was to be expected. The record counts, as you know. WoLF was the only place I could find to join that was organizing on behalf of incarcerated women in the US. They are the only ones who had a lawsuit. They were the only place the conservative women could make their voices heard, too. They are the reason I learned about one of the plaintiffs, Tomiekia, who inspired a song I recorded. Their website informed me of the abuses happening and helped me understand the law in California that has opened the door to such horrific abuses.
Tomiekia has now become a friend who writes me about further abuses. She herself is not a feminist and is a Christian. She’s a Black woman a generation younger than me, I’m a white woman who has never been near a prison but who wants to understand her life on her terms. She killed her husband after years of physical abuse, that’s why she’s in prison. We write to each other and try to find common ground.
Another flaccid opponent of the bill in WA was the organization representing the press. You’d think they would have fought the lack of public disclosure access tooth and nail, but they did not. They came up with a meaningless “compromise” that only compromised women and allowed the self-ID policy to stand. Bottom line, because of this bill we cannot find out how many men are in the women’s prison. The bill was crafted precisely to keep this information from the public. If those men “identify” as women, they are counted as women. And the local press ALSO did not report on it! I spent hours talking to the lobbyist for the press, who I knew well in the Days Before, but even though he said he “got it,” he wouldn’t really fight it.
The only report was by a very conservative national US paper, the Washington Times. A paper I had never heard of because most of my life I have trusted the New York Times and the Washington Post and National Public Radio. As you know Julie, having been reported on many times, the press almost never gets things right when you actually know the inside story. But Valerie Richardson did real journalism. It was not a right-wing flame-up-the base piece, it was completely accurate. That is the only significant press this horrible bill got, putting the women in our state into even greater danger. I was grateful. I thanked her sincerely, and I am still in touch with her about what I know of what is going on in Washington prisons.
So it’s a complex terrain across the pond. My new friend that I met who testified against this bill with me calls herself a Christian feminist. She is in the trenches supporting the women in our prisons too, doing the work of trying to get their stories out there. When we had the “abortion conversation,” it turned out we are not even very far off on that from each other. She used to be a committed pro-lifer, but has mitigated her stance to include exceptions for rape and incest. She is even open to first term abortions at this point. Over the decades, it can be (and has been) argued that the unwillingness of feminists and others on the left to compromise an inch about abortion to instate policies most Americans support has put us in this terrible place where the right to have an abortion in any circumstance is being destroyed in state after state—and may be destroyed entirely if the Republicans control Congress and the White House, as is a real possibility.
I know there is the strategic argument for working with conservatives, that’s obvious. But I have found that my horizons have expanded by knowing and working with conservatives who are good people. And I think their horizons have expanded by knowing me, by considering feminist perspectives, by being reminded that feminists have done so much for all women. My in-laws are Mormons, and my sisters-in law are very conventional in most ways—but they would never go back to the 1950s. They like their daughters having options. It’s a bitter irony that it is feminists like you and so many others who have made that possible and succeeded in making the culture better for women. You will never get the credit you deserve. But maybe you’ll get more credit than otherwise as people coming from different places talk to one another, work on common goals, and try to see the world from different viewpoints.
The strongest part of your argument for me is that if we don’t see that patriarchy as the root of the issue, we are not really solving the problem of women’s oppression, we are not really moving towards women’s liberation. Julie, I was honored that you quote-tweeted an article I wrote on Colin Wright’s Substack about the prison issue a few weeks back. Colin, who is a good editor, toned down some of the original feminist perspective in my piece. The final was more of a “progressive to progressive” argument and a bit less of a feminist argument. I allowed the edits and decided that was a good choice, as it might reach more people. The result? JK Rowling quote tweeted my article within minutes of it being posted, which is why you saw it. Alison Bailey, Maya Forstater and John Cleese all quote tweeted it too. What went out to tens of thousands of people was a compromise.
Here is just one para that was omitted:
Why does this fight for women’s safety, dignity, and empowerment create such backlash, such bewilderingly blinkered thinking, even from progressives who used to proudly fight for women’s rights? I believe the answer comes back to the remarkable persistence of patriarchy over many centuries. Women (with our male friends at our sides) beat it back again and again, age after age. But patriarchy has a way of reconstituting itself, arising like a zombie from the dead to plague us in new ways. Patriarchy is like a poisonous smoke which finds its way into the cracks of any culture, destroying empathy and reason. Our entire culture is threatened by the seismic crack of gender ideology, which at its heart denies the reality of biological sex. Patriarchy seeps through and is bad for everyone. But as throughout the ages, those most harmed are women and children.
I also submitted the article or a pitch to every feminist site I knew of before submitting to Colin. In the end, I felt like it was “feminist enough,” and I knew Colin had a pretty big reach well beyond my little Substack. Given the urgency of this issue, I think the compromise in the tone and message was justified. Women are being hurt every single day and I want people to care about it, from whatever vantage point they can. And Colin is not a “right-wing” guy, he’s an evolutionary biologist who has been center-left most of his life. My point is that we always make some compromises to work with others. The issue is where we draw the lines. And it is not an easy decision, ever.
I really appreciate you making this post and further letters to Meghan available to all of us. It’s such an important conversation.
As you have pointed out, men on both sides of the political spectrum are not really supportive of women's rights. So really, we need a plan that addresses issues on both sides. I've not come across any GC feminists saying anything about Tommy Robinson let alone praise him but I will take your word for it. It is not only men who disappoint. In my view this fight can only be won by getting sufficient numbers on board to help educate the vast majority of uninformed people about the true nature of transgenderism and the full impact and insanity of their demands. We need it to snowball. On that basis I would not start getting too choosy as to who I will and won't work with. As for Free Speech, absolutely we need to define boundaries beyond which it is not free. But these boundaries have to be democratically decided not surreptitiously brought in through the back door, as Stonewall has been doing so successfully. They would make it illegal to call a man a man if he claimed he was trans. And that makes my blood boil. The truth has to fall within the boundaries of free speech.
I am a political moderate, who would have once called myself a conservative. I grew up in a fairly rural, working class part of the U.S., where most people still vote for Republicans. When I read your characterization of right-wing men, I do not recognize my father or uncle or former pastor or any of the conservative men I have known throughout my life. None of these men want women to be limited to being homemakers. My conservative parents urged my sister and me to get college degrees and professional qualifications, which we did. Your view of conservatives seems to out of the 1950s or possibly from the Ned Flanders character in the Simpsons. In the United States today (and Canada,too, I think, but we'll let Meghan Murphy speak to its distinctiveness), the left is mostly dominated by highly-educated elites, while the right tends to be the "regular," non-elite people, including much of the working class. Refusing to work with the American right means excluding most common, everyday working people. Is that what you are advocating, Julie?
We don't have to agree with each other to make our cause go further. Attacks on the patriarchy and defense of women rights can come from every side. Having a common ennemy doesn't mean we have to be friends. Would you say right and left wing people fighting poverty HAVE TO have a common platform, common values and necessarily appreciate each other? So why expect us to collaborate with people whose values and manners i find questionable? Women are half the population, we are allowed nuance, aren't we?
Like you I hail from the North East of England and also a child brought up in sixties/seventies.
As you’ll agree being gay (I’m not) and a woman (I’m not) during this time was very hard, coming from a small mining town, homophobia and misogyny was rife.
Like you I moved away and as the years passed my life experiences changed my thinking on almost every subject.
I’ve now moved back to the NE and the difference is visible, gay men and women are no longer treated with disdain, women have found a voice through a number of channels, including via the trade union movement which I have worked in for decades. (I won’t bother commenting on some of the trade unions support for TRA)
I fully support women only spaces, sports, prisons et al and hope that the SNP government get turned over on the 27th over their Uber dumb GRA bill.
Where am I going with this you may ask, it is quite simply that other women of another political hue are not the enemy how can they be when I’m agreeing with Conservative Politicians (God forgive me 😊) on the stance on women’s rights.
The religious right and the political right are bed fellows and I agree their ultimate agenda is far removed from what you and I would agree with but in the short term their opposition to the TRA insanity means non political thinkers in the women’s rights movement will accept them.
Long term activists like yourself are needed to educate these women on why you oppose the right wing involvement and what it can lead to.
I enjoyed the article and like the other comments I think it’s a good idea.
“Right-wing religious men often claim to loathe pornography and prostitution, even as they 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’.”
Perfectly & succinctly put.
What a great idea - I am really looking forward to reading this series. Personally I can see arguments on both sides here and think it really needs a respectable debate. I agree a lot of right wing people have very different agendas to many of us, on the other hand I think it’s important to not try and separate everyone into “good” and “bad” people and not have a discussion. There seems to be a middle ground somewhere - for example if I went on a protest march I couldn’t possibly police everyone else’s views before joining but at the same time the message risks being misconstrued if other groups take over.
So interested to hear the rest of the arguments from you both.
Hi Julie, this is incorrect ‘Tommy Robinson much praised by some so-called ‘gender critical’ women, would put the murders down to Tarin’s ethnicity’ I’m no TR supporter but his beef is with Islam not the ethnicity of the people who practice it. I believe he’s said this many many times. Christ this is annoying to defend this guy but ffs
Here in "Tranada" we have a pretty good Nordic Model prostitution law that was brought in by a Conservative government. It is explicitly opposed by our present Liberal government, and the New Democratic Party (NDP) who pioneered our public medical system. This law is being challenged in the courts as we speak. I have been an NDP supporter all my voting life, but I cannot support the dismantling of a workable Nordic Model (known as PCEPA). The Liberal Government brought in the existing law forbidding "conversion therapy". It was voted in unanimously by parliament, and enshrines in law the terms "cis-gender" and "sex assigned at birth". Anyone who attempts to counsel an individual to critique this cult is "guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than five years".
I live on the Eastern Slopes of the magnificent Rocky Mountains, which the conservatives are desperately trying to tear down with their brand new open pit coal mines. Yes. Coal. Climate change? They don't care. A man who lives up the gravel road from me was handed a SLAPP and forced to stop publishing his criticisms of a proposed mine across the road from his house. "Strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs) are civil actions with little merit
advanced with the intent of stifling participation in public policy and decision-making. Most
SLAPPs succeed in silencing opposition because public interest groups and ordinary citizens
do not have the money to fight the claim in court." Free speech is a critical issue. Its use to protect the porn industry is a straw man argument. Monetizing films of criminal acts is a crime, and free speech does not apply.
So--who do we turn to?
I really appreciate this exchange! It's much needed. We need to stop the in fighting and mud slinging. I want to address the idea of the "free speech absolutist" in context of a broader spectrum of politics. Chris Hedges, one of the most brilliant political analysts of our time, was one of the first to speak out against Trump being banned from Twitter because he understands that the attacks on free speech begin with those that it's popular to oppose. But the aim is to have the censorship in place so that they can silence any and all opposition. The so-called left is not only controlling the narratives about war and trans ideology in the media, but the entrenchment of identity politics is so deep there that the self policing is the most effective censorship they utilize. That means that it has become difficult at best and impossible at worst to speak out from any "left" wing platform. If, we then censor ourselves from other platforms we are effectively silenced. Not a step forward on my view. Women like Meghan and KJK are not allying with the right. They are using them. They do challenge them. They do not accept the stance from which they are "on the same side." What they are doing is taking the opportunity to speak, and that is what's at stake here. We are being silenced at every turn. I too have been a feminist for decades (since 1981) active in the movement to end violence against women on many fronts. I know the value of women only spaces first hand and the value of women only shelters etc. I know the value as a political tool. A tool of empowerment and organizing. We must protect those spaces at all costs. And by all costs, I mean all. Because the "left" and "right" have virtually become the same thing in the U.S. there is a lot at stake on every front. None of it can be fought against or won by alienating anyone. We must keep our analysis clear with an eye to long term. But tactics and strategy often require short term discomfort. My greatest sadness in all of this is the amount of time and energy we are spending hurling mud and factionalizing. We will lose if this doesn't stop and soon. I will continue to support your heroic efforts as well as those of Meghan and KJK. We can not afford to continue the way we have been. If KJK can speak on Tucker Carlson's show, the most viewed in the U.S., and be permitted to say exactly what she came to say, which is what happened, that is a win. We must win the hearts and minds of people whether they consider themselves right or left, while stressing and openly criticizing those who support patriarchy on any level. Free speech must be an absolute because it's only then that we can criticize openly and effectively. What must not be an absolute is to whom and where we speak out. That limits our power and progress. One does not entail the other. It does not denote an alliance in any real sense of the word. Standing for all women means standing for ALL women.
I hope this was received by Meghan in good faith and she addresses the substantive points.
Thank you both... love the idea of a letters exchange and especially around this topic.
I also remember Andrea saying 'Every privilege is slack in our leash!"
Free speech is a privilege, not a right. It is a response ability, not a right.
So I'm for using every bit of that slack to speak clearly, together and collectively... that first before I put my limited time and energy into working with right or right religious groups
Julie - you are the strongest, most clear-headed person and feminist that I know (about - I don't technically know you but have seen you at events and speaking on panels from the audience).
I have recently ordered my feminist scarf. This is an aside from the important issues you are dealing with but in terms of "soft power" or "marketing", feminists do badly. A simple thing like a rainbow flag - gives huge accessibility to the general population to show support.
I have now put the green, white and purple on my Twitter (you kindly follow me) avatar.
I would like the power and truth of your arguments to be sufficient - and those of other feminists but in this day and age, being able to "market" or "promote" your cause seems so important and having the tools to do it! Can we not, as feminists, be more alert to the power of soft sells such as colours to rally behind and show support; an easily identifiable group to join; a simple, clear message to advocate etc etc
Anyway, that aside - I would give you a Nobel Prize for all you have done for women - from exposing the grooming gangs to defending women's spaces now. Your strong values transcend faddishness - and that is essential, I think.
A huge fan!!
Discussing with you is pointless as religion is a dogma and you are fixated on the dogma to the exclusion of science. Homo sapiens is simply not a monogamous mammal. No ape is. Our "civilised" mating assortment in no way resembles our biological evolution. Your belief system covers only a little itsy bit of history, while I look at the whole picture.