The Hard Right is hostile to women's liberation, and allying with them is a dangerous strategy
This is my second letter in response to: "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 3 in a 6-part correspondence series between the writer Meghan Murphy and myself. I am writing parts 1, 3, and 5 here, and Meghan will be writing parts 2, 4, and 6 on her Substack, The Same Drugs.
I grew up on a working-class council estate (social housing) in the north-east of England, a particularly deprived and neglected area of the country. Our industry had been destroyed by the Thatcher government, and we were in permanent recession. One large sink school served the whole estate, and every day without fail, far right extremists such as the National Front would be waiting outside the gates with their propaganda materials, talking to kids about joining the movement.
I soon learned that we were cannon fodder in the fight against people even worse off than us: new immigrants from South Asia and the Caribbean Islands, who were often the victims of horrendous racist attacks. Because my community was angry about how we had been treated, left at the bottom of the pile, it was very tempting for some to be able to punch down at groups that were even lower.
This was a lesson for me about strategic alliances. The far-right racists used my people, homing in on their desperation and discontent to further their own agenda.
Many years later, towards the end of the 1990s, I saw the far-right turning to the same strategy again. I was working alongside mothers of young girls who had been raped and pimped out by ‘grooming gangs’ in towns across England. Because the sexual abuse of working-class girls tends to be downgraded to almost nothing, and despite the efforts of the parents and a number of feminists, police and social services failed to properly investigate these crimes and the gangs acted with impunity. Many (though not all) of the men were of Pakistani Muslim origin and had turned to crime – such as stealing cars and selling Class A drugs – when the industries that had formerly supported them were destroyed, again by the Thatcher government. When police took action against these activities, vulnerable girls became their merchandise.
Police rarely act in cases of sexual exploitation, particularly when the victims are seen as worthless, but another element that deterred them from doing their job was that they were scared of a “race riot” (as they put it) erupting in towns already blighted by conflict between white populations and migrant/asylum-seeking communities. The girls were simply sacrificed. It wasn't that the police cared about being labelled racist – more that they couldn’t be bothered to deal with the inevitable aftermath.
The fascists capitalised on this and exploited the parents – all of whom were distressed that these men were being allowed to act with impunity. The British National Party (BNP) was able to convince parents that these men were pimps and rapists because they were Pakistani Muslim, rather than because they saw the girls as subhuman – as do all men that commit such heinous crimes.
Yes, it was because of police failures, and a reluctance from some white liberals to name the problem, that the BNP and other fascists were able to capitalise on these terrible crimes and turn them to their own ends. Many parents became convinced that their daughters had been raped and abused because Pakistani Muslim men were somehow programmed to carry out such horrendous acts - ignoring the facts that the sexual abuse and exploitation of disenfranchised girls is nothing new, and that most perpetrators nationwide are white and UK-born.
When the perpetrators are white, these right-wingers do not tend to care at all about this issue. Opportunities to educate both the general public and criminal justice agencies were lost, drowned in a sea of racist rhetoric and misinformation.
Meghan, I think one misunderstanding is that you may assume I have something against both Christians and those on the Right (such as people that vote for the Conservative Party). But I do not make such sweeping generalisations. I've met many fine Christians and worked alongside them. One of my friends and feminist colleagues is a Catholic nun. She has done sterling work to help women escape prostitution. She supports women who opt to have pregnancies terminated, despite her personal views on abortion.
I've also met many Christians who support women in detention centres or run domestic violence shelters, and many more that advocate for the most disenfranchised women and their children.
Similarly, some of the Conservatives I have worked with on issues such as sexual exploitation, domestic violence and our abysmal rape conviction rates are decent, caring individuals.
But here I am talking about the Religious Right, and the Far Right.
These are not the same people.
Meghan, you refer to Tommy Robinson as a ‘conservative’, but he is not. Robinson is an extreme right winger and a racist thug. There is a significant difference between forging an alliance with a Tory MP, and working alongside extremists such as Robinson and his cohorts.
But I do understand why you have turned your back on the Left.
You write: “I used to believe that anyone who did not identify as a feminist or a leftist was inherently my enemy. But I learned the hard way that many — dare I say most — who do identify themselves as feminists and leftists are literally my enemies. As in, they hate me. They have called me horrid things, threatened my life”
But I have never believed non feminists or anti-leftists were my enemy, and nor has (as far as I know) any woman I have worked alongside in the campaign to end male violence. I have made so many new friends on the Left – women sick and tired of the likes of Owen Jones, Ash Sarkar and Billy Bragg distorting the true aims and objectives of socialism, when it comes to issues such as pornography and trans ideology. Women should not have to be pushed out of our own movement. We should be regaining control of the agenda.
I hear you say, “If this is the Left, then I am not a leftist.” But I say it is NOT the Left; this is nothing more than misogynistic men using the trans issue to call us ‘cunts’ – only they spell it T-E-R-F.
Graham Linehan wrote on his Substack that feminism seems to have “a problem with solidarity”. In the same piece, Linehan describes how scared he was the first time he retweeted something of mine about trans ideology, despite the fact that he was already firmly in the fight. But he is wrong about feminist solidarity. What got me through the years from 2004 until well over a decade later, when (thanks in part to the formation of Woman's Place UK (WPUK) more and more women began to speak out, was my feminist community of women campaigning against male violence. Without that solidarity, I doubt I would have survived.
Linehan is entitled to his opinion, but his tribe is the ‘gender critical’ one, which tends to be made up of those fighting trans ideology as a single issue.
Ultra-religious and extreme Right wing men are not going to ever campaign for our right to safe and legal abortion or speak out against domestic and sexual violence towards women and girls. They would be opposed to the criminalisation of rape in marriage, and consider issues such as forced marriage, female genital mutilation and other crimes against women and girls to be “cultural” as opposed to patriarchal. They uphold the systems of patriarchy. The hard Right takes money away from our refuges and Rape Crisis centres. They fight to criminalise abortion. If we align with them because they agree with us that women do not have penises, then we leave ourselves wide open to having every other right we’ve fought for and won stripped away. These people are our enemies, but they are wolves in sheep’s clothing, as long as we join hands with them to condemn the ‘freaks’. It is trans people today, and tomorrow it will be lesbians and gay men.
I refuse to leave the Left to misogynists and cultural relativists. It is my Left, not theirs.
Yours in sisterhood, and in continuing solidarity against the tidal wave of misogyny we are facing.