Letter 2: On 'allying with the right': politics are not so black and white — let's think about people as people
This is my first response to the question, "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 2 in a 6-part correspondence series between journalist, Julie Bindel, and myself. I will be writing parts 2, 4, and 6 here, at The Same Drugs, and Julie will be writing parts 1, 3, and 5 on her Substack, Misogyny: what is it and why won't it die?
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Feminism was one of the first things that ever really made sense to me. I remember being irate as a kid, marching off to the principal’s office to complain about the objectification happening to girls in my class, as they began to enter puberty. I have been impassioned about justice for as long as I can remember, and have never been able (or inclined) to shut up about the things that are important to me.
I grew up with a deep disdain for the rich, an opposition to authority and hierarchy, and an understanding of religion as pointless, silly, oppressive, and (frankly) baffling. I didn’t understand Christians nor did I want to. I thought capitalists were selfish and greedy. I wanted things to be fair, for everyone to have access to what they needed to survive and thrive, and for no one to suffer unnecessarily. The solution, I felt, could be found in socialism and feminism.
I believed in an ideal world — one that did not include power or hierarchy. I thought, like many leftists, that those who didn’t support my chosen solution and my understanding of the root of our problems were either uneducated or bad. I believed those on the right (and even those in the middle — I used the word “liberal” as an insult) were selfish, evil, or dumb.
It was easy for me to believe these things because, well, I didn’t know any right wing people. I barely even knew any Christians. This was not my world.
Ironically, considering the complaints of feminists who oppose engaging with the “religious right,” the first Christians I ever got to know, I met through the women’s movement. It irked me at first, to be honest. I didn’t know you could be a feminist and a Christian. But it was many of these men and women who had set up organizations and charities to fight prostitution and sex trafficking. Some of the women I met who had exited prostitution had become Christian after having escaped the sex trade, and I (very) slowly learned not to judge or immediately reject these people, simply because they were different than I.
I spent about ten years studying Women’s Studies in college and university before I got a real feminist education. When I began producing feminist radio (which turned into podcasting, leading to blogging and journalism) in around 2009, I was blessed with the opportunity to meet, talk to, work with, and learn from countless pioneers of the women’s movement. Feminists like you, Lee Lakeman, Gail Dines, Sheila Jeffreys, Kathleen Barry, Lierre Keith, and Janice Raymond profoundly shaped my understanding of patriarchy and women’s oppression.
I also met, spoke with, worked with, and learned from women who had escaped prostitution and domestic abuse, and who had taken those horrific experiences and become activists — fighting to prevent further exploitation of women and girls. I understand how deeply things like poverty impact women’s vulnerability to male violence and exploitation. I understand that so-called “sex work” is not simply a choice women make of their own desire and free will. The truth is much darker and more complex. We have both been punished immensely for saying as much. Not by the right, not by Christians, but by the left…
It turns out that, despite some political differences, or the fact of holding beliefs not in line with our own, those not on the left do often care about the wellbeing and safety of women. It is not true that women’s rights belong only to self-identified feminists and leftists. Indeed, I have learned the hard way, over years of stubborn allegiance to the left, that it is the left that appears not to care about women’s rights and dignity.
Identifying oneself as a feminist means little today. And being on the left has come to signal support for a range of ideologies and positions that trouble me. I can no longer view the world through the lens of “left vs right”/“feminist vs misogynist,” and reject or vilify people accordingly, as I once did.
You reference Tommy Robinson as an example of a man who might blame “ethnicity” over sex, when looking at the murder of Raneem Oudeh and her mother, Khaola Saleem, two Syrian women murdered by Oudeh’s ex-husband — a man with a history of abuse. And you may be right. I am almost wholly unfamiliar with Robinson and his politics, so can’t speak to his views on male violence against women with any authority. But presuming we are talking about someone who would completely remove sex from this equation, I would argue it is unfair to assume this is the view of all conservatives, all those who might choose to vote Republican in any given election (perhaps having voted Democrat in the past), or all those who are Christian.
I think most people know men perpetrate violence against women, not the other way around. I also think it is fair to discuss culture or religion as a factor, in terms of how men view women. Indeed, it seems leftist feminists do just that, when rejecting Christian men (and women) as potential allies in the fight against gender identity ideology (or against the sex industry, for that matter).
“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.”
To presume or apply all of these views to anyone who doesn’t identify as a feminist or a leftist is unfair. 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, wished me silenced, fired, harmed, and ostracized from society. I also learned that the world is much more complex than these labels. Most people do not fit in squarely with “Tommy Robinson” or “socialist feminist.” Those who do fit these extreme categories are marginal. Most people exist somewhere in between, holding a variety of views, beliefs, and political opinions, making decisions about who to vote for and which policies to support based not on ideological allegiance, but on their own personal values, feelings, and priorities.
It is not realistic to expect to only engage with, speak to, share platforms with, or work with people who share all of our beliefs and values. Even my beliefs and values are not stagnant. I am open to learning from all kinds of people, and even to changing my mind. If I only engaged with people who thought exactly as I did, I would be limiting my own growth, and depriving myself of the ability to better understand the world around me. But I would also be depriving others of that opportunity.
The amount of messages and emails I have received over the years from men who identify themselves as Christian and right wing, or simply as men who believed they hated feminism, who have told me that following my work or engaging with me changed their minds, is endless.
There is more than one way to challenge people. It need not always be through confrontation or “calling out.” In fact, I’d argue those methods don’t work. People change their minds through being exposed to a diversity of thought and experience — by being offered the opportunity to humanize those they may have believed were their enemies, and by being humanized themselves.
I’ve had the great fortune of being able to listen, converse with, read, and engage with more than most people do. I have exposed myself to a wide variety of media and voices over the years. I’ve interviewed hundreds upon hundreds of people as part of my work, but I also talk to whoever is sitting next to me at the bar, not knowing where they came from and what they think about much of anything. If someone has something interesting to say, I want to hear it, regardless of their political affiliations or religious beliefs. I’ve changed my mind on various issues based on these conversations, regardless of the political identities of the individuals in question,and regardless of how they voted in the last election. I wish more would do the same.
I have never been one to keep my mouth shut about things that are important to me — whether that be abortion, pornography, free speech, or women’s sex-based rights. I imagine I’ve lost many followers along the way as a result, and probably gained others. I can’t worry too much what people will think about me, based on what I speak up about. My integrity matters to me far more than being liked.
The fact that Larry Flynt may be hailed by some as a “free speech hero” will never stop me from speaking out about the atrocities that happen in the sex industry, or the fact that I think he was a vile, immoral, abusive man who did not see women as human beings worthy of respect. My view, as I have stated many times over, is that pornography is not speech, it is filmed prostitution. It is physical acts being perpetrated on real women’s bodies. I have argued this point with free speech advocates and will continue to do so. And I hope, in doing so, I will change some minds.
You say that “Free speech absolutists will not help women fight misogyny; they step up only when it suits them,” but I am a free speech absolutist, and I know many, like me, who have stepped up.
I don’t expect everyone I work with, engage with, speak to, or share platforms with to agree with all my views. I do expect to be treated with respect, though. I will not work with, vote for, or ally with people who call me hateful names, who lie about me endlessly, who harass me, who don’t engage with integrity, or who I view to be dangerous or dishonest. And unfortunately those types are just as common on the left and in feminism as anywhere. I have chosen to assess people as individuals, rather than based on the categories and labels imposed on them or which they choose for themselves. I’m far more likely to keep an arm’s length with someone I determine to be a narcissist, a liar, a manipulator, or an abuser than I am a Republican or a Christian, and I am fairly certain I am making a safe bet in doing so.
With love and respect, always,
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Okay, I am the Gender Critical Right. The orthodox Jewish community on the east coast of America have been at the forefront of this fight. Thanks to the efforts of my friends, a leading politician promised to get transgenderism out of the schools. So, yes, I do think the Gender Critical Left and the Gender Critical Right should be working together. Let's agree to disagree about other social issues and make common cause. We have thousands of dedicated activists in cities around the world. We're upfront about our religious beliefs, so you know where you stand. We believe that sodomy is against G-d's laws and wishes. That said, I don't hate lesbians. What I hate is when "love" is forced on children and indigenous cultures. I can understand being baffled by religion. The miracles of the bible strain credulity. I believe they can be reconciled with science and reason. The double standards Judaism has for men and women are designed to protect women from men, true chivalry.
I'm definitely not a free speech absolutist. Transgenderism is one subject matter we want to ban. We want free speech on gender and censorship of the other side because their ideas are toxic. If working with the Gender Critical Right sounds good to you, drop me a line. Thank you.
I wholly agree with your position. Julie Bindel is an intelligent woman. However, she has made egregious statements in her last post on this topic. For example: "Our industry had been destroyed by the Thatcher government...". Bindel was 16 when Margaret Thatcher came to power: I was a working adult at the time. Thatcher inherited a country that quite literally, couldn't keep the lights on; we could only work three days a week. The country was not functioning due to actions of a belligerent, unionised workforce. The streets of London were awash with stinking refuse, due to one of many "industrial actions" by unions which were out of control and holding the country to ransom. The time was dubbed by the press as "The Winter of Discontent". I painfully remember speaking with a truck driver at the time, on the eve of a nationwide truck driver's strike. He said, without any irony: "We'll bring this country to its knees". Thatcher passed legislation to rein-in the unions. She took action to close unviable coal mines. It was not popular, but all analysts since agree that it was a necessary and inevitable action, it being futile to keep an "industry" going which involved a huge number of men working in foul conditions in mines which were practically exhausted of coal.
Regarding the scandal of the systemic rape of young white schoolgirls, there is no dispute that culture was a driving factor. The numbers are appalling - it is estimated that upwards of 250,000 girls were abused. An excellent book on this topic is "Easy Meat: Inside Britain's grooming gang scandal" by Peter McLoughlin. Despite it's lurid title, this is a scholarly piece of work, with detailed analysis and replete with references. This was published in 2016 - regrettably, many further instances of abuse have since surfaced.
Bindel astonishingly blames Thatcher for this phenomena: "the men were of Pakistani Muslim origin had turned to crime ... when the industries that had formerly supported them were destroyed, again by the Thatcher government". This seems to me to be quite ideologically deluded. The gangs that perpetrated these abuses were practically all comprised of Muslim Pakistani men. We know of their motivation from their own testimony. These Muslim men regarded young, white girls (they were always white) as immodestly dressed and thus "up for it". In support of their vile actions was the knowledge that these girls were anyway going to "burn in hell" as the infidels they were. All the available evidence points to culture as the driving force (and justification) for these terrible crimes. You might wonder how it is possible for such widespread abuse to remain undetected. Three factors have been identified: (a) a disdain by the police of the working-class, poorly educated parents who reported the abuse; (b) a fear by the police that they would appear as "racist"; and (c) a lack of coordination between police forces. On that last point, police forces in the UK were then managed regionally with little central oversight to detect a Nationwide pattern of crime.
Into this horror story emerged Tommy Robinson, whom Bindel crassly libels as "an extreme right winger and a racist thug". (nb: Islam is not a race). Robinson is the archetypical "ordinary man" railing against the changes to, and the abuses of, the English culture. He was publicly vilified at the time, though history looks upon him more kindly now. See his Oxford Union debate and make up your own mind about him.
Bindel also writes quite dismissively of Graham Linehan. This is a man who has given up his career, his friends and his marriage in the defence of women and girls. He is an heroic figure, deserving of our admiration and support. He certainly has mine.
I will not dismiss Bindel using the political slurs which she so freely makes about others, but you can see from the above that some of her views are extreme and not rooted in reality.