Feminism in London 2010

Closing speech at Feminism in London conference, October 2010.


I’m very proud to be closing this great conference today, I’d like to take this opportunity, and I’m sure you will all want to join me, in thanking all the organisers for all the work they have put in over the year to make this happen. Like everyone involved with the London Feminist Network they are all volunteers, working on events such as this in their spare time and what they have done today is a great achievement. Let’s give them all a round of applause.

Today you have been part of the largest women’s liberation conference to be held in the UK for over ten years. Our movement is on the rise in our country again, in this capital city, in those of the Celtic nations and beyond. And as it grows, it is no surprise that we see debate grow about its’ role and form. Over this year I have heard much debate about whether feminism needs to be rebranded. As if a movement that has given us all the advances we today take for granted is something we should be ashamed of. That we can work in many different industries, that we have access to education, that domestic violence is considered a crime, that we can open our own bank accounts. As if a legacy of support services, rape crisis centres, refuges, nurseries, women’s centres, helplines and advocacy provisions that continue to support women, children and men today, are something that we should be embarrassed about. Feminism does not need re-branding, it needs re-claiming, and this is something that all of us can do.

This is not to say that this is easy, in a culture of backlash against feminism.

Where the term is considered a dirty word, where misogyny and homophobia restrict women in claiming this movement for themselves. And because misogyny and homophobia are prejudices that we must confront, we must question why women do not identify with feminism, rather than accept and endorse the lies and stereotypes that are told about feminism and feminists.

Feminism is a global political movement to challenge and change women’s subordination to men. But time and again we hear people say that feminism is just about women making their own choices, regardless of what those choices are, or what bumpy, un-level playing field they make those decisions in. We are told that practically every woman who wakes up in the morning and makes a decision is a feminist, or those who have jobs, or money. While indeed it is true that any woman can be a feminist, feminism has to mean something, otherwise it risks meaning nothing.

We must remind people that ours is a political movement, it is serious. It is not about a trip to the health spa, a flattering trouser suit or a pole-dancing class. Our politics are literally about life and death. Two women every week in our country are murdered by a violent male partner, who on average will serve around four years in prison. One in four women are victim to rape in their lifetime, while only one out of every twenty reported rapes result in a conviction. Because we are feminists we do not believe that nineteen out of every twenty women who report rape are liars. Because we are feminists we do not believe that the rape crisis in our country is the amount of false reports, because we are feminists we believe women and we join together in our movement to demand justice.

The goal of challenging male supremacy, which we call patriarchy, requires collaboration with many other struggles, and contrary to the lies told about the herstory of our movement, this is something we have always done. Because women are the poorest of the poor in every country in the world, including our own, we know what capitalism is responsible for. And feminism has much to contribute, politically, theoretically and in activism – to the global struggle for alternatives to capitalism and especially now, in defending our welfare and public services, on which women and children depend disproportionately.

Most of us, as feminists, many of you here today, are already involved in these struggles and many others – against racism, for peace and the environment. Many of us stand alongside men in these movements, including our own, working together in solidarity. And the role of men in our movement is another issue that has seen much debate over the past year.

Of course, all men have a role to play in the struggle for women’s liberation. For example, they can stop rape, by not raping women. They can bring the sex industry to its’ knees by not buying women in prostitution or consuming pornography. They can remove their lucrative patriarchal pound from the institutions that are oppressing us and demeaning them.

Our pro-feminist brothers can further this aim by challenging other men. By picketing lap-dancing clubs and other such establishments, by putting themselves on the line, just as women have to do, every day, both in those clubs and without – on the streets, in our workplaces, in our homes.

But however men are involved in this movement, I suggest one place they should certainly not be is in the leadership, because I believe that women should lead and direct the women’s movement. And this is a political stance, one all too often reduced to so-called “man-hating” by those who do not appreciate the grand scale of woman-hating that goes uncommented and unchecked in our society on a daily basis.

As the late Andrea Dworkin maintained, we are not feminists because we hate men, we are feminists because we believe in men’s humanity, against all evidence to the contrary.

But protecting our women-only spaces is just another struggle we are forced to confront, as this vital place for organisation, resistance and recovery continues to come under attack and is fast disappearing. All oppressed groups should have the right to political self-organisation and ours should be no exception. We should not be made to justify or apologise for women-only space; one our most dynamic tactics for change that we have built up over the decades and which our movement has been built upon.

So, I hope that today you have found groups and causes that you are interested in and to get active in. I hope you have realised today that you are not alone, and that you never doubt that what you do makes a difference, because it does.

Every time you raise your voice in resistance, you add it to countless others and you make them count. The women who can’t be here, the women who said no and were ignored, the women who didn’t make it. I know that there are women in this room who have survived horrendous violence, once, twice or many times. Your bravery should never be your shame, and all of us must loudly contradict and challenge a society that puts onto women, its own shame, for the crimes it condones. And whether we have experienced these crimes or not, all of us are trying to survive, trying to thrive through the lie, that we are worth less than a man. And the reason so many forces are stacked against us, why mockery, silencing and threat is used to repress us is because of the fear that the sleeping dragon that is our 52% majority will open her eyes and take her power back.

Male supremacy is in fact fairly tenuous; a great bulk of it has to be maintained through the exertion of violence, including the violence of poverty and marginalisation. It is also maintained through ideological means, through sexual objectification, through the stifling constraints of femininity and compulsory heterosexuality. It is nothing short of revolutionary to suggest that this ancient power relationship can be taken apart; but that’s why we’re here. Because we know that male supremacy is neither natural nor inevitable, because it must, can and will be changed, and we, are going to do it.

See you at Reclaim The Night.

%d bloggers like this: