I have just started reading this book:
I wanted to curate my thoughts on it as I begin the journey of reading each of the very different contributions. It has taken me some time to pick the book up from my ever-growing TBR pile. I had been so looking forward to reading it, yet the joy of anticipation was stolen from me, for reasons which I will get to in a moment. But first, a bit of background.
The book was curated by the Feminist Book Society and published in the UK by And Other Stories, an independent publisher based in Sheffield, while in the US it was published by The Feminist Press. The blurb was that it was written by feminist writers on how the current crisis the world was facing could be turned into change. As we were in the middle of a lockdown, I ordered it through the UK publisher and waited for it to be delivered by one of the many key workers that kept us all going during these strange and lonely times. I was really looking forward to beginning the book, hoping that the particular and specific issues facing women during the pandemic would be explored. On a personal level, I was already dealing with some of those issues as a divorced parent of two teenage boys: trying to keep them motivated to homeschool, trying to find a scrap of positivity amidst the debris of cancelled exams, trying to form a defensive shield around their increasing feelings of purposelessness, all the while dealing with my own sense of isolation, inertia and increasing anxiety.
But when the book arrived in the post, it was as though I was hit with a cannonball of contempt and a huge fiery blast of anger exploded in my chest. Why? Because of this:
My first thought: ‘You have got to be fucking kidding me.’ I wanted a book with a powerful statement about women’s rights, and the peculiar challenges we face during the Covid pandemic. What I did not want is a political statement effectively guilting women into thinking that they should fight for the rights of what seems to be predominantly males who choose to identify as women. Why is it women’s responsibility to fight for this?
It is not a feminist cause to fight for transgender equality. Just no. The feminist cause is to ensure political and social equality for women. And I am not the only woman who believes this. There are many, many women who feel that transgender rights have come into direct conflict with the rights of women. We see it when men, with no more than their own say so, identify as women to gain access to women’s spaces, women’s sports, and women’s services. These men that tell us that woman is an innate feeling, not the biological reality that is the root of the oppression forced on women for generations. Sex is a spectrum they tell us. Most women see the lie in those words. Sex is binary, real and immutable. And women, from JK Rowling to Alison Bailey to Maya Forstater get thrown under the proverbial bus, if not burned at the Twitter stake for saying so. Gender identity, to my mind, seems to be nothing more than a reinforcement of sex-based stereotypes – if you like dolls and pink you must be a girl, but if you would rather wear trousers, and cut your hair short, maybe you are a boy? How am I supposed to support an ideology which centres these sexist stereotypes that have been holding women back from full and equal participation in our society?
So incensed was I with this postcard, an affront to everything that I, as a feminist, believe, that I mothballed the book, unread. And there it stayed until today. And what prompted me to pick it up? The news that Marion Millar has been charged in Scotland for alleged homophobic and transphobic tweets. I am filled with rage that the police, that seem to have so little time to protect the two women a week killed in the UK as a direct result of male violence, have the time to charge a woman for Tweeting about sex and what feminism is supposed to be about – fighting to protect and preserve the hard-won rights of women. (https://www.refuge.org.uk/our-work/forms-of-violence-and-abuse/domestic-violence/domestic-violence-the-facts/)
In many ways, it is a shame my view of the book was coloured by that wretched postcard. Because, the first three pieces are excellent, and really spoke to me about what it was to face this pandemic as a woman. It also captures this unique moment of history, sharing the individual perspective of authors, while at the same time, it is almost as if each piece is simply a mirror reflecting back at the reader our own experience of the pandemic, with all of the other issues and global events that seem to have come with it, everything from the #BLM movement growing as a response to the murder of George Floyd, the clapping for the NHS and the great toilet paper shortage of 2020.
I was particularly moved by the interview with Laura Bates, who founded the Everyday Sexism project, because what shines through in every response that she gave is that sex matters. Women are disproportionately bearing the brunt of lockdowns. Yet at the same time, the questions she was asked, were framed with the word ‘women’ replaced with ‘womxn’, as if the word ‘women’ has somehow become inappropriate or dirty. It is not good enough. If you cannot even find the courage to use the word that defines the sex-class to which we belong, how on earth are you going to stand up for women?
I had to stop reading at this point. I will come back to it, but I need my rage level to have an opportunity to simmer down before I read the rest of it. The thing is, of the authors I have read so far, they all know what a woman is. They might not say so, but they don’t need to. Because they know. They know that there are peculiar challenges facing women, and how devastating this pandemic has been for women’s progress towards greater equality in all aspects of life.
We have enough to deal with. Stop telling us what a feminist cause is. Stop making it our responsibility. And in case you missed it: #IStandwithMarionMillar and #WomenWontWheesht