The word “TERF” will get women killed

NOTE: In this article, I have sometimes referred to trans people and sometimes to trans women. This is because the article is mainly about trans women, but the available statistics on violence cover all trans people. 

Let’s consider violence against cis women. According to Safe Lives, a UK charity fighting domestic abuse: “Seven women a month are killed by a current or former partner in England and Wales.”[1] This equates to over eighty women a year.

How about violence against trans women? Trans Respect lists 8 trans people killed in the UK since 2008.[2]

Does this mean that it’s safer to be a trans woman than a cis woman? Not necessarily, as there are fewer trans women than cis women: trans women definitely suffer significant levels of violence. A Stonewall report found: “More than a quarter of trans people (28 percent) in a relationship in the last year have experienced domestic abuse from a partner.”[3]

However, the exact same mathematics leads to another unsettling conclusion. Since there are so many more cis women, a measure that makes trans women safer but makes cis women less safe could easily cost more lives than it saves. Let’s round the numbers above and assume that currently one trans person and 80 cis women are murdered each year. Then a measure which saves 100% of the trans people but increases violence against cis women by just 5% would save one life and cost 4 lives.

How do we resolve this dilemma? It is not acceptable that more cis women are killed, nor that we leave trans women unprotected. Anyone who tries to justify either of these positions is not someone I am willing to listen to.

The only way to the right outcome is to hear from both cis women and trans women on proposals to reduce violence. Solutions are not acceptable unless they are acceptable to both communities. Trans women know where they are in danger; cis women know where they are. Unless we hear from both groups, we will choose the wrong outcomes.

This is why it worries me to see the misogyny amongst trans activists and transphobia amongst feminist activists when these subjects are discussed. On the one hand, some of the best-known trans activists treat any feminist objections to specific proposals as transphobia and refuse to believe that feminists might have genuine concerns that some changes could increase violence against women. On the other hand, some well-known feminists routinely precede their objections by using “he”/”his” to describe trans women.

We urgently need both sides to start listening.

Trans activists need to accept that when feminists say “Don’t make this change this way, it will get us killed”, that this cannot be met with an eye roll and a yell of “TERF”; and that memes like “Punch a TERF” are not acceptable in the context of the very large problem of violence against cis women that still exists. Feminist activists need to accept that violence against trans people is a real and urgent problem and that we need to help to find ways to protect trans women; and that calling a trans women “he” fatally undermines cooperation.

I’d like to end this on a positive, optimistic note, but I can’t think of one. Neither side wishes to hear what the other has to say. Currently, the trans movement seems to be winning the argument for gender self-identification – without addressing any feminist concerns about cis women’s safety. Unless there is a drastic shift, I think the word “TERF” will get women killed before anything improves.



Footnotes: all links accessed on 1 June 2018.




Morgan vs McGregor, or the problem of trolls

I’m sure that if you’re alive, you’ve heard about the row between Piers Morgan and Ewan McGregor.

What’s interesting is the outcome for each person.

For Piers Morgan, he already has a reputation as a nasty guy, and he boosts his popularity amongst his followers by attacking anyone who disagrees with him. Because, let’s face it, his followers are people who like seeing him attack anyone who disagrees with him. The overall outcome for him is positive.

For Ewan McGregor, very few people are likely to boycott his films because of his politics so long as he makes good films. And anyone who actually would bother to boycott his films probably already does, because his politics are fairly well-known. So the overall outcome is unlikely to be negative.

And this, friends, is why trolls exist. No-one is actually suffering from this exchange. Well, no men. Women’s rights are still being held back, but Piers Morgan doesn’t care and Ewan McGregor can say that he’s done what he can.

If there’s a moral to all this, it’s don’t bother reading the celebrity gossip, get out and protest.

Walking Home, Late at Night

Did you read the title and think “Don’t do that”? Would you have thought that if I was a guy?

I just read this story about sexual abuse. And I wasn’t going to comment, because nothing too bad has ever happened to me.

I mean obviously, there were all the times in senior school, when I was eleven or twelve, that men tried to chat me up at bus stops. Too many to remember, although one in particular stands out for asking me to guess all the things he wanted to do to me. I wanted to get away, but it was the bus stop I got off at and my mum was meeting me there. I ran to the car when she arrived.

I’ve had men rub up against me or grab my butt more times than I can remember on the Tube, coming home late at night. Sometimes I had been out with friends and was dressed up, sometimes I’d been at work and was in a suit. Sometimes it wasn’t late at night, just crowded enough for someone to get away with it. Christmas shopping crowds are a pain in the butt, literally.

It was a bit scary the time I went out with a group of female friends in London for New Year’s Eve. About ten of us in a line, trying to weave through the crowds to where we were going, holding hands so that we didn’t get separated. I was last in the line, because no one else wanted to be. One guy grabbed me by the crotch and literally lifted me off the ground, trying to drag me away from my friend. He was with a group of about five or six men, so I was clinging on to my friend’s hand trying not to be dragged away, and she was clinging on to me and the person in front of her, trying to get the line to stop and come help me. That was quite scary.

But the scariest bit is that this is all routine. So many women I know have the same sort of stories. It hasn’t happened to them once – it happens regularly. We just don’t go out at night, or don’t go out alone, we self-censor our lives. Being in a pub or bar alone – dangerous. Being in a crowd alone – dangerous. Travelling at night alone – dangerous. Going to a club alone – wouldn’t even think of it.

Men sometimes make fun of this. Women – always hang about in groups at a club. Women, always going to the toilet together. Women, walking each other to a taxi rank. Aren’t they supportive? Aren’t they gossipy? Aren’t they silly?

No, we’re not silly. We’re afraid. And all the harassment and abuse is just there to remind us that we do need to be. If we venture out alone, if we’re over-confident, bad things happen. I don’t think men, even really supportive feminist guys, really have a clue how deeply ingrained in our behaviour this stuff is. And it all starts with these accounts of abuse that you’re reading, happening when we’re still children, that show us that we’re not safe alone.

This Makes Me Cross

Whilst I do not understand the Rachel Dolezal thing at all, I’m finding myself very annoyed by this article in The Guardian by a transgender black woman that says (paraphrased) that you can’t identify as black if you’re not black because you don’t have the lived experience of growing up as black, and that race is a social construct whereas gender is real.

Because what she’s saying is that there is a cultural experience of being born black, but there is no cultural experience of being born a woman. And that if you have fixed expectations about what “a black person” must be like then you’re racist, but if you have fixed expectations of what “a woman” is like, you’re just stating a fact. Which makes me cross.

“Lean In” in the Time of GamerGate

I made a connection just recently. I joined the dots between some different, apparently unrelated things that I’d read, and had an “Aha!” moment. And I need to get it down in a blog post because it’s bugging me.

Here’s your starter question: what’s the connection between Paul Elam, Adam Baldwin, and Sheryl Sandberg? (Answer at the end).

A while ago, at the suggestion of a colleague at work, I read Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In”. It’s an okay book, a bit meh. It has a few good pieces of advice, and it’s obviously well-meaning. If you haven’t read it, the gist is this: women sabotage their own careers by not being assertive enough. They “lean back”, when they should “lean in”. Try harder, girls!

The trouble is that just didn’t ring true for me. It’s not that I don’t agree that you need to be assertive to succeed in business, nor do I think that women should be allowed to succeed more easily than men – so Sandberg’s advice seemed reasonable. I couldn’t even disagree that I had stopped “leaning in”. But at the times in my career when I had been trying hard, leaning in, being assertive – it hadn’t helped. I’d had more problems, not fewer, and some of my worst career problems came about when I was being assertive.

Still, maybe I was being too assertive. Maybe I was too aggressive, too angry, too scary, not a team player. It’s possible, certainly. I’d come to that conclusion in the past, and read anger management books, and self esteem books, and tried to fix my problems. I’d learned how to give coaching and feedback, and how to grow people. It definitely made me a better manager, and better at relating to people.

It made my career worse. I tried not being assertive, and it caused problems. I tried being assertive, and it caused problems. I tried being assertive in a less confrontational way, and … well, you get the idea. That was when I stopped “leaning in”. That was when I gave up. So I guess that the reason I’m not succeeding is that it’s my fault. I gave up, when I should have “leaned in”. Thanks, Sheryl. At least now I know.

And then, just recently, I put two and two together. I woke up in the middle of the night, and thought: yes, but what about GamerGate?

GamerGate, in case you haven’t been following it, is many things. But mainly, it’s a particularly nasty group of mostly-male trolls attacking women who dare to have opinions, especially feminist opinions, online. This is not “attacking” in the sense of disagreeing with them. Yes, it’s absolutely fine to disagree with a woman online. This is not even just “attacking” in the sense of posting nasty, repulsive messages to them online – although I think that being told multiple times per day that you should be raped or killed is beyond what anyone could deal with. But GamerGate is posting women’s home addresses online, lurking outside their offices, phoning in bomb threats to the police if they try to give a talk. You can read a summary here or here or here.

Then there’s this article on Paul Elam, founder of a men’s rights movement. Or you could look what Richard Herring tackles every year on International Women’s Day. Now, maybe I’m just paranoid, but I’m starting to understand why women are reluctant to be assertive and push their opinions.

Of course, this could just be a few people. It could be just in the US, for instance. In the UK, we’re far more modern. Oh, except that UKIP have some fairly worrying ideas about a woman’s place – “Kinder, Küche, Kirche” almost.But the really bad stuff wouldn’t happen in the UK, would it? It’s not like you could get in trouble for something as simple as asking for a woman’s picture to be on at least one banknote. Or that an MP could receive rape and death threats just for agreeing with her? Goodness me, the way we women complain, you’d think you could get threats just for being the subject of a joke by someone else about hosting a TV programme, even after you’ve firmly denied that you would ever do that job. No, I’m sure than Caroline Criado-Perez, Stella Creasy and Sue Perkins were just making a fuss. It’s perfectly safe to offer an opinion if you’re a woman. Be assertive. Lean in.

Besides, it’s not like online abuse translates into real abuse. No correlation – oh wait. Yes there is. It’s still relatively early days for Twitter in terms of academic studies, but there is plenty of evidence that verbal abuse in relationships is an early warning sign for physical abuse.

Still, these are all rare cases. It’s not like there’s sexism everywhere, every day.

Never mind, women, just lean in. Push your case. Offer up your opinions. Fight your corner. You’ll most likely live through it. Most women don’t get killed by someone they annoyed. (Just a few. A small number. Tiny. Only two women per week are killed in domestic violence). Most women might encounter anger at worst.

At this point, if you’re still reading this, you probably fall into one of three camps. Camp #1 are furious that I am still trying to argue for women’s equality, because that stuff is bullshit. If this is you, you may leave now. This blog post isn’t addressed to you, and I’m aware that you disagree with me. No point hanging around. Bye now.

Or you may be in camp #2. You may be convinced that there is a real problem, and that we should tackle it. (Yes, I’m aware – and grateful – that many men are in this camp too. Richard Herring and Graham Linehan are two of the more public men doing sterling work calling out this sort of shit on Twitter).

Or, you may be in camp #3. You agree that there is sexism, but you still think a lot of women sabotage themselves. After all, you’ve encountered difficult people in your career, many times, it’s not only women who face these problems. It’s not personal.

That’s a fair point. Lets address it. Let’s try a quick thought experiment.

Think of someone difficult that you’ve encountered at work, and dealt with. Someone confrontational, irrational and argumentative.

Remember how you dealt with them. Maybe sidestepped them? Maybe minimized contact with them? Maybe got them distracted with another issue? Maybe got to know them and formed a rapport so that the encounters became more productive? 

Now imagine this. Suppose that their behaviour towards you WAS personal. Suppose that you argued with them one time, and that they won’t go away. They’re not just irrational in general, but they’re specifically determined to win arguments against you, because they don’t think you are entitled to disagree with them.

They go out of their way to start arguments with you whenever you talk to them. They won’t admit they’ve lost even if the evidence is clearly against them. They’re fixated on specifically destroying you, as often and as many times as possible.

Your job gets untenable. You’re trying to deal with this, but it’s a drain on your time. You have trouble juggling the other stuff you’re trying to get done. Let’s assume that it doesn’t affect your mood (although, let’s be honest, it probably would) – you are still losing valuable time out of your day. So you bring this up with other people for advice.

No-one else, it turns out, has the same sort of problem. They all agree that this person is difficult, but everyone else manages to deal with it. Maybe you’re just handling it wrong? Be less aggressive. Be less confrontational. Be less shrill.

You don’t just get this advice informally. It’s on your performance review, too. This is your problem. Someone else has taken personal offence to you arguing with them once, is seeking you out in order to obstruct you, but it’s your fault. You did something wrong. You’re not doing your job properly. You are to blame.

That won’t stop you offering your opinions in future, right? Next time you’re about to argue with someone, you won’t subconsciously remember this and keep quiet, will you? Not the first time. Not the second. How many times would you need that to happen before you just started shutting up and keeping your head down? How many times do you have to be personally targeted for expressing an opinion before you stop?

Never mind, don’t answer. You get the point. Let’s wrap this up.

At the beginning, I asked what the connection was between Paul Elam, Adam Baldwin and Sheryl Sandberg. And the answer is NOT that they all hate women, because Sheryl Sandberg is a feminist, and she’s trying to help. The answer is that they all think that the problem is caused by women, and that it will be fixed if women change. Elam and Baldwin want women to shut the fuck up and do as they’re told. Sandberg admits that there is sexism, but she thinks that we can overcome it if women just try harder.

I used to believe that.

To Dylan Sharpe: An explanation

Re: The Sun’s Head Of PR Apologises For Page 3 Tweet After Receiving Death Threats

I don’t really think that Dylan Sharpe doesn’t understand what he did wrong. But after reading the article above, I realise that he’s clearly not very bright, and it’s just possible that I’m misjudging him. So I thought I’d be kind and put together a quick breakdown of why people are upset at him and are calling him a cockwomble. (Great phrase, by the way). I’ve underlined a few key words to help make it easier to follow.

Dear Dylan Sharpe (aka Cockwomble),

1. Your newspaper, who you officially represent (being the PR person) has for years published pictures of topless women. Many people (men and women) find this demeaning and think that it belittles women. Some women have started a campaign asking the newspaper to stop doing it.

2. This week, your newspaper deliberately set out to trick those women into believing that it had stopped, then suddenly restarted. That sort of trick is intended to demean and belittle the person it is played on.

Before you say “but I did warn you that we hadn’t said we’d stop”, let me quote your “apology”.

Between late afternoon on Monday, until Wednesday evening, I refused to comment on speculation about the demise of page 3. That was my job and I executed it, despite upsetting a number of journalists I considered good friends.

Then, on Wednesday night, came ‘the big reveal’. Oh how we laughed.

Does that sound like someone who was trying to correct an unfortunate misapprehension, or someone playing a trick to make others look stupid? To belittle and demean them, in fact?

3. Then, having deliberately played a trick to try to make the “No More Page 3” campaigners look stupid, you tweeted some of them a picture of a topless woman – the very thing that (see point 1) they found demeaning and belittling.

4. Not content with that, you included another woman – Harriet Harman – who wasn’t even part of the campaign. She just, for no apparent reason, had a man tweet a gloating picture of a naked woman into her Twitter feed. She probably found that to be demeaning and belittling too.

5. Those women were angry at you. Other woman were angry at you. Lots of men were also angry at you. You thought this was surprising and unfair. Do you still think so?

I’m not sure if this helps to clear things up. If you can’t piece it together from this, then there’s probably no point trying to explain further. If some daylight is starting to dawn, however, maybe you could try apologising again, properly? It won’t undo the damage. But it might (might) make people believe you’re not a total cockwomble.


PS. Those death threats. Could you retweet a couple? Just so that we know you’re not lying? Because – no offence – you’ve got form for lying in recent days, and apparently you feel no remorse if you think it’s part of your job. So, while I hate to doubt your word, I have reason to do so. If you have genuinely received death threats, then that is of course unacceptable. You should report them to the police. They might follow up on them for you. Caroline Criado-Perez can walk you through the procedure, she’s been there.

“That’s Just How It Is”

In the last week alone, I’ve come across a lot of variants of this phrase.
* That’s just how it is.
* That’s how it works.
* I’m just stating the obvious.
* I’m just being honest.
* Just stating the facts.
I’m sure you can come up with plenty of variants of your own. You’re talking about a problem and trying to come up with solutions, and someone – kindly or otherwise – points out that you’re not being realistic because “that’s just the way things are”. Accept the problem. Stop daydreaming and wishing things were different. Face facts.

Heck, I’ve even used the phrase myself. Sometimes you have to be realistic, right?

Well, no.

I DO have to face facts. I have to accept what life is like, here and now. I do not have to accept that this is how things will always be.

Look at it this way. Let’s take a fact. People can’t walk through walls. Question: is there a physical, chemical or biological reason that it must be true? Yes, there is a physical reason – walls are solid. Okay, then it’s a fact. People can’t walk through walls. I accept that.

Most of the times you hear the phrase, it will not be referring to that sort of fact. It will be talking about the current situation, based on our current behaviour. And unlike the laws of physics, our behaviour can change – and does, all the time.

So next time you hear someone say “that’s just how it is”, make sure you ask yourself the follow-up: “Is that just how it HAS to be?”. And if not, go right ahead and try to change things.