Helen Steel aggressively bullied at the London Anarchist Bookfair

Helen Steel is a very well known and respected activist due to her role in The McLibel Trial and as a victim of undercover police officers. Following is a statement written by Helen, about her experience at the London Anarchist Bookfair held on 28th October 2017, where she defended Olivia and another woman who were attacked for giving out leaflets. This statement was originally posted on Facebook as images, then turned into text using OCR by supporters then posted to a WordPress blog, we have also reproduced the introduction Helen posted on Facebook. Helen can be found on Twitter @helensteel12 and on Facebook.


This is my statement on events at the Anarchist Bookfair on Saturday, where I and other women were aggressively bullied by around 30 trans activists. The bullying has continued since then, with many friends and colleagues being told to disassociate themselves from me, condemn me and the other women and the Bookfair or else be de-friended themselves. Malicious rumours have been spread about me. I have also received death threats. Many other women have been bullied in this way previously to silence women’s voices. Please read the statement and share it to help resist this bullying. Women have the right to speak about matters which affect their lives. I thank everyone who has sent me messages of support during this time, your solidarity is appreciated.

Statement on events at Anarchist Bookfair 2017

I was in the process of writing a longer article around the events at the Anarchist Bookfair on Saturday, but I am also trying to stay on top of the rest of my life while dealing with the horrendous bullying of people around me which is underway by some trans activists and allies. I have been traumatised by my experiences on Saturday and by events since, resulting in a lack of sleep and inability to concentrate. I wanted to complete the longer article, but as lies are being circulated by those who attacked me, I feel I have to put out a shorter statement now.

When I refer to trans activists in this statement I mean people who are activists on trans issues, I do not mean that all of them were trans, nor that they represent the views of all trans identifying people. For those who don’t know what TERF means, it is an acronym for Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist, but whatever its origins it is currently used as a term of abuse to dehumanise women and so excuse violence and bullying against them.

I thank everyone who is taking a stand against bullying and I urge more people to stand in solidarity too. Those trans activists and allies who are carrying out the bullying can be defeated by growing numbers of people resisting that bullying. This will facilitate a proper space for the concerns of women and trans identifying people to be discussed.

Short statement on the facts:

  • The Tories are planning to amend the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) to include Gender Identity as a protected characteristic in law. This does affect women and as such, women have a right to express their views on this issue.
  • I am aware of three leaflets which were distributed at the Bookfair. I did not actually write or distribute any of them, but I supported other women’s rights to distribute them. The first leaflet I heard complaints about is available here.
  • None of them call for violence against trans identifying people, obviously I would not have supported them if they had.
  • Refusing to validate other people’s belief systems is not the same as threatening to harm them.
  • Bullying people to force them to accept your views does harm people.
  • If you think that other people should not be allowed to question your ideology, it makes you an authoritarian NOT an anarchist.
  • Women are oppressed in our society on the basis of our sex, those who deny this perpetuate that sexism.
  • It is a basic concept of progressive politics that oppressed groups have the right to self organisation and autonomy in their fight against their oppression.
  • I intervened to stop the bullying of two women who had been distributing leaflets about the GRA at the Bookfair and who were surrounded and being threatened by trans activists. Women’s voices have been silenced throughout history, which is why so many people have internalised misogyny and the assumption that women’s concerns are unimportant.
  • Half an hour later, I was surrounded for over an hour by a baying mob of around 30 trans activists who shouted misogynistic abuse in my face and at others, and who would not leave me alone. This included: ugly Terf, fucking Terf scum, bitch, fascist and more. That kind of behaviour should have no place in anarchism or any other progressive politics.
  • Despite that provocation, I did not at any time threaten or assault anyone. No trans activists were threatened by anyone else in my sight or hearing.
  • While I was surrounded, I saw a man’s hand moving towards my face and when it was within inches of my face I blocked it and pushed his arm away. He then started shouting that I had assaulted him and I should be thrown out.
  • Some of those in the baying mob tried to stoke anger and division by calling me a snitch, making false claims that I had filmed them assaulting a feminist at Speakers Corner and had handed that footage to the police. Footage of the incident is available and actually shows me intervening to protect the victim of the assault, not filming it. The videos embedded in this article show what actually happened, please do watch them and see the truth for yourself.
  • Their claim of ‘snitch’ in the circumstances is obscene in any event – when you assault women you do not get to claim the moral high ground by complaining that they have reported your behaviour to the police.
  • Those in the mob asserted that the leaflets setting out women’s concerns about the GRA should not be handed out because they amount to violence against trans people. They then used this to justify actual physical violence and intimidation. They didn’t care about the distress caused to others in close proximity, including children. Nor did they care about the trauma they cause to women by surrounding us, threatening us and using violence to silence women’s voices, repeating the patterns women face throughout our lives when reporting sexual harassment or assault or other sexist behaviour.
  • Women’s experiences are always erased – we are asked what were we wearing at the time, what did we say and do. Always the message is; as a woman it’s your fault, shut up. So what’s new here?
  • It is absolutely ludicrous that anyone could think that the behaviour of the mob was justified in any way by my actions or those of other women. That is victim blaming. People need to take a reality check.
  • Progressive people need to call out sexism, male dominance and violence and stop protecting sexist behaviour. Those offering support to bullies need to stop appeasing sexist behaviour.
  • Nonsense claims equating feminism to fascism are an insult both to feminists and to those who have endured racist and state violence under fascist regimes.

Of course I believe that all trans identifying people have the right to live their lives free from harassment and abuse, as does everyone. But I note the double standards that while women are repeatedly told to explicitly affirm that right, there is never a requirement on those advocating for trans issues to acknowledge the level of violence and harassment that women face or to state their opposition to sexist abuse, or to challenge the outrageous statements made by some trans advocates which repeatedly deny women’s experiences and silence women’s voices. This is a power imbalance based on the long held expectation in society that women should be subservient.

It is notable that a statement issued a few days ago calling for groups to boycott the Bookfair in future, makes no mention of sexism or of women’s rights or for the provision of women only meeting spaces. There is no acknowledgement at all that women are subject to oppression, sexual violence and harassment on the basis of our sex. It appears that those who have signed the statement are in denial about women’s experiences in much the same way that the rest of society is. Only the recent and snowballing reports of sexual harassment and assault in Hollywood, Parliament and via #MeToo have started to awaken people to reality. It is time those who signed up acknowledged that reality too.

The Anarchist Bookfair organisers do a huge amount of work to facilitate an amazing event which allows thousands of people to learn about alternative views and experiences of oppression and to discuss ways to improve society for the benefit of all. The self entitled mob attacking women for leafleting thought they had the right to dictate who could say what in that space rather than arguing their views and listening to the counter arguments to develop critical thinking. They need to think again.

I am lucky to have so many friends and comrades who put themselves in the line of fire to protect me, I thank them for this, especially those who were assaulted and abused. I also thank everyone who has sent messages of solidarity and support which are enabling me to get through this horrendous experience. I include in my thanks those trans identifying people and supporters who may not agree with my views but who recognise the importance of women being able to speak too and are resisting the intimidation they face from people claiming to act in their name.

I want to add that a couple of people have commented that while they agree with women being able to speak on these issues, they feel that in a few places the wording used is not helpful. The problem with requiring leaflets to be perfectly worded before they can be distributed is that it excludes very many people from being able to express their opinions. Only the confident will feel able to speak. It particularly excludes those born female who are generally socialised from a young age to keep quiet about their views and so who are less confident about expressing them. Perfection is certainly not a qualification used to prevent men from speaking. And ultimately, who decides what is right? That is the purpose of having debate, so we can all clarify our thinking.

Helen Steel

Leaflets distributed at the bookfair about the Gender Recognition Act

I am attaching the leaflets so people can read for themselves rather than speculating about what they said. Before people jump to conclusions about the leaflets, I would like them to understand the violent misogynistic bullying and death threats that women are being subjected to by a really vile subset of trans activists, so that they are aware of some of the context of women’s concerns. This abuse has been going on for a long time now. People need to understand just how frightening and intimidating it is for women, and why women are fighting back and need allies to stop this abuse and create the space for discussion on these issues. Here are a few examples, there are plenty more on terfisaslur.com.

Note my twitter handle is copied in on this so I can see the the threat of killing terfs.

Sex and Gender Ethics Society

The Sex and Gender Ethics Society leaflet distributed at the London Anarchist Bookfair can be downloaded from here, a longer version has been copied here.

Mayday for Women

The Mayday4Women leaflet:


The erasure leaflet:

Let’s talk about Eddie Izzard

He’s been in the press promoting himself for election to the Labour NEC and one has to assume that he considers himself material for a parliamentary seat. Yesterday he said “Labour needed to tap into the diversity within our movement” and “do more to increase involvement from a range of groups that I don’t feel are represented enough in our party”. This is the language we are deeply comfortable with and indeed how could anyone object? It is an appeal, on the grounds of equality, for greater representation of under-represented groups. However, in this case, it is a trojan horse. Hiding behind the fine words are ideas that cannot continue to go unaddressed because Izzard is not talking about getting more women, for example, into parliament, the greatest under represented group of all in our democratic high places, but of promoting people like himself without any further scrutiny of his politics.

Izzard is the latest in a number of high profile celebrity males to claim some aspect of the transgender umbrella for themselves. Bizarrely on Monday the bearded Sam Smith claimed to be a woman, a non-binary transgender person stating “I feel just as much woman as I am man”, making it all seem so cutting edge and fashionable. Of course its not obvious to most that a male bodied person with a beard is so obviously a woman. And similarly with Izzard who recently said “I have some of the same genetics as women so I am transgender” and as proof he utilised his love of high heels and posed in a ridiculous pair of boots which one is unlikely to see on a woman. As with many trans identifying males Izzard shows a great affinity with the stereotypical sexist persona of the femme fatal and zero identification with the harassed single mum making ends meet.

Eddie Izzard is particularly problematic to us as socialists because he looks ready to infiltrate political spaces that are meant for women and has all the language to tell women to shut up when we notice and raise objections. Wikipeadia describes Izzard as identifying as “a straight transvestite or a male lesbian”. He has also described himself as “a lesbian trapped in a man’s body”, transgender and “a complete boy plus half girl”. Describing yourself as a “lesbian trapped in a man’s body” does not just hint at a man struggling with dysphoria but suggests a man who struggles with recognising womens boundaries. His comments are deeply insensitive to the sexuality of lesbianism which precludes men entirely. He seems oblivious to the notion of female same sex attraction and thinks he, as a man, can also make a claim on it.

He has further dismissed feminist concerns about gender neutral toilets and moves towards mixed sex changing rooms similarly ignoring the real boundaries women fear being infringed. When men make these dismissive generalities about women’s concerns you know that they’ve given no thought to the teenage girl going to the non-binary school loo with tampons in her bag. She should make no objection to the boys hanging about whilst she deals with her most intimate bodily functions. She should instead think she has some sort of privilege over them suggests Izzard who has promoted the idea of chemically inducing menstruation in men so they’re not missing out. There’s a lack of imagination involved in the extreme end of transgender ideology, ironically it involves zero empathy with women and girls.

But this is the real the elephant in the room. Izzard wants us to acknowledge he’s transgender, he wants us to consider him on the woman spectrum, he also wants political clout. The next move for transgender activists, I have little doubt, is to demand they are placed on Labour Party women only short lists. The next move is to demand that “cis” women move aside for them.

Woman’s Place UK, the campaign to secure exemptions in law from new legislation to support gender self-identity, has listed one of the areas for exemptions as women’s political representation. We do not want to move back on the progress made by feminists in the party for women only shortlists which have helped make small steps to the greater representation of women in parliament, or in the movement in general. Further, the Labour Party now has excellent working class women on their benches such as Laura Pidcock, Rebecca Long Bailey, Dawn Butler to name just a few and we do not want these gains undermined in any way.

Izzard shows us what is at stake, shows us why women have to wake up and why exemptions are crucial. Some men have the nerve (the balls one might say) to literally march in and demand we hand over the gains we have made to them.

Ruth Serwotka

This article was originally posted to Facebook on 25th October 2017.

Model motion for Constituency Labour Party branches

Following is a model motion to adapt for Labour Party / Trade Union branches or other bodies, produced by A Woman’s Place. The petition is also available as a PDF and was originally published on Google Drive on 15th October 2017. A Woman’s Place can be found on Twitter and on Facebook and can be contacted by email at womansplaceuk@gmail.com.

A Woman’s Place — Model motion for Constituency Labour Party branches

XXX Branch/Constituency Labour Party notes that:

  • the Government has said it will consult on changes to the Gender Recognition Act (2004) in the autumn;
  • one change to be consulted on is a change to the requirement for a person to change their legal sex;
  • according to the current act, a person must obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate in order to change their legal sex; part of the requirement is a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria;
  • one proposal under consideration is that this be amended so that a self-declaration is all that is required for a person to change legal sex.

This Branch/CLP affirms that:

  • women-only spaces exist thanks to the struggle of women for their rights and liberation;
  • women-only spaces are important for the safety, dignity and privacy of women and to allow women to organise amongst themselves on issues that particularly affect women such as reproductive rights.

This Branch/CLP calls for the Labour Party to:

  • encourage discussion by members on the impact of proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act;
  • ensure that discussion is comradely, respectful and evidence based and that women’s voices are heard;
  • affirm its commitment to the principle of women-only spaces;
  • call on the Government to hold back on any change to the GRA until it has
    1. performed a review of how the exemptions in the Equality Act (2010) which allow for single sex services or requirements that only a woman can apply for a job (such as in a domestic violence refuge) are being applied in practice under current legislation;
    2. consulted with women’s organisations on how self-declaration would impact on women only services and spaces;
    3. researched the impact of self-declaration upon data gathering – such as crime, employment, pay, and health statistics – and monitoring of sex based discrimination such as the gender pay gap.

Petition : Keep the category of sex a mandatory question in the 2021 Census

Please sign the petition to keep the category of sex a mandatory question in the 2021 Census:

We oppose the published tentative recommendation by the Office of National Statistics to make sex a non-mandatory field in the 2021 Census. We demand that sex remains a mandatory question in the Census and is included in all government demographic data collection in accordance with SDG5 commitments.

Data collection disaggregated by sex gives us vital information for policy making and distribution of resources. If implemented, the ONS recommendation will make widely acceptable that sex becomes a voluntary question. This will render useless equal opportunities monitoring designed to combat sex discrimination. It will influence governments worldwide making difficult the monitoring of imbalances resulting from sex-selective abortion, female infanticide and unequal treatment of girls and women.

You can sign this petition on the petition.parliament.uk website anytime before 11th April 2018, if 10,000 people sign it the government will respond to this petition and if 100,000 sign this petition will be considered for debate in Parliament.

Sages : Sex, Gender and Equal Rights Fact Sheet

Sages, The Sex and Gender Ethics Society, have published a Sex, Gender and Equal Rights Factsheet, which is reproduced, with permission, below. They have also published PDF version and a quick facts PDF version — these would be better suited for printing.

Fact Sheet

Following the publication of the Transgender Equality Report,1 the UK government intends to consult on amending the Gender Recognition Act. This will have significant impacts on both trans people and others, especially women, children, and the lesbian and gay community. This fact sheet explains the proposed changes and some of the implications.


  • Gender means socially constructed roles, characteristics, and behaviours: for example, women may be seen as empathic and suited to caring roles, while men may be seen as logical, tough, and suited to technical jobs.

  • Sex refers to biological and physiological characteristics: for example, men have penises, women have vaginas. In Britain, the terms “male” and “female” are used on birth certificates to show a person’s sex.

    In everyday language and some legislation, the words “sex” and “gender” are often used interchangeably. However, in other legislation and in research literature, sex and gender are considered separately.

    In this information sheet, we use “male” and “female” to refer to birth sex. We use “woman” to mean someone whose birth sex is female. We use “trans-identifying male” to mean a trans person whose birth sex is male (they may call themselves a woman, trans woman, transsexual, or non-binary person, for example).

  • Gender reassignment is the process of transitioning from one gender to another. A small proportion of trans-identifying people have medical treatment (hormones, surgery, or both),2 and many change their appearance, but these changes are not obligatory.3

    It is impossible to change sex, even with medical treatment. Rather, a trans-identifying male who lives as a woman identifies with the feminine gender role.

  • Gender identity is a person’s internal sense of their own gender, whether or not it aligns with societal norms.

  • Gender dysphoria is the medical term for the condition in which a person experiences distress because they identify as having a gender that is different from their recorded birth sex.

The current law

  • Sex and gender reassignment are both protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010.
  • Under the Gender Recognition Act 2004, someone wishing to change their legal gender can apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate. They must have lived as the acquired gender for two years and must have been given a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria, but medical treatment is not required.

Proposed changes to the law

The Transgender Equality Report1 made the following recommendations (among others):

  • Self-declaration. To make legal gender changes easier for trans-identifying people, the need for a medical diagnosis should be removed. Gender Recognition Certificates should be issued through a simple administrative process of self-declaration of gender identity. This would apply to adults and 16/17-year-olds.
  • The protected characteristic of “gender reassignment” in the Equality Act 2010 should be changed to “gender identity”.
  • No exclusion of trans people under any circumstances. A person with a Gender Recognition Certificate should never be excluded from a single-sex occupation or service for people of their acquired gender.

What does this mean in practice?

Currently, organisations offering single-sex services in sensitive situations may exclude people of the opposite birth sex if it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.3 4 For example, a service for women who have experienced sexual assault could exclude a person who has transitioned to live as a woman from working as a therapist or accessing a women’s therapy group there.

Under the new recommendations, this would no longer be the case. A male person could legally change their gender to “woman” or “female” by self-declaration – no medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria or other assessment would be required, and they would not need to change anything about themselves, such as changing appearance or having medical treatment. This person would then be eligible to attend or work at the women-only therapy service in our example.1

The UK trans community

  • The UK trans population is estimated to be about 650,000 people (1 in 100),2 but only a few have Gender Recognition Certificates.
  • As of 2015, about 5% of trans-identifying people in the UK had sought medical treatment. Eventually, about 20% are expected to do so.2
  • The number of people with gender dysphoria is much smaller than the number of trans-identifying people. About 1 in 14,700 adult males and 1 in 38,500 adult females have gender dysphoria.5
  • If gender dysphoria is removed as a requirement for legally changing gender, many more trans-identifying people will have the option of taking this step and accessing sensitive single-sex services.

Impacts on women and girls

Women-only spaces
  • Three quarters of violent crimes6 and 98% of sexual offences7 are committed by males.
  • Sex-segregation exists to provide safety and dignity where women are physically and sexually vulnerable.
  • The proposed changes would allow trans-identifying males to access woman-only spaces such as changing rooms, refuges, hospital wards, prisons, and shared sleeping arrangements, with no exceptions.
  • 80–95% of these trans-identifying males will not have had any medical treatment as part of their transition.2
  • Referrals to gender identity services of prisoners convicted of serious sexual offences vastly outnumber referrals of prisoners convicted of non-sexual offences.8
  • Women and girls will be told it is a hate crime to complain about trans-identifying males in their changing rooms.9
Intimate care and contact
  • Under the new proposals, disabled and elderly women who prefer a female carer for washing, dressing, and so on won’t be sure of getting one.
  • Women who want to see a female professional for intimate care such as bra fittings or gynaecological issues like smear tests, mammograms, contraception, pregnancy and birth may find this harder to arrange, too.
  • Trans-identifying male police and security officials may perform intimate body searches on women.
  • 97% of women surveyed think that women should have the choice of accessing a woman-only support service if they have been the victim of sexual assault.10
  • Under the proposed legal changes, trans-identifying males will be able to work as counsellors in women-only services and join therapy groups for women who have survived sexual abuse and assault, rape, and domestic violence.
  • Gathering accurate statistics is essential for monitoring crime, health, and discrimination and addressing inequalities.
  • Women are often discriminated against because of their potential or perceived ability to bear children and have far higher rates of being sexually assaulted7 or trafficked for the sex industry.11 If we monitor gender-identity but ignore sex, we can’t tackle sex-based discrimination.
  • Hiring quotas, scholarships, and awards for women exist to counter sex-based discrimination and to ensure that women’s voices are represented. Trans-identifying males are already receiving such awards and positions intended for women, and if the law changes, more are likely to do so.
  • Trans-identifying males are already competing and winning medals in women’s sports.
  • International Olympic Committee guidelines on gender categories in sports only set rules for testosterone.12 But men are 14 cm taller, on average, with 10% more lung capacity and stronger bones. These advantages are retained by trans-identifying males who have had medical treatment.
  • In some schools and universities, trans-identifying children and young people can compete according to their gender-identity without having any medical treatment.

Impacts on children and young people

  • Under the new proposals, single-sex schools, activities, clubs, and dormitories may no longer be available.
  • If a person of the opposite sex cannot be challenged for being in a single-sex space, it becomes harder to teach children how to stay safe.
  • There is no consensus among experts as to the best approach to treating childhood gender dysphoria.13 But children are already being taught about gender identity and transition as early as primary school, and parents are not being given the option to withdraw them from those lessons.
  • Under-18s referrals to gender services have risen by 2000% in the last eight years,14 and there is evidence of social contagion.15

Impacts on the lesbian and gay community

  • Lesbians and gay men are attracted to people on the basis of sex, not gender-identity. The new gender-identity laws may make it impossible for them to have single-sex events and organisations.
  • Lesbians in particular are being bullied and accused of transphobia for wanting to partner only with females and not with males who identify as women,16 even when those males retain their penises.
  • The majority of children with gender dysphoria are no longer dysphoric by adulthood, but a high proportion grow up to be same-sex attracted.17 Homophobia is still widespread in the UK and is the second-most common motivator of hate crimes (after race).18 This suggests that in some cases homophobia may be motivating same-sex attracted people to transition or motivating parents to encourage their children to transition and therefore be seen as straight.

Impacts on trans-identifying people

  • Accurate data are needed to monitor the wellbeing of trans-identifying people as a group, to offer appropriate health care and other services, and to tackle discrimination against trans people.
  • If trans people are only recorded as the opposite gender, none of this will be possible.
  • Scientific research in this field is still in its infancy and there is no expert consensus on the underlying causes of gender dysphoria.13 Growing numbers of people are seeking to reverse the process of transition,19 20 although not all changes can be reversed.
  • Making the process of transitioning easier may increase the number of people who regret doing so. This is especially important when thinking about young, vulnerable people.


  • Offences committed by trans-identifying males are being recorded as being committed by women. This distorts crime statistics and makes it harder to address underlying problems.
  • In crime investigations, DNA shows birth sex, not gender-identity. Recording gender-identity in official records instead of sex will make it more difficult to solve crimes.

Free speech and language

  • Language related to women’s reproductive functions and female anatomy is being changed to be inclusive of trans-identifying people. But female reproductive health is a key area in which women are often discriminated against, and it’s essential for them to be able to describe their female anatomy clearly, accurately, and scientifically.21
  • The proposed legal changes will make the word “woman” meaningless. Women are adult female humans: members of the sex class able to bear children. If the law is changed, a “woman” will become “anyone who identifies as a woman”. This will not change material reality. The half of the population with the potential or perceived ability to bear children will still face discrimination because of their sex and will still need to organise together to talk about it. This will become very difficult if there is no word to describe them.22
The Sex and Gender Ethics Society believes that trans-identifying people should have the right to live their lives how they want, with full protection from abuse and discrimination and the provision of sensitive, appropriate services. But other sections of society, especially women and children, lesbians and gay men, deserve equal consideration, and the proposed changes to the law do not achieve this balance. We call for equal consideration of the rights, safety, dignity, and protection of all of these groups.


  1. House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee. Transgender equality, first report of session 2015–16, 2016.  2 3
  2. Reed T. Written evidence submitted by GIRES to the Transgender Equality Inquiry, 2015.  2 3 4
  3. Equality Act 2010 code of practice. Services, public functions and associations. Statutory Code of Practice.  2
  4. Whitfield L. How legislation protects women-only spaces and services: an overview, 2016. 
  5. Arcelus J et al. Systematic review and meta-analysis of prevalence studies in transsexualism. Eur. Psychiatry 30:807–815 (2015). DOI: 10.1016/j.eurpsy.2015.04.005 
  6. Office for National Statistics (ONS), Overview of violent crime and sexual offences, 2017. 
  7. Ministry of Justice, Home Office & ONS. An overview of sexual offending in England and Wales, 2013.  2
  8. Barrett J. Written evidence submitted by British Association of Gender Identity Specialists to the Transgender Equality Inquiry, 2015. 
  9. Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender hate crime. Schools project. 
  10. Women’s Resource Centre. Why women-only? The value and benefits of by women, for women services, 2007. 
  11. United Nations (UN). Human rights violations. 
  12. IOC consensus meeting on sex reassignment and hyperandrogenism, Nov. 2015. 
  13. Vrouenraets LJ et al. Early medical treatment of children and adolescents with gender dysphoria: an empirical ethical study. J. Adolesc. Health 57(4):367–373 (2015). DOI: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2015.04.004  2
  14. NHS. GIDS referrals figures for 2016/17. 
  15. Littman L. Rapid onset of gender dysphoria in adolescents and young adults: a descriptive study. J Adolesc Health 60(2):S83–S126 (2017). 
  16. Yardley M. The conflict between feminism and the transgender movement. Morning Star, 24 Dec 2014. 
  17. American Psychiatric Association (APA). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5), 2013. 
  18. Corcoran H & Smith K. Hate crime, England and Wales, 2015/16, Statistical Bulletin 11/16, Home Office, 2016. 
  19. Stella C. Female detransition and reidentification: Survey results and interpretation, 2016. 
  20. Hurst G. Bath Spa University bars research into transgender surgery regrets. The Times, 23 Sept 2017. 
  21. Woman-Centered Midwifery. Open letter to MANA, 20 Aug 2015. 
  22. Tunks K. Sex matters. Morning Star, 9 Aug 2017. 

Pornography at Work

We will be inviting writers to discuss ways to challenge sexism in the movement; here Roy Wilkes talks about challenging the use of pornography in a male dominated workplace.

I joined Greater Manchester Fire Service in 1982. It was just a few years after the national strike, so I anticipated a progressive and militant workforce. The reality was not quite as straightforward, however. The union was certainly strong and well organised, and its local and national leaderships were progressive on many issues.

But the culture on the ground was in many ways quite backward. Back then the Service was still organised along military lines, certainly on the recruits training school, with parade ground drill, saluting of officers etc. And quite a few of the personnel were ex military — one of the instructors on my three month residential basic training course was an ex army physical training instructor, a thoroughly nasty piece of work.

The recruits course — at the now defunct London Road Fire Station — was certainly tough. About a quarter of the recruits dropped out on the second day because it was so gruelling. I very nearly dropped out myself. My wife, who was pregnant with our first child, agreed. But when I phoned my dad (who had done national service in the forties) he shamed me into staying. We were never allowed to walk on the yard, everything had to be at the double; in the classroom we couldn’t ask or answer a question without leaping up and standing to attention; on parade you had to stand to attention while a crazed psychopath yelled in your face because your boots weren’t shiny enough or there was a bit of dust under your bed. It all seemed so alien. The military style discipline did have some advantages though; when the FBU Brigade Secretary came in to talk to us about the union, the instructors made it very clear that everyone would be joining, even though there was officially no closed shop. And we all joined.

During the last week of basic training the instructors eased up on us a bit. One afternoon we had a group discussion session. We had to pick topics out of a hat and discuss them. One of the topics was the then still untried and novel idea of recruiting women to the service. I was the only recruit in favour of the idea, which immediately marked me out as an oddball. Our instructor made it perfectly clear that if any women ever did make it onto the training school it would be made ten times as hard for them to pass the course as it was for men — and believe me, it was hard enough for us. All of the instructors were agreed on this — the fire service was no place for women, whatever the Sex Discrimination Act said.

After completing my basic training, and the subsequent B.A. course at Salford Station, I was posted to Red Watch at Blackley Fire Station in North Manchester. Greater Manchester Fire Service was almost exclusively white and male back then, and my station was no different. There was a lot of overt racism, sexism and homophobia on the watch, not from everyone, but certainly from the most vocal and opinionated of my new colleagues. As a young Marxist i took it upon myself to challenge the bigotry, which led to quite a few heated exchanges. It gradually became apparent though that the loudest and most overt reactionaries were actually in a minority, and it wasn’t long before I was elected union rep on the station.

Sexism however was far more deeply ingrained even than racism. Hardly any of my colleagues were in favour of women joining the service as operational firefighters. Their wives wouldn’t like it, they said, as well as all the usual nonsense about women being too emotional and lacking physical strength. There was general agreement that if a woman ever did get posted to the watch there would be no concessions made; they would be expected to sleep in the same dorm as the men (we still had beds on the night shift in those days): and women recruits would still be expected to endure the same childish and humiliating initiation rituals that we had all had to put up with. These usually involved some permutation of getting tied up and drenched with water. They also insisted that the presence of women wouldn’t stop the men from watching pornography on the night shift; indeed, the women would be expected to join in and watch it like everyone else (as part of the esprit de cours). Porn wasn’t as prevalent back then as it is nowadays of course, there was no internet for a start, but there was a thriving trade in porn videos via a fireman from London Road.

One evening I arrived at my station for the night shift to discover that the men were demanding an urgent union meeting to defend two colleagues from Green Watch who had been suspended for an alleged sexual assault on the station secretary. A motion was passed to begin an immediate emergency calls only ‘demo’. There was no requirement for a secret ballot in those days, and we often took this sort of action at station level. I wasn’t happy about it but there was an overwhelming majority for action. The following day I met the victim. It was obvious to me that she was telling the truth and I told her that I believed her. I think deep down the other lads on Green watch knew she was telling the truth too — they knew the assailants better than I did — and it wasn’t too hard to persuade them to call off the action. The two men were never prosecuted, which they should have been, but they were transferred to another station, which was the compromise that NALGO (the secretary’s union) accepted. I bumped into one of them a few months later; I expected him to be angry at my ‘betrayal’ but he wasn’t, he was actually quite sheepish. I was transferred onto Green Watch to help make up their numbers (I think management saw that as an opportunity to throw me into the lions den, as they saw it, as a convenient way of dealing with a known militant.) As it turned out there was no animosity towards me on Green Watch, although no one ever admitted that the two men were guilty.

I left the fire service in 1987 to go into teaching. I only managed five years all told. It was shortly after that that the first women firefighters were recruited in London. I have the utmost respect and admiration for those pioneering women. I know that those brave trailblazers will have gone to hell and back to assert their right to the career of their choice.

Worthwhile Feminism

Abi Wilkinson, a young feminist left journalist, tweeted this comment yesterday:

“I don’t know if I’ve stated this publicly so I should: the only worthwhile version of feminism is trans inclusive. Different women have different kinds of experiences, all victims of patriarchy, all women. How is this even up for debate?”

So here is my response about what worthwhile feminism really is:

I don’t know if I’ve stated this publicly so I should: the only worthwhile version of feminism is woman centred. The only worthwhile version of socialist feminism is centred on working class women. The only kind of female is identified by her biological sex characteristics. There are many victims of patriarchy, but the only worthwhile version of feminism knows that women are the main victims and that all other victims are also the victims of male dominance in all its manifestations.

There are many aspects to sex discrimination but sex discrimination is real. Our mothers and the trade union movement have built protections for us from discrimination that we should do everything we can to defend.

Women share near universal experiences as women from sexual harassment, belittling, discrimination, lower pay for equivalent work in status or value to performing domestic and sexual labour. Not all women give birth to and raise children but only biological women can give birth. Each human is carried and borne by a woman, each of us has a birth mother.

The experience of womanhood and girlhood can only be measured and made meaningful by observing female sex characteristics. Rendering adult human females ‘cis’ or ‘Assigned Female At Birth (AFAB’) is meaningless at best and erasure of women at worst. Being female is not an identity, it is a biological, material reality. Being working class is not an identity it is an economic, material reality. This material reality shapes all the experiences and influence one has. The only worthwhile version of feminism or socialism knows this to be true. How is any other sort up for consideration?

Of course there are many specific experiences that come from being a transwoman, being born male, is one for example. This is a universal experience of transwomen. The only form of worthwhile feminism can acknowledge this truth. The only kind of worthwhile feminism acknowledges that this creates a conflict of rights between women and those males who seek to self-identify into women’s spaces such as rape crisis shelters, women’s prisons, women’s sports and women’s structures for political representation.

Patriarchy is not a ‘gender system’ but the imposition of rigid gender expectations onto the dimorphic human species based on their biological sex. Patriarchy imposes dominance by one sex over another and cannot be undermined through the extreme reversal of sex stereotypical roles requiring medical and surgical modification. Patriarchy can only be undermined by the acknowledgement that gender is constructed, it is culturally and historically specific built onto the permanent sex characteristics of males and females. Patriarchy can only be undermined by the rejection of gender roles between the sexes. Only a feminism that has the sophistication to understand this is worthwhile.

Women, adult human females, generally express solidarity to all human beings facing hardship, discrimination, hatred. Kindness is our hallmark. Women are not supposed to benefit ourselves. Calling on women to be “inclusive” is not radical but plays to the deeply ingrained sexist socialisation of women. Women are capable of the greatest acts of solidarity and inclusion and we will always reach put to others who need our help. But worthwhile feminism says that we should be given the courtesy to be at the centre of our own movement and to shape our own demands free from misogyny, dismissal, slander, slurs and violence. So I am publicly stating the worthwhile version of feminism is both female and class centred. How is this even up for debate?

Ruth Serwotka originally posted the article above to Facebook on 9th October 2017.

What are your labour movement experiences of being a gender critical feminist?

Ruth Serwotka posted the following request on Facebook on 8th October 2017.

I am interested in womens experiences of being active in the Labour Party or trade union and being a gender critical feminist.

I have been hearing some terrible stories of gender critical feminists facing ridicule and removal from posts and facing malicious accusations of transphobia. Some of these accusations have been taken all the way to L.P. compliance unit.

If you feel able please post experiences here or PM me if you want confidentiality.

Through SocFem.net we will look at challenging the silencing of womens voices in our movement.

Gender law goes under the lens

WOMEN discussed proposed changes to law concerning gender identity yesterday in Brighton at a meeting titled What is gender?

Radical lesbian feminist Julia Long counter-posed views of gender as an innate quality with an analysis that views it as a social and political construct which allocates prescribed roles to men and women in a patriarchal society.

Under the Gender Recognition Act 2004 individuals may change their legal sex but require approval from the medical profession, a diagnosis of gender dysphoria and to live as a member of the opposite sex for two years, she explained.

Recommendations from Parliament’s women and equalities select committee are that this be replaced with a self-declaration and that current exemptions under the Equality Act 2010 allowing certain services and spaces to be reserved for biologically female individuals be removed.

One speaker said the assault on a 60-year-old woman by transgender activists at Speaker’s Corner on September 13 for trying to attend a discussion on the nature of gender was a “watershed moment.”

Socialist Feminist Network co-convener Ruth Serwotka described the online bullying and abuse directed at women who raise these issues, quoting threats and endorsements of violence against women by activists who support the changes.

And Transgender Trend’s Stephanie Davies-Arai expressed fears that advice preventing professionals such as teachers or clinicians from questioning a child’s declared gender could harm children as a large majority of kids with identity queries end up identifying with their birth sex, but there are moves to accelerate the prescription of puberty blockers which can result in sterility and arrested development.

This article was originally published in the Morning Star on 28th September 2017.

A Woman’s Place Campaign Launched

Socialist Feminist Network supports the Woman’s Place UK campaign to protect and assert women’s rights and separate space, following is the launch statement, which was first published on Google Drive as a PDF, the campaign can be followed via the womansplaceuk.org website, on Twitter and on Facebook and can be contacted by email at womansplaceuk@gmail.com.

A Woman’s Place

Who are we?

We are a group of people from a range of backgrounds including trade unions, women’s organisations, academia and the NHS. We are united by our belief that women’s hard won rights must be defended.

What are we for?

We are against all forms of discrimination. We believe in the right of everyone to live their lives free from discrimination and harassment. Women face both endemic structural and personal inequality. This is reflected, for example, in the high levels of sexual harassment, violence against women and girls; the gender pay gap; discrimination at work. This is why sex is a protected characteristic in the Equality Act (2010) which we believe must be defended.

We are calling for:

  1. Respectful and evidence based discussion about the impact of the proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act to be allowed to take place and for women’s voices to be heard. Too often women are silenced, threatened, trolled, harassed and even physically assaulted for daring to engage in a discussion about the possible consequences of a legislative change. The accusation of “transphobia” should not be used to shut down women’s voices.
  2. The principle of women only spaces to be upheld — and where necessary extended. In subsequent briefings we will set out the reasons why these spaces are needed.
  3. A review of how the exemptions in the Equality Act which allow for single sex services or requirements that only a woman can apply for a job (such as in a domestic violence refuge) are being applied in practice. We believe that the Women and Equalities Select Committee inquiry and its recommendations have had a chilling effect on many service providers and employers who are now not sure if it is lawful to apply these exemptions.
  4. Government to consult with women’s organisations on how self-declaration would impact on women only services and spaces.
  5. Government to consult on how self-declaration will impact upon data gathering — such as crime, employment, pay, and health statistics — and monitoring of sex-based discrimination such as the gender pay gap.

Why now?

The Government Equalities Office has committed to consult on changes to the existing Gender Recognition Act.

The current process requires that you are over 18; have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria (defined by the NHS as a condition where a person experiences discomfort or distress because they believe there to be a mismatch between their biological sex and gender identity); that you’ve lived in your acquired gender for at least 2 years and that you intend to live in your acquired gender for the rest of your life. You must also have an original or certified copy of your birth certificate and copies of any official documents that show your birth name has changed to your current name; proof you’ve lived in your acquired gender for the required time (2 years for standard route, 6 years for alternative route); any medical reports and proof you’re living in your acquired gender (passport, driving licence, payslips or benefit documents, utility bills or other documents of an official nature)

The proposed change to the law would simplify the process to gain a GRC with the likely introduction of a simple statement of intent as in Ireland:

“I do solemnly and sincerely declare that I:

  1. have a settled and solemn intention to live in the preferred gender for the rest of my life,
  2. understand the consequences of the application,
  3. make this application of my own free will.”

Gender Recognition Act, Ireland, 2015

The Equality Act 2010 allows for those with a gender recognition certificate to be exempt from some services, occupations or spaces where there is a “proportionate means of meeting a legitimate aim”. These exceptions are not general but must be justified on a case by case basis:

“A service provider may have a policy about providing its service to transsexual users, but this policy must still be applied on a

case-by-case basis. It is necessary to balance the needs of the transsexual person for the service, and the disadvantage to them if they are refused access to it, against the needs of other users, and any disadvantage to them, if the transsexual person is allowed access. To do this may require discussion with service users (maintaining confidentiality for the transsexual service user). Care should be taken in each case to avoid a decision based on ignorance or prejudice.”
Equality and Human Rights Commission Guidance on the Equality Act

Transgender people should have the same rights as anyone else to be free from discrimination, to access the services that they need and to be treated with dignity and respect.

However, moving to a process of self-declaration risks unintended consequences for the safety and wellbeing of women and girls. If the government were to go ahead with the proposed simplification of the gender recognition process, and move towards a self-declaration system, it would mean that violent male offenders could demand access to women only spaces and services such as refuges, sexual violence centres/services and prisons simply by claiming to identify as a woman, whether or not this was the case. There is already evidence that this is happening in the prison service in the UK. There is evidence from both the UK and internationally of people who were born male entering women only spaces dressed as women and going on to assault women.

Whether or not these offenders are transgender is irrelevant since the recommendations in the report would facilitate this type of offending by making access to women only spaces dependent on an individual’s declaration that they identify as a woman with no need for any process of social or medical transition.

Trans people have the right to access the services that they need and there are real concerns about the safety of tran

swomen, in particular if they are housed in the mainstream prison population in line with their biological sex. However, the Committee’s recommendations in these areas are not the best way to address these issues and threaten the safety and wellbeing of women and girls.

How can you get involved?

  • Join our campaign
  • Read and share our briefings
  • Discuss the proposals with other people
  • Write to your MP

There are lots more resources from Woman’s Place UK on the website, including all their published documents, films of speakers, upcoming meetings and more.