Following is a quick (it might have mistakes) transcript of Julie Bindel's talk.
Thank you Alison and hi everybody it's a real pleasure to be here and as Alison said we had this discussion, along very similar lines in February and so I'm hopeful that we will be able to reach some kind of consensus, if not about issues and theories and the way that we approach, politically, these different issues, but at least on the way that we treat each other and on the way that we speak about each other and move forward. And knock on the head this, what appears to be a phobia about having differences of opinion, and this is what seems to have happened in, certainly in, the past decade, maybe a little bit longer, that identity politics, which to me, is like the old 1980's identity politics, but without the politics, has taken over on issues that are of grave importance to deal with.
And whatever your position, our position, on the sex industry and whether its harmful or whether its labour, on gender whether its a social construction of whether its innate, on religious fundamentalism, whether it's the woman's right to wear a full face veil or whether its oppression of woman. All of these issues, that seem to have just created an absolute hellish cesspit of vitriol, it's almost irrelevant what your position is, what we need to get out of this discussion, by the end of today, hopefully, or at least agree that we'll continue to try, is that we move forward constructively. That those of us who identify as being on the progressive left recognise that are far bigger fish to fry in terms of getting this current government out of office than it is arguing over who is whore-phobic. So that's just my personal aim for today.
I want to start with a little bit of the history of how this no platforming of radical feminism began by using a bit of my story and bringing in stories of other woman who have been similarly targeted later down the line. And I just want to make two things clear before I do that.
One is this isn't about me, at all. I've become, a kind of, what's the word? A straw dog? I've just become a whipping girl. I now, kind of, represent all that is, as far as those on the other side of me, of my debate, of all that is wrong anything to do with feminism that names men and men's violence as the problem. So this isn't about me, I just happen to have been the target of most of it.
And this also isn't about the transgender issue. It really isn't. It's about whether or not you take a neoliberal approach to certain feminist issues or whether you take a radical approach to certain feminist issues. Now that's my view. So this is something that is absolutely up for grabs in terms of this debate and discussion.
But what it is, from my point of view, and how I see it with my eyes having been involved in this movement for thirty five years. Is that it's the perfect arena for a backlash against radical feminism, which we'll go into a little bit later, in terms of what it is, just in case you think it's something which it isn't.
In other words it means that white straight men can stand up in any political context, or social context or on social media and scream, whorephobe, transphobe, at those of us that actually prioritise ending violence against women and children, but still be seen as progressives.
So those men have got free reign to do that and unfortunately because, this is the nature of women's oppression, we're the only oppressed group that's required, or expected, to love our oppressor. Is that they are aided and abetted by a number of women, either because those women are also threatened by, or hate radical feminism, radical feminists. Or because, and we're going to talk about this later on, they are maybe new to the movement, or young, or both and are bullied and battered down, if they don't say, "yes you're right, Bindel, etc, etc, is whore-phobic, trans-phobic, islamophobic, biphobic, etc, etc". So that, to me, is what this is about.
And bearing in mind that we have, a chronic situation all over the world with violence against women and children, oppression and discrimination of women and children, by men, by the male ruling class. I just wonder if we can come up with some answers as to why radical feminists ourselves, are now the enemy, and now the oppressors and pretty much anyone else, who takes a neoliberal view, or an individualistic view, is now the oppressed. That oppression now doesn't have to now be rooted in anything material or structural, it can literally just be the politics of the personal.
"I'm polyamorous, you're oppressing me", is something that I've heard on several occasions. So that those with much privilege, who are Oxbridge educated, white people have now located themselves as "the oppressed", because there is some, weird, queer, Judith Bulter eyed notion that everything is a floating signifier and nothing really matters except the personal experience.
So when feminist said "the personal is political" we definitely didn't mean that.
OK, so really briefly, because I'm so bored with this.
In 2004 I wrote an article and it was seen as offensive and bit of it were offensive and I used language and humour which was inappropriate. And yes, I would write it differently now, for sure.
I was angry. I was very new to journalism, in fact I wasn't actually a journalist at the time, doesn't take away any responsibility. But it was stupid and it was also unlucky, in a way, because it was pretty much the first time that The Guardian started putting up things from The Guardian Weekend Magazine online and so those that said far worse things than me before, kind of went, I mean, good for them, it kind of just didn't really get any airing.
And I honestly think, well in fact I know, that because I'm who I am and by then I was already quite well known as a feminist for having radical views. It was a great opportunity for the pile-on.
So the pile-on began, it has never ended, it never will end, it will never end, so that's, that's just something that I accept.
But what happened after that was just a, kind of, a beginning of, a response to, feminist politics, with me as a conduit. So everywhere I went to speak about sexual violence there was a crowd outside screaming and shouting "she's a transphobe". And very, very quickly, it started to be combined with the pro-sex work lobby.
So almost immediately, transpeople would turn up, transwomen, never transmen, transwomen would turn up screaming "transphobe, transphobe" and "whorephobe" and the issue, there were two issues there, one is that many transwomen said that since they had been involved in survival sex work, that therefore I was being doubly oppressive to them, saying prostitution is an abusive, oppressive industry.
And there were also pro-sex worker's rights activists who saw the opportunity to give me a good kick in the gut, who turned up in order to shout alongside them.
And these two issues became completely indivisible. So if I was put up for an award, which I never asked to be, they would be bullying the sponsors, emailing the sponsors, trying to get the venue to shut it down. And this was as early as 2006.
I would turn up at conferences outside of the UK and this, very small, lobby of transpeople who, as far as I'm concerned do not represent transpeople at all, would organise the picket, would organise the screaming and shouting and banging on the windows.
And this was when I and my colleagues were trying to discuss how to reduce sexual violence towards women and children, it was not because I was speaking about this issue.
I have however spoken about transgenderism, when I have been invited, and there's always been transgender people with me on the panel and it's often been at the invitation of transpeople and others will try and get that debate shutdown and those transpeople that wish to have that discussion and debate with me are screamed at and called "transphobe" themselves, Miranda will talk to you a little bit more about that.
But I was counting on the train on the way here, the number of transwomen that I have as friends, outnumber the lobby, the actual physical lobby, of those who are creating this shit-storm, which is quite interesting. And some of those friends are friends on social media, some are actual friends that I have met, like in the old days, when I was a girl.
So I'm not doing that "some transwomen are my friends". No, it's just that I get lots of emails from transwomen saying "god, this is shit, this is shit, but if we say anything then there is a pile-on with us" and bearing in mind that the trans community is so small, so vilified, it's not surprising, we know how that feels.
So that's how it panned out. And then it was a bit of a lonely place. There was me, Janis Raymond, who wrote The Transexual Empire, Sheila Jefferies and maybe one other prominent radical feminist who were vilified and who had their employers written to and who had grant givers written to say "withdraw that grant, because this person is contravening you equal opportunities policy" and that happened to me all the time, every single grant or editor I had, it still does happen.
But then some younger women, interestingly mainly heterosexual, just said "fuck this with this gender nonsense, what's all this "female brain" and "male brain?" You know, we're not having this. Of course we'll stand in front of any transperson who's been vilified and bullied and attacked, because that's oppression, cruelty, bullying."
But we don't have to buy into this "brain sex" thing. We don't have to abandon socialist and radical feminist theory and principals, which is that gender is a social construction, which is how patriarchy works.
So it wasn't a matter of being personally vitriolic towards individual trans people, it was just saying, of course, be as you wish. I mean, you know, we was talking earlier Miranda and another transwoman friend about misgendering and I said, I will refer you you as she and women because I reject the term for me.
It's all made up, it's all nonsense. I don't know what it feel like to be a woman, I really don't. I know what it feels like to be treated as a women. But I was born a baby, just as everyone else. So of course I'll use the pronoun she, it's basic manners and it doesn't exist anyway.
These young women started to say, "we've had enough of this", being told that theres such as thing as "brain sex" and that gender is the same as sex and that we have to abandon everything that we believe in and we have to abandon everything from Simone de'Beauvour and everything since where we have tried to suggest that an end to patriarchy can only come, when you say everybody can live free from gender constraints and gender rules, that benefit men and oppress women but that also harm men. Men are quite unhappy under patriarchy often, as we've heard from pro-feminist men.
So that started to really whip up the frenzy, because there were now quite a few feminists who dared to say, "no no, gender isn't innate", "no, no, no, the sex industry isn't great". There was a hell of a kerfuffle . And although left and liberal publications always published much more pro-trans, pro-sex work articles than they did the opposite, the second a feminist got her article in somewhere, like the New Statesman, there was a huge outcry, as though it's not allowed to be said. There is no debate allowed. There is no dissent allowed.
And then I started hearing from a number of students, female and a couple of men, who would say, "you know, you have just been no platformed from our University, you may not know this but heres a copy of the minutes where it was decided, the majority of us didn't want you to be no platformed, but it was carried through by the gender officer or the trans officer or the queer officer or whatever the fuck and therefore you are banned again and I'd like you to know on what lines". And it was that they couldn't have me speaking because, and as one piece of evidence went around the email to prove their point, these people who are banning me, I'm whorephobic, transphobic, biphobic and islamophobic. And the articles that they chose to highlight this was me saying about transgender that "this doesn't stand up as a medical diagnoses from the fifties because gender is a social construction". Whorephobia was, "the sex trade really harms women and girls". Islamophobia was, along with many of my Muslim born sisters and colleagues, was saying that, "the veil is a symbol of women's oppression", like the nuns habit, etc. And the biphobia was me saying, "I don't quite get why bisexual people are saying to Lesbians that we are oppressing them". It was just, you know, debatable stuff, some might even say controversial stuff, but definitely not hate speech and definitely not violent speech.
So these women who emailed me would say, "we don't know what to do because we can't speak out, the last student who spoke out in favour of you, just to say "I'd like to hear her speak", was sacked from her position as an officer in the feminist society".
Another one I was told who innocently sent around an article I'd written about rape and the low conviction rate was screamed at by the male safe space officer that she was a transphobe and a whorephobe because she sent something around that was written by me, so I have become toxic, so it's not that my "transphobia" or "whorephobia", in their view, is toxic, I am toxic.
And then when I would go to universities, invited by staff rather than the NUS because, of course, the NUS no platform me. And the NUS make sure that other student bodies lose their funding from them if they invite me. I would go onto campus, like for example, last time I was at Essex University I was invited to debate a pornographer and the stuff that came around, the usual petition, I mean, I must say, that change.org has really benefited from this row, that online petition thing, I mean they are so busy with it all. But anyway, this petition went around, "Ban Julie Bindel from campus, her presence on campus for, muslim students, queer students, bi students, polyamorous students, sex working students and trans students will be an act of violence".
And this is all on line, all for you to see, I don't even need to exaggerate, which is breaking my heart because that is what I love doing more than anything.
And they were saying that I was a physical danger and I realised at that point that what's going on with student politics is that this neoliberalism that we are living under has given them the opportunity to think that they are doing great activist work and are achieving a huge amount by stopping actual violence on campus without stopping violence on campus, because it's too big a job, because then you would have to stop all the men from raping the women. But just by banning me because I am violence.
So I want onto Essex University campus and I meet the pornographer on the train and we politely say hello and this is a man who has produced porn for years, has given awards to porn sites such as exploited africans dot com which completely pornifies women coming from the Congo on boats, that have to be fucked by anyone because they've got no choice, because they've got no papers, and there is another one which is a parody of the John Warboys taxi rapist, do you know who he is?
And this man's given awards to these porn sites and I'm there getting ready to debate him and we are walking through campus and I see this rag-bag group of students who'd obviously got up a bit late to meet me at the actual campus gates. Shouting and screaming "transphobe", "violent", phobic this, phobic that, at me, and I thought, well, we are living in Orwellian times as wall as McCarthyite times. Because in what way is this pornographer, walking through this campus, with no dissent and no concern, at all, from these so called feminists and pro feminist students and I'm being screamed at, and there you have it, that is the climate in which we are living.
So as I say, whatever your view is on the sex industry, on gender, on anything, there's only one side being screamed down, and that's the feminist side, I don't mean the fun feminists, the pole dancing, it's the new way to liberation feminists, I mean the feminists like me, miserable, hard faced, going on about men all the time, being abusers and shit.
And now we have an absolute, as I say, phobia, about debate, there seems to be a view that there is a right not to be offended. The fact that we can be offended, which I am at least a hundred times a day, is now being seen as violence, so that we experience it as internalised violence and we are triggered and we are traumatised, and I am my own trigger warning, which I found, there was something, article trigger warning: Julie Bindle.
So, what do we do? What do we do? I'm not going to talk from the front because what I want to do is obviously hand over to Miranda and have a discussion and find ways forward. But recently and I think that these two events that have been organised, on our behalf, are a big part of this and I thank the organisers very, very much for putting these on, because I know that the hassle that you get, for doing that, so thank you.
But I think that the tide is starting to turn, because, younger or newer feminists, are realising, that they now have no opportunity to learn from the rest of us and we, in turn, are not able to learn from, newer and younger feminists, because we are not allowed to be in each others spaces, each others campuses, even each others living rooms and say, "what do you think about that?", "why do you think that sex work can be liberating?".
And they are not able to say to me, "what evidence do you have that the legalisation of the sex industry has failed?" and we are no able to talk about gender any more, which was the basis of socialism and feminism, when we looked at how capitalism, you know, wielded family, wielded patriarchy etc.
So it's really harmful to the left, as well as feminism in general. And when the left now has this weird, like I say, Orwellian view, of everything is topsy turvy, the sex trade is empowering to women, in what way does capitalism not come into this? But there you go. That there's no such thing, obviously there's a male brain and a female brain, in what way are you pro equality if you think that we are different but equal. When people said that about black people and white people there was rightly so an outcry.
That the full face veil is not in any way a symbol of oppression to women when there are women in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, elsewhere who are saying, stop marching with these crazy fundamentalists who are fascists and support us.
So the left has become, in a way, the new right and that's why I talk about neoliberalism. We have no consistency within the left any more because we have been battered down to take a view, that anyone that says, me, me, me, I'm a muslim woman and I have the right to do this, me, me me, I'm a sex worker, me, me, me, I'm a trans woman who knows I was born in the wrong body.
That we have no right now to challenge that orthodoxy and this is what the left is built on and so unless we actually start to chip away at that, to challenge it and be brave enough to stand up and disagree with it, then this will effect a damn sight more than me and a few others that are the targets, radical feminism in general and the left in total.
because the right wing, I see this all online, they are laughing, laughing at us so much, I mean they are writing some actually quite good and funny stuff about this whole nonsense, you know the Stepford Students. You know they are absolutely laughing all their way to the election, because we have been disabled by fear and by bullying and by this monolithic, crazy, view that what is actually oppressive is the new liberation.
So that's all I want to say for now so I'll hand back to you chair, thank you.