What is to be done? Lenin wrote a pamphlet with that title in 1901 and his burning question was how to bring political consciousness to the proletariat. The Women's Declaration International (WDI) held a conference last month with the same title.
They asked a different, but just as vital, burning question: how do we fight the transvestite men’s rights movement, a.k.a gender ideology? Registration was at 9 a.m. in a swanky five storey community centre.. Tea, coffee and biscuits were available (free) but we were asked to bring our own travel mug and water bottle. I forgot both but luckily there were paper cups.
Perhaps it was the "all girls together" vibe that reminded me of the first day of term (I went to a convent): there was giggling and screeching in the corner, a few rather scared looking new girls sat bolt upright not talking to anyone and of course there were the aloof too-cool-for-school sixth-formers. I spotted Jane and she grinned and shrieked “hello!!” like she hadn’t seen me all summer and I grinned and shrieked back - mouth full of biscuits. In fact I saw her a couple of days ago at the SFW (Standing For Women) gathering in Hyde Park and the WPUK (Woman’s Place UK) Hags book launch. No doubt she’ll be at the WRN (Women’s Rights Network) zoom meeting next week too.
The first speaker was a Spanish feminist called Amparo Domingo. I noticed there was a dog in the audience. I whispered to Jane: “Whose dog is that?” She whispered back: “Oh, that’s Brava - Kate’s dog. She takes her to all the conferences and meetings. Everywhere.”
Brava was attentive and well behaved and proved herself useful: if a speaker spoke for too long she started to whine, softly at first and then as if she was in pain.
Amparo made the sensible point that women must not publicly criticize each other’s feminism. I thought of George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia - surely one of the most boring books ever written - an account of the infighting between the various groups on the Left: the marxist POUM (Partit Obrer d’Unificacio Marxista), the anarchist CNT (Confederacion Nacional del Trabajo) and the socialist UGT (Union General de Trabajadores) and the communist PSU (Partit Socialista Unificat). I wanted to put my hand up at question time and say the fascists won in Spain because of the infighting amongst the opposition but I didn’t because I’m not a show off or a goody-goody teacher’s pet.
There were several talks going on simultaneously in every room on every floor in the building right up to the so-called "Loft," including gems like "How I saved my own Life" by Iwona Rogwela and "How I won damages from the Metropolitan Police" by Kelly Frost, as well as Julia Long on feminist theory. The great thing is most of the WDI talks were filmed and are available on YouTube, so everyone can watch them. In her talk, Iwona Rogwela explained that she kicked her US Marine boyfriend “in the bollocks” one night when he attacked her, and she says it saved her life. She knows some karate moves and she showed us: I recommend that every woman watch it!
Fiona McAnena talked about her sterling work to get men out of women’s sport. She said the sporting bodies all eventually come round after you explain that men have an unfair advantage when they compete against women. She said you have to say it over and over again. British Cycling recently announced it is considering banning men permanently from elite women’s competition so her efforts are paying off. “Let’s just keep consciousness raising,” said Fiona McAnena, “It’s what we do.
Throughout this speech a woman behind me rummaged in her bag, shuffled and rustled bits of paper. Not for the first time I wondered why the women’s liberation movement is a magnet for women who are - shall we say - uninhibited and I recalled Mary Daly’s comment: “Insanity is the most logical response to the patriarchy.”
I went up to the Loft for the talk I considered essential: Maureen O’Hara on "Rolling Back Gender ID in Law." Maureen O’Hara is a feminist and a lawyer. The room was packed and Brava was also in attendance. I had pen in hand poised to take notes. Maureen began and she was clear and easy to listen to. Then a woman came in late and sat next to me - the only seat left. She ate a crunchy nut bar slowly and noisily all through the talk and I blame her for my lack of notes on Maureen O’Hara’s lecture.
Sheila Jeffreys - the Reverend Mother - gave the final speech entitled "Why equality doesn’t work." In a blaze of statistics she explained why the women’s liberation movement begun in Britain in 1970 - a movement whose aim was equality with men - is a damp squib. Progress is slower than a sloth in slow motion. In 2022 The World Economic Forum said women globally earn 20% less than men and it will take about 100 years to reach parity. According to TUC statistics in 2023 women in the UK earn 15% less than men, equivalent to working two months of the year for free.
She continued relentlessly: In the UK women do 60% more housework than men. When we retire our pension is 38% less than men's; women constitute only 2% of the manual workforce (skilled trades). Women are, she says, a sex caste subordinate to men, a slave class to provide free labor - child care and services for their husbands including sex work “which they’d rather not be doing a lot of the time.”
Her point was that equal pay legislation such as quotas don’t work because the system - the patriarchy - is stacked against us from the beginning. She says: “All men’s advantages stem from marriage, the acquisition of a wife means a man has a wife to service all his needs and bring up his children for free. Women have the double disadvantage of serving as the wife while not having a wife. Unlike men, women are slaves in the private sphere, subject to being murdered. Male violence and pornography mean the idea of equality with men is impossible and absurd. I thought of Sarah Everard, arrested for the crime of being blond and pretty - her punishment: rape, strangulation and death.
Sheila Jeffrey’s answer to the question what is to be done, is to become a political lesbian. If women want liberation from slavery, they must disengage from men.
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