It’s early morning. It’s dark outside. I’m bleary-eyed and sitting with a strong coffee in my favourite mug trying to wake up! I had a phone call late last night asking me to speak on the Nick Ferrari Breakfast show on LBC radio. I will be giving my views on the recent news that Women’s Aid are reviewing their transgender policy and may allow trans-identified males (transwomen) to work in women-only shelters.
While I was waking up I switched on the TV and flicked through the channels. Then I spotted none other than my old sparring partner India Willoughby – back on Good Morning Britain again – being introduced by Piers Morgan. India will also be giving her views on the Women’s Aid story. This time up again an expert in the field; Karen Ingala Smith is the head of an amazing organisation called nia that provides services for women and children who have experienced male violence. You can watch the interview here.
This was going to interesting to watch. Last time it was me up against India in the GMB studio. I was there talking about the risks of transgender prisoners who identify as women living in women’s prisons. It was my first time on TV. India is an old-hand. India was rude, impatient, interrupted and hogged the camera making it hard for me to get a word in edge-ways. But maybe this time, talking about the sensitive topic of the needs of vulnerable women seeking refuge from violent men, India’s arrogance and lack of empathy towards women may not be so obvious. I was wrong. I was very wrong…..
Straight off India started to derail the discussion by suggesting women’s fears are about a predatory man dressing as a woman to gain access to women. India was also claiming women are fear-mongering that transwomen are some how a danger to women. No. If you listen to what we say India this is about vulnerable women who want, deserve and need a female-only space to recover and heal from the trauma of male abuse. Like it or not, a woman seeking refuge with her children does not want to be confronted with someone she perceives as male, no matter how they identify. This is about the needs of a woman seeking refuge being prioritised over the needs of a trans-identifying male seeking employment.
Suzanne Reid tries to bring the conversation back to the topic, but India is straight in there again with the old chestnut ‘but what about the lesbians!’ India was now claiming that because some women will be abused by their lesbian partners that women staff should be barred. At last Karen is allowed to speak. “A woman and her lesbian partner would of course not be allowed in the same refuge, but statistically we know that when we are talking about sexual and domestic violence men are much more likely to be the perpetrators and women much more likely to be the victims”.
I often hear the argument thrown in by men that lesbians should be banned from women’s toilets, changing rooms etc etc. This is based on the false premise that women are at risk because both men and lesbian women are sexually attracted to women. Sexual and physical violence against women is not because perpetrators are sexually attracted to them – it is based on power, aggression and dominance – the same power and dominance that is embedded within and encouraged by the patriarchal system we all live in. This is about the imbalance of the male vs female dynamic which women grow up being aware of from early girlhood. Women, particularly if abused by men, are acutely aware of a male’s physical presence, his demeanour, his powerful place within society. It is this – the social conditioning all woman have undergone – the unconscious associations they carry within them – that means that women NEED a male-free space sometimes. That social conditioning affects us all as women – we see it in Karen, the expert in the room no less, as she waits for her turn while the males speak. I felt it inside me as I sat in the studio not wanting to interrupt or come over too aggressively. We see the male privilege that both Piers and India have grown up with pushing them on – allowing them to speak with such confidence on areas they know very little about. If we closed our eyes and just listened – there would be no doubt who was born male and who was born female around that table.
And then India pounces in for the killer blow, turning to Karen who had just dared to interrupt and give her views. India said “you accept that transgender women aren’t men, yeah?” “If I got beaten in a relationship would I be welcome?” Karen replies that India should have access to a specialist refuge for transwomen to an indignant India who declares “A specialist refuge – but they don’t exist”.
Let’s just unpack that for a minute. First, it is already the policy of some shelters, such as Women’s Aid, to allow male-born transwomen refuge on a case-by-case basis. India would not have no where to go. Secondly, how does India think specialised refuge’s for women came into existence? Women campaigned and fought for their existence that’s how. Something that the transgender community can and should be doing for themselves rather than expecting and demanding access to under-funded and over-stretched services that are not designed for their particular needs.
Without pausing to let Karen speak India then crossed a line – a line that has lost him all respect from me and I hope all the women watching – India dared to tell Karen that her website contains a list of crimes committed by men and that this was is a great demonisation.
“I feel really sorry for guys this year – I think they’ve had it really tough”.
India was referring to this; the list of 138 women killed by their male partners or ex-partners last year. This is the annual list that Karen compiles every year with the details of every death in honour of these women. It is the work that told us for the first time that 2-3 woman are killed every week by intimate partners. Yet, all India can see is the vilification of men. I wonder why?
Karen explains what the list is about. “Well there you go – you have one track – one topic of conversation – not all men are bad. There a plenty good guys in this world”
Yes, you heard it right – India Willoughby has just told the head of an organisation that exists to help women after they have been abused by men – that she has only one track! Well thank heavens they do – women need these services and people like Karen who dedicate themselves to this cause. There are currently around 80,000 men in prison in England and Wales compared to just 4000 women. 10,000 of those men are convicted sex offenders compares to a minuscule 126 women. Every statistic you care to look at shows without doubt that violence and abuse is overwhelmingly committed by males.
How dare India mock this cause. India says she’s a woman – well I don’t see your womanhood India. This looks a lot like someone gesticulating full of male privilege and spouting off about stuff they know nothing about. All I see is someone victim blaming women, talking over women, ignoring women.
We can see your maleness India. We all do. We are just too polite to say most of the time. Perhaps you should just let that penetrate. We. See. Your. Male. Privilege.
I switch off the telly, make myself another strong coffee and get ready for my interview on LBC. India has done me a huge favour. I’m in the zone now and I’m not going to be silenced.
Next thing I know I’m on the radio – this time up against Aimee Challenor. Aimee is a 20 year old trans-identified male who represents LGBT issues in the Green Party. You might remember Aimee. Aimee proudly tweeted about how the Green’s women’s LGBT group is now open to all non-men! Thanks Aimee.
Nick Ferrari asked for my views so I gave them. I talked about how the law acknowledges the importance of biological sex to women and how it is perfectly legal to exclude males AND male-born transgender people. Biological sex matter and the law agrees. I talked about how women need a male-free space to heal and recover. They must not be expected to suppress their fears when they perceive a male in front of them. This is not transphobia – this is human instinct – women recognise their oppressor class – don’t demonise us for this reality.
Aimee talked – not sure what about – it was confused and no more than world salad. But I do remember one thing. Aimee said “but transwomen are not male”. Now Aimee you can use whatever words you like but this is about perceptions and feelings. Women perceive you as male, you were born male, you have a male body and that is what matters here. That woman seeking refuge can’t see your internal sense of gender and nor should she be expected to. In this instance, for once, women’s feeling have to come first.
The feelings and needs of women seeking refuge has to be prioritised over the feelings and needs of a transgender male seeking employment. Women’s feelings matter. The law agrees.
Thank you to LBC for having me on to speak. Here’s a recording of the interview. Women need to know our rights. One of our objectives here at Fair Play For Women is to promote awareness of these rights. You’ll find a range of summary guides here explaining the law and how it impacts women. We are also producing fact sheets on important areas. We have made one explaining the legal rights women have to a male-free space when fleeing male violence.
by Nicola Williams
Please read – print it – share it with your friends.
Women need to know our rights otherwise how can we defend them.
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