Last weekend June 8th & 9th Radical Feminists descended upon the city of London from various parts of the western hemisphere. Our goal? To have a public conference, highlighting OUR speakers, activists, theorists and rabble rousers. I am proud to say this goal was achieved despite the efforts of misogynist naysayers to shut it down. June 8th, 1913 was the day that suffragette Emily Davison died after being trampled by King George V’s horse Anmer at Epsom Derby. She was carrying a scarf she attempted to attach to the horse demanding votes for women. Thus it was a significant anniversary we met upon to analyze the plight of women in this modern age and to organize what must be done about that plight.
At all times at this conference I felt safe. What was amazing was that despite the backlash and vitriol directed at radfem2013 on places like twitter none of this correlated to any actual protest of our event. Not surprising as internet misogynists are generally cowardly little men.
Themes included supporting survivors of the sex industry in their activism, prostitution as a form of colonialism and racism, the importance of unmasking and naming male violence, building lesbian feminist community, utilizing the internet as a tool for our activism, creating and maintaining women’s spaces, letting go of our fears and biases to work in true sisterhood with women across our many differences, women’s achievements globally, elder women’s issues, transgenderism and its impacts on women’s rights and feminism, etc.
I ended up crying many times during the conference, maybe it was the prednisone I was on but I really felt connected to the women there, willing to share and bare so much of themselves and their experiences.
Rachel Moran launched her book “Paid For: My Journey Through Prostitution” at the conference. It was truly a privilege to hear what she had to say about her time and experience in prostitution. I was very touched when she talked about people looking at her when she was trapped in prostitution and her thinking “Do you see me? Am I human to you?”. She also exploded the myth of happy hookers right out of the water in her talk. She said they never can look an exited woman who is speaking the truth in the eye.
Sheila Jeffreys was on fire. This is a woman who has never once lost her rage at what happens to women. Her life has clearly been committed to the liberation of womankind and it is truly awesome to behold. She took us through a harrowing tale of what its like having a legalized trade in women’s flesh in Australia, even bringing up that there are McDonald’s restaurants next to brothels. A whole generation of men in Australia are being groomed into believing that it is acceptable to have women as sexual commodities.
Cherry Smiley spoke about the introduction of patriarchy to indigenous peoples in North America, how indigenous women in particular have been targeted for destruction by white colonialism in an effort to steal all “resources” (she does not view landbases as resources), the staggering numbers of missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada, the uprooting of native children from their families and cultures creating a vacuum to which many young women wind up in prostitution, drug use and crime from a lack of self-esteem and identity. She also urged us to support Canadian feminists with the impending Bedford decision as the decriminalization of prostitution in Canada would mean even more horror for indigenous women.
Julia Long in her talk “Hidden in plain sight” spoke to the ways in which we are all pressured to collude in keeping male violence hidden. The language we use to speak about what are incidents of male violence especially. Its important for feminists to STOP using words like “domestic violence”, “intimate partner violence”, “teen dating violence” and even “violence against women”. We need to put the focus back on the perps, who is doing what to whom.
On Sunday we heard a talk by Femi Otitoju about women globally. So often we’re made to think it is those of us in places like the UK and the USA that must support women elsewhere in the world, that we need to help them, educate them but its often the case that they are doing better than us in terms of material gains for women’s rights. She urged us to let go of our biases, let go of our fears of being labelled an “ist” and to dive in to working with women across our differences. I came away from her talk with a desire to push my levels of comfort, that it was okay to say or do the wrong things sometimes, that what really matters is not my personal ego and identity but the goal of liberating women.
Sheila Jeffreys then went on to discuss compulsory heterosexuality and lesbian feminism. She noted that it was very strange that so many women in this modern resurgence of feminism are not becoming lesbians as they did in the second wave, despite the horrific tidal wave of male violence and creepy male sexuality that is even more visible culturally. Some reasons she thought this might be were that mixed-space organizing was dulling women’s revolutionary impulses. In a female-only woman’s space it can be hard to get a man out of some women’s head. This is obviously never gonna happen if nigel is in the room with the women too. Women cannot be honest nor vulnerable in front of their men. We also learned the origin of the term “nigel”. Yes! There was an actual Nigel out there. A man who worked with the SWP during the 70s and lived in the same building of flats as Sheila Jeffreys.
We talked more about this issue later on in a workshop I attended about lesbian feminism. There was a lot of frustration in the room. Many newly out women looking for guidance and support for what they were going through from older lesbians. Lesbians talking about their demonization and ostracism in mixed activist groups. We discussed the choice vs “born this way” concept of sexuality and how it effected us personally. I think most of us left the workshop with a strong desire to keep fighting and building community.
It was a privilege and honor to be able to go to radfem 2013. I learned a lot, made new connections with women, pushed myself out of my comfort zone quite a bit and came away with more than I had even set out to. I remain a firm believer in the importance of women’s spaces and the radical feminist desire to keep them and expand them for future generations of women.