Following the anti feminist thread…

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On 10th September – Rose Duffield MP wrote a brilliant and brave thread and in it she defended single sex spaces for female victims of male violence. The usual misogyny and attacks ensued and before long she was trending on twitter.

Amongst the attacks Abigail Thorn, a trans identified man, claimed Rosie is ignorant and ‘awful’ in her defence of single sex provision for female victims. Subsequently Audrey Suffolk tweeted the following:

Audrey referenced Karen Ingala Smith’s very detailed and important blog about trauma informed services for women and girls who have been subjected to male violence. If you haven’t read it, please do and then pass it on. I don’t think you can do trauma informed work in any way if you are providing mixed sex spaces for female victims who want and need a single sex space, by the very nature of trauma informed care, it will be failing at the first hurdle.

But back to Audrey’s tweet, which I thought was very insightful and important, (her second tweet in particular highlights the issues of lawful discrimination) as it offers a chance to explain how vast and specialist the MVAW sector is…hence putting pen to paper…

I remember when I first started a ‘proper’ job on the national helpline in London, I had moved from Portsmouth and I was 23. I vividly recall our induction day, and the managers introduction to the organisation, with her clear and proud stance on being a feminist led, woman only organisation. It wasn’t questioned by any of us, of course it was women only, why wouldn’t it be? I doubt very much that the same inductions exist today for many organisations, because slowly but surely the concerted efforts by men’s rights activists to decimate and delegitimise our women’s movement has worked.

The move by policy makers and commissioners to fund generic gender neutral services for victims and survivors lacks respect and understanding for the nuanced provision that the male violence against women sector has built up over the decades. Of course, generic provision is cheaper, but as we know that doesn’t always mean better.

Services in the male violence against women movement are not a one size fits all, because ultimately that would be discriminatory (which Audrey explains in her tweets and Dr Jagbir Jhutti-Johal discusses in her interview with me), lack specialism and provide an inadequate response to the intersecting needs of victims and survivors.

Just off the top of my head I can think of so many different ways in which women in the movement have worked hard to provide specialist, unique services for victims and survivors…We have services for women of colour, women with complex and multiple needs, women who have used substances as a way to cope with the abuse, older women, younger women, women who have been in prison, women who are prostituted, women who have been subjected to economic abuse…I could go on.

It is my view the recent attacks on our single sex spaces, and the demands from others on what the male violence against women sector should and shouldn’t do, is just another attempt to encroach on our feminist model of work. Follow the thread of history and you can see similar tactics have been used by men’s rights activists since the 1970s, as I noted in my introduction chapter:

Women report sharing a space with men impinges on their ability to speak confidently, with some saying they would simply self-exclude from mixed sex spaces, potentially risking their lives in an MVAW context (FOVAS, 2018; Women and Girls in Scotland, 2019, p. 12; Corry, 2018, p. 5-6; Women’s National Commission, 2009, p. 50). Despite this clear desire for female-only spaces, the rise of anti-feminist Men’s Rights activists in the 1970s saw campaigning for the disestablishment of domestic violence services and polices that protect women, on the basis that this is discriminatory against male victims and provides women with an unfair social advantage. This rhetoric continues today with The National Coalition of Men forcing women’s shelters to accommodate men too (“National Coalition for Men Successes”, 2019). Although a breakdown of this issue is outside of the research focus and limited word count, it is worth noting that men have consistently tried to encroach on women’s safe spaces through heteronormative ideology, but transgender ideology in this context is unrecognised and thus far unchallenged.[1]

I have been thinking about this a lot more recently so indulge me – do you see single sex services and projects for men being hounded and dictated too in the same way the women’s movement is? Services catering to men only, don’t repeatedly get asked to expand their boundaries and accommodate all victims or risk getting called bigots for holding their line (or not that I have seen anyway). Recently the Ministry of Justice provided funding for specific male rape support services and before anyone asks, I fully support this initiative, because working with men and boys is specialist work and they deserve specialist services (just like people who identify as transgender do) – I merely highlight it because there was no great furore after this announcement, and I am glad there wasn’t, but doesn’t it make you think that it went entirely unnoticed? As a women’s movement I know hardly any charities that do not accommodate men in at least some or all of their community services, it simply wouldn’t be allowed, we wouldn’t get the funding…

Let me give you an example of the types of questions I get asked. At the start of the pandemic the charity I work for started a 24/7 helpline to respond to the needs of victims and survivors. I went on the local news to raise the profile of the helpline and I was contacted within hours by two separate people (one anonymously and aggressively); questioning my ‘discrimination’ against men because I had chosen to centre women in my language in the interview.

This is an abridged version of my response:

To clarify:

•The helpline is open to anyone who wants to call it. As are all our one to one advocacy services
•The vast majority of victims and survivors are female, and this is backed up by statistics globally.
•The 10 homicides that have tragically occurred in the first two weeks of lockdown in the UK, are of women and girls at the hands of their male partners, ex partners or fathers.
•As with the global statistics of male violence it is largely women who seek our help, because they are unfortunately at much higher risk of domestic abuse, sexual violence and stalking due to the sex-based oppression that is so prevalent in our society and societies globally.
•Any man who does access our service as a victim, receives the same amount of care and support as any other client.

I wonder, do you make a habit of targeting Male only helplines in this way? Do you ask them why they exclude women? Or is it just Aurora you wanted to anonymously troll, because we are unapologetically feminist led?

This is just one example, and I usually wouldn’t bother responding at all, because it is a distraction from the real work, but sometimes it is necessary to assert boundaries. I remembered it and just thought it was interesting as the tweets directed at Rosie Duffield, and other women speaking up for single sex spaces for female victims, are not that different to what happens on the ground in the movement. It may give you a taster of what women’s services are consistently expected to be answerable for, even my language is expected to be gender neutral, when the main beneficiaries of the charity I head up are overwhelmingly female.

Ultimately all these activists are pushing for, whether they are claim to be from the men’s rights or trans right movement, is mixed sex, non specialist provision…the antipathy of what feminists have built up. If they win, and in some areas they already have, we cease to be a women’s movement dedicated to providing specialist women’s services.

I know it has been said before, and it is a great analogy, which I paraphrase, but; charities that work solely for men who have prostate cancer don’t get asked why they are being utter bastards and not campaigning for breast cancer survivors and vice versa…it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why the feminist led male violence against women movement is being targeted in this way, after all we’ve been attacked by men since we started.

Dr Shonagh Dillon  

[1] References in bibliography

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