It has been nine months since I defended my research and earned the title Doctor – much to my kids dismay this does not automatically mean I know all the things about all the things (according to my daughter my new title is next to useless if I cannot now diagnose why her finger hurts, so I needn’t have bothered paying all that money and wasting all that time. I keep reminding her my thesis wasn’t about fingers but she’s still less than impressed)…Luckily, I am thick skinned, so I am still proud of my achievement, and since I published my research on my website, it’s been an interesting personal journey. For what it’s worth, here are some of my reflections.
I knew the risk I took when undertaking this topic and I wrestled with that regularly during my planning and research phase. In order to make me feel safer and more confident about what I was doing I watched women I look up to as they bravely spoke out against regressive transgender ideology and the impact on women. Although it isn’t that long ago, times were very different even a few years back. I remember when I first started approaching the topic in 2018, it was a lot different then than it is now, and women were taking big risks as they were repeatedly attacked for their work.
Much like my experience of being in the feminist movement for so many years, rather than put me off taking on the hard work, watching and listening to these women emboldened me to carry on with my research and I felt strongly that the topic needed to be addressed, not just for my sector, but most importantly for victims and survivors.
Once my research phase ended, I really started to be able to speak up, and from my perspective it is has been utterly liberating. The freedom to tell the truth and refuse to be scared or intimidated by those who choose to attack women with lies and smears is like taking back a power that I didn’t realise I could so easily have handed over. Of course I deliberated on whether I was doing the right thing, I could have chosen the easy route and done different research, I could have avoided the topic altogether, but I am so glad I didn’t.
There are draw backs of course and the usual aspects for women raising their public voices in this debate have happened to me, although on a much lesser scale than to some, but no matter the degree of hostility when you are under public attack, it still takes its toll. What I naively underestimated was the negative behaviour of people who know me, or at least know my work, and in hindsight I underestimated the personal impact that behaviour would have on me. But over the last few months my circle of trust has got much smaller but much, much richer. Life moves on, people change, social movements shift, t ‘was ever thus…
All of the women I know who entered this “debate” have done so knowing the risks. I speak to women who when thinking about saying something publicly were ‘warned off’ or asked whether they are ‘really sure’ or whether they know what the are ‘letting themselves in for’. No matter, those women all continue to persist, and some women I know have continued to speak up at considerable cost to themselves. Way more than me. Some of those women are very low profile and still speaking up, still taking huge risks, continuing to bravely resist and refusing to comply. In my view the profile doesn’t matter, neither does the level of the attack, whichever way I look at it and however I reflect, I arrive at the same point; as women we minimise the abuse that comes our way in the many forms that it does, and this debate is no different. In my day job working with victims and survivors of male violence I have heard hundreds of times from women how the abuse they are experiencing isn’t nearly as bad as their friend or family member, I hear the same from women in this debate. Minimisation is what misogynists and abusers rely on and it is important to remember that.
It is only very recently that more people are raising their voices and that is wonderful to see. But as I said it isn’t that long ago that only a very small number of women were publicly holding policy makers and politicians to account. They are the ones who made the most difference. I thank them for that and I’m glad I joined them. Hopefully I’ve made some contribution and will continue to do so (I am definitely getting restless to start a new project). I did this research because the rest of my feminist activism relies on advocating for women’s sex-based rights, and it is a vital aspect to address.
But it isn’t everything. Far from it.
Every day I get up and go to work for a charity that supports women who are subjected to male violence. That’s where the vast majority of my energy goes, on women who are genuinely terrified, often for their lives. Some other professionals now view my research as a stain on my work, and they are perfectly entitled to hold that opinion. Such is the strength of feeling that because they disagree with my stance on this issue, I guess I must have undone a lifetime of work for women. But I don’t think it has; in fact, I think my research enhances my work with victims and survivors.
I spent too many years when I was younger being afraid to speak up. Being worried about what people thought, or how people might view me. I’m too old to be bothered about any of that stuff now. So, you can write to me all you like and tell me people say terrible things about me, my response to that is simple – ‘let them, they will say those things anyway’ – the only odd thing is what need you are fulfilling in yourself by writing to, me apropos of nothing, to tell me of their smears in the first place… Nonetheless I shan’t give it much more thought, I’ve wasted such inordinate amounts of time worrying about the wrong people.
For my whole adult life, I have been part of the feminist movement and combined with the journey through my research and especially the last few years, this has fuelled me with an unparalleled confidence, one I’ve not felt before – even though from time to time I still shake – I am lucky to be able to feed off the energy of feminism, off the women who came before me, off the women who I stand shoulder to shoulder with in the endless fight for our sex class. I’m not afraid to be public about my views, they are not bigoted, they do not make me hateful, and I won’t surrender my space or voice ever again, on any issue I care about.
So here is my thesis and here are my blogs, read them, disagree with them. Do what you will.
They are one small part of my 27 years of activism in the feminist movement. I will continue prioritising women and girls and I will work hard to end male violence. I choose to save my energy for the women who really need me. I think they matter the most and I am lucky to support them, advocate for them and amplify their voices.
If you’ve ever been lucky enough to be part of a woman’s journey, from the pitiful grasp of a man who is violent and abusive, to the glorious space of female emancipation, you will know the roar those women cry is glorious! I choose that battle cry over the noisy nonsense, everyday.
Dr Shonagh Dillon