Reclaim The Night: policing the borders of cis feminism

November 25, 2009

Previously, on more than one occasion, I’ve made it clear that my anger at the members of the London Feminist Network who organise the annual Reclaim The Night march here in London arises from their continuing refusal to make any public clarification of their position on trans women attending the event. For a transsexual woman like me, their use of the phrase “women only” is contentious because it carries with it the baggage of nearly half a century of our exclusion from cis women’s spaces.

That such blatant and toxic cissexism is applied to trans women is, frankly, unforgivable in this day and age, but reading the latest post on the Feminist Fightback blog (link here) makes me realise just how dangerous the march organisers’ attitudes are when applied to other cis women too.

As self-identified women committed to fighting gender-based violence, members of Feminist Fightback attended last Saturday’s march in solidarity with sex workers fighting for the right to self-organise against exploitation in their industry.

From the blog post, it seems that not only were they subjected to physical harassment and verbal abuse from other marchers, but were approached and interrogated by the police, apparently at the request of one of the stewards.

[…] we were extremely surprised to find that one of the basic principles of feminism (and all social justice movements) was forgotten in this instance – namely, that we never resort to using police aggression to silence and intimidate members of our own movement, no matter how much we may disagree with them.

And that is the crux of the matter. Feminism isn’t – or shouldn’t be – about a minority of privileged cis women using strongarm tactics against other, far more vulnerable women simply to prop up their distorted and outmoded worldviews. Might is most definitely not right, and the actions of those self-appointed guardians of a fictitious ‘true feminism’ have revealed the extent of the moral bankruptcy at the core of the London Feminist Network. They should be ashamed of themselves and if they had a shred of conscience, all those concerned would have stepped down by now.

It’s no surprise that the organisers of the Reclaim The Night march have made no public statement about this incident and their silence serves only to underline their desperation to hold on to their positions of power without accountability. But listen well, my sisters: the day is coming when you will be called to justify your appalling treatment of all those women against whom you have consistently used your privilege to discriminate, when the right and proper thing to do would have been to support and assist them in their struggle against a common enemy.


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9 Responses to “Reclaim The Night: policing the borders of cis feminism”

  1. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by CTrouper: RT @helen_bop: BoP new post – Reclaim The Night: policing the borders of cis feminism –

  2. Emily Says:

    Perhaps those women felt threatened? Perhaps that is why they sought protection of the police.

    The thing is, you can’t force or bully people into changing their minds. And the sad thing is that this particular question is a matter of opinion. As trans women themselves are living proof.

    Where is the respect?

  3. Helen G Says:

    Emily: Regardless of any backstory (and I doubt anyone outside the LFN/RTN cabal will ever tell us) it was a huge overreaction on the part of whichever LFN/RTN steward decided to escalate the situation by formally involving the Met Police. It was a gross miscalculation which has done yet more damage to LFN/RTN’s already poor reputation for the shabby treatment of any self-identified women whose views differ from theirs by even one iota.

    You may well ask where the respect is – perhaps if the LFN/RTN steward had showed a little more respect in the first place, then this indefensible violence against members of FF would not have happened. Furthermore, if the LFN/RTN organisers had any respect for those they claim to represent, they would have stepped down from their positions of power by now.

  4. queenemily Says:

    If – and I say this with some skepticism – if they felt threatened, it’s still bullshit. Because it’s about acting out a different order of violence to protect a sense of safety that some of us NEVER have.

    Invoking police “protection” is an institutional privilege, one which presumes that the police *will* protect you, that you won’t yourself become a target… an assumption that I can’t imagine many sex workers having.

    In other words, some women have enough privilege to access the institutional tools of the state… and it’s *their* sense of threat we should be worried about, and not those they deploy it against?


  5. HarpyMarx Says:

    Helen, I totally agree with your post.
    I am shocked by the treatment of trans women being excluded from the march. It is totally divisive and excluding.

    I was at the march and was part of the FF section supporting rights for sex workers. I am still angry and shocked (I have been involved in the feminist movement for 24 years) by the tactics of the organisers when they got the cops to interrogate these women. Why? They were absolutely no threat including myself. But the fact agents of the state were questioning these women esp. as some were sex workers’ who have experienced the sharp end of law and order by being criminalised really is shocking. I really believed that feminism was about solidarity and unity but I didn’t see that last Saturday.

    There are differing views on sex work/porn then why can’t we have that debate in an open way as opposed to women who don’t hold the specific line marginalised and silenced which happens time and time again. There are no counter-balances of arguments/discussions it is like the debate has been had (when? where?) and cos you don’t hold the correct positions then you may as well go away as you won’t get a fair hearing. I could go on but I won’t.

    Last Saturday I was verbally abused and so were other women, it shocked me and I am still kinda shell shocked by it esp. women having the cops set on them. And I know they are only words but they stick and hurt hearing stuff like, ‘vile whore’, (oh, and apparently I am a ‘vile woman’)and other crap thrown at us does not engender trust or a feeling of belonging. I felt excluded and marginalised.

    We were doing nothing wrong but we were made to feel like we were.

    “Women united shall never be defeated” …

    Well, only some women are allowed to belong it seems! This is not the way to build a vibrant, dynamic and inclusive feminist movement.

    I very much doubt I will be going on next year’s as frankly I am getting sick of this treatment.

    Finally, as feminists we fight against the patriarchal norms that exist in this society,we make our movement visible and highlight the oppression we face. Yet…yet.. as a feminist movement if you don’t hold the proper views then you are not accomodated. I really truly believed the movement should be able to dicuss ideas in an open and democratic manner not silence and marginalise.
    I also truly believed that the feminist movement could be place where we can engage in a comradely manner…

    Not sure anymore, and have seen too many incidences of women being denied a voice ‘cos they don’t hold the prescribed views.

    Sorry to have gone on Helen, but am still kinda so pissed off about all this.

    Solidarity to you.

  6. Helen G Says:

    HarpyMarx: Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. You articulate many things I’ve been thinking about, but been unable to find appropriate words for, over the past few days. I agree that all self-identified women should be working together on the wider issues that affect us, at the same time that the movement ought to be able to accomodate, and provide a safe space for holding the discussions on matters where our views diverge.

    Quite where us pariahs go now is a subject which has also been on my mind since this appalling event but I’m still too angry to find the objectivity to think about “where now?” in any depth. In the aftermath I’ve made contact with a number of women who, like you, do have a clue, and with whom I suspect it could be a very positive experience to start forming alliances and building a feminism which actually does practice what it preaches. However, on the downside, part of me starts to wonder if, for the sake of my own mental wellbeing, I should perhaps disengage for a while. I have so little energy these days, I’ve been hurting so much about so many things lately and I’m really down about a lot of stuff. The events last weekend at RTN, coming only a matter of hours after cis and trans people came together for the TDOR event, make me wonder if the seemingly endless smackdowns are really worth it. “Despondent’ doesn’t even begin to cover the way I feel right now.

    I’m so sorry that you and the FF members were subjected to such violence (I can certainly empathise re. the sting of hate speech) and even more sorry that it was initiated by women who, on this basis, really don’t deserve to be called feminists.

    Oh – and you’re welcome to comment here any time and at any length :)

    Keep in touch; perhaps when the dust has settled a little, and the pain begun to ease, we’ll be a little clearer on possible future collaborations and can begin to forge alliances where events like last Saturday’s simply have no reason to happen.


  7. HarpyMarx Says:

    “but I’m still too angry to find the objectivity to think about “where now?” in any depth.”

    I can relate to that.

    Thanks Helen, will definitely keep in touch and thank-you for your kind and supportive words, really appreciated and valued.

    Harpy x

  8. […] and demoralising impact on me. Suppose I just want to add a few more thing and said quite a bit at Helen’s blog (thanks as for the solidarity). Being shouted at and witnessing other women being shouted at for […]

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