Updated: Apr 5, 2021
When we can no longer talk, we know we need a caucus
It’s mid afternoon on Good Friday.
The world seems quiet and the sun is shining. But somewhere, in a WEP WhatsApp group in the South West there is a storm brewing. Or more accurately, it’s monsoon season.
So what occurred?
Within what seems like an alarmingly short time frame- just two hours- the South West WEP WhatsApp group was terminated. Shut down. Finished. Dead. Alive no more.
A forum, built over a number of years, for an established network of feminist women to chat, share WEP information and organise was gone in moments. No time to swap numbers, no right to reply, no debate, just gone.
At this point I feel I have to put my cards on the table- I am not in this WhatsApp group, nor in the South West. But our caucus has a growing stack of messages and screenshots in our inbox. Depressing in both their content and frequency. Today, yet another woman raised the alarm and once again we have the questionable privilege of watching events unfold.
So why are we sent screen grabs like these? To make complaints? To target members? No. We have them, because WEP members know that what they are describing is too outlandish to believe without the receipts. They simply cannot describe the outrageous tactics used to get women to stop talking about their sex.
They send them to us because they want us to DO something. They are frustrated, upset, angry and feel like they have nowhere to go. Some would say ‘politically homeless’- but this is their political home, so here we are. What can we do?
Well we can write about it. We are not writers, we are not gifted bloggers, but we can keep a record, bear witness and ask for more from the political discussions in our party. And hopefully we can all learn from them....
Any way, I digress. Lets get back to the South West:
At 1.30pm a woman made her first comment in the group sharing a tweet from our Caucus. By 3.30pm the group was gone.
Her first time contributing to the group, she shared one of our tweets announcing we have applied to be an official caucus (yay). So what went down?
We have included a few screen grabs, but to read the whole conversation click here. These screen grabs are illustrative of almost identical conversations occurring in WEP circles up and down the country. If WE want to do politics differently this has to stop.
All names and numbers have been redacted.
The first response is staggering. referring to us as a 'so called sex-based rights caucus' is outlandish. It dismisses well founded and well evidenced concerns. It dismisses women who
want to talk about our sex. Before the end of the first sentence we are a 'misogynistic neo-fascist grouping'.
So there we have it. Gulp.
Straight off the bat all discussion shut down. Not 'hmmmm, I'm not sure about this group', or, 'I feel my sex is not relevant', or 'alternatively'........
Not even a nod to dialogue but straight into claims of 'misogyny and neo-fascism', betraying not only a disregard for respectful discussion but also a complete misunderstanding of either the Caucus and the definition of both misogyny or fascism.
But, apparently, this is bizarre attack is based on factual analysis of what we have apparently said at conference and on social media. Yet you would think, with us being "misogynistic neo-fascists" there would be far more evidence than a few unsubstantiated claims. Go figure.
The term 'biological determinism' is a strange term and worth a mention here. Used increasingly to imply that feminists dehumanise people by reducing them to their sex is to profoundly miss the point. Because obviously, as feminists, we understand our oppression and subjugation as women to be rooted in our sex. To say our #sexmatters is not to reduce ourselves to our sex but to understand the impact of our sex on our individual and collective experience. It is patriarchal society that reduces us to biology when baby girls are drowned in buckets, when girls we have their genitals mutilated, when women are left to do unpaid care and coerced into the home at every juncture. And this is what patriarchy continues to do to us when we are referred to as 'cervix owners', 'menstruators', 'cis' or 'TERF'. I digress.
The message coming from the South West WhatsApp admin is clear. Call feminists "neo-Fascists" and your comment can stand. Ask for an apology for being accused of sharing neo-fascist material and you will be told to be kind and told to be quiet. Ask for clarification, evidence or ask for respectful debate and the discussion will be closed. Permanently.
With absolutely zero sense of irony, under the remit of 'inclusivity and kindness' an entire group was closed.
I wonder how those women who weren’t online during the conversation will feel when they turn on their notifications to find their group gone.
But if discussion is not allowed here, then where? And if it’s not allowed now, then when?
When it comes to talking about sex and gender this kind of exchange is common place. This exchange on the fringe of the Party is also a reflection of what happens at it the Party's core.
A welcomed statement by WEP on trans day of visibility was also curated in a similarly authoritarian fashion. Whilst the statement itself was nice enough, it appeared tone deaf to those women desperately waiting for the party to stand for basic feminist principles.
Feminist principles, also known as women's basic rights such as:
the right to ask that only a female does our intimate care, smear or mammogram
that women in prison do not have to share a cell with a man
Standing with campaigners like Hibo Wardare and speaking out against her harassment when they are accused of transphobia for talking about Female Genital Mutilation, and are asked to remove 'female' from FGM.
The Facebook statement attracted over 1.6k responses, yet many seemed to be missing.
Whilst comments including misogynistic language such as "TERF" remained on the thread, respectful comments asking about women's rights disappeared. Assertions that trans-inclusivity is not as straightforward as WEP would like it to be, were muted.
Muted to such an extent that our feminist heroes Let Clothes Be Clothes started commenting on the missing comments. #feministfail
Let Clothes Be Clothes, with their 23k followers, retweeted frequently by Caroline Criado-Perez, called WEP out.
My toes have curled so hard I’m not sure they will ever fully retract.
So why can we not express basic material facts about our lived experiences? Why are women stuck in an inter-generational Groundhog Day where each generation has to endlessly fight new manifestations of misogyny? New mechanisms for silencing us and impeding collective action?
Just like Black and minoritised women have had to listen to our government tell them that their colour is not the basis of their subjugation, so we - as women - are also being told that sex is not the basis of women's subjugation.
Well we beg to differ on both counts.
And this is why we, as a caucus are so desperately needed. This is why we founded our collective, and it is why we are seeking official status.
If sex-based rights are dismissed and WEP fails to facilitate respectful, informed discussions of matters that are important to women then we will.
When our comments are removed and the mechanisms built for communication are taken from us then we must build more.
When party mechanisms fail to engage in the issues central to our oppression then we need, as other marginalised groups do, a seat at the table. The frustration is that this is still needed in a party founded to address just this.
But, like women in every generation have always done, we will carve out space for us, a space for our voices, and a political space to address our needs.
WE BUILD ON THE WOMEN THAT CAME BEFORE US, FOR THE WOMEN THAT COME AFTER US
SISTERS. LET US TALK.