Yorkshire Police in Leeds, UK have arrested Posie Parker and two other women for feminism today. I cannot believe it’s 2020 and I’m sitting here, at the age of 51 messaging my 21 year old daughter these words: three women got arrested for feminism today in the UK, as I stare at a soon to be iconic photograph of a young woman wearing a t-shirt that says Thought Criminal being ushered into the back of a police* wagon flanked by two uniformed police officers. How many cops does it take to arrest three feminists? Well, apparently it takes 3 uniformed and a plain clothes one too, based on what I could see from the video footage. I’m told there were more than what I could see in the video clip I watched.
The scary, menacing feminists have been at it again, wearing masks and socially distancing and following the COVID-19 guidelines whilst they stand in Victoria Square outside Leed’s Art Gallery speaking out for women’s sex-based rights! Yes, menacing because everyone knows that feminism is a Trojan Horse for transphobia, nah there’s no such thing as sex based rights for women, that’s a transphobic dogwhistle! Anonymous trans extremists on Twitter likened this Standing for Women event to the Brownshirt Nazi rallies of the 1930s and incited a counterprotest of trans extremists to quell what they see as anti trans activism.
What does it tell you about this movement when it designates sex based feminism as anti-trans? Well, it tells me that the trans movement is anti female. What kind of individual would be expressly against female humans having their own spaces and shelters and reproductive health services? What kind of individual would be expressly against women having sex-based boundaries? Well, the same kind of individual who violates Twitter’s Terms of Service to share Posie Parker’s home address on Twitter and feels justified doing so because 1. the information is available on a database on the internet anyway, and 2. Posie Parker apparently has disagreeable political views. Typically only those who want to violate boundaries feel upset and threatened by the existence and enforcement of those boundaries. Women instinctively know this, and so the intensity and virulence of opposition women’s rights advocates receive only serves to fuel their crusade.
If you search google for the words feminists getting arrested, the results will show you stories of police and state suppression of feminism which happened in China, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Uganda, and India. Handing out feminist stickers in China, protesting for justice for murdered women in Mexico, staging driving protests for the right to drive in Saudi Arabia, writing a poem about the president’s wife’s vagina in protest for school girls’ menstrual supplies in Uganda, writing a feminist blog celebrating women’s bodies in Russia, protesting the Citizenship Amendment Act in India—women were arrested, jailed, imprisoned for these acts of disobedience. These stories depict women around the world and their struggle to survive draconion levels of state repression, high levels of violence and murder, and extreme poverty with lack of access to menstrual supplies.
Do you know the story of Loujain al-Hathloul, Saudi feminist activist? She defied a driving ban for women to campaign for the right to drive and an end to male guardianship for women. The driving ban was lifted and so was the guardianship law, and Loujain was arrested, placed in solitary confinement, tortured, water boarded, subjected to electric shock, sexually abused and beaten. Her trial was repeatedly postponed and her family reported in June that she’d been incommunicado for the previous three months. Last year a video appeared on a state security agency website describing feminism as a form of extremism imported from the west. Despite attempts to walk back the severity of the announcement, questions still linger about the possibility of criminalising feminism in the kingdom—wouldn’t this conveniently justify detaining Loujain?
Few haven’t heard of the fierce Iranian feminists, their boldness encapsulated in the Girl of Enghelab Street, the young woman who spent 8 months in prison after attracting the world’s attention by standing on an electrical box, removing her hijab, and waving it on a stick like a revolutionary flag in protest of forced hijab. The struggles of Iranian feminists are deeply complex and buried in a rich web of imperialist, orientalist, and revolutionary history. When I examine this history, I can’t help but think, many of us in the west have lived our lives in relative ease and complacency—expecting sex based rights to be honoured, expecting a voice and a seat at the table for the greater part of the last century. Maya Angelou knew why the caged bird sings of freedom, and I believe I do, too, now, after seeing Amy Hamm and Posie Parker each targeted for their irreverent brand of feminist activism, 7 days and an ocean and apart in countries I believed I knew.
In her International Women’s Day letter, Iranian women’s rights advocate Nasrin Sotoudeh wrote about silence and captivity, bondage, and walls that trap us, and she asks what went wrong as she reflects on the fanatical animosity driving her government, and expresses hope and a wish for peace. Nasrin Sotoudeh is an internationally acclaimed human rights attorney sentenced to 38 years and 148 lashes for defending dissidents and also women arrested for protesting forced hijab. Shortly after writing that letter she began a hunger strike to protest unfair treatment of prisoners, a hunger strike for which, after more than 40 days, she has been hospitalised. The bondage and silence of which Nasrin wrote now ravage her body. How is it that women can be so visible and also invisible simultaneously?
I wonder, for us in the west, what did go wrong? Why do our police and elected officials want to silence feminist voices? Why is the phrase i heart jk rowling an expression of hate and divisiveness? Why is it always divisive and troublesome when female humans ask for boundaries and for those boundaries to be respected? Why are women blamed for everything? How did we get here? Why have we dared to sit in complacency, engaged in some weird feminist woke inquisition, morally berating each other on a perceived lack of devotion to feminist principles? How did we get to this place, where sex based activism is seen as equivalent to nazism? You all say what you will about Posie Parker. I don’t need to know her or what her political views are to say with confidence—she is the real deal true grit women’s rights crusader, and I feel grateful for and inspired by her fierceness and passion and most of all, her badassery. Today I reminded my daughter, as I do from time to time, to be fierce and bold—
Grrl, always be a badass.
(photo credit: ClaireOT)
* Edit: original text referred to paddy wagon, which I have been told is a derogatory ethnic slur. I've removed the word and thank the person who brought this to my attention. I learned something and I'm grateful.