Between June 12 and 17, two women were violently raped by strangers, while out in public in Carlton, a district of Melbourne, Australia. Eurydice Dixon – a woman I would have very much liked to befriend – was raped and murdered on her way from a stand-up gig. Five days later, two men abducted and raped another woman, also in Carlton. The news is horrifying, and very close to home. It makes me worry for my female friends in Carlton and beyond – and also for myself in Wellington, as a woman with something of a bullseye on my back. Since these reports, another has come from Jharkhand, India: five women were raped at gunpoint days ago after staging a piece of street theatre about human trafficking. It feels like the walls are closing in.
More and more, women need the female-only spaces our foremothers fought to build for us: safehouses, refuges. We need women’s organisations and women’s spaces we can go to for safety, as well as to talk seriously about what is going on, why we live in a world where it is risky for women to walk home alone at night, and why men commit rape on the scale that they do – so that we can fight for better protections, better legislation, and for culture change. Women cannot afford to just live with this kind of violence and the constant threat of it as if it’s natural. It is not natural.
Yet we are losing the spaces second wave feminists built to look after women, and we are losing the capacity to gather as women publicly to talk about sex-based male violence against women, because of transactivism. This is seriously threatening: transactivism and its redefinition of sex threatens literally every space, legislative change and protection that women have fought for until now. Yes, that includes the women’s vote – suffragists fought for the women’s vote so that women could make political demands pertaining specifically to members of the female sex in order to make the world better for our sex. Their victory is handed over wherever the law and political parties redefine what women are, rendering “woman” a subjective, abstract and politically meaningless concept.
With male violence escalating and women losing serious ground politically, it is no wonder that misogynists are becoming emboldened. In New Zealand, the current climate means that overt woman-hating is pervasive across the political spectrum. Ex-prime minister John Key put in a lot of hard yards during his reign of ponytail-pulling and rape gags to pave the way of course, even before this Trump era of ramped-up shameless sexism. This year, Act Party leader David Seymour felt comfortable enough to attend an Auckland University event wearing a t-shirt sporting a woman’s silhouette with a bull’s head and the line “got meat?”.
But despite what leftist men will have you believe, conservatives and libertarians do not have a monopoly on sexism. Men on the left – from Green Party campaigners Max Tweedie and Michael Tavares to New Zealand Project author Max Harris and writer Giovanni Tiso, are increasingly comfortable making their sexist views publicly known. Their attitudes follow a familiar pattern. They will lap up the praise they receive for vociferously objecting to sexism that is especially crass, and preferably conservative. Then they will turn around and advocate for the removal of sex-based protections for women in the name of supporting “transwomen”. While they do this, they display an indifference to the implications for females and for feminism of these new ideologies, an indifference common to men with influence across the political spectrum. I call the lefties “troubadours.”
Harris is one of those from whom I first learned how deep and unresponsive to reason this entitlement really is. Over several long conversations with him about gender, I outlined to him the various manifestations sex-based oppression takes today and has taken historically – from witch hunts to female genital mutilation to footbinding, the compulsory hijab, child marriage, and forced surrogacy – the list is endless. Harris (like the Green Party’s Max Tweedie) continues to respond with statements such as this.
While troubadours often make these kinds of statements with very fluffed up language, their flippant attitudes are as plain as they are abhorrent. At the very least, men who make a performance of their support for feminism should actively consider how the movement to stop sex-based violence against women is impacted by today’s sudden redefinition of sex in law, politics and public discussion. What does this redefinition of sex mean, for instance, for campaigners against female genital mutilation? For all his feminist signalling, writer Giovanni Tiso cares just as little, and is equally comfortable maintaining a male-defined “feminism”.
This tweet from Tiso came after he vocally denounced the fact that the birth of prime minister Jacinda Ardern’s baby had brought “the worst sexists out from under the fridge”, using a particularly crass example to make his point. I showed him a tweet made by comedian Robbie Nicol, also known as White Man Behind a Desk, that backed up his point. Nicol’s tweet overrode the baby’s parents announcement of a girl, to declare the infant’s sex unspeakable (rendering her an “it”). This kind of dehumanising taboo on the female sex is of course a feature of patriarchal regimes around the world, and associated with sex-selective abortion and female infanticide. It is therefore a noteworthy, and a problem, that Nicol has endorsed it.
Nicol’s fluffy language should not fool anyone as to the misogyny of a female sex taboo – Harris has taught me better than anyone that packaging female erasure in fluff is something leftist men are very good at. Tiso then responded to Nicol’s tweet by using the slur TERF – anyone unfamiliar with it should visit the website terfisaslur.com. It functions much like “witch” in the Middle Ages, or “commie” during McCarthyism – it is designed to mark a woman as less than human and a fair target for abuse. Green Party campaigner Michael Tavares employs it as freely.
In this climate, it is no surprise to find female leaders largely complicit in the rollback of women’s rights and spaces. Compliance is one condition that women are forced to meet in order to move up the ranks in a male-dominated world; and non-conforming women are these days swiftly no-platformed. The result of all of this is that today, male violence is on the rise; men across the political spectrum are either apathetic or endorse it; most women’s organisations and refuges have capitulated to their misogynist demands, and the only hope of culture change in women’s favour is… you. Individual women speaking out and organising at the grassroots.
Feminism looks like it is in fashion, but it is not. Red carpet feminism, Janelle Monae music videos and the downfall of Harvey Weinstein will not “trickle down” to rescue us from the threat we face as reports of rape and assault remain so ordinary as to barely make news. Misogyny is on the rise; there are few public figures willing to name and discuss male violence, and few willing to discuss sexism without making concessions that are so misogynist as to almost undo their more progressive efforts. The Herald’s Lizzie Marvelly and media personality Alison Mau, for instance, both build their platforms on “feminism” (My Body My Choice, and #metoo) whilst condoning prostitution and supporting the rollback of women’s rights through transactivism.
So women in New Zealand – please write, organize, speak to your friends or find something that you can do to help save sex-based protections for women. We need them – and we need you – very much.