Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images
Artillery Row

Men of the far-right and the women’s movement

Why are they sniffing around?

Who are they, why are they here and do any women want them?

The answers to these questions are not easy, and it would certainly be easier not to ask them. Trans activists and their media outlets have long been keen to smear women with far-right affiliations. Just discussing the issue makes them frenzied with accusations. For the overwhelming majority of women in the UK, this smear has no truth. 

On Sunday, 18 September the group “Standing for Women” organised an open rally in Brighton to discuss women’s rights. The group is led by Kellie-Jay Keen. Her “Let Women Speak” events are touring the UK and aim to give a platform to predominantly women, and some men, on the issue of women’s rights and the threat to those rights from trans activism. 

The events are open mic in format with women invited to speak first, gay men second and other men if time allows at the end. The events are not ticketed and are heavily billed as “free speech”. Women with a spectrum of political persuasions and beliefs are invited to give testimony. Keen frequently says she will not police speakers to ensure “political purity”. 

Most were pleased to see the back of the National Front

Recent “Standing For Women” events have seen unpleasant and aggressive protests from trans activist thugs in black military style outfits and masks. These misogynist men are determined to silence women’s voices about the clash between women’s rights and ever increasing demands by trans activists. On Sunday, police kept a line between the women wishing to speak and the protesters wishing to drown them out with cries of “fascist”. At one point the female event stewards had to surround a woman in a wheelchair to protect her from the trans activists. A smoke bomb was taken from them by police and a man arrested; a trans activist screamed in the face of a man holding a baby and called it a fascist; another woman from the protest threw glitter in a black woman’s dreadlocks. 

Many women spoke passionately and powerfully against this onslaught — some of whom had not spoken up before. Some were seasoned speakers, like Helen Joyce the author of Trans, and one was deeply contentious — the right-wing commentator Sophie Corcoran who has in the past made some provocative statements on race and about women on benefits. However, if those views are “worthy of respect in a democratic society” then legally they can be expressed at a public event, even if some of us find them unpleasant to hear. 

Keen stresses that she is not a feminist, and that she no longer trusts of the left. Many left-leaning women say that they now feel politically disenfranchised since all the main political parties seem keen to squander the hard-won rights of feminist women throughout decades, to prostrate themselves to the mantra “Trans women are women”. 

However, let’s look at why there may be a significant problem rearing its head — and why women must discuss it. Live streaming from that event was a group called “Hearts Of Oak”. Not many of us have heard of them, but its members were at the front of the inner circle of the rally. It is important that women ask why they were there and what should be done about it. What is attractive about women’s work in this area to men like this? This group campaigns on issues of “free speech” but also against Islam and with a focus on “National Identity and Patriotism” amongst others. This would place it as a clear successor to the English Defence League (EDL) — a nationalist group which has now gone into decline. 

The far-right in Britain rose to prominence in the inter-war period of the 1930s with Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists. It has moved through various incarnations with small political parties over the decades, some more successful than others, but never gaining mainstream recognition or respect. Most of us were pleased to see the back of the National Front for example. 

For over a decade the de-facto far-right leader in the UK was Tommy Robinson, whose real name is Steven Yaxley-Lennon — the ex-leader of the English Defence League. Robinson last saw an opportunity to latch onto women’s rights with the issue of child sexual exploitation where his focus was solely on perpetrators who were Muslim men. His objection was heavily laden with anti-Muslim rhetoric and conveniently ignored the many white men who sexually abuse children. 

He has been platformed of late by “Hearts of Oak”, whose speaker at the event “Our Children, Our Country” hailed him as a “national legend”. Alarmingly, during his speech he appeared to be seconding and regurgitating some of the views of feminist women on the trans issue. Shockingly, there was a point where he misunderstood the feminist critique of heteronormativity and said: “hetero, a man being with a woman … it’s normal isn’t it?” 

Feminist women fear we will lose the women’s movement

Racist or homophobic views are not worthy of respect in a democratic society, and I would hope that no woman would want to share a platform with such men as Yaxley-Lennon. Carl “Sargon of Akkad” Benjamin, the man who said he “wouldn’t even rape you … feminism is cancer” to Jess Phillips, has also been platformed by Hearts of Oak. These are not men with whom women naturally have common cause. The women’s movement has made significant progress with successful legal challenges, awareness raising events and more. These men would undoubtedly tarnish these unassailable successes with their repugnant nationalist politics. 

Keen’s current catchphrase is “I. Never. Lose.”, but many feminist women fear we will collectively lose the women’s movement if it becomes a convenient tool of far-right men. On one side of the fence are aggressive men screaming “fascist” at women who are clearly not. On the other side, skulking in the shadows, beneath the banners of women, are men who clearly are. 

If far-right activists invade the women’s movement from the shadows, they will drag it into the shadows of political obscurity. The far-right has always looked for causes with which to gain political traction and remain relevant. With grooming gangs Robinson managed to claim to be the “only one speaking out” despite women’s activism over years. Any respect women have garnered in this debate over painful years of activism will be thrown away, or possibly stolen, and women will bemoan how fast that happened unless we make ourselves clear on this now. It is not difficult to announce to these men, once and for all, that they are not welcome at women’s events. If they turn up, turn them away. 

Keep your eyes peeled, women. This movement is not for rent to fascist men. This is our opportunity to follow our Olympian weightlifting sisters and say, “No, thank you.

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover