Via Getty Images

Men to the left of us, men to the right of us

With male allies like these, who needs male enemies?

Artillery Row

Last night I attended a meeting by Woman’s Place UK held at the Mechanics Institute in Manchester. The title was “The importance and future of single-sex service provision in policy and law’. I tweeted liberally from the meeting in support of the speakers, as many others did. This morning I woke up to find the hashtag #WPUKManchester was trending at No7 and I was pleased because obviously women had amplified other women’s voices effectively. As I began to engage with other Twitter users about the event I was abruptly locked out of my account and given a 12-hour ban. A man had reported me for inciting violence and harassment. The sick irony of this is not lost on women. 

I don’t agree with men speaking at meetings for women, but they invariably feel the need

A protest was organised against the meeting. As I entered it, I was expecting to be confronted by trans activists who had declared on a poster, “Let’s show them they’re not welcome here!’ The “them” being “TERFS”, or as they are more commonly known, women. Surprisingly no protesters were at the door and I entered, hugging women I knew and took my seat. As the Chair Emma Hilton began the event, shockingly loud chants began booming behind her head, broadcast from a sound system outside, and she looked briefly unsettled before continuing. The protest had now arrived. 

“Fuck TERFs” was shouted repeatedly, amongst many other misogynist and hateful things. Women in the room were brave and carried on speaking, attempting to be heard above the outside mob, but many of us were of course scared because we knew that the potential for being hurt by protesters as we left was significant. Many of us are survivors of male violence; loved ones had sent messages about our safety, worrying about us.

Watching our phones to see what was happening, and judge the threat, we realised that the protesters were large in number and they looked and sounded incredibly angry and threatening. Greater Manchester Police had escorted this angry crowd of threatening men, and some women, through the City Centre to the doors of a meeting where women were speaking about their rights; a meeting they were legally entitled to hold.

We began to appeal to the police from our Twitter accounts to ensure our safety and to act to move on the angry protesters. Women who ventured outside to see what was happening were asked by police to return inside so that they didn’t “inflame things”. The mirror with women being abused in a domestic setting and trying not to “wind up” the abuser is stark. 

They do not understand the impact of male violence against women

The speakers were wonderful, calm and measured and they spoke only of the law and its application in regards to women’s right to single-sex space. Women in the room listened in rapt attention occasionally erupting into applause. Throughout the mob braying outside could be heard and we were all tense. I don’t think there was a woman in that room who was listening and not simultaneously considering what might happen as she left. Incidentally, the really eerie moment was at 9.20pm when the mob went suddenly silent. Women who have been abused know to fear the moment when an abuser goes suddenly quiet. They know to brace for what is coming. 

A self-appointed male ally in that room wasn’t thinking about any of that. He stood up and made a long-winded speech about female cyclists but ended it by saying that women in the room should be working out how to de-escalate the situation outside and in the ongoing debate around sex and gender. He urged women in the room, listening fearfully to the rage of men building outside, to engage with those violent and threatening men, perhaps even one man at a time. My blood began to boil. I stood up and told him “You can’t negotiate with men who hate women. You ignore them, step to the side, and carry on.” I was firm. I don’t agree with men speaking at meetings for women, but they invariably feel the need. 

This man confronted me afterwards. He asked me to confirm my name and then said I had blocked him on Twitter and he did not know why I had done that. My priority, unlike his,  was trying to work out how to get back to my car safely. I was frightened for women leaving who might also have to walk alone. Every woman in that room was thinking about the safety of women leaving it. This man was considering his hurt feelings. Neither the men screaming at women outside the meeting, or the man inside the meeting telling women what they should do, really understand the importance for women of single sex space. They do not understand the impact of male violence against women or the constant and daily threat of it. 

Going back to my suspension from Twitter. The man who has reported me was unhappy because I had said in a tweet that TERF is a term specifically used to single out women for attack. He argued that men can and should be included in the term TERF too. He called me a nasty woman. I responded by saying “Oh no. I’m a nasty woman again. Can someone come and stroke the sobbing Nigel who wants to be a TERF.” Nigel is a humorous term for the partners of feminist women who insist on being included in feminist activism, much to the annoyance of women they are not partnered with. “Nigel” was so miffed he had my account suspended. I had to delete my tweet which was deemed to be “inciting violence and harassment”.

So, the men who are “allies” want to be included in the women’s movement, even in the terms of abuse used about those women, and to shut down women who disagree with them. The violent men outside the meeting want use the terms of abuse to shut down the voices of women in the movement who disagree with them. Both those men give pause for thought about why women benefit so much from single-sex space and fight so vociferously to retain it. 

Thanks to Greater Manchester Police for finally realising that the TERFS were not the bad guys and for policing the right people. Eventually.

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

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

Critic magazine cover