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Artillery Row

Of course women support women

Men are angry about where women’s money is going? What’s new?

“Solidarity sister” is an often-used phrase in the feminist community, when women want to express their support for each other. They are words of comfort, strength and a declaration of common cause. The words are a vocal salute, an acknowledgement of the struggle women maintain against patriarchal oppression, because they are usually uttered when women are under significant attack from misogynistic men. 

Sadly, there is also an unvoiced, underlying sympathy, because those men are usually more powerful in some way and therefore continue to oppress women unchecked. There is hope behind the words that women will prevail against those oppressors, but also a weary, centuries-long acceptance that shifting the balance of power is a huge rock to shove up a hill, and those words are just a pat of encouragement on the back of the woman bracing her shoulders against the excruciating weight. 

This all changes however, when the words come accompanied by a fiver, a tenner, or £70,000. At this point the men at the top of the hill, looking down on those women, sit up straight and sniff the air. A threat is afoot. 

This week the campaign group “For Women Scotland” were granted the right to appeal against the November 2023 ruling by the Court Of Session Inner House, which centres on the correct interpretation of, and interplay between, the Gender Recognition Act 2004 and the Equality Act 2010, in particular in relation to the term “woman”.

In order to fund this important legal challenge for women — and it will be a seismic legal shift if they are successful — they need to raise money. The law, and the demand that it be applied correctly by the Scottish Parliament, is costly. Of course, a group of brave and determined women pursuing this legal challenge needed to ask for the help of other women. They need our cash and they need it fast. 

They set up a crowdfunder here. Women — and of course a good number of men too — rushed to donate. In the middle of a flurry of women’s tenners being thrown in the pot, forward stepped a legend named “J. K.”, who quietly opened her purse and deposited £70,000 with the words:

You know how proud I am to know you. Thank you for all your hard work and perseverance. This will be a truly historic case.

That woman was of course J. K. Rowling. She must have been well aware of the effect of casually dropping her cash, and her name, on the table without fanfare. She knew we, as a body of women collectively fighting for our rights, would feel a surge of excitement at her presence amongst us, because most of us don’t get to rub shoulders with royalty — but we can, it seems, get down and dirty on a crowd-funder with a famous woman worth in the region of £820 million. She gave what she could, and we did the same, and that right there is the meaning of sisterhood and solidarity. 

Some women expressed worry that they were only donating much smaller amounts, and J. K. Rowling was keen to reassure them:

Literally every £ counts. From each according to their ability, as a notorious TERF who believed women were oppressed due to their sex once said.

She was thanked for this by other women of far less means. @BradfemlyWalsh tweeted:

Thanks for saying that. One woman’s £70k is another woman’s £7. So long as we all do what we can for each other – that’s what sisterhood is truly about.

She is right. The reason women are successful in raising money quickly, and often, is because we give what we can and there are many of us giving. We have an unshakeable belief that we must protect each other from an insidious assault on the word “woman” and the attendant female rights. 

There have been many crowd-funders for women over the last few years and some of us give every time. We don’t tire of giving because even though we can’t really afford it, we really can’t afford not to. 

Trans activists and their many allies have become increasingly vexed by our efforts. They are often disparaging of us, and try to shame us for it — as though crowdfunding is embarrassing, dirty or a form of “cheating”. It is all symptomatic of how little men understand the historically forged bonds of women, and how they were strengthened against a backdrop of centuries of financial control by men. 

Sexist and misogynist men don’t like the defiant act of women using their own finances to help each other and it is not hard to see why. English Common Law, from the 1100s onwards allowed for “coverture”, the belief that married men and women were one entity, which gave married women no financial freedom or independence. They were unable to own property, run taverns or stores, or sue in court. 

The “Married Women’s Property Act 1870” allowed women, for the first time, to earn wages and own property which were regarded legally as belonging to her, separately from her husband. However, even in the 1970s women, married or single, would routinely be refused mortgages or other credit unless they had a male guarantor to sign for them. Of course, down the centuries, to be a “femme sole”, unmarried woman, was often just as precarious, if not dangerous, for a woman of limited financial means. 

Women were sold by fathers with a dowry attached, in an attempt to give them limited financial protection, and some leverage, once they married a man and became part of his property. However, fathers frequently saw an unmarried daughter as a financial burden rather than an asset, and would be willing to offload her to sometimes unsuitable men, putting her under his financial control instead. Women who did not marry needed financial means beyond the reach of the majority of  women, because their earning potential was limited by the laws of men. 

The Equal Pay Act  of 1970 and the Equal Pay Amendment Act, 1983 sought to address this. Before them, there was no expectation that women would be paid as fairly as men for the same work — even when they were allowed to do that work. 

It is against this historical backdrop that women have slowly inched forward into a position where some of them now earn high sums of money and are allowed to keep it. Some earn very small sums of money, but are still allowed to keep it. Some of them, unable to work, are rightly supported by the welfare state. All of these women are allowed to pass their money around each other, if they choose, without the permission of men. It is easy to see why, after centuries of men preventing women from doing this, they are now somewhat irked when they can’t. We must ignore them and their criticism of women’s finances and spending entirely, and continue to support each other just as we choose. 

This support isn’t limited to the fundraisers. At the same time as clicking on the crowd-funder, some women, mostly working-class women, will buy some shopping for their mate with three kids, a ravenous electric meter, and an ex who hasn’t paid child maintenance for years. She might be able to buy them a chippy tea, or cut her hair while offering a bit of free counselling which the woman could never afford professionally. These are the everyday acts of female solidarity. They matter too. We are not all the same and we can’t all chip in huge sums to crowd-funders. 

We mustn’t feel ashamed if we can’t. That isn’t the point. There are enough of us who can and do and we deserve to be bloody proud of ourselves for whatever we give, and also proud of the women taking the cash and taking the lead. Look at those complex legal judgements. Of course, these cases are expensive. Most of us can barely, or only just, understand them. Legal minds are costly for a reason.

A representative from For Women Scotland told me:

We aren’t really sure what the final cost will be, but it’s wonderful that we are well on our way to the stretch. The number of donations rather gives the lie to the claim that we are only a few bots with multiple accounts. This is going to be so important for so many women from across the UK, so it’s really important that it’ll be heard in the Supreme Court.

Let’s never fall into the trap of criticising women for needing, or asking, for help for themselves from other women. If women can give and they do, leave them to it. Those women helped Jo Phoenix with her legal bills, and in return she secured safe work in academia. We backed Maya Forstater with a tenner and she made sure your Terfy beliefs are worthy of respect in a democratic society. So what if men don’t like it? 

To be sure, we should consider how much this actually costs us in other ways. Every penny we throw into a legal challenge, which we shouldn’t really have to do to protect women’s rights, is a penny we might have handed to a women’s refuge or rape crisis centre directly. This is a huge assault on our ability to protect those vulnerable women. We can’t do it as effectively at the point of entry, because the very law that bars entry to men is under attack. It is as infuriating as it is nonsensical. Men should not be women in law, and they should not be in women-only spaces in life. 

If our collective pounds keep them out it’s worth every penny. As @elniedunne said, “JK Rowling is our Backstop but we are the force.” Women, at this point in history, are to be reckoned with. We really do add up. 

The fee for this article has been donated to the For Women Scotland crowd-funder.

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