A woman poses with a sign during the London Reclaim the Night! march on November 27, 2021 in London. Picture credit: Hollie Adams/Getty Images
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Spare me the hashtag feminism

The feminist fix: Tweets are no substitute for making real change

“Spare me the hashtag feminism” is the eleventh article in Julie Bindel’s online column for The Critic, “The feminist fix”, which explores feminism’s answer to today’s challenges. The tenth article, on sexists in gay armour, can be read here.

When I first got involved in feminism, back in the olden days of 1979, there were no mobile phones, no Internet, no social media and therefore no way of communicating except for face to face or via a landline. I don’t romanticise those days I love Google with all my heart, and cannot imagine functioning without it.

Raising awareness is crucial, but how do feminists hold dangerous perpetrators to account?

But spare me the hashtag feminism. There are those that seem to think posting #Shewasjustwalkinghome and #Shewasjustoutforarun when yet another woman is murdered by a man, is tantamount to activism. It’s all part of the rich tapestry of communication of course, but it won’t end male violence or bring about justice for those murdered women. Raising awareness is crucial, but how do we, as feminists, ensure that dangerous perpetrators are held to account and removed from society?

To end male violence against women and girls, several things need to happen. First of all, we need to examine our own attitudes. If we emphasise that victims of femicide, such as Sarah Everard and Ashling Murphy, were simply going about their business by walking home or going for a run, what about the women who are attacked when out boozing, looking for sex, or other activities not befitting of ladies? Are they somehow complicit in what men do to them? Framing some women as “innocent” victims means we consider others to be guilty, and less worthy than their “respectable” counterparts.

Why don’t we hold a vigil for the women, one every three days in England and Wales, who die at home, killed by violent male partners?

No boy is born programmed or destined to abuse females

It is vital that feminist campaigners can imagine a world free of male violence. We must be able to envisage how we achieve our goals and remain optimistic. There is nothing inevitable about such behaviour. No boy is born programmed or destined to abuse females. Biological determinism has no place in feminism, and those that argue it is “natural” for women to be victimised by men have a deeply pessimistic outlook.

The feminist fix in bringing about major change within our most powerful institutions, such as the legal system, is to refuse to accept how things are. If a law is unjust, we must change it. If sanctions are not being implemented, as we can see with our appallingly low conviction rate of reported rapes, then we make demands on those responsible to do better.

Since cofounding Justice for Women (JfW) in 1990, in order to campaign on behalf of women who kill in response to male violence, I have celebrated the power of collaboration. At that time, women facing a murder trial had little choice but to jump through the loops of man-made law in order to escape a murder conviction. They were seen as either mad or bad, and more often than not they were neither. These women had been provoked into defending themselves because no one had stepped in to stop the abuse before it escalated.

On the other hand, when men killed their female current or former partners, they would often claim that they had been provoked by the smallest of things. We called it the “nagging and shagging defence”, because the excuses often involved alleged infidelity (“She was shagging my best mate”) or wearisome criticism (“She would never let up going on and on at me”).

We hated the law is it stood in relation to domestic homicide, and so, working with feminist lawyers, we changed it.

Having been told by pompous male barristers ‘the law is the law’, feminists ignored them

Having been told by pompous male barristers that “the law is the law”, and only Parliament could change it, feminists ignored them. Alongside feminist MPs such as Harriet Harman, in 2008 we finally abolished the defence of provocation on the grounds that life-threatening domestic violence endured by women was rarely seen as “provocation” whilst men misused this defence wherever possible.

Awareness raising and public education about crimes against women and girls is crucial, but only when it is coupled with the real and present threat of serious consequences for perpetrators. This is why feminists cannot take seriously calls to “defund the police” or “abolish all prisons”. Rape, domestic abuse and femicide is far too commonplace and normalised for so called “community sanctions” to make an impact. Referring to feminists such as myself as “carceral”, as though I want to increase the prison population, rather than actually put some men in there who are in danger to women, is as offensive as it is ridiculous.

When the serial rapist John Worboys convinced a parole board in 2018 that he was perfectly safe to be let out of prison, despite the evidence that he was one of the most prolific sex offenders in modern day history, the feminists stepped in. Rather than just tweeting angrily about it, the feminist NGO Centre for Women’s Justice (CWJ), established to hold the state to account when it fails female victims of male violence, stepped up. Representing two of Worboys’ victims, CWJ produced evidence from experts on sexual violence, and threw the kitchen sink at the Ministry of Justice until it reversed its decision. Worboys, a clear danger to women, remains in prison.

The feminist fix in dealing with state failures is feminist action, not #Feminism.

The campaign Counting Dead Women, set up by feminist activist Karen Ingala Smith a decade ago, is another fine example of working together to make change. Ingala Smith memorialises the names of all victims of femicide each and every year, in partnership with the victims’ loved ones. On International Women’s Day, Jess Phillips MP reads out every single name of these women in the House of Commons. There we have it, feminists of very different stripes, coming together on the basis of need, and getting things done. Social media is great to get the word out about things that are actually happening, but tweets must never become a substitute for making real change.

Julie Bindel’s latest book, Feminism for Women: The Real Route to Liberation (Constable, Robinson), was published on 2 September 2021.

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