Women's liberation movement in Washington, United States on 26 August 1970. (Photo by Don Carl STEFFEN/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
Artillery Row

Why is The Feminist Library erasing women?

The Feminist Library holds the keys to grassroots feminist knowledge built up over decades – it should not kowtow to trans activists

Of all the controversial opinions I hold, the one that will see me barred from polite society is my attitude to books. To me they’re just tools, my copy of The Female Eunuch is not the Book of Kells – it’s a pile of dog-eared pages that sometimes serves as a coaster. Nonetheless, even I will admit there is something special about the collections held in libraries. Libraries are cultural repositories of knowledge available to all regardless of income or background. Or they should be.

The Feminist Library houses an archive of texts donated by grassroots activists across 46 years of the women’s movement. It has long been revered as a place to learn, meet and lay the foundations of a feminist future. But some women were left reeling last week when they were told they were no longer welcome.

A “Statement on Transphobia and Accountability” released by the library on 28 January told those who might seek to volunteer, organise or donate to the library that they were to be excluded if they held the “wrong views” on transgenderism. Unacceptable opinions include the inconvenient fact that while it is possible to have treatments to look like the opposite sex, it is not possible to become the opposite sex. New volunteers will be vetted and trained to ensure their views align with those of the Feminist Library.

The Feminist Library is the guardian of more than the opinions of the current volunteers

The library, which has charitable status and is run as a collective, professes to “wholeheartedly reject any feminist framework that seeks to define womanhood solely using biological essentialism.” But an understanding of what women share as adult human females underpins feminism; being born either female or male is the most fundamental factor that shapes our lives as human beings. Indeed, in large parts of Asia sex even determines whether one will be born at all; today there are millions of “missing girls” thanks to sex selective abortion and the cultural preference for boys. Pretending that biological sex doesn’t matter to the analysis of sexism is about as robust an analysis as the cringing idiots who claim they can’t be racist because they don’t “see” race.

Raquel Rosario Sánchez, spokeswoman for the UK’s largest feminist conference FiLiA told me:

Sex discrimination has been outlawed in the UK for decades and sex is considered a protected characteristic in the Equality Act 2010. It is bizarre for any feminist organisation to shut their doors to women who support their rights, as they are already enshrined in law.

We encourage women to read widely and remain thoroughly informed about issues that concern them. Women are capable to make up their own minds about materials and speakers they are exposed to. It is infantilising to create policies that restrict the information women can access (as if they cannot be trusted to think for themselves), and to ban some women’s access to knowledge and education.

The history of The Feminist Library is described as “evolving through different periods”; the sound of self-flagellation can be heard through the statement as the “latent and active transphobia” of past volunteers is lamented. It seems so-called “transphobia”, or more accurately an understanding of who is female and who is male, is an embarrassing hangover from a less enlightened time. The library’s stance is reminiscent of a petulant teen and can perhaps be summarised as: “Mum, you’re so embarrassing. You don’t know anything. Why can’t you just sod off and die?”

Interestingly, the library itself is chaired by an older woman, Gail Chester. However, the volunteer coordinator is Lola Olufemi: a PhD student who successfully called for the no-platforming of Professor Selina Todd from the Women’s Liberation at 50 event at Oxford University last year.

The stance adopted by the Feminist Library is perfectly encapsulated by what lesbian feminist academic Professor Sheila Jeffreys has termed “killing of the mothers,” whereby the opinions of older women are routinely dismissed by the younger generation. As the feminist writer Victoria Dutchman-Smith (aka Glosswitch) pithily notes: “A feminist movement which has no time for women once they are past a certain age treats them no better than patriarchy itself.”

Until 2015 I would have agreed with The Feminist Library on their view of transgenderism

In an echo of the index librorum prohibitorum (a historical list of books which Catholics were forbidden from reading) there seems to be a sinister suggestion that the collection itself will be stripped of offending texts; the library has promised to “overhaul archiving procedures to properly reflect contemporary shifts in feminism.” Those who run the library are entitled to adopt whichever ideology they so choose. But the Feminist Library is the guardian of more than the opinions of the current volunteers: it holds the keys to grassroots feminist knowledge built up over decades. That the collective should seek to prevent public access to texts they disapprove of is, somewhat ironically, patriarchal.

As Raquel Rosario Sánchez notes: “The purpose of a library is to expand, stimulate and challenge the reader’s minds. To restrict access and/or the scope of what women are allowed to read due to political pressures, is part of an authoritarian climate of censorship which undermines women’s rights to an education and free speech.”

It seems we are in the midst of a cultural revolution, subject to the rules of an arrogant elite who are seeking to re-educate us on transgender issues. They do not just gatekeep the opinions of academics, corporations and government, but also of small charities like The Feminist Library. It should be noted that accounts have not been filed by the charity for the last three years; one wonders if funding constraints of a donor with more cash than second wave feminists might have led to the zealous enforcement of profoundly anti-woman values.

Those who identify as trans have an almost unparalleled power to change law and compel speech

The training rolled out through statutory and corporate bodies, aided by liberal media who have prioritised ideology above fact-checking, has led to a default view that those who claim to be trans are a persecuted and “at risk” minority. Were this the case it might seem proportionate that language, spaces and thinking ought to be changed to accommodate the specific needs of this marginal group. But oddly, given the mainstream narrative, those who identify as trans (0.3 per cent of the population) have an almost unparalleled power to change law and compel speech.

Until 2015 I would have agreed with The Feminist Library on their view of transgenderism, if not their censorious approach. At work and through my progressive friendship circles I was conditioned to parrot the lie that sex can be changed with the phrase “I identify as” and I believed a refusal to use preferred pronouns might lead someone to harm or kill themselves. But I took the time to read foundational feminist texts (books like Janice Raymond’s The Transexual Empire and more recent works like Sheila Jeffrey’s Gender Hurts) and to talk to older women. Today, neither those books nor conversations are allowed to exist in The Feminist Library.

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