This post is dedicated to Merseymike, who seems to have become something of a regular in the comments boxes lately. He doesn't like my opinions, objecting in particular to those concerning the Whore of Babylon and often writes in to tell me so. But that's alright because enjoying disputation I take quite a free speech line over here and secondly - and I hope this won't provoke Merseymike too much - I'm developing something of an affection for him. No, seriously, there's something likeable about him. I just hope he doesn't wreck it all and reveal that he has atrocious taste in food and music or something.
Anyway, feminist Julie Bindel has been called a "marmite" writer, that is one who inspires adulation and revulsion in equal measure. Merseymike - and this is one of the reasons I like him, incidentally, he always lays his cards on the table and lets you know what he thinks - definitely falls into the revulsion category, calling her one of a "dying and outdated breed of radical feminists" who are "deeply conservative and reactionary". Specifically, he objects to her views on prostitution, abolishing jury trial for rape and transsexuals.
First prostitution. Bindel doesn't like it. She is a proponent of the so-called Swedish model which treats prostitution as a crime of violence against women and criminalises buyers of sexual services.
The question of prostitution has acquired some urgency following the horrible Ipswich murders and it seems as though the government's mind is made up, with a crackdown planned on men who buy sex from trafficked women. Opponents, including the English Collective of Prostitutes, insist that the proposals are retrogade and would do more harm than good.
Other than the vague belief that sex, like the NHS, should be free at the point of delivery and the very firm belief that I would hate my daughter to join the world's oldest profession, indeed would do everything in my power to prevent such a thing, I confess to being an agnostic when it comes to prostitution policy. On the one hand I think it no bad thing for governments and society to adopt moral positions and wonder why there is such resistance to moralism that the word itself has come to have such negative connotions. It seems to me that what Christie Davies calls "causalism", that is the studious avoidance of moral judgement in public policy and family law, has resulted in much moral squalor and injustice to countless people, most egregiously of all children. On the other hand, I think that if the government is about to break with decades of social liberalism - and I don't for a moment think that it plans anything like such an 180 degree turn - that prostitution is a strange place to start. It has the flavour of style rather than substance, of spin rather than content. It looks like an ill thought out headline grabber of an opportunity to score points with feminist ideologues not a sensible way of dealing with the trade in sex. Add to that the blizzard of claims and counter claims by pro and anti-decriminalisation camps and one is tempted to cry, stop! leave things as they are.
Next jury trial for rape cases. Rape is an outrage and the staggeringly low conviction rate in rape cases must be cause for concern. That said, on this I'm unequivocally with Merseymike. Abolishing jury trial in rape cases is a straightforward affront to liberty and must be opposed.
Now to the thorny matter of transsexuals. It seems as though Bindel does not accept that cosmetic operations can turn a man into a woman or vice versa. She's not alone in this view, neither does that other celebrated feminist, Germaine Greer. For this shocking piece of dissent, Bindel has been dubbed "transphobic" and a campaign has been mounted against her being given an award by gay rights group, Stonewall. There's an ugly note of hysteria in all this, ironically not unlike the nonsense Camille Paglia encountered when she inaugurated the bold new wave of libertarian Pro Prostitution Pro Sex feminism in the 90s. Back then, Paglia scorned her clodhopping critics in grand operatic style. This time round, Bindel has issued a defensive statement full of bemusement and hurt feelings.
"A demonstration is planned for the evening of the award ceremony, and placards bearing my photograph with a line through my face, with the words ‘Bindel Bigot’, amongst others, will be brandished as people arrive at the venue," she notes.
"Since the age of 16 I have been an outspoken and proud lesbian – often at significant personal cost to myself. I have been beaten up (and hospitalised) by anti-lesbian men, and my home was once firebombed by fascists when I was living in a lesbian relationship with a black woman. Over the years, particularly as my writing has become mainstream, I regularly receive hate mail from anti-lesbian and misogynist readers. Woman and lesbian hating opponents have taken offence at the fact that I speak out against rape, child sexual abuse, murder and prostitution of women. Others have threatened me with harm if I continue to name men as the common perpetrators of sexual violence. Whilst I have not become desensitised to this abuse, I have understood it in the context of a proud and courageous battle against women’s oppression, dating back to the beginning of the women’s liberation movement. Thus, I feel I am well qualified to understand the meaning and implications of bigotry. To face abuse and threats from a group of people who name me as a ‘bigot’ and worse is nothing short of offensive."
Clearly upset, she writes:
"I have a public reputation as a human rights defender. It is therefore extremely painful to be portrayed all over the web as a person whose nomination for a prize is worthy of a massive hate campaign,"
"I did not ask to be nominated for this award. However, I can see that I am a worthy contender having raised a positive profile of lesbians in the mainstream press. Certainly I have done so more than any other journalist writing in a national newspaper in the UK. The bullying insistence from some groups and individuals to have Stonewall withdraw my nomination is anti-lesbian in the extreme. Indeed, I am the only lesbian in the category. Stonewall is an organisation funded to support lesbian rights (amongst gay and bisexual). I believe I am the victim of an organised group of bullies who seek to discredit me and silence any radical feminist debate around the issue of GID and of the transsexual industry. Stonewall has refused the demands to de-nominate me on the grounds that I am a worthy candidate who has written more in the mainstream press about lesbian issues than any other lesbian-identified journalist."
"I have been told that despite my apologies I am still responsible, according to a number of transsexual people, of ‘genocide’, because I do not want to accept the GID diagnosis."
"I have been castigated beyond belief for causing offence to the transsexual community, by people hypocritically using gross and vitriolic insults and threats against me, whilst continuing to insist that this protest is not about me, but Stonewall’s refusal to include the ‘T’ in LGB."
(It's a very long statement and sometimes the inverted commas get a bit screwed up so it's difficult to tell whether she's speaking or quoting someone else.)
"Radical feminists were the first to deconstruct gender and name it as a ‘social construction’ which is harmful to females. However, the arrogance of the transsexual lobby engaged in this ‘debate’ is staggering. For example: “Is that strictly speaking feminist theory, or is it just thinly-veiled transphobia masquerading as feminism? I mean, I can think of Julie Bindel credibly coming out with something like that, but is there a body of theory? I'm afraid I'm not very up on modern feminism.But let’s get to Julie Bindel specifically, rather than the privileged norm born dictatorship she represents. A pathological hatred of transsexual people is clearly the order of the day with Bindel and her friends.”As an out lesbian feminist living in a misogynistic, anti-lesbian world, I challenge gender norms each and every day. Growing up female, but refusing to conform, I have been severely punished and threatened for doing so. I consider myself to have rejected the gender assigned to me, by a patriarchal culture, and am therefore qualified to name myself a ‘gender resister’."
Cutting a very long statement short:
"I have offered to speak with, both privately and publicly, to various members of the transsexual community involved in this campaign against me. Whilst a small number have accepted, the majority have refused. I believe that they are not interested in hearing what I have to say, but merely wish to use me as their ‘whipping girl’, and to take all of their anger out on me. I refuse to be a scapegoat, or to be silenced by them.I do not need the Stonewall award in order to continue writing about controversial topics with a view to challenging views and ‘truths’ which I, for good and sound reason, dispute. In my 30 years as a political activist, I have never allowed the vile misogyny and anti-lesbian bullying I have endured over the years in response to my writing and activism to shut me up. I certainly will not let this campaign against my feminist and journalistic integrity do it now. "
What a mess.
And what a mess any discussion of gender and sexuality has become, home to the most boring inflexible pettyminded obsessives. The difference between Paglia and Bindel is this: faced with that sort of contrived outrage, the peerless Paglia would have cut her critics down to size, slashed their fatuous arguments to ribbons, delivered, in passing, an erudite lecture on women in antiquity and then spat out a chilli pepper contemptuously. But dear, oh dear, Bindel sobs piteously and begs for understanding.
Merseymike is completely wrong on this one and is himself guilty of the same rigid dogmatism that he condemns in Bindel. Bindel doesn't dislike transsexuals and it's ridiculous to accuse her of doing so just because she holds the views she does which she is entitled to do.
No one is served by the infantile bullying of Bindel. We urgently need to take the hysteria and the doctrinaire out of discussions of sex and gender and get back to the freewheeling first principles of feminism and the gay rights movement. Liberation is not supposed to be an intellectual straitjacket.
Update I: Harriet Harman is trying to rope the Women's Institute (WI) into the campaign against the sex trade. The WI has indicated that it's interested. Makes a change from jam-making and posing naked for calendar pix, I suppose.
Update II: Loz has what might be called the comprehensive guide to anti-Bindel here. A Facebook group was set up to oppose Bindel's Stonewall award nomination, which Bindel joined "to monitor the level of bullying and harassment aimed at me." The exchanges are quite painful to read. Bindel registers her upset at claims that she is a political lesbian and says she is strongly against any reparative or aversion therapy but doesn't answer queries about talking therapies for transsexuals. Oh dear. She suggests debating with one of the contributors in an open forum but gets knocked back. Bad tempered insults get flung back and forth, Bindel accuses some of her critics of "hate-filled anti-lesbian and misogynystic bile". She declares, "I've had enough of this vile nonsense and not intend to stop saying what I am saying.You have been counter-productive in the extreme." Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. It also turns out that Linda Bellos (remember her?) wrote to Stonewall opposing Bindel's award nomination.