International Women's Day, Million Women Rise, and trans inclusion

by Lynne Miles // 3 March 2010, 11:31

This weeekend is the closest to International Women's Day (which actually falls on Monday) and so there's a fantastic range of events planned focused on and around women. If you want to find out about the hundreds of events going on across the country, there are listings on the IWD blog and at the official IWD website.

One of the most high profile, and likely to be the biggest by far, is Million Women Rise, which calls women together to march through the centre of London to demand an end to male violence against women and children.

MWR.jpg

The march has been publicized widely with flyers, and on feminist mailing lists and blogs, but conspicuously absent from the publicity has been any reference to the welcome that might be expected by trans women on this "women only" march.

As a collective, TFW bloggers have been trying to get in touch with the MWR coalition to ask them to clarify their position with respect to trans inclusion, and we particularly asked them to make it clear on the website and flyers for the event. This isn't actually an onerous task. There is a whole page on the website elaborating on their women-only stance. Slip the words "self-defined" in there, and you're pretty much good to go.

This isn't a new issue either, and you probably won't be surprised to see coverage of it on this blog. In fact, those of you who have been regular TFW readers and commenters over the last year or so, and seen similar discussions centred on Feminism in London 2009 and Reclaim the Night 2009, are more likely to be surprised by the fact that there is no explicit reference to trans inclusion anywhere in the literature about Million Women Rise 2010.

After quite a lot of prodding, we did eventually get an email from the MWR coalition in response to our queries:

"As you will no doubt appreciate Million Women Rise is currently extremely busy organising our third march and rally, and as a relatively small group of volunteers all our efforts are focussed on the day ahead.

The march is open to, and welcomes all women who self define as women and wish to see an end to male violence against women."

However despite our repeated requests, there has been no response about whether they intend to change the website to make this clear, and the posts about this on the facebook page have got evasive responses. For some reason, the organisers don't seem to want to address this issue face on, and I'm not quite sure why.

I know that they must be frantically busy and have a million-and-one things to do, but they're putting promotional emails and posts everywhere. Barely a day goes by that I don't see something that they've circulated. And not a single one of the public communications that I've seen contains that line above. I went to the 2008 march and loved it. It's a fantastic event, and the organisers do a great job. I think this lets them down, like I think it lets down RTN London.

A couple of people I know have emailed MWR independently, asking them to clarify, and got the same response as I did. This is undoubtedly better than nothing, but it isn't good enough. Nowhere have they made any effort to publicise it (although they did say we could quote the private email as "the official position" for the purposes of this post). Saying it on their Facebook wall is about as public as they get, and even then it took more than one direct question before it got a direct answer.

To cis women, I think this sometimes can look a bit like 'nit picking'. "Of course trans women can come", we sometimes think. "After all, it says 'all women'. Why wouldn't that include trans women?". I've thought that myself in the past. But, for me, that response comes from a place of privilege. We think it's not an issue only because *it's not an issue we have to worry about* (which is almost the defnintion of privilege). We've never have to think about what it might be like to be at an march or a conference or a feminist group meeting and suddenly be made to feel unwelcome or unsafe because of transphobia. We've never had to put up with conversations about horrific rapes and murders of our sisters being derailed into debates as to the validity of our existence. We've never had to feel the slap-in-the-face of events signed "women-born-women only". We don't bang our heads against the wall time and time again trying to bring this point home to people.

I'm not singling MWR out, although the fact that their march is this weekend was obviously the catalyst for this post. It's worth noting that the website for Feminism in London 2010 makes no mention of trans-inclusion despite still saying that some workshops may be women only . And the the flyers for Reclaim the Night London 2010 are already designed and in circulation, and *still* say "women-only" without further clarification. This is despite our discussions with the organisers of both events last year (linked above), and their protests that they couldn't change anything so close to the event. That can hardly be the excuse this time, although when we raise it closer to the time I'm sure they'll say the same again. It just goes to show how seriously they take it, I guess, and I find it incredibly disappointing. WHAT is so hard about adding the words "self-defined" to their websites, posters and flyers? There can be no claim to ignorance or misunderstanding about the importance of doing so, we've had this discussion over and over now. There seem to be only two plausible conclusions from all of this: either the cis women organising these high profile feminist events would really rather trans women didn't come to "women only" events but are aware that they'll face a backlash if they say so; or they *simply don't care enough* about the issue to make sure trans women know without doubt that they are welcome.

This isn't the case for all feminst events by any means. Bristol Reclaim the Night, as just one recent example, has made trans-inclusion explicit in their publicity. But more of them need to do better, and the worst offenders seem to be the highest profile. It's not my place to speak for trans women, but I think it's incumbent upon all cis feminists to step up the pressure on the organisers of major events to try to change this situation. We need trans women in our movement. They have unique perspectives to bring to the table and their disproportionate suffering of male violence means they should be front and centre in our efforts to overthrow it.

Please note that I write this as an individual, not as a representative of The F-Word bloggers' collective. Actually this is always the case unless we explicitly state otherwise. This shouldn't be taken as an indication that the rest of the bloggers either agree or disagree with the way in which I've voiced my opinions, just that it takes us a long time to collaboratively write a post, and we haven't had time to do that (we were waiting to see if MWR would update their website, but so far they haven't). Comments are open but please note they will be strictly moderated in line with our comments policy, including our statement on transphobia and cissexism

Image of MWR 2009 March by Catherine Redfern, shared under a creative commons license (although I'm sure she wouldn't mind us using it anyway!)

Comments From You

Laura // Posted 03 March 2010 at 15:37

I fully support everything you've said here, Lynne, and thank you for writing it.

Holly Combe // Posted 03 March 2010 at 15:51

We’ve never have to think about what it might be like to be at an march or a conference or a feminist group meeting and suddenly be made to feel unwelcome or unsafe because of transphobia. We’ve never had to put up with being derailed into debates as to the validity of our existence. We’ve never had to feel the slap-in-the-face of events signed “women-born-women only”. We don’t bang our heads against the wall time and time again trying to bring this point home to people.

Exactly. I'd like to second Laura's support for this.

Helen // Posted 03 March 2010 at 16:05

Thank you for posting this, Lynne.

My own take on the MWR situation is here

As the saying goes: trans inclusion is NOT about the absence of a "no", it is the presence of a clearly stated "yes".

Shea // Posted 03 March 2010 at 16:31

Great post Lynne, I agree totally. I think this is starting to look like a major fail by MWR.

We should be showing solidarity to all women, cis or trans and make every woman feel welcome.

Jess McCabe // Posted 03 March 2010 at 16:51

Fourthed!

(Although of course just cos someone on TFW collective has not signed here doesn't mean they don't agree! Just to be clear...)

saranga // Posted 03 March 2010 at 17:14

I wholeheartedly endorse and agree with your post Lynne. The words 'self defined' must be added to every piece of promotional literature for Million Women Rise and the London Reclaim the Night marches, or in fact any feminist event. Otherwise I feel that it looks like they just don't want trans women there.

Lucy // Posted 03 March 2010 at 18:21

I still think this sort of policy is a "compromise" so as to not scare away transphobic feminists from the event. At the same time, there is quietly a publicly-unstated policy of including trans women which acts as a defence against accusations of transphobia. Thus, transphobic feminists see the phrase "women-only" and feel safe in the knowledge that this does not include trans women while trans women who claim the event is transphobic are told that, no, trans women can attend. Which is, of course, wrong. Not the bit about trans women attending of course, but the bit about the policy and the event not being transphobic. As Helen pointed out in her post linked in her above comment, the fact that trans women will not feel safe going to an event that is not specifically trans-inclusive is considered a fair price. It's a simple numbers game, really. The organisers believe they would lose more transphobic feminists from the event than they would gain in trans women. Can I be sure of that? No, but it's a reasonable inference.

So long as organisers believe they have more to lose than to gain by publicly including trans women we are going to see the continuation of deceptive, transphobic policies.

Lynne Miles // Posted 03 March 2010 at 18:37

Yes, that's what I think too, Lucy.

By the way, fantastic take-down of Bindel here.

*applauds*

helenGB // Posted 03 March 2010 at 20:07

Lynne wrote;-
"There seem to be only two plausible conclusions from all of this:
either the cis women organising these high profile feminist events would really rather trans women didn’t come to “women only” events but are aware that they’ll face a backlash if they say so;
or they *simply don’t care enough* about the issue to make sure trans women know without doubt that they are welcome."

given the track record of these groups and the sympathies of some of their leading lights I know which interpretation I favour. Somebody once said that "any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistiguishable from malice". Maybe we should substitute "advanced" for "repeated"

Ghostpaw // Posted 03 March 2010 at 21:48

Great post, Lynne, and also to Helen for the post she linked to.

It's sad. It's really fucking sad that such a major event like this can't actually do something radical and make a stand against transphobia. It makes it all feel so watered down and 'shh, you'll rock the boat'.

I really wanted to go on MWR, now I don't think I can bring myself to. I don't want to be involved in something that actively excludes women of any stripe. (although, iirc they're not exactly friendly towards sex workers, either, so I suppose we should have seen this coming).

Lucy // Posted 04 March 2010 at 03:10

Somebody once said that "any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistiguishable from malice". Maybe we should substitute "[repeated]" for "[advanced]"

I think that's fair enough. In fact, given that the organisers can not claim ignorance of this issue, I think it's being awfully generous to just call them incompetent. Besides, as feminists, we supposedly agree that even the ignorance of men about their privilege does not make them innocent of the wrongs done to women. In the same way, the organisers can not be held innocent for their actions. Things like this do not endear feminism to trans women. It underlines again the continuing failure of feminism-as-practice to live up to the feminism-as-ideal standard of being for the liberation of all women. (I also note that trans women and sex workers tend to be excluded or "dissuaded" from the same groups and events, something which I do not think is coincidence. Although the specific reasons given differ for the two, both spring from the same idea: that only some women are worthy of salvation, ehr, feminism.)

@Lynne,

Thank you. I keep thinking about taking on the bits of the article that I didn't in that post, but then I realise that the people who don't believe Julie Bindel is transphobic after reading that are unlikely to be convinced even if I took apart every transphobic statement she's ever written.

Ellie d'Yckgirl // Posted 04 March 2010 at 05:06

"The words 'self defined' must be added to every piece of promotional literature for Million Women Rise and the London Reclaim the Night marches, or in fact any feminist event."

Personally I pretty dislike the notion of 'self defined', not as much because it can potentially allow some assholes to play stupid by saying "oh, I self define as that" as because it makes me feel like trans women should be accepted (or tolerated) because it's not ''polite'' to go against an abstract self-definition. To me, it sounds a bit like "well, you know, we're nice, we wouldn't want to hurt their feelings, let them come".

I would prefer it to be clear that trans women and dykes should be accepted because they suffer very concretely from sexism like cis women and dykes do and are thus as legitimate to participate in feminist demonstration or struggle.

(Ok, I also say that because I define as a dyke and not as a woman but, well... )

anon // Posted 04 March 2010 at 10:07

I think it's a real shame if people decide not to go to MWR on account of this.

Also, I don't know the organisers well enough to know their prejudices but having dealt with them a number of times I can say they are incompetent in many, many areas, (why I'm posting this as anon!) which makes me unwilling to single this out as malicious.

Helen // Posted 04 March 2010 at 11:13

anon:

I think it's a real shame if people decide not to go to MWR on account of this.

I don't want to go anywhere that I know I'm not going to feel safe - who would? I get enough street harassment in my daily life as it is without going out looking for more...

sianmarie // Posted 04 March 2010 at 11:37

hi there

i'm sian from bristol RTN. it was really important to us to make it clear that all self identified women were welcome in the woman-only section of the march. in an initial draft of a post to the f word, helen g kindly got in touch and queried some of my phrasing that, due to my cis privilege, i had been a bit careless with and hadn't noticed could be misconstrued. she helpfully offered me advice on how to re-phrase it which i took. I was massively grateful to helen because this is the only way we can move forward and change transphobic attitudes - through education. I now realise thanks to helen that phrasing which i thought was ok might not be and i know not to make that mistake again. it was so easy to remedy and because we had an open and honest online discussion i was able to learn a little bit more about my privilege and trans issues. it didn't take much. i do not understand why MWR and London RTN et al don't do the same thing! i don't understand why they don't just ask people, discover a bit more about their cis privilege and try and remedy their communications to ensure inclusivity. it doesn't take much effort, and it doesn't mean anyone is treading on anyone's toes. it's just silly. i get that they're busy, but we're all busy - we just did RTN, i know how much hard work it is! but it isn't hard work to fix this.

Susann // Posted 04 March 2010 at 13:32

Alot of people don't realise that the majority of people hungry around the world are women... and yet these women produce 60-80% of the food! The answer to hunger, I really believe lies with women. You can send a message of solidarity to women across the world at http://wfp.org/women

Anji // Posted 06 March 2010 at 16:32

"given the track record of these groups and the sympathies of some of their leading lights I know which interpretation I favour."

Exactly what I was going to say.

I have boycotted MWR today as I boycotted RTN last year, and encourage other cis women to do the same if they care a jot about the inclusion of their trans sisters. A message needs to be sent that their behaviour is just not on, and by attending, the attendee is basically saying "Well it matters to me, but not quite enough that it would stop me attending and having fun with my fellow feminists."

Lucy // Posted 07 March 2010 at 09:19

@Anji,

I agree with you about attending and the message sent. I would further suggest that part of boycotting would be sending an email or letter so that the organisers are made aware that one is not attending because of their policy. Otherwise the organisers may well be able to ignore the message being sent by boycotting which will not help actually put pressure on them to alter the policy.

Ellie d'Yckgirl // Posted 07 March 2010 at 15:08

I'm not well placed to make tactical suggestions as I never went to such a march and the only one that is starting to be organized in my town doesn't have this problem, but I'd tend to think that rather than boycotting it would be more effective to actually make trans women feel safer.

I mean, OK, the organization itself doesn't want to claim trans inclusion, but if there is a large enough groupe of people voicing that it's trans inclusive and which says "let's go together at the demonstration", it still allows trans women to participate knowing that they won't have to confront transphobic bigots directly.

Ally // Posted 07 March 2010 at 17:59

@Ellie. I had thought of suggesting that, but it does ring a bit like the response where during a discussion about whether feminism has achieved what it set out to, you mention to a male friend the constant heckling, cat-calls, intimidating behaviour and men following you at night, and they respond by offering to walk you home. Sweet, but not the point. The point is it shouldn't be up to the victim to make sure they have someone there to make them feel (or be) safe, and nor should we be offering them that. What should be offered is a policy of policing the perpetrators of such aggression, and making it unacceptable, particularly at these kinds of events for people to be victimised in that way.

Helen // Posted 07 March 2010 at 18:44

It seems to me the central question remains as Lynne says:

For some reason, the organisers don’t seem to want to address this issue face on, and I’m not quite sure why.

Kiki // Posted 14 March 2010 at 15:48

I would like to ask if any trans Women tried to join the MWR volunteers ?
it is after all
"small group of volunteers " they are likely to welcome more women to help organise the march.

If you try to join the crew of volunteers the issue of Trans woman inclusion can raise from within the organising team. If trans women are rejected by MWR I believe they meet at the London Women's Resource Centre

Lynne Miles // Posted 14 March 2010 at 15:54

That might be true, Kiki, but there's no reason that a trans woman should *need* to join the organising committee to ensure trans women are welcomed onto the march. Cis women can and should be making sure their march is inclusive and, if it's not, cis women should be speaking out. I'd also say that if I were a trans woman I'd be hesitant to put myself forward in a situation where it was unclear if I were welcome.

Kiki // Posted 14 March 2010 at 16:03

The London Women's Resource Centre has produced this document which is a guide for women's organisations on trans women inclusion:

http://www.wrc.org.uk/includes/documents/cm_docs/2009/0/5_090915_trans_briefing.pdf


Politicalguineapig // Posted 16 March 2010 at 22:33

Er, Helen, in the post, was that linky supposed to go somewhere or is it just an underline for emphasis? I've clicked on it twice and it's gone nowhere.
I personally think marches and RTN are a waste of my time, so I just don't bother.

Helen // Posted 17 March 2010 at 11:07

Politicalguineapig: Not sure what you mean - which post and which underlined link?

sianmarie // Posted 17 March 2010 at 11:21

hi political guinea pig - why do you think marches are a waste of time? no criticism implied but i've heard this opinion a couple of times recently and it's interesting to hear the different viewpoints.
i used to think marching a bit silly but since i started doing it i absolutely feel bowled over by the strength and enthusiasm of feminist energy that almost glows from the march. i think it's a very effective way of saying 'yes we are here and we are pissed off'.

Maeve // Posted 17 March 2010 at 12:40

Marches are obviously not a waste of time to those involved, but as they march along chanting and basking in their glow of strength and enthusiasm, most of the uninvolved will be thinking, 'oh feck, another bunch of winkers holding up the traffic!'

Kate // Posted 17 March 2010 at 13:46

Well screw 'em. I'm a cynical about marching myself but I've got no time for the likes of the woman I saw berating a police officer at MWR because she couldn't get across the street to BHS. Apathy I can understand but outright objecting to an awareness raising march is pretty deplorable in my mind.

Paul // Posted 17 March 2010 at 16:40

Well, if I hadn't been able to get to my favourite cafe in 1930s Berlin because an 'awareness raising' march of pesky Brownshirts was blocking my way, I think I would have been pretty pissed off.

I'm NOT comparing the MWR march with brownshirts! Just making the point that everyone calls their march 'awareness raising'. So it's a phrase we need to be cautious about.

Kate // Posted 17 March 2010 at 19:56

Seriously, you did not just bring up the nazis did you? That is such an internet cliche. I like to think that if you had been stumbling through Berlin you're annoyance would have been piqued because of a little bit more than a delayed coffee. One man's awareness raising is just another's expose.

makomk // Posted 18 March 2010 at 16:58

Lucy: it's probably not just a numbers game. I reckon that the transphobic feminists they'd lose by actually including trans women are far more influential and important to them than any of the trans women they'd gain. (It's the legacy of a movement whose key members excluded both trans people and anyone who supported trans rights. As Roz Kaveney says here, "transphobia is not just about being horrible to transfolk, it is about being horrible to people who are not horrible to transfolk.")

By the way, that's an interesting tagline on your blog. I assume it's a reference to radical feminists who call anyone that disagrees with them a "funfem"? (The term "funfem" is certainly a big warning sign of potential transphobia for me personally.)

Politicalguineapig // Posted 18 March 2010 at 19:11

Helen: the last part of paragraph 6 and all of seven act as a hyperlink but don't go anywhere.
Sianmarie: I understand that marches act as a morale-raiser, but when all the marchers go home they haven't actually accomplished anything. And that much effort should be directed into things like lobbying, setting up support centers and etc. Marches just cause annoyance.

Lynne Miles // Posted 19 March 2010 at 10:00

Hi politicalguineapig, sorry for not publishing your comments before, I think I missed them in my inbox. Regarding the article/hyperling question - I am confused? I can't see any paragraph-long hyperlinks either in my OP or in the BoP post Helen linked to - where are you talking about?

sianmarie // Posted 19 March 2010 at 10:14

political guinea pig - i really disagree with that! when we organise RTN we fundraise for charities, we encourage women to volunteer at the rape crisis, we encourage women and men to come along to meetings and start talking, start discussions about feminism, and it also gives people a chance to celebrate the achievements of local women who are working hard and giving up their time to make things better for the women in the city. as well as raising awareness which is an achievement in itself i think? i had a woman in her 70s (??) shake my hand and thank me as the march went past, we got stories about feminism in all the local press, so that even if people didn't go on the march they learned what it was fighting about. small steps maybe but an achievement nonetheless.
apologies for derail :-/

Catherine Redfern // Posted 19 March 2010 at 12:02

Hi Lynne/Helen

There is a broken link in the post - it starts with 'being derailed into...' goes over into the next paragraph and ends with 'noting that the website for'

It's weird that you can't see it, maybe it only shows in certain browsers? It seems to link to:

http://www.thefword.org.uk/blog/2010/03/”conversations

Hope this helps!

Lynne Miles // Posted 19 March 2010 at 12:38

Aaaaah OK, thanks Catherine. Yep, that is wierd, because I couldn't see it at all in my browser (Firefox). Should be corrected now. Thanks both for pointing it out.

Lynne Miles // Posted 19 March 2010 at 12:39

...but since I couldn't see the error, tell me if it's not fixed!

Politicalguineapig // Posted 19 March 2010 at 15:43

Looks fixed from here..
Sianmarie: I'm glad that you were able to raise awareness, but I still wouldn't attend. Being around people tends to exhaust me pretty easily.

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