Closing speech from Finn MacKay, founder of the London Feminist Network and the force behind Reclaim The Night. Further writes ups from Feminism In London 2010 to follow……
“ Today you have been part of one of the largest women’s liberation conferences held the UK for the last 10 years. Our movement is on the rise in this country again, in this capital city, in those of the Celtic nationals and beyond. As it grows it is no surprise that the debate grows about it’s role and form. Over this year I have heard much debate about wether feminism needs to be re-branded. As if a movement that has given us all the advances we take for granted today is something that we should be ashamed of.
That we can work in many different industries, that we have access to education, that domestic violence is considered a crime, that we can open our own bank accounts. As if a legacy of support services, rape crisis centres, refuges, nurseries, women’s centres, helplines and advocacy provision that continue to support women, children and men today is something that we should be embarrassed about.
Feminism does not need rebranding, it needs reclaiming.
This is not to say that this will be easy in a culture of backlash against feminism, where the term is a dirty word, where misogyny and homophobia restrict women in claiming this movement for themselves. And because misogyny and homophobia are prejudices that we must confront we must question WHY women do not identify with feminism, rather than accept and endorse the lies and stereotypes that are told about feminism and feminists.
Feminism is a global movement to challenge and change womens’ subordination to men, but time and again we hear that feminism is just about women making their own choices, regardless of what those choices are and what bumpy, un-level playing-fields they are made in. We are told that practically every women who wakes up in the morning and makes a decision is a feminist, or all those who have a job, or who have money. Now while indeed it is true that while every woman can be a feminist, feminism has to mean something otherwise it risks meaning nothing.
We must remind people that ours is a political movement, it is serious. It is not about a trip to the health spa, a flattering trouser suit or a pole-dancing class at a local gym.
Our movement is literally about life and death; two women every week in our country are murdered by a violent male partner, who on average will serve around four years in prison.
One in four women are victims of rape in their lifetime, while only one out of every 20 reported rapes results in a conviction.
Because we are feminists we do not believe that 19 out of every 20 women who report rape are lying.
Because we are feminists we do not believe that the rape crisis in our country is the result of false reports.
And because we are feminists we believe them, and we join together in our movement to demand justice.
Now this goal of challenging male supremacy, which we call patriarchy, requires collaboration with many other struggles, and contrary to the lies told about the herstory of our movement, this is something we have always done. Because women are the poorest of the poor in every country in the world, including our own, we know what capitalism is responsible for. And feminism has much to contribute; politically, theoretically and in activism to the global struggle for alternatives to capitalism, and especially now in defending our welfare and public services on which women and children depend disproportionately. And most of us as feminists are already involved in many of the campaigns against racism, for peace and for the environment.
Many of us stand alongside men in these movements, including our own, working together in solidarity. The role of men in our movement is another issue that has seen much debate over the past year; now of course all men have a role to play in the struggle for women’s liberation, all men; they can stop rape by not raping women. They can bring the sex industry to it’s knees by not buying and selling women in prostitution and using pornography. They can remove their patriarchal, lucrative pound from the institutions exploiting us and demeaning them.
And our pro-feminist brothers can further this aim by challenging other men, by picketing lap-dancing clubs and other such establishments, by putting themselves on the line just as women have to do every day both in those clubs and without, on the streets, in our workplaces and in our homes.
However men are involved in our movement I suggest that one place they should certainly not be is in the leadership, because I believe that women should lead and direct the Women’s Movement. This is a political stance, but it is so often reduced to so-called ‘man-hating’ by those who do not appreciate the grand scale of woman-hating that goes un-commented and un-checked in our society on a daily basis.
But as the late, and wonderful, Andrea Dworkin maintained “We are not, in fact, feminists because we hate men. We are feminists because we believe in men’s humanity, against all evidence to the contrary.”
Yet protecting our women-only spaces is another struggle we are forced to confront, as this vital place for organisation, resistance and recovery continues to come under attack and is fast disappearing. All oppressed groups should have the right to political self-organisation, and ours should be no exception.
We should not be made to justify or apologise for women-only space, one of our most dynamic tactics for change that we have built up over the decades and our movement is based upon.
So I hope today you have found groups and causes to identify with and get active in, and at the end of this day you know that you definitely not alone. Do not doubt that what you do and what we do makes a difference because it does. And every time you raise your voice in resistance you add it to countless others and you make them count.
The women who can’t be here, the women who said ‘no’ and were ignored, the women who didn’t make it; I know that there are women in this room who have survived horrendous violence once, twice, many times. Your bravery should never be your shame. And all of us must loudly contradict and challenge a society that puts on to women it’s own shame for the crimes that it condones.
All of us are trying to survive and thrive, through the lie that we are worth less than a man. And the reason so many forces are stacked against us, why mockery, silencing and threat are used to repress us is because of the fear that the sleeping dragon that is our 52% majority will open her eyes and take her power back.
Male-supremacy is in fact fairly tenuous; a great deal of it has to be maintained by the exertion of violence including the violence of poverty and marginalisation. It is also maintained though ideological means; through sexual objectification, through the stifling constraints of femininity and compulsory heterosexuality. It is nothing short of revolutionary to suggest that this ancient relationship can be taken apart, but that’s why we’re here, because we know that supremacy is nether natural or inevitable. Because it must, can, and will be changed and we are going to do it.”