For many people the activities of feminism are pretty clear cut – an attempt to improve the treatment and rights of women across the world, both in the developed world and the developing. The focus of feminism varies from the everyday sexism women face, to the harsh reality of young girls forced into marriage, or the issues affecting men caused by a patriarchal society.
Unfortunately for many of those involved in these movements feminism is not as clear cut as this. Issues of trans* identifying individuals is a particular point of conflict in some parts of the community. Mainly, those who identify as radical feminists.
Radical feminists originate from second wave feminism and are an incredibly vocal group when it comes to calling out problems with the treatment of women. Within this group exists the TERFs (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists), who can be equally outspoken in their calls for trans*women to not enter their spaces. There are a variety of factors for this demand, and this article is not the place to discuss the philosophy behind it, but it is a great source of tension within the feminist community, since many now advocate for the rights of all those identifying as a woman as opposed to those born as one.
Which brings us to the debate that rages over RadFem2013. A simple search of the twitter hashtag #radfem2013 brings up a chorus of tweets from those both for it and against it. Before we try to look into exactly what has happened here, it is important to look at the three main groups in this:
Radical Feminist: The organisers of RadFem2013. They advocate women’s rights across the world, but have also made themselves enemies of both trans*activists and Mens Rights groups. TERFs are well known for transphobic posts and are largely excluded from third wave feminism because of this. They are also known for posting some more disturbing posts with misandrous undertones.
Trans*activist: For the purposes of this post I will be using the terms trans*activist and third wave feminism interchangeably since on this occasion at least, there is a lot of overlap between the two groups. These individuals often stand up for both cis women’s and trans*people’s rights. This group is the most likely to contain social justice warriors, and are known for calling out both TERFs and MRAs for different reasons.
MRAs: Mens Rights Activists (MRA) are a group who believe that feminism doesn’t address the current sexism within society that affects men, or that feminism is a destructive force in society. The group is large and varied, though are largely considered unneeded or problematic by those trying to address sexism in society due to their narrow focus and on occasion equating feminism with radical feminism. Whilst there is nothing specific in their philosophy that is transphobic, they frequently clash with both groups due to their stance on feminism.
A few days ago there was a flurry of posts on twitter about radfem2013 and the possibility of it being cancelled, or the venue moved at least, due to the London Irish Centre receiving too many complaints about the convention. Initially, the organisers of Radfem2013 were contacted over twitter. Whilst they agreed to an interview, they stopped responding after the second email with questions, and so the exchange had to be cut short. But, as promised to the person who answered, here are the questions and replies, unedited.
If I could start with asking what has happened in the past with regard to these conferences and MRA harassment? You mention in your post about this being the second year this has happened.
I can’t comment too much about what happened last year because I wasn’t on the organizing committee and just watched it unfold as an observer. Last year, Men’s Rights Activists and Transgender Activists heard that a conference was happening in London and that Sheila Jeffreys, a professor of Political Science in Melbourne, was to be one of the keynote speakers. They began a letter writing campaign to Conway Hall, the venue that had agreed to host the conference, describing Jeffreys as a “bigot” and a “transphobe” and asking for her to be no-platformed. Conway Hall caved to the pressure and the conference had to be held elsewhere in secret.
What are the tactics being employed? Could you expand on what you have published in your statement, such as how or where women are being harassed online?
Women are being harassed online constantly. This happens on Twitter, on Facebook, on Reddit, on Tumblr. Basically anywhere there is a feminist presence, there are men trying to shut us up. These men use sexual harassment as one of their primary tactics. Women I know have had sexually abusive messages sent to them about their very young children, and have been threatened with death and rape. I myself used to receive rape threats at least once a week when I blogged on Tumblr. Men’s Rights Activists also use ‘doxxing’ as a form of intimidation. That is when they collect information about particular individual women and publish their home addresses, telephone numbers, children’s names, places of employment etc. in order to silence them.
Have similar tactics been performed this year? You mention harassment, but it seemed like this year the intimidation was more physical (for instance the theft).
We do not know who was responsible for the theft. We just know it wasn’t us. Yes, this year the intimidation does seem to be more physical than last. The online harassment has been consistent throughout and doesn’t just come up around the times of the conferences.
Which websites do MRAs use to “doxx” these women? Are they the same ones being used to doxx the staff at the london irish centre?
I am not going to link you to these sites because I want to protect the safety of the women who are being doxxed.
Has there been any harassment specifically directed at women for being part of radfem2013? Could you elaborate or link me to any examples of this? I have obviously the current twitter posts going on, but are there any specific posts you’d like attention drawn to?
I have heard reports of women losing friends over their decision to attend RadFem2013. All of the organizers have been targeted for harassment usually on Twitter so check the hashtag for that.
You mentioned that MRAs and transgender activists were responsible for trying to shut down radfem2012, but you seemed to focus more on the MRAs in regard to online harassment. Does it only tend to be MRAs who cause problems for women online?
It is not just MRA’s, no. Trans activists and their female allies regularly try to shut down radical feminist discussions.
This is unfortunately the end of my discussion with the organisers of Radfem2013. They did not reply to my follow-up questions in regard to the event, which were:
I understand you don’t want to link me to the site, but could you give me some more details about where the dox are put up. For instance is it a site like red watch or are they posted into forums? You don’t have to give any specific details of where they are, but obviously doxxing is a serious issue and a tactic employed by many groups on the internet, I just want to get a better understanding of how MRAs targeting your group do it.
How do trans activists and their female allies attempt to shut down discussions online? Is it with similar tactics to the MRAs or are there different methods?
Aside from the issues you are campaigning against, in regard to the atrocious way women in the world are treated, have you experienced any physical harassment for your radical feminist views or about attending radfem2012/2013? I don’t mean to trivialise your cause here, I just would like to focus specifically on harassment directed at you for radical feminist beliefs.
Why do you feel that both MRAs and trans activists target your movement? Normally these groups are opposed on other matters, to my knowledge.
Despite having to be held in secret last year, would you say radfem2012 was a success? Do you feel holding these events in secret is something that will have to continue for the foreseeable future?
There was no explanation as to why they stopped responding, but the rest of this article has been pieced together from various sources on the internet, and it does paint a somewhat different picture.
Let’s begin with the official statement from the radfems about the controversy surrounding the London Irish Centre’s second thoughts about holding the event. It can be found here or here. Here is a screenshot of the page.
One paragraph is of particular importance:
Unsurprisingly, and for the second year in a row, men’s rights activists have bullied venue staff hosting Radfem 2013, into submitting to their terror tactics. Despite the fact that the organisers of this year’s Rad Fem 2013 were completely transparent about our intentions for the conference and the potential consequences of the London Irish Centre’s acceptance of our booking (i.e. harassment from men who don’t like us), the venue has been bullied by a bunch of men’s rights activists and the venue are considering cancelling our booking. Men’s rights advocates have harassed feminists online, bullied venue staff at the London Irish Centre (this year’s host of Radfem 2013), including putting the names of staff on websites and blogs. Staff were also shaken up by the theft of a laptop and mobile phone from staff. This is now under criminal investigation and we have no idea who was responsible, but what we do know is that it is us who are being punished. [emphasis mine]
Here the organisers make specific accusations as to why the centre are having second thoughts about holding the event. It is down to harassment of staff by men’s rights activists. This is also said in the email correspondence with the radfem organisers. The most important of these points is the idea of doxxing.
For those of you unaware of this practise, it is when a persons personal details are collected, i.e. name, address, email address, user names, pictures, etc. It is a corruption of the word documentation, being shortened to dox. Doxxing, or “dropping dox” is when these dox are posted on an online space, either a public one or a private one. Whilst many people fear their dox ending up on a highly public site like 4chan, a common place for details to be posted, this is not as dangerous as more private or specialised sites such as red watch. As you saw from the follow up questions an attempt to establish if there was a site with such details of women, but there was no reply. The important distinction between the places is the audience. Putting someones information on 4chan will expose those details to a lot of people. And a lot of people may use those details to harass, upset and troll you. But the audience of 4chan is not coming to 4chan to look for details of feminists to harass, it is there to be amused. Trolling is part of this, but they move on when the thread fades to oblivion normally. The worry is that a site specifically made to host peoples dox will be visited by an audience only looking to specifically find dox of people they wish to harass or worse. If anyone has information about such a site, could they please send an email with it since this post will need to be amended.
Back to radfem2013. Why is the point about Men’s Right’s activists important? Well, in part because of this statement by the London Irish Centre themselves:
David Barlow, the charity’s director, said the centre decided against hosting the RadFem conference after receiving 29 complaints about the event. as well as a protest outside its building last week by MRA London, a men’s activist group.
Barlow said: “Quite a few of the complaints were from the transgender community and then a men’s group came along the other day to hand out leaflets about why the event should not be held here.
“We did some research into RadFem and discovered certain language was used and some statements were made about transgender people that would go against our equalities and diversity policy.
The statement by the radfems about the harassment of staff at the centre appears on the 20th April, supposedly after the MRA protest mentioned in the quote. But there is no mention of this in the response. Is this the harassment they mentioned? It may be, but even when questioning the radfems about MRA involvement in this they did not mention that MRAs had actually turned up at the centre to protest the convention, which would have been something to mention. Also the centre themselves do not mention anywhere in the article about being threatened or harassed, only that they received 29 complaints, mostly about the transphobia of the group and the protest.
A second rather damning point is a post by one of the conference organisers on storify. This site can be used to collect together tweets to be read in order and essentially present a story. There are no links or screen caps to post because the person involved has asked to be kept out of this as much as possible, but if forced posts with names blacked out can be provided. Essentially a trans*woman, angry that one of the leading radical feminists (a TERF) (Cathy Brennan) would not remove a picture of her from her website outing her as a trans*person, contacted the Irish Centre. This was some time ago. And the Irish Centre got back to her about it. She has only recently released these posts, though this was on the same day as the official statement, which 3 days later is still up laying the blame squarely on MRAs.
The Irish Centre said that they would look into the issue themselves and that they shared concerns about the group due to the screen shots she submitted with the initial email to the centre. These emails contained transphobic comments, and she also raised the point that the registration process specifically prohibited trans*women from coming to the venue.
So the situation we are left with is this:
- Weeks prior a trans*woman emails the London Irish Centre about the potential transphobic nature of the conference
- London Irish Centre responds that they will ere on the side of caution should they look into it more and find this to be the case, and cancel the event.
- She encourages others to email the centre about the issue
- Weeks later we hear that the event may be cancelled and that the London Irish Centre is having second thoughts, but not quite sure why
- MRAs reveal they mounted an impromptu protest the day before the official statement is released (19th April to my knowledge)
- Official statement is released (20th April). This statement does not mention trans activists at all in relation to getting them banned. Claims that staff are being harassed online and staffs names and details published. Also alludes to a recent theft at the centre which is impacting their decision. No firm details offered for either of these claims.
- On this day, one of those involved in the conference also creates the storify account, showing they knew this trans*woman had emailed the centre and even had a picture of the response from the centre
- MRAs release press statement claiming responsibility for the cancellation also, due to their protest.
- No mention of protest or physical intimidation of staff by this picket
- 21st April, my brief interview with the Radfem2013 organisers. No mention of protest or the trans*woman who sent the email.
- Irish Centre interview to Sunday Times journalist released with afore mentioned quote. No mention of threatening behaviour, and main concern seems to have been transphobia.
- 23rd April, official statement still the same.
- Make of this what you will
I will update this post as and when new information comes to light.
I’d like to also make 2 points. Firstly, whatever you think the organisers of radfem2013 are doing here, it is not unique. Many other groups on the internet have members who will do this and have done in the past.
Secondly I believe in freedom of speech and think that this talk needs to be brought out into the open where a rational discourse can be had and if there is hate speech present, people can be exposed to it and realise how wrong it is.