Julie Bindel: ‘We are part of a global movement’

julie bindel

Jess: You’ve been active in the feminist movement since the ‘70s. A lot has happened since then including the so-called “sex wars” of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, the ongoing rise of identity politics, and the mainstream adoption of post-modern definitions of gender, to name a few things. What are you seeing in the current movement that is truly unique and new? What aspects are being recycled?

Julie: One thing that has continued from the past is the firm commitment from a number of feminists worldwide — I think a growing number of feminists worldwide – to prioritizing male violence against women and girls. They are recognizing that this is a gendered, patriarchal war against women, that this is not something that is genderless or about people doing bad things to people. It is male violence in order to uphold male supremacy. So that is the really good news.

And then there’s the backlash. The backlash has been so persuasive and so ongoing that it has meant, of course, that young women are still growing up under patriarchy — with a few more rights and a few freedoms because of feminism. Young women have been under pressure by men — by sexist men, by misogynistic men, by traditional men — to tow the line, to accept what they’ve got (which is a bit more pay, a bit more maternity leave, a bit more of a right to report rape, domestic violence, and child abuse, a bit more of an international voice against FGM, forced marriage, early marriage etc.) and to not blame or criticize men as a class.

The temptation is to say, “The world is not perfect. Women are not perfect. Women are often violent to men. Women are often to blame for their own abuse so, therefore, leave it. Don’t push it. You need men as allies. You need men to speak for you. These old-style, second-wave dinosaur feminists who don’t shave under their arms (some of them are lesbians!) are not who you want to associate with. You need male protection so stick with us and we will be the new-ish man, under the new-ish patriarchal order who look a bit different and feel okay for you because you’ve known no different… but that’s as far as it will go.”

There are those from way back — and, you know, I started when I was young so I’m younger than most of my feminist contemporaries — those who were active in the ‘60s who are saying, “No. We remember what the aims and objectives and demands of the women’s liberation movement were and we’re not accepting that things are okay now.”

And so what’s happened is that a third wave and a fourth wave of feminism has emerged that is not really feminism because it’s not challenging men as a sex-class or recognizing women as a sex-class. [Third and fourth wave feminism] is more about neoliberal, individual rights. It’s more about appeasing men and making sure that we don’t ask too much.

In those third and fourth waves many of the women are feminists, good and brave and strong feminists. They are acting within a very restricted, curtailed context and are being policed by men, policed by male rules. Some have been taken up by the foot soldiers (some of the very misogynistic transgender people, some of the rabid men’s rights activists) but in the main, it’s just young men who are seeing their female contemporaries as being a little bit too cheeky. After all, these men are hip and they’re cool, and they’re trendy and they believe in equality… They just still want to watch their porn, and they still want women to show up when they speak first.

Jess: Do you mind if I ask how old you were when you got involved with the women’s movement and what triggered that?

Julie: Sure. I was seventeen, and I had fallen in love with my friend at school (my girlfriend at school). I didn’t apply the term lesbian to myself then. It was too shameful and shocking and not really available as something positive. I suppose I was outed rather than choosing to say I was a lesbian.

I was a working class girl and there was no way there was any kind of lesbian pride. There was barely any gay pride at the time apart from a few “hippie” men and a few educated white women. Once I was outed I thought, I’ve got two choices here. One is to marry the boy next door and end up with three or four kids in a crap factory job and never really look at what else is outside that for me. And the other is to say yeah I’m a lesbian, yeah I’m different and I’ve got to get out of this time and find a group of women who are fine with lesbianism.

At that time, in 1978, feminism and lesbianism were indivisible in the political world (not in the working class world or what we called the “bar-dyke” world where there were women who hadn’t found politics who were living pretty grim lives hiding and feeling loads of self-loathing) but in feminism with those second-wavers who are now accused of being anti-sex and moralist. These women said, “Lesbianism is great. Women can define their own sexuality. Actually, women don’t get much sexual pleasure from regular heterosexual sex. You get loads more if you choose to do it your way.”

I mean, it was really liberatory but I wasn’t really focused on that. I was focused on meeting women who were feminists and wanted to live outside of the cultural norms that I felt would be my prison for life until I was outed. I wanted to meet women who would say, “Oh, you’re lesbian! Oh, you brave thing. How different! How radical.”

… And I did. I met them, and it was perfect. I was 17 and I moved to a town in the north of England called Leeds where the first revolutionary feminist group had been formed. Their understanding was, very straightforwardly, men are the enemy. They didn’t believe every man is bad or that every relationship within heterosexuality is doomed to failure, but they believed that men are a sex class with oppressor power, like white people in South Africa. They said, “We’ve got to overturn this stuff, or we’ll never be liberated.”

Jess: That’s a really interesting story. I’d love to hear more about it but perhaps I’ll save that for another time.

So, I’ve noticed that you’re the newest target of the “take away her job” lobby. I’m sure you’ve noticed that. I’m wondering who exactly is driving this specific change.org petition.

Julie: Misogynistic men’s rights activists. Actually, I’m very lucky. I don’t really have a job for them to take away.

Jess: [laughs] That’s good.

Julie: I’m not really employable. I don’t want a job. I’m a writer. I’m a journalist. I’m a feminist activist. I do research on the sex trade and its harms for a number of organizations around the world. I could not care less.

I do care about my sisters who have jobs and are being bullied out of them. I care about the motives involved, and I care about the women who have been bullied by the really misogynistic individuals in the trans lobby and the really misogynistic individuals in the queer lobby (the people involved in no-platforming are the minorities within both the trans and the queer lobby).

I care about the fact that I can make what is actually a very old-movement joke about sending men to a kind of enclosed holiday camp where they could kind of play around on their quad bikes and then have it willfully misinterpreted to say that I, somehow, want them in a nazi concentration camp. It’s a disgrace and it’s sickening and it’s so clear what they’re doing. They’re laughable. They’re riseable, but at least they’re showing themselves in terms of what they are and who they are.

… But I’m 53. I’ve got a really long track record in the movement. I am lucky enough to have a home, lots of love in my life, a supportive family, and great friends and colleagues. I really care about the younger women with less fortunate circumstances than I who are having this treatment because it can drive you to a nervous breakdown. I mean, I have been getting this shit all my life from men, and then when I wrote about Vancouver Rape Relief in 2004, things got really, seriously full-on with pickets and boycotts and threats to grants that I might get for research about violence against women.

So, I know what it feels like, but I feel for the women that are having to deal with this shit in their twenties and thirties who don’t have the backing that I’ve got. The men’s rights activists and other people that support them are purposefully trying to, at best, shut these women up and, at worst, drive them to take their lives or go seriously mad. This is horrific. They want us to die.

Jess: I believe it.

So, I’m interested in strategies for younger women, for dealing with the backlash. What would you suggest? I’m nervous for myself because I’ve been very public in supporting the Nordic Model [of prostitution law] and I’ve been upfront about my feminist views. I’m 28 and interested in media involvement. What are your recommendations for surviving that backlash and the culture involved no-platforming, taking away women’s jobs, and taking away women’s livelihoods?

Julie: Okay, they won’t do it. They will not win. I promise you. They cannot take away our jobs or our platforms unless we want to work directly within the men’s rights movement or the queer movement, which, I think — morally, ethically, and politically — we should avoid doing. So they can’t do it because we are part of a global movement that is right, and it’s ethical, and it’s a good movement.

It’s for the good of all people. Men are hurt by patriarchy — although they also massively benefit from it — which we don’t. So, you are part of a righteous movement, a good movement, and you have to locate yourself within that movement. You cannot operate as a sole trader; you cannot operate as a little clique outside of it. You have to identify yourself as part of a political cause.

It’s exactly like anyone on the Left. If you’re not part of the trades union movement, but you’re for worker’s rights, forget it. You have to be within it, and you have to say, “This is my movement. These are my sisters. These are my male allies (who really are allies),” and then you have to operate within that movement properly, and courteously.

In other words, we have to recognize that there’s nothing wrong with having older mentors, or mentors that have been in the movement for longer. We have to recognize that those of us who have a little bit more experience and can do a bit more support, nurturing, and mentoring, should do it. Younger women should be open to that. We have to take care of each other.

Recognize that our movement is as strong and as global and as powerful as the civil rights movement, as the trades union worker’s rights movement, and any other movement that we’re in. Then we will start to see misogynistic attackers as mavericks, as losers, and as floating around in the wilderness.

Remember this. When we have a job that is unpaid but that we value, that crosses over between feminism and the queer, trendy movement, remember that actually, even if you’re straddling that fine line, they still won’t take our jobs. They still won’t get us sacked because we’re on the side of the law and of righteousness (in a non-religious, non-puritanical way).

We can actually say, “No, this is pure discrimination and hatred. This is oppressive behaviour. We actually have done nothing wrong.”

Using the term “whorephobic” against those of us who say there are women harmed in the sex trade or saying that we’re being racist when we argue that the sex trade is abusive will not be fruitful. There are enough black women who are survivors of the sex industry who will have our backs. This is why we need to be in a movement.

Jess: Thank you.

You’re writing a new book. Can you tell readers a bit about it?

Julie: It will come out in 2016. It’s very much an investigative journalistic style travelogue, in a way. It’s looking at what we know about the sex trade and who we know it from. Most people do have a view on the sex trade and on prostitution and most of those people don’t have a clue about it at all.

So, who are we learning this from? What are we teaching people about the sex trade? What are the myths? Where are the bits of misinformation coming from on either side, whether it be the sex worker’s rights side or the feminist abolitionist side. How is the truth obscured by some of the damaging alliances we might choose, such as that with the Christian right. How does it differ from country to country — does it differ? What are the survivors saying? What are the feminist campaigners against male violence saying and what are the sex worker’s rights activists saying?

Who are the sex workers rights activists? Are they former sex workers or current sex workers, as they would say? Are they more profiteers of the sex industry? Are they libertarian men who think men have the right to access sex with women as long as they pay? What can be done about the harms in the industry? Is the feminist abolitionist and human rights-based voice now starting to challenge what used to be the louder, clearer narrative of the sex workers rights lobby?

I went to a number of countries researching this, and I’ve spoken to people from all sides — though, obviously more abolitionists than sex workers rights activists. Though, I spent a solid three hours with a male who described himself as a current sex worker and a sex worker’s rights activists, a french young man based in Paris. I have interviewed a few sex workers rights activists but, in the main, they say no because I’m very clear and transparent about what I’m doing. So that’s what the book is.

Jess: Fantastic. I found your advice earlier very inspiring. If you had one message for young feminists, what would it be?

Recognize that you are on the right track. Belonging to the queer movement is never going to deal with discrimination from men and the depression that you face as a result of patriarchy.

Stick to feminism and stick to a feminism that names men — or male supremacy or patriarchy, whatever you want to call it — rather than blaming “the state” or “class” as if they are beings floating around all on their own. Stick to something grounded in material reality.

Race and class are hugely important and we have to realize that not all women are the same, but the only thing that unites women everywhere is the threat and reality of men’s sexual violence — other than that we’re all very different. That is for sure. However, what does link us — men’s sexual violence — is huge and it is the thing above everything else that curtails our involvement in civil society and that leaves us behind when we’re thinking about how we can live fulfilled lives.

I would also say to young feminists, care more about the women at the bottom than you would ever give a hoot about in terms of the glass ceiling. Don’t worry about that. Worry about the women at the bottom. Our politics have to be from the bottom-up or we will be an elitist, bourgeois women’s movement.

And that’s never what feminism was supposed to be.

Jess: Agreed.

Jess Martin
Jess Martin

Jess Martin is a public relations professional, an aspiring writer, and an assistant editor at Feminist Current. She prefers to write about feminist topics, disability, or environmental issues, but could be persuaded to broaden her horizons in exchange for payment and/or food.

In her spare time Jess can be found knitting, gardening, or lying in the fetal position, mulling over political theory that no one in their right mind cares about.

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  • Delilah

    wonderful, practical and inspiring! i’m blown away.

  • Meghan Murphy

    I disagree. Yes, middle upper class women can be — and often are — fully clueless about systems of oppression, men who’ve experienced poverty still grow up to be abusers and exploiters… Not all of them, but a lot of them…

    • I’m not going to deny that it’s true. The question is do you think they – as a class, benefit from patriarchy more than upper class women? If so, why?

      Also I am to add some stuff to my post above.

      • Meghan Murphy

        Well, upper class women still get raped, sexually harassed, left for broke when their husbands move on to younger women, abused, etc. That said, it’s not like we can say, oh ALWAYS men in poverty have more power than rich women, because that’s not true. Rich women can have power over poor men and they often do. But that doesn’t mean poor men don’t benefit from patriarchy. Poor men still use prostitutes and watch porn. Poor women suffer in gendered ways, are prostituted and by other lower class men, etc. It’s just not such an easy or obvious thing to say, this group DOESN’T ever suffer and this group ALWAYS does. They suffer in different ways and benefit in different ways.

        • Sally

          Being poor never stopped a man from expecting me to have sex with him, expecting me to dress a certain way, expecting me to be a hairless nymph, expecting me to never express my opinion contrary to their own, expecting me to get married and have children. You are either a misogynist or you aren’t. You can be poor and still be a self entitled male.

        • OK this is starting to feel a bit like a competition so maybe that was a bit of a loaded question. I think maybe it’s hard to compare. I guess I am interested in is how lower class men benefit at all really; maybe forget upper class women for a minute and just consider the demographic of lower class men (I am going to reference the UK since the USA is particularly misogynistic and racist and the statistics they produce seem unreliable and I don’t know enough about Canada to make an informed assessment about it)

          Males aged between 13-25 are murdered (by other males) more than any other demographic (last time I checked) and in urban schools they get ritualistically beaten up by their peers – as a thing; raised by single mothers or lost to the care system and some will go in and out of juvenile detention centres as a consequence of all that. Their mothers are in an economic state of reliance on the state and/or men which means they are more likely to see their mothers subjected to violence and be physically or sexually abused themselves (people don’t often realise this but actually many paedosadists don’t discriminate between the sexes in the way that sexual sadists who target adults do) they take what they can get. Care homes are notoriously rife with sexual abuse and violence. These boys are more likely to drop out high school and because of the associated chaos of growing up below or on the breadline, they are ultimately unlikely to learn how to regulate their emotions and how to form and maintain healthy relationships themselves; so it goes on.

          I certainly see how these men benefit more than women in their respective social class do, but I do not see how they benefit from patriarchy itself if patriarchy is likely to cause detriment to their mothers and impact on their own childhood emotional, psychological and educational development.

          As for whether men being indoctrinated by porn actually benefit from porn: To me, it seems like the only men who benefit from porn are the sexual sadists invested in it; it seems like porn has many young men feeling they cannot trust women (and likewise) or relate to us. If men were all about sex the ratio of men buying prostitutes would be much higher than 10% whereas in the UK, its not (and it would be useful to find out what classes these men come from). I genuinely don’t get the impression men benefit from porn at all. I think I agree with Gail Dines on this, it seems more like it is the establishment that benefits, by making men believe they are stakeholders in women’s oppression and making women believe it too, when really most of us aren’t benefiting cause nobody benefits from feeling miserable, resentful and full of hate towards other human beings who they ought to be able to form healthy relationships with.

  • It is not just aimed at second wave feminists. It is anyone who is gender or sex trade critical, rational and sane who gets the treatment. The reason you’re only hearing from younger women who are saying that sort of trite is because the rest of us have been targeted and made an example of to intimidate female population of students into silence, compliance and fear.

    Honestly, I didn’t really know what a radical feminist was until all these people doing bullshit irrelevant degrees who I don’t know decided I was a ‘TERF’ and a ‘SWERF’, I became “radicalised” then and learned loads more about feminism and where the problems of their ideology originated from, who was responsible, how to stop it from happening in future etc. I was so shocked by the whole thing and I still am. My friend used to complain about them coming on mumsnet to abuse women but I never really took all that as much of a threat until it was screaming irrational dogma in my face and monopolising my student resources in order to lobby my core human rights away: Then I took notice alright!

    What’s disheartening is not so much that Charles Manson and his family are now running student liberation – though it is pretty depressing being viciously knifed by other women who have no idea how much these misogynists they’re willing to throw me and themselves under the bus for, really hate them (yet) – the hate cult are actually a very tiny vocal minority who have surreptitiously monopolised student democracy via liberation in order to take charge of the student lobby, since this sub group has the power to influence change in government legislation.

    The students themselves have no real idea they’re doing the work of the established order – they’re almost hypnotically in a state of profound wilful ignorance, they really are….It’s not the students who see it as mad and say nothing either, since I recognise that it takes a lot of guts to do what I do and stand up to such aggressively silencing tactics by calling it out into the light, especially since most of the students have not put too much thought into all this, they just want to fit in.

    What is most disheartening for me is that the feminists with the platform still won’t commit to speaking out against no-platform and “safe space” censorship in Higher Education when I can see with my own eyes it’s the most underrepresented students who are being affected by this, psychologically, emotionally and politically. Nobody with power seems to appreciate the harm this is going to do to this next generation of students, wider democracy and academic integrity if things continues on as things are. This is 1984 stuff, it really is. The establishment and its associated patriarchal power structure are the only winners when it comes to political correctness and censorship in Higher Education. Young people who are the leaders of tomorrow are just not learning how to think, they learning that ignorance is a virtue by judging information that they haven’t even looked at or read “oh I can’t read X because that was written by Y” . This is a real worry!

  • Why are we trying to measure the weight of their privilege relative to women? All this does is blur the distinction between the sex classes of male and female and it ignores the superior status that one of those classes has over the other. We either understand this as the basis of feminism or we don’t in which case we don’t have a movement of women for women.

    Whether feminists like to admit it or not women are not just innocent by-standers here; female complicity is a thing.

    There are cases where the intersections of economic class, race, etc. complicate a situation but these individualized cases (often denoted by “in my personal experience” or some variation thereof) do not translate to a generalized experience under patriarchy.

    I look at women in the establishment and the case you have put forward is not consistent with the systemic reality I see.

    sexist conditioning that all males invariably receive

    Do we live in a bubble then? Are we not conditioned too? Are we immune?

  • Indeed, I looked into this a little (after being shocked by the [academic] ignorance of the hate cult at my uni – as well as the rest) and my worst fears were confirmed when I found out that they’ve dulled down all these sorts of liberal arts courses like politics and sociology to remove all the statistics and the class analysis which essentially means students are not leaving university with the required tools they will need to make sense of the world they live in. It’s a real crime 🙁

    I think you have give the younger women good advice and I would definitely advocate the same to others myself too but I don’t think it’s ever to late to learn something new really so older women with a bit of time to dedicate shouldn’t be put off these sorts of things either.

    To me, education is not about grades or learning a subject in depth, it’s about gaining the skills/tools which can be used to figure out any subject of interest. That’s where STEM can provide, particularly experimental sciences and those with a heavy emphasis on statistics.

  • I am worried about your grandkids and everyone else’s too. I really don’t believe the young people on the front lines of this war are behind it and it seems to me like they are being used as cannon fodder in an ideological fight that they have no real understanding of really.

    I am still young enough to not stand out among my peers but certainly old enough to recognise this cultural shift as an enormous shock. Even since first year when gays and lesbians were LGBT and bisexuals were tolerated but also considered to be either “not fully out yet” or “GAG” things have rapidly escalated such that our lived experiences have been erased and we are deemed “oppressors”. The queer cohort promote hatred & exclusionary attitudes towards heterosexuals who support gay rights, yet I still can’t even fathom what “queer” actually means to LGBTAQICDFG+, it seems to mean “bi-curious” – I had always understood “queer” to be a slur describing gay men. I do understand how this has happened but I don’t know whether it is going to be possible to reach these people yet since censorship is so core to their ideology.

    I have been banned from every group which was supposedly established in light of the Equality Act 2010 to create “safe space” for members of my group by people who do not belong to my group for respectfully sharing my own opinions about my own rights. You could not make this up. The whole thing stinks.

    You are dead right to make a complaint andI intend to do the same. The only thing I would be weary of is to make sure your wording pays mind to current laws on sex discrimination and “gender identity” because if they can use something to discredit you, they will. With that said, I definitely urge people to challenge this wherever they see it. If we let them bully and intimidate us a generation of young people will be lost to this dogmatic ideology of hate.

  • That is indeed horrendous. To clarify I was just talking of men who watch porn. I too have the utmost contempt for pimps, no matter what class they belong to.