When anti-feminists attack, women are blamed

When feminists are attacked, liberals and the left either support these attacks or remain silent. Indeed, we are treated as though the attacks are all our fault.

Recently in London, a bookshop was subjected to an in-store protest by Trump supporters. Also recently in Australia, a number of bookshops were sent intimidating threats prior to radical feminist events and a conference was invaded by protesters.

You would think that the reaction to such intimidation in the book industry would be the same — namely, that those who are intimidating others would be seen as the problem. Not so.

On August 4th, a group of 12 protestors from “Make Britain Great Again” — a far right organization — “ambushed” the Bookmark bookshop in London’s Bloomsbury area. They chanted “Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump,” pulled books off the shelves and yelled at the manager, Noel Halifax.

On July 27th in Melbourne, a group of a dozen or so protestors from Vixen, a sex worker activist group, invaded the Australian Summit Against Sexual Exploitation (ASASE), swept exhibits off tables, threw projectiles at speakers and audience members, and shouted slogans like, “Blow jobs are real jobs.”

There is not much difference between these two protests, except that the first was populated by mostly men (though there were some females protesters present, too), while the second included mostly women (though there were some males among the group).

In London, the protesters were pro-Brexit activists opposing a socialist bookshop selling books about Marxism, feminism, and LGBTI, as well as political analyses of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.

In Melbourne, the protesters were Sex Work Activists (SWAs) and Trans Rights Activists (TRAs) against feminists speaking about human rights violations by pimps and pornographers. Among the speakers, there were survivors of the sex trade and feminists who are critical of pornography and of sexualization in media and advertising. At the time they invaded the conference, Professor Caroline Taylor, a researcher and survivor of child sexual assault, was speaking.

In Australia, TRAs and SWAs were responding to talks by Julie Bindel, who was visiting Australia to speak at the ASASE conference and to promote her book, The Pimping of Prostitution. In Melbourne, an event was held at one of Melbourne’s largest independent book shops, Readings. To their credit, Readings did not succumb to the intimidation and the event went ahead. No protesters turned up, but a lot of nasty twittering was carried out online. Again, credit to Readings for not giving in.

In Sydney, another bookshop in a formerly lesbian stronghold area was also targeted. Perhaps because they are smaller or perhaps because they do not share the belief that feminists should be able to speak without being intimidated, the book store, Better Read Than Dead, decided that the event should be moved to another location. They were unable to find a venue that could be made ready in time, but friends of Spinifex were luckily able to find one within a few hours, and so the event was moved to the Women’s Library Newtown, and those who had RSVP’d were sent information on the new venue.

I was not in Sydney, so am not sure if any of the intending protesters showed up at the bookshop, but apparently some feminists wrote to the bookshop afterwards to complain about our event. Better Read Than Dead has placed the blame for the conflict on Spinifex (as well as on Julie herself), rather than the original SWA and TRA intimidators. By contrast, in London, the bookshop has been warmly supported and to help bolster security and replace damaged stock.

Why are some groups being supported when targeted, and others blamed for being targeted themselves?

I believe that this is a Dalyesque reversal, mixed in with the urge to erase anything that happens to feminists. It is also that institutions do not know how to deal with protests that don’t fit the model of male violence. While the invasion of the ASASE Conference by Vixen was noisy and intimidating (and a number of attendees expressed fear that they would be physically attacked), physical violence did not escalate. But because no one was injured, the police did not consider it worthwhile to intervene, and security failed to take action, initially. In London, no one was injured, books were damaged, and the police attended.

The bookshop experiences in Australia are also telling. The Sydney bookshop told us that one of the reasons they wanted the event moved was because of the reputational damage that might ensue if they received the same kind of verbal abuse in the Twittersphere that Readings in Melbourne sustained. While I understand the fear, the message that Spinifex has received is that the blame rests on us for publishing and promoting Julie Bindel’s book. In other words, it was all our fault. By contrast, the intimidators who were making threats to the bookshop have not been taken to task.

No one, except radical feminists, is speaking up to defend radical feminists’ right to speak. No one is making donations. In most cases, these anti-feminist protestors are supported, as is the modern McCarthyist campaign against radical feminists and anyone who is critical of SWAs and TRAs.

The salient point is that when women are attacked — whether physically or verbally — it is our fault. When men are attacked — whether physically or verbally — those perpetrating the attack are blamed.

In an opinion piece for The Guardian by Bookmarks manager David Gilchrist, titled, “When the far right targets books, it should ring alarm bells for us all,” he notes that, in April, another London bookshop, Gay’s the Word, had its windows smashed. When we had offices in Melbourne, our windows were smashed by an unknown person; our front windows were plastered by a member of MRA organization, A Voice for Men; and around the time we vacated our building, a number of stickers were pasted on the front window, reading, “Blow jobs are real jobs.”

The McCarthyist attacks by SWAs, TRAs, and MRAs on feminists are not regarded as right wing attacks, nor criticized as heavily, and yet their methods, their language, and their style are remarkably similar. Noticeable support for feminists is not visible. Instead, the liberal/left either supports the intimidators or say and do nothing.

It’s all our fault.

Susan Hawthorne is a longtime feminist activist and, with Renate Klein, co-founded Spinifex Press in 1991. She is also the author of fourteen books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction and (co-)editor of thirteen anthologies.

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  • therealcie

    “Blow jobs are real jobs.”
    Why does that statement make me feel like finding a wall to smash my head against repeatedly?
    I think it’s terrible to behave as if people who end up selling sex for pay are somehow less than human. The people who sell sex are at considerable risk. I think what I find problematic about the minority faction who insist that “blow jobs are real jobs” is that they forget that the majority of people involved in prostitution would rather not be involved in prostitution, and that many of them are underage or have been prostituted since they were underage.

    • Susan Hawthorne

      Yes and the add insult to injury, this was going on in a room where there were a number of people who had been assaulted, abused and survived prostitution.

  • Susan Hawthorne

    Thanks for your response here, Wren and others.

  • Susan Hawthorne

    Polly, it’s great you posted here. Men just need to get with it (irony).

  • Susan Hawthorne

    I agree with you. None of the knows the humiliation.

  • Susan Hawthorne

    We saw a lot of signs like that. Spinifex also had stickers put on our front window, We moved later (not due to that) but clearly they were trying to get at us.

  • Susan Hawthorne

    Sexual violation is at the core of prostitution. And clearly they want to scare everyone.

  • Susan Hawthorne

    Indeed, thank you for this list. They should try being on the other side. I wonder why they don’t!!

  • Susan Hawthorne

    Men’s sex right is just assumed. I agree with you. And it is all women’s fault.

  • Susan Hawthorne

    Yeah definitely, women are blamed (for just about everything). Good suggestion.

  • Susan Hawthorne

    I’ve met plenty of liberals who blow with the wind. I write about the difference between free speech and fair speech (cf free trade and fair trade) in my book ‘Bibliodiversity: A Manifesto for Independent Publishing’. I write about it in the context of the porn industry’s push for free speech so they can abuse women and make profits.

    • Alienigena

      “the porn industry’s push for free speech so they can abuse women and make profits”

      I can’t think of a better rationale for their supposed support for free speech, except like most libertarians they care only aboutr their own rights and don’t think that anyone else has comparable rights possibly because they think of other people as lesser, like sheep. Except the sheep are the ones consuming their product and adopting their values.

  • Susan Hawthorne

    Post-modernism has had a role to play in this too. There is no longer an appreciation of collectivity (other than gang violence), nor of how to stand up for another person. Post-modernism has had a profound effect on depoliticising the culture.

  • Susan Hawthorne

    Reversal is a useful concept because sometimes you think, “Hey how come you are having a go at me?’ It is worth considering the reversal tactic when that happens.

  • Susan Hawthorne

    Thanks Tessa Anne.

  • calabasa

    No, this is definitely a great original argument I hadn’t considered before, and I’ve researched prostitution in-depth. Why *don’t* poor straight men get into it more (even if other straight men would be put off by being serviced by a man, they would no doubt get plenty of gay clients, especially those with a fantasy for being serviced by straight men)? They could make some serious dough. And it’s “just a job.”

    It also begs the question why there aren’t more women who use prostitutes. And no, it’s not because of “evolution.”

    The question of prostitution is one that bugged me for many years, until I decided to research it. What I discovered was so horrifying and absolute it laid to rest any doubt in my mind that there could be anything redeeming about prostitution. It also led me to examine capitalism more critically, as the literal rental of one’s body parts for use of another–not sale of labor or service, I don’t think you have to be particularly skilled at anything but acting to be a sex worker, and that’s not what the job is purportedly supposed to entail (since we continue to push the narrative of the happy hooker, only “happy” has now been replaced by “empowered” and “hooker” by “sex worker”)–the literal rental or even sale of one’s body parts for use of another, whether it be through prostitution, surrogacy, or selling organs, seems to me to be the logical endpoint of monetizing all human interaction and providing supply for every demand, making everything available for sale without any moral or ethical guidance but from an entirely socially libertarian and fiscally neoliberal standpoint, in which free will and the free market reign supreme, with zero sense of the sociological imagination of outside forces or class-based disenfranchisement that may be influencing the “choice” and “free will” and “agency” of the actors, with the single law seeming to be not to sell the bodies of others UNLESS THEY HAVE AGREED OR YOU CAN FAKE THE APPEARANCE OF AGREEMENT (see: pimps and traffickers gentrified as “third party sex workers,” faked papers in German brothels, debt bondage reenvisioned as a provisional loan for entry-level employees to be deducted from their salary); so scratch that, if they could find a way to make it legally binding to harvest someone else’s organs with their coerced permission based on quid pro quo in a debt the signatories never think that if they default the bank will come to collect… (see the charming Anthony Head musical “Repo: The Genetic Opera!”)

    Sanitizing the sex industry is one step away from sanitizing the sale of impoverished women’s wombs and even their own infants, and the next argument will be about one’s right to sell his or her organs or sign a death-for-debt contract offered up to those with faulty credit to get a loan, it is that bleak when you really consider the end point of cold hard market logic. And this is readily apparent to anyone who actually does the research.

  • calabasa

    Fantastic list.

    I have always found points seven and eight particularly galling. If sex is no big deal and so unimportant, then rape is no big deal, either? I mean, it’s like grabbing someone’s hand and shaking it forcefully when they decline a handshake, isn’t it? It’s on that level of personal violation of physical boundaries.


    (This is like Germaine Greer claiming rape-related post traumatic stress disorder is caused by “stigma”…oh really? Have you done any actual research? No? Then stop making these ridiculous claims or downplaying the seriousness of an act that results in post-traumatic stress disorder for the person on the receiving end more than in any other scenario in which people contract PTSD except torture. An act which can permanently damage one’s health, well-being, outlook, ability to interact with others, relationships, job prospects, creative output, and just about every metric by which we measure health and happiness out there. STIGMA).

  • calabasa

    The sad thing is, so many homeless women go into prostitution because they are raped anyway and there’s nothing much done about it and not much they can do about it. They’re raped all the time and vulnerable to even worse on the streets, and along comes the Big Bad Pimp offering protection, with the implied threat of his harassment or assault if she doesn’t comply…

    The only reason the homeless population of women is lower than that of men is because of prostitution. Women either get roped in by predatory pimps, or they decide if they’re going to get raped they might as well get paid (and those two are not mutually exclusive, some homeless women no doubt resignedly get roped in by pimps).

  • Danielle Cormier

    Many thanks Susan ❤️ Appreciated and posted ❤️❤️

  • Wren

    Whenever I hear that “sex work is like any other work” then I usually ask the person if workplace laws against sexual harrassment should be dismantled. By normalizing sexual exploitation as “just work” then they’re also claiming that non-sex work should NOT be regulated (in terms of sex in the workplace, or a sexually charged environment). But then they might say that prostitution should be regulated, but it’s still sex and the two industries logically cannot have different perspectives on workplace sex. Of course, pro-prostitution advocates don’t care about logic. They are either men who want sexual access to women or they are their female handmaiden counterparts.

    Same goes for the porn industry. If it’s a legal industry, then they must follow the same OSHA guidelines that every other industry is legally compelled to do. Funny, they don’t seem to want to do that.

    So the #metoo movement and the pro-prostitution movement are inherently contradictory. They usually say something like “that’s what these women agreed to”, but you could say that for anything: they agreed to minimum wage and working poverty, they agreed not to have benefits, etc. Most of these things the average “progressive” liberal is against.

  • Jani

    Bizarrely, speaking from my own experience of sexual trauma, I was frozen for many years. As if my emotions were in a sort of suspended animation. I couldn’t tell anyone what had happened to me. I’ve written about this before, but to summarise: I had just turned 13 and I was sexually assaulted by a gang who intended to rape me. Thankfully they were interrupted by the police and ran off, but I had already been stripped naked and sexually assaulted. The cops ignored me totally. Like I was invisible to them. I went to my friend’s house in a state of shock. She’s the only person I told. The gang were to brag about it sometime in the future, so that was yet more trauma to endure for some years and the only way I could cope, living on a council estate in a very difficult environment was to freeze. Later on, as an 18 year old student encountering feminist perspectives on rape and male violence, my attitude was, “What’s the big deal? I lived through it. And look at me! I’m fine! These people don’t have a clue.” Oh, how fucking broken I was. I had been re-traumatised several times over by that time. It was all locked up inside me. 14 years after the gang attack, I was ill in bed. I was listening to the news on the radio. There was a story about a woman being sexually assaulted by a gang, on a bus, with other passengers present who did nothing to intervene. And I cried. Because there was someone who lived through something resembling my experience. And that was when I picked up the telephone and called Rape Crisis. But how fucking hard I had to be to survive. Frozen. Holding that shit in for years.

    When I read about some of these pro sex trade people, I can guarantee that some (not all) are frozen by the abuse committed upon their bodies. When you’re frozen hard like that, you can disassociate automatically. You have learned how to. It’s the only way to survive trauma. So they will say, “What’s the big deal? You don’t have a clue. You don’t understand this world.” It takes time and years of feeling safe to actually feel it. In truth, I still have trouble identifying what I’m feeling a lot of the time. But one thing I can say with certainty is that sexual violence and assault can really fuck you up. It WILL fuck you up.

  • Susan Hawthorne

    Great post.
    I will buy Greer’s book when it comes out because I want to read what she writes rather than the media’s interpretation. Do You know the book ‘I’m the Girl Who Was Raped’ by Michelle Hattingh. In Canada it is published by Inanna, in Australia by Spinifex and originated in South Africa by Modjaji Books. It includes a poem I wrote some years back called ‘How Do You Protect Yourself from Rape?’.