When anti-feminists attack, women are blamed

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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