In my 40 years as a feminist activist campaigning to end male violence, I have never felt so engulfed in a culture of woman hating. I first met feminists in Leeds, West Yorkshire, in 1979, shortly before Peter Sutcliffe, the so-called Yorkshire Ripper, was finally arrested, weeks after he murdered and mutilated his 13th victim, Jacqueline Hill.
During the five years that Sutcliffe was killing, the climate of fear and hostility towards women kept many of us indoors. We were terrified to walk the streets at night, but also galvanising others into protesting at the bungled police operation and the disgraceful misogynistic newspaper coverage of the murders.
According to police and the press, there were ‘good’ and ‘bad’ victims. Some appeared to think that women in street prostitution, those drinking in pubs at night or merely walking the streets to buy cigarettes pretty much deserved getting murdered. These were terrible times for women. Sutcliffe’s crimes and the police and press response to the murders had lifted up a rock and exposed woman haters lurking underneath. Feminism grew strong from these tragedies. We learned harsh lessons about how misogyny was deeply embedded within our society.
What has changed in the 40 years since I became politically active? Feminists have achieved significant victories. Just on the issue of sexual and domestic violence, we are responsible for criminalising rape in marriage; ensuring police treat domestic violence as a crime rather than a ‘private matter’; and making female genital mutilation (FGM) a crime.
Feminists forced the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace and the street onto the agenda. We refused to accept the Benny Hill caricature of a harmless boss simply getting a bit fruity with his female employee. We also pushed for legislation criminalising the trafficking of women into the sex trade and sought to hold the men that buy and sell women in prostitution accountable.
But something has gone terribly wrong over the past decade. Some young women, particularly privileged, university students, appear to have become convinced that everything that is bad for them is in fact good. The sexual harassment we fought hard to expose and legislate against? According to trans activist and self-identified feminist Paris Lees there is little more liberating and pleasurable than being ‘catcalled, sexually objectified and treated like a piece of meat by men’.
Feminists succeeded in enabling young women to reject the slurs used against them by sexist men, such as ‘slut’ and ‘whore’ only to see those words rehashed. SlutWalk is the term now commonly used by young woke women protesting street harassment and sexism, despite it appealing to young men posing as progressives who love nothing better than to cheer and roar their approval when watching a load of bikini-clad women walk past shouting about how they are proud to be ‘sluts’.
When it comes to commercial sexual exploitation of vulnerable women, which feminists both named and fought to eliminate, the new brigade that practice a ‘feminism for men’ condemn those of us that seek to end the sex trade rather than the pimps and punters, labelling us ‘whorephobic’. Stripping, pole dancing, signing up to sugar baby sites are now seen as liberating, when in fact it is degrading and harmful but dressed up as ‘empowering’. As Ryan Gosling’s character in the 2011 film Crazy Stupid Love said, ‘The war between the sexes is over. We won the second women started doing pole dancing for exercise.’
Why are so many young women celebrating this culture of misogyny and insisting that porn can be liberating and even ‘feminist’? Partly because of the pressure coming from so-called progressive men that insist violent and abusive sex is good for them. It is hard to be a feminist when both Left and Right despise women and wish to keep us in our place.
We are currently existing in a cesspit of woman hating, but we are fighting back. I am contacted almost every day by women of all ages, telling me they are sick and tired of men deciding what women’s liberation is.
As Karl Marx said, ‘Social progress can be measured by the social progression of the female sex’. Right now, we are in the gutter, but do not intend to stay there. Feminism is a proud movement with clear aims and objectives: to overthrow male supremacy and liberate women from our underclass status. No amount of stripping, choking, wolf-whistling or porn will help us. But it does help the men who are desperate to keep hold of their power.