Rosie Duffield, the Labour MP for Canterbury, should be seen as a feminist hero. When she stood up in the House of Commons last year during a debate on the domestic abuse bill, Duffield moved several colleagues to tears as she recounted the hell she had endured at the hands of a violent male partner.
Duffield is courageous and principled. Despite having seen the punishment inflicted on women like me who speak out about our sex-based rights, Duffield nevertheless braved the shark-infested waters this summer by daring to agree with Piers Morgan on Twitter that only women have cervixes. Had anyone told me a decade ago it would be seen as either risky or brave to point out the realities of female biology I would have laughed. Since then Duffield has continued to receive endless attacks and threats against her life.
In 2004 I encountered my first onslaught from trans-activists after a piece I wrote concluded that trans-identified natal males are not appropriate to counsel rape victims. Since then, their pursuit of me has been vicious and relentless. I have been de-platformed, picketed, heckled, threatened, physically attacked and generally harassed and vilified by the mob.
Here is my advice, as someone who has been trapped in this Orwellian nightmare for 16 years. Every single MP, regardless of where they stand on the transgender debate, should speak up in support of Duffield, because to do so is to speak out against the appalling and toxic misogyny which is currently engulfing women. I strongly suspect that many of Duffield’s colleagues agree with her and are appalled at her treatment. But this is clearly not enough for them to risk being bumped from good positions on the front bench. They need to have a long, hard think about who would stand up for them if they happened to say something deemed unacceptable to the mob. They should exercise compassion rather than cowardice.
More importantly perhaps, men that consider themselves to be feminist allies should openly and robustly condemn the tyrannical targeting of woman who are experiencing similar treatment to Duffield. And yes, that includes high-profile and wealthy women because an often-inconvenient truth is that every one of us are vulnerable to male violence, abuse and bullying, however privileged we are.
Do not message Duffield, or any woman going through a similar experience, to tell her you totally agree with her but ‘cannot possibly speak out’. It is deeply offensive and incredibly upsetting to be viewed as a punchbag or cannon fodder for other women that are too cowardly or timid to do the right thing.
Yes, I know that our jobs, reputations, and friendships are at risk, but that's always been the case for feminists speaking out about contentious issues. The more of us there are telling the truth, the better we can support each other. Unless we fight the tyrants, they will up the ante.
The most important lesson I have learned through all of this is never apologise, unless you have changed your mind or got something wrong in the first place. When Duffield apologised for ‘causing hurt and offence’, the bullies smelt blood and came after her even harder. Nothing but total capitulation and lifelong self-punishment will satisfy the trans-Taliban, so it is far better to stand firm. As Duffield said during her House of Commons speech last year when talking about domestic abuse:
“‘You realise it’s not your fault. He is left alone with his rage and narcissism. If anyone is watching and needs a friend, please reach out if it safe to do so and please talk to any of us, because we will be there and hold your hand.’
The behaviour of the bullies is designed to shut women up. So-called progressive men joining in the witch hunt are adopting the tactics of the domestic abusers that Duffield meticulously described in her powerful speech.
JK Rowling, another witch they couldn’t burn wrote in a statement this year, ‘I refuse to bow down to a movement that I believe is doing demonstrable harm in seeking to erode "woman" as a political and biological class and offering cover to predators like few before it.'
What will you choose to do? Stand up and be counted, or be forever cowed?