Feminist Fail at Nottingham Women’s Conference 2013/2014

[Trigger warning: transphobia]

This post has been written for about 6 months now but I’ve been hesitant to post it. I think I didn’t want it to come across too harshly or really have the energy to deal with any potential backlash from this but you know what? As my good friend quite rightly said earlier:

‘No change ever happens unless injustice is challenged.’

So, here’s me challenging it. And it also acts as a warning to those who are going/considering going in terms of what to expect.

*

One of my new year’s resolutions was to get more involved in activism in Nottingham and a week or so later, after publishing said blog post, I came across the planning meeting for Nottingham Women’s Conference 2014… Talk about great timing! I must admit though, I was in two minds about deciding whether or not to be involved but I’ll get into that later. In order to get a more fuller understanding of my views and politics in regards to this I’m gonna take you back to last year’s Nottingham Women’s Conference. Instead of me only recounting the bits of the conference most vivid for me I’m going to defer to my friend Jennifer (Twitter: @UnchartedWorlds) who was also at the conference as she has written a well -detailed commentary on her experience of the conference. Usually I don’t defer to other people as no-one can really represent you and your views as you would yourself but I wholeheartedly agree with everything Jennifer has written in her commentary.

It’s fairly lengthy so get a cuppa and some munchies before you sit down to it.

Here’s the link:

NWC2013: write-up & some opinions

If you don’t have the time to read Jennifer’s post please do bookmark it for later. Here’s my brief overview of NWC 2013:

  • Lack of representation of the diversity of women – only one woman of colour as a speaker/workshop leader, no apparent visibility of disabled, trans or socio-economic backgrounds apart from the usual cis white middle class women;
  • Lack of diverse view points – the whole conference was geared towards one ideology with no platform of other views;
    Severe anti-sex/anti-sex worker views. I remember one particular speaker referring to women in sex work as ‘toilets’ because men do their business and leave. Now, irrespective of one’s views on sex work this is an inherently anti-woman thing to say as it is shaming the women they claim to be wanting to try and help. Help in itself being problematic as if to say all women in sex work need saving;
  • Also, in reference to the above, there was a lot of talk about sex work from women who weren’t involved or had left the industry. My point is that no current sex workers were seemed to be on the panel. They were outside protesting, check out Sex Workers Open University (SWOU);
  • No safe-space. There was supposedly a safe-space policy as written down in one of the conference hand-outs however, it was very minimal and wasn’t actually upheld throughout the day so that failed;
  • Radfem UK (a new organisation made up largely of the older members of the organisation who were bullying me online while also accusing me of being an MRA) had a stall there which, in my opinion, violates safe-space policy. However, in a bid to have a diversity of views, this wouldn’t be as problematic if other feminist views/stalls/speakers were there;
  • No consideration or understanding of intersectionality whatsoever. For example, when a speaker was talking about the sexualisation of women in the media most of her pictures were of white women with the Western-normative idealised version of beauty and when Black women were shown there wasn’t a single comment on the intersections of race and sexualisation. This is the same issue with the No More Page 3 campaign which was also at the conference. The representative from NMP3 mentioned a statistic (something along the lines of) that in 40 years The Sun has had page 3 women only 1 has been black and yet this seemed to be a by-point. I did say it was brief but kinda like Pringles, once you pop you can’t stop… Anyway, moving on…

You’re probably thinking if I have had such a negative experience of the last conference why on earth would I want to get involved in the planning of the next one? Sure, the question has a lot of logic in it but my reason in wanting to get involved was to encourage the representation of the diversity of the feminist view, or rather, the views of women because that is how I understood the conference to be – given that it’s called ‘Nottingham Women’s Conference.’ As someone who is increasingly visible in my own personal diversity as a queer South Asian feminist Muslim woman I often feel like I have an obligation to get involved in things (even if they’re problematic) to use my skills and expertise to help make it better. It’s only recently through discussions with friends that I’m learning the importance of using my energy to make something completely fresh and that way I will meet the aims and objectives I set out. It will have intersectional roots and I will not spend my time consumed in negativity trying to make something less shit.

So, in terms of the first planning meeting I went to (which was the second one that had happened) here’s the low-down:

  • I mentioned that we should have a diversity of views on a panel in a bid to not allow it to be one-sided. This was met with ‘So you want racists and stuff? We can’t have that.’ Yes, as a woman of colour I obviously really do want racists there, chuck in some extreme far-righters too for good measure too(!);
  • One of the considered themes (‘Sexualisation and porn aimed at lesbians’) was debated. As a friend and ally at the meeting, I felt that instead of focusing solely on lesbians we should open it up to queer sexuality and this would include all types of women. This turned into a suggestion (from my friend) of having some sort of queer sexuality workshop which I fully seconded. A woman sat next to me, turned to me, put her hand on my arm and said ‘Then we must have an anti-queer one’ without a hint of sarcasm not knowing how I defined myself. She then proceeded to follow this up with ‘Oh just so you know, I don’t mean anti-trans’ as if that made her comment any better! Within the group some of the women seemed to be somewhat confused as to what queer actually meant with one woman in particular referring it to mean simply ‘bisexual’ which actually is a part of a whole lot of things which queer means. The anti-queer sentiments were born out of someone’s dislike of bisexuals along with the notion of gender being a societal construct. Now the latter of which may well be true but the irony of this statement by one of the women is that queer theory includes this critique;
  • While there was some good discussion on other themes and workshops such as ‘feminist mothering’, giving air time to gender neutral toys campaigns among inviting some cool organisations like Imkaan and Southall Black Sisters for me, I felt the inaccessibility and non-intersectional attitudes running throughout the meeting by a couple of women outweighed any of the positives.

Now for the second meeting (third in total)… I was going to do this section in bullet points too in a bid to not ramble but I wasn’t there long enough to warrant bullet points. Seldom do I ever leave meetings early because of how unsafe they are and this was one of those meetings. I was late and came into a discussion of how there was an online organising group for the conference of which the new members (another woman, my friend and I) were not invited to and yet apparently a thread on this secret group on Facebook ended up discussing the new members without our knowledge and without the chance for us to respond.

So the quote which instantly comes to mind when I think about last night’s women’s conference planning meeting is this: ‘My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit.’ I knew it was going to be a hard meeting and had prepared myself somewhat for it but evidently not enough. It was so so problematic and draining.

In my early days of activism I used to be so tolerant of people’s views and move to try and get them to see my way of thinking in discussions and debates. A few years later and I simply cannot and will not tolerate any oppressive behaviour which makes it hard to work with those who have non-intersectional views and seek to silence those who do not fit into their political ideology. This isn’t about silencing people., On the contrary I believe everyone has the right to their opinion and to voice it. However, I choose not to work with those people – as the solution to ending oppression isn’t working on one oppression, speaking over others and indeed speaking for others (e.g. Muslims or sex workers without actually allowing them to speak for themselves as if they are unable!) but rather understanding that all oppressions are interlinked. We have to work on tackling them all together and not putting one oppression higher than another in a hierarchy. At the same time, we must understand multiple-discrimination and the important of intersectionality.

It is with a heavy heart that the bottom line is that I can no longer work with the Nottingham Women’s Conference group for the aforementioned reasons in this post.

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18 thoughts on “Feminist Fail at Nottingham Women’s Conference 2013/2014

  1. 38622: The punishment for homosexuality

    What is the punishment for homosexuality? Is there any differentiation between the one who does it and the one to whom it is done?.

    Praise be to Allaah.
    Firstly:

    The crime of homosexuality is one of the greatest of crimes, the worst of sins and the most abhorrent of deeds, and Allaah punished those who did it in a way that He did not punish other nations. It is indicative of violation of the fitrah, total misguidance, weak intellect and lack of religious commitment, and it is a sign of doom and deprivation of the mercy of Allaah. We ask Allaah to keep us safe and sound.

    Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning):

    “And (remember) Loot (Lot), when he said to his people: ‘Do you commit the worst sin such as none preceding you has committed in the ‘Aalameen (mankind and jinn)?

    81. ‘Verily, you practise your lusts on men instead of women. Nay, but you are a people transgressing beyond bounds (by committing great sins).’

    82. And the answer of his people was only that they said: ‘Drive them out of your town, these are indeed men who want to be pure (from sins)!’

    83. Then We saved him and his family, except his wife; she was of those who remained behind (in the torment).

    84. And We rained down on them a rain (of stones). Then see what was the end of the Mujrimoon (criminals, polytheists and sinners)”

    [al-A’raaf 7:80-84]

    “Verily, by your life (O Muhammad), in their wild intoxication, they were wandering blindly.

    73. So As‑Saihah (torment — awful cry) overtook them at the time of sunrise.

    74. And We turned (the towns of Sodom in Palestine) upside down and rained down on them stones of baked clay.

    75. Surely, in this are signs for those who see (or understand or learn the lessons from the Signs of Allaah).

    76. And verily, they (the cities) were right on the highroad (from Makkah to Syria, i.e. the place where the Dead Sea is now)”

    [al-Hijr 15:72-76]

    al-Tirmidhi (1456), Abu Dawood (4462)and Ibn Maajah (2561) narrated that Ibn ‘Abbaas (may Allaah be pleased with him) said: The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Whoever you find doing the action of the people of Loot, execute the one who does it and the one to whom it is done.”. Classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh al-Tirmidhi.

    Ahmad (2915) narrated from Ibn ‘Abbaas (may Allaah be pleased with him) that the Prophet of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “May Allaah curse the one who does the action of the people of Loot, may Allaah curse the one who does the action of the people of Loot,” three times. This was classed as hasan by Shu’ayb al-Arna’oot in Tahqeeq al-Musnad.

    The Sahaabah were unanimously agreed on the execution of homosexuals, but they differed as to how they were to be executed. Some of them were of the view that they should be burned with fire, which was the view of ‘Ali (may Allaah be pleased with him) and also of Abu Bakr (may Allaah be pleased with him), as we shall see below. And some of them thought that they should be thrown down from a high place then have stones thrown at them. This was the view of Ibn ‘Abbaas (may Allaah be pleased with him).

    Some of them thought that they should be stoned to death, which was narrated from both ‘Ali and Ibn ‘Abbaas (may Allaah be pleased with them).

    After the Sahaabah, the fuqaha’ differed concerning the matter. Some of them said that the homosexual should be executed no matter what his situation, whether he is married or not.

    Some of them said that he should be punished in the same way as an adulterer, so he should be stoned if he is married and flogged if he is not married.

    Some of them said that a severe punishment should be carried out on him, as the judge sees fit.

    Ibn al-Qayyim (may Allaah be pleased with him) discussed this issue at length, and he mentioned the evidence and arguments of the fuqaha’, but he supported the first view. This is explained in his book al-Jawaab al-Kaafi’ li man sa’ala ‘an al-Dawa’ al-Shaafi, which he wrote to deal with this immoral action. We will quote some of what he said:

    Because the evil consequences of homosexuality are among the worst of evil consequences, so its punishment is one of the most severe of punishments in this world and in the Hereafter.

    The scholars differed as to whether it is to be punished more severely than zina, or whether the punishment for zina should be more severe, or whether the punishments should be the same. There are three points of view:

    Abu Bakr al-Siddeeq, ‘Ali ibn Abi Taalib, Khaalid ibn al-Waleed, ‘Abd-Allaah ibn al-Zubayr, ‘Abd-Allaah ibn ‘Abbaas, Maalik, Ishaaq ibn Raahawayh, Imam Ahmad according to the more sound of the two reports from him and al-Shaafa’i according to one of his opinions, were of the view that the punishment for homosexuality should be more severe than the punishment for zina, and the punishment is execution in all cases, whether the person is married or not.

    Al-Shaafa’i, according to the well-known view of his madhhab, and Imam Ahmad according to the other report narrated from him, were of the view that the punishment for the homosexual should be the same as the punishment for the adulterer.

    Imam Abu Haneefah was of the view that the punishment for the homosexual should be less severe than the punishment for the adulterer, and it is a punishment to be determined by the judge (ta’zeer).

    Those who favoured the first view, who are the majority of the ummah – and more than one scholar narrated that there was consensus among the Sahaabah on this point – said that there is no sin that brings worse consequences than homosexuality, and they are second only to the evil consequences of kufr, and they may be worse than the consequences of murder, as we shall see below in sha Allaah.

    They said: Allaah did not test anyone with this major sin before the people of Loot, and He punished them with a punishment that He did not send upon any other nation; He combined all kinds of punishment for them, such as destruction, turning their houses upside down, causing them to be swallowed up by the earth, sending stones down upon them from the sky, taking away their sight, punishing them and making their punishment ongoing, and wreaking vengeance upon them such as was not wrought upon any other nation. That was because of the greatness of the evil consequences of this crime which the earth can hardly bear if it is committed upon it, and the angels flee to the farthest reaches of heaven and earth if they witness it, lest the punishment be sent upon those who do it and they be stricken along with them. The earth cries out to its Lord, may He be blessed and exalted, and the mountains almost shift from their places.

    Killing the one to whom it is done is better for him than committing this act with him, because if a man commits sodomy with another man, in effect he kills him in such a way that there is no hope of life after that, unlike murder where the victim is wronged and is a martyr. They said: the evidence for that (i.e., that the evil consequences of homosexuality are worse than those of murder) is the fact that in the case of murder, Allaah gives the next of kin the choice: if he wishes he may have him executed and if he wishes he may let him off, but He enjoined executing the homosexual as a hadd punishment, as the companions of the Messenger of Allaah were unanimously agreed, and as is clearly indicated by the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) and there is no evidence to the contrary; rather this is what his companions and the Rightly-Guided Caliphs (may Allaah be pleased with them all) did.

    It is narrated from Khaalid ibn al-Waleed that he found a man among one of the Arab tribes with whom men would have intercourse as with a woman. He wrote to Abu Bakr al-Siddeeq (may Allaah be pleased with him) and Abu Bakr al-Siddeeq consulted the Sahaabah (may Allaah be pleased with them). ‘Ali ibn Abi Taalib had the strongest opinion of all of them, and he said: “No one did that but one of the nations, and you know what Allaah did to them. I think that he should be burned with fire.” So Abu Bakr wrote to Khaalid and he had him burned.

    ‘Abd-Allaah ibn ‘Abbaas said: The highest point in the town should be found and the homosexual should be thrown head first from it, then stones should be thrown at him.

    Ibn ‘Abbaas derived this hadd punishment from the punishment that Allaah sent upon the homosexuals of the people of Loot.

    Ibn ‘Abbaas is the one who narrated from the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) the words: “Whoever you find doing the action of the people of Loot, execute the one who does it and the one to whom it is done.” This was narrated by the authors of al-Sunan and was classed as saheeh by Ibn Hibbaan and others. Imam Ahmad quoted this hadeeth as evidence, and its isnaad meets the conditions of al-Bukhaari.

    They said: and it is narrated that he said: “May Allaah curse the one who does the action of the people of Loot, may Allaah curse the one who does the action of the people of Loot, may Allaah curse the one who does the action of the people of Loot,” and it is not narrated that he cursed the adulterer three times in one hadeeth. He cursed those who do a variety of major sins, but he did not curse any of them more than once, but he repeated the curse for the homosexual three times. The companions of the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) agreed unanimously that the homosexual is to be executed, and none of them differed concerning that. Rather they differed as to the method of execution. Some people thought that this difference means that they disagreed about executing him, so they narrated it as a matter concerning which the Sahaabah differed, but it is a matter concerning which there was consensus among them, not a matter of difference.

    And they said: Whoever ponders the words of Allaah (interpretation of the meaning):

    “And come not near to unlawful sex. Verily, it is a Faahishah (i.e. anything that transgresses its limits: a great sin), and an evil way (that leads one to hell unless Allaah Forgives him)”

    [al-Isra’ 17:32]

    and what He says about homosexuality (interpretation of the meaning):

    “And (remember) Loot (Lot), when he said to his people: Do you commit the worst sin such as none preceding you has committed in the ‘Aalameen (mankind and jinn)?”

    [al-A’raaf 7:80]

    will see the difference between them. When Allaah mentioned zina, He described it as a “great sin” (faahishah – indefinite) among other great sins, but when He mentioned homosexuality, He called it “the worst sin” (al-faahishah – definite). This suggests that it contains all the essence of evil and sin.

    End quote from al-Jawaab al-Kaafi (p. 260-263).

    Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: With regard to homosexuality, some of the scholars said that the hadd punishment for it is the same as the hadd punishment for zina, and it was said that it is less than that. But the correct view on which the Sahaabah were unanimously agreed is that both are to be killed, the active and the passive partners, whether they are married or not. The authors of al-Sunan narrated from Ibn ‘Abbaas (may Allaah be pleased with him) that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Whoever you find doing the action of the people of Loot, execute the one who does it and the one to whom it is done.” And Abu Dawood narrated from Ibn ‘Abbaas concerning the unmarried person who commits a homosexual act that he said: He is to be stoned. And something similar was narrated from ‘Ali ibn Abi Taalib (may Allaah be pleased with him). The Sahaabah did not differ concerning the ruling that the homosexual is to be executed, but they differed concerning the methods. It was narrated from Abu Bakr al-Siddeeq (may Allaah be pleased with him) that he is to be burned, and from others that he is to be executed.

    It was narrated from some of them that a wall is to be knocked down on top of him until he dies beneath it.

    And it is said that both should be detained in the foulest of places until they die.

    It was narrated from some of them that he should be taken up to the highest place in the town and thrown down from it, to be followed with stones, as Allaah did to the people of Loot. This was narrated from Ibn ‘Abbaas. According to the other report, he is to be stoned. This was the view of the majority of the salaf. They said: because Allaah stoned the people of Loot, and stoning is prescribed for the zaani by analogy with the stoning of the homosexual. Both are to be stoned, whether they are free or slaves, or one of them is the slave of the other, if they have reached the age of puberty. If one of them has not reached the age of puberty, he is to be punished but not stoned, and none is to be stoned except one who has reached puberty. End quote from al-Siyaasah al-Shar’iyyah, p. 138.

    Secondly:

    The one to whom it is done is like the one who does it, because they both took part in the sin. So both are to be punished by execution, as it says in the hadeeth. But two exceptions may be made to that:

    1 – One who is forced into sodomy by means of beating, death threats and the like. He is not subject to any hadd punishment.

    It says in Sharh Muntaha al-Iraadaat (3/348): There is no hadd punishment if the one who has been sodomized is forced into it, such as if the one who did it overpowered him or threatened him with death or beating and the like. End quote.

    2 – If the one to whom it was done is a minor and has not reached the age of puberty. There is no hadd punishment in this case, but he should be disciplined and punished in a way that will deter him from committing this crime, as stated above in the quotation from Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah.

    Ibn Qudaamah (may Allaah have mercy on him) narrated in al-Mughni (9/62) that there is no difference of opinion among the scholars concerning the fact that the hadd punishment should not be carried out on one who is insane or a boy who has not yet reached the age of puberty.

    And Allaah knows best.

    Islam Q&A

    1. Your comment is related to this post. I implore you to open your mind and do some reading on the vibrant history Islam has on gender and sexuality as well as the history of people who also identify as Muslims.

      Indeed, Allah (swt) does know best.

    2. Er, thanks for the copy and paste. I am so tired of people using the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Did you know that the Prophet (pbuh) offered up his daughter instead? Did you know that? No one ever comments on this non-consensual offering of sex from her father. Why? No one EVER comments on the full reason of why these cities were raised to the ground. I suggest you do less copy and pasting and more research and reading – preferably wider research. Islam after all implores you to open you mind so how about using your heart too?

  2. I’m so sad this is happening in Nottingham – do contact me via my blog or via the facebook group intersectional feminism in Nottingham if we can support each other in the struggle to make Nottingham feminism intersectional

  3. I’m friends with Jennifer and Sam, and in Intersectional Feminism in Nottingham group (mainly Facebook) and second the offers of support/ invitations to join and bring your clarity and wonderfulness where it will be appreciated 😉 also want to say that sadly, the treatment you describe doesn’t surprise me one bit, well done for taking care of you, brilliant writing/analysis and I applaud your decision to publish and call out rubbish behaviour. Oof back to artmaking now 😉

  4. Very interesting reading your post, and sadly not surprising giving the online behaviour of some of the organisers/ members, and also one of the speakers they had last yr. This particular speaker said appalling things to the sex workers outside, and has also said completely unprofessional things to myself, in front of objective witnesses. There is also an audio recording of the this person’s ideology at another event. So when they said what was said outside, I knew they meant her. The whole event is clearly geared up as a rad fem/abolitionist space, with no time for critical debate whatsoever. If you object, you will be sworn out, shouted down, personally insulted. It is very sad.

    1. I am so so sorry that you have had to witness such behaviour. It really is not acceptable especially considering what these gatherings and conferences ought to be about!

      I agree with you about the rad fem spaces and it being geared towards that. It really is exclusionary but I still believe we can do our own things with ideas and agendas which are inclusive and liberating from the get go!

  5. Reblogged this on The World of C.C. and commented:
    As mentioned before there are a lot of problems within feminism, from biased views on certain matter, to difficulties to include views from all kinds of women. According to the impression the post was given, it seemed women would only be invited to such conference if their views fit into the social norms of feminism. This as a result cause a great deal of problems, beside of the biased view. If to make any single improvement to actual gender equality, first wr have to be kind to each other and hold the tongue when wanting to criticise, especially when some women agree upon things one of us couldn’t stand.

    1. Hey… I didn’t realise there were more comments on this post and I’m just getting round to them now. I agree with you about having to be kind to each other first but this post was not about the organisers or those attending, I wrote this post as a bit of a trigger warning for those who may want to attend who may have not fit the scope of the conference itself. It was a very difficult space to be in both in terms of the aforementioned conference and the planning meetings which I attended.

  6. Hi 5p&6c…NWC 2014 needs your voice. Intersectionality is the only way to open womens eyes and mind to privilege and oppression. If you speak people will come to listen. Dig deep within yourself and assert your practices and beliefs. Solidarity sista! x

    1. Hello again! Thank you so much for your kind words of support and solidarity!! They really mean a lot especially during difficult times! I totally agree with you there about intersectionality being key!

      Have a great day!! 🙂 xx

  7. I remember one particular speaker referring to women in sex work as ‘toilets’ because men do their business and leave. Now, irrespective of one’s views on sex work this is an inherently anti-woman thing to say as it is shaming the women they claim to be wanting to try and help.

    As we talked about in person, a while back…

    It’s been pointed out to me that this summary as written above has lost some context from when it was originally said. You did link to my post which has more of the original context, but in case people don’t click through to that (or don’t have time to read it!), I wanted to add some nuance in the comments here.

    (Thanks to Siân for the heads-up – I had read this post at the time, but had failed then to pick up on this point.)

    The thing is, Justine had initially been talking about her own experience. And I would stand up for her right to describe her own experience any way that feels true to her. If someone’s own experience includes feeling & thinking that they were being used like a toilet, then it isn’t for you or for me or anyone else to decide that they aren’t allowed that interpretation, or aren’t allowed to say it in public. That would take us into “silencing survivors” territory, which is crap and not helpful and part of how abuse continues.

    So I wouldn’t say it’s inherently anti-woman to acknowledge & talk about that metaphor; I’d say what makes the difference is the context.

    Where I felt it took a wrong turn at NWC was, there came a point when it seemed to me (evidently not to everyone) that Justine was sliding over into applying the toilet metaphor to other people – as if it was “an ultimately true thing about women in sex trade situations”, rather than “her own story” or “one way of looking at those situations”. There’s also some nuances for me about her position on stage while other survivors were in the audience.

    More discussion in my writeup as linked above, for people who are interested – I won’t repeat it all here.

    I hope that helps to unsimplify this complicated thing! and to put the comment in context for visiting readers.

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