Trans Women Are Real Women. Deny This If You Must, But Not In My Name. By Kelly Grehan

I’ve always been drawn to the statement by American mythologist Joseph Campbell that “the privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.”

Being yourself strikes me as the true route to happiness and something that we should all want for each other and to try to help others to achieve.

But others clearly disagree.  

In recent months there have been increasing reports that ‘radical feminists’ oppose trans women using women’s spaces, standing on all women shortlists and joining women’s groups.

As a feminist, this situation has left me fuming.  For me, being a feminist is about allowing all people to be who they want to be, to show kindness to all and to oppose all oppression.

I just cannot understand the motivation of those trying to stop trans women (and men) from being who they want to be.

One argument I have heard is that, having been raised as male , trans women have benefitted from male privilege and therefore cannot understand the experiences of cis women.  I find this a bizarre argument. I would guess being stuck in a body you despise all day every day pretty much cancels out any advantage you might have accessed as a male.

From what I have seen trans women suffer the absolute opposite of privilege at every stage of their life.

It is not on the same scale of course, but I have been shocked at the online abuse I have received every time I have tweeted support of trans rights.  Of course, as unpleasant as this was, I simply turned the device off and walked away.

I cannot imagine what it is like to face this abuse every day and have no means of escape.

Abuse against the trans community remains rife.

Two in five trans people have experienced a hate crime or incident because of their gender identity in the last 12 months.

A study by equality campaigning charity Stonewall, last year revealed that amongst school pupils who identified as trans 9% had received death threats at school while 84% say they have self-harmed and 45% have tried to take their own lives.

Then there is the argument about who should use what toilet.

Frankly I envy people who have so little to worry about that this consumes their time.  I put this question to them, are they equally concerned that male and female disabled people are expected to share the same toilets?

It’s sad to say, but history tells us we should not be surprised by transphobia.  

People have always been afraid of things outside their own experience and rather than seeking further understanding the default position of many people seems to be to try to drive people of difference away.

We have seen this time and time again, whether the differences concern race, sexuality or even differences in choices like music or dress.

Despite great efforts to see it maligned, feminism is just as needed now as in the past – there are battles still to fight –  America have a misogynist president; we have yet to achieve equal pay; despite the ‘me too’ movement women continue to suffer sexual harassment; legislation concerning pregnancy, maternity and childcare continue to be inadequate.

So why would any feminist concern themselves with trying to exclude an already marginalised group?  It makes no sense to me.

And you know what defines everyone in the trans community?

They have had the courage, against all social convention, knowing the abuse and exclusion that is likely to follow, to stand up and be who they really are.

I’d say that’s the definition of courage. Such people are an asset, not a threat to the ideals of feminsim.

Feminism is not about telling other people who they are or who they can be.

At its core it is about aiding people to be themselves.

Experiencing feelings of transphobia?

Want to exclude others?

Then there is nothing I can do to stop you.

But please do not do it in the name of feminism!

Why I’ll Be Marching Against Donald Trump Today By Kelly Grehan

Edward Burke famously said “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

In many respects that could be the strapline for the apathetic times we live in where ‘it doesn’t affect me, so I am not bothered’ seems to be the mantra of most people.

I remember the first time I heard someone say they were not signing a petition because the cause did not affect them.  It was about education cuts, affecting the university I attended and I had been explaining what was happening to a lady who had passed by.  She listened for about a minute and then said those fateful words ‘well it doesn’t really affect me’ and off she went.  Aged 19, and having been on the streets protesting at third world debt only weeks before, her words shocked me – not wanting to spare 10 seconds to sign a piece of paper unless it was something that directly impacted on her!

Of course, since then, as an active member of the community and as a political activist, I’ve learnt that apathy and ignorance are the greatest weapons that discrimination, oppression and unfairness have.

Apathy has allowed the government and the wealthy to portray immigrants as the cause of other people’s poverty – rather than low wages paid by multi-million profit corporations. The belief that public servants, rather than bankers greed caused the issues in the UK economy, that young people are some sort of feral generation and that England is the envy of the world; only allows the government to continue to get away with whatever cruel policy they wish to impose on the people.

People often remark that, had they been in nazi Germany they would not have stood by as their neighbours were dragged off to concentration camp.  But I think this is to ignore the nature of how injustice occurs: it does not begin with concentration camps.

Things chip away at the public consciousness – one idea at a time – the nazi’s started with the idea Jews held too many privileges compared to the rest of the German population and were to blame for the mass poverty that accompanied the end of the first world war.

People were only too pleased to blame someone else and gradually accepted more and more laws that stopped Jewish people owning property, owning telephones, sitting on benches and so on!

Drip, drip, drip until it led to gas chambers.

The idea this could not happen again or happen here is at odds with everything we see on a daily basis.

People have accepted a 169% rise in homelessness since 2010 with barely more than a shrug.

People hear that 17% of women’s refuges closed between 2010 and 2014 and council funding for refuges across England dropped from £31.2m in 2010/11 to just £23.9m in 2016/17, with 2 women being murdered by partners every week and do not give it a second thought.

Schools have faced cuts of 8%.

Are most people incensed by this? No.

Conversation in the UK continues to be dominated by outrage at the weather, bin collections and parking spaces.

Would anyone notice if the population were being systematically poisoned against a specific group?

Well I fear it has already happened.  The radio today was full of people welcoming Trump and applauding his anti-immigration rhetoric and expressing a belief that we should not ‘disownersnthe office of American President’ and should remember America was our ally in the Second World War.

Let’s remind ourselves that Trump is a misogynist, a racist, a man who mocks disabled people, brags about sexually assaulting women and presides over a system which separates children from their parents, locks them in cages and leaves them, at ages as young as 1 representing themselves in Court.

It is him that disowners the office he holds.

But let us not forget he also the embodiment of a dangerous global movement that poses a real risk of a return of fascism in the West.

Austria now have a far right government, a similar party are threatening to become the opposition in Germany, Italy have a hard right party in power.

Closer to home we are now seeing a normalisation of racist language that just a few years ago I genuinely thought was about to be consigned to  history.

Last year hate crime rose by almost a third. Britons who came here as children in the 1950s and 1960s recently were treated as criminals, with some even deported in the Windrush Scandal as the government set to bring a ‘hostile environment’ against migrants.

The truth is none of these things affect me.  I’m a middle class, healthy white woman.

To some degree I’m insulated from a lot of the cruelty of the world.  But I never want to look back and say while other humans were the victims of such cruelty I sat back as it wasn’t my problem.

By speaking out we can at least show those affected that there are people on their side, we can stop this rhetoric being normalised and maybe, just maybe we can stop the march of the far right.

Remember, the rise of Trump and the rest of his far right cronies is far from over, and all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men (and women) to do nothing.

Can We Talk About Periods? By Sarah Crook and Kelly Grehan

Recently we came across the picture above and loved it.  We talked about copying the wording and using it for an art exhibition on women we are involved with. We decided it was not suitable for a family audience, which got us thinking about why periods are such a taboo subject?

Why aren’t they freely discussed?

We remember our own mothers being shocked when sanitary towel adverts were first allowed on TV in the early 1990s.

In fact in 1993 an advert featuring Claire Raynor for Vespre Sanitary towels was banned following 700 complaints that concerned matters such offence being taken ‘about the format in which lots of women talk freely and easily in their own words about the product.’

Comments included things like ‘I didn’t know where to look when it came on and my husband was sitting beside me.’

The complaints led to sanitary adverts being banned between 4pm and 9pm.

More recently the advert above was banned on the New York subway because of the language used.

The first-time menstrual blood was depicted as red in an advert (as opposed to as blue) was in October 2017!

Why does the mention of periods remain a taboo?

Why does a perfectly natural process, one which without which we wouldn’t exist, still cause embarrassment and shame?

Does ‘discomfort’ come from ancient beliefs that menstruation is dirty?

This belief continued in numerous cultures and religions and was one reason why women were deemed unfit to hold positions such as priests.

The Old Testament makes numerous references to bleeding women being unclean (see here http://www.womenpriests.org/traditio/unclean.asp)

Given that they are experienced by half the population, women are likely to bleed for between 2,250 to 3,000-plus days across their lifetimes and a quarter of women of reproductive age are menstruating at any one time – So why are periods still such a taboo?

From the time we start menstruating; girls are taught that periods are something to keep a secret and that sanitary towels are to be kept hidden.

Research has found that women go to lengths to hide their period — from concealing tampons and pads at the bottom of their shopping basket, to putting a used pad in their handbag when there is no bin in a bathroom.

We recall trying to work out the least conspicuous way to go to the toilet at work with a tampon, is it to take our whole bag, hide it up our sleeve or squeeze it tightly in our fist and hope no one sees?

Some women experience their first period as young as 8 years old now. Feelings of shame or embarrassment at a completely natural process are reinforced before they even hit being a teenager.

If it’s not openly discussed and spoken about honestly by all in society then how are we supposed to allay their fears and feelings of shame?

Only when periods are openly and honestly discussed in the media, at home and at schools can we set about change.

Education for all that enables women to feel empowered and comfortable by the natural processes of their bodies is needed.

We have both started using moon cups and it is astonishing how many women view them as a “bit disgusting!”

Of course, this stigma continues into other female associated words, with most women terrified to use the word vagina, often using euphemisms like ‘mini’ or ‘nunny.’

Very rarely do we hear the word vagina used in conversation or the media.

We would guess this avoidance to talk about our own bodies leads to the gynecological cancers being often undiagnosed until it is too late.  

Women suffering in silence or too scared to speak to doctors with health issues related to vaginas. We don’t tend to have nicknames for other parts of the body like arms and legs!

We believe stigma around menstruation is a form of misogyny. Negative taboos condition us to understand menstrual function as something to be hidden, something shameful.

This leads on to the issue of period poverty.

Anyone who has seen the film I, Daniel Blake will recall the harrowing scenes where Katie, played by Hayley Squires is driven to shoplifting sanitary towels, having been sanctioned by the benefit office and having found there were no sanitary products at the food bank.

Hayley Sims, ‘I Daniel Blake’

A recent survey of 14 to 21-year olds by Plan International found that 15% of girls have struggled to afford sanitary care at some point, with one in ten girls admitting to borrowing or improvising with sanitary products.

Shockingly, 7% of girls described using socks, newspaper or fabric to get through their period, in place of tampons or pads.

Plan International’s findings highlight that there are a significant number of girls in the UK whose daily lives are impacted by period poverty, both physically and emotionally, as taboo’s around menstruation are impacting girls’ self-esteem and sense of self-worth.

Scotland has taken a step forward to becoming the first country to outlaw period poverty as Labour plans to formally introduce the legislation at the Scottish Parliament.

Monica Lennon’s member’s Bill has won the backing of each of the five parties at Holyrood, giving her the right to press forward.

Her proposed Sanitary Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill would create a statutory duty for free provision of sanitary products.

We recently started running a Red Box Project in Dartford (https://www.facebook.com/RedBoxProjectDartford/).

This is a project where women set up drop off points for sanitary products and then give them to schools to give to girls in need.

All the effects of poverty are cruel, of course, but there is something particularly desperate about a girl trying to learn whilst worrying about bleeding through her school uniform, feeling unclean all day and the dreadful impact this has on a girl’s self-esteem.

The fact that periods are treated by taboo by many will reinforce those feelings for that girl.

The response we have had from the community has been fantastic, although we have received criticism, including one woman calling us ‘pseudo feminists’ trying to solve ‘a non-existent problem’ and ‘favouring women over men.’

Of course, this just spurred us on, but it showed the disdain some people hold those unable to afford sanitary products in.

We believe girls, dealing with the misery that puberty almost inevitably brings, as well as all the stresses of school, friendships and modern adolescents, should be spared the embarrassment of period poverty.

We hope our Red Box Project makes some difference.

Women’s Contributions In History is Under Represented… Even In Stone Statues By Kelly Grehan

Today Millicent Fawcett made history as her statue joined the 11 others already at Parliament Square and she became the first woman to feature there.

That it has taken 100 years since some women got the vote for her to be included perhaps, speaks volumes about the contempt women’s roles in history are viewed with.

Millicent Fawcett was a British feminist, intellectual, political and union leader, and writer.

She is primarily known for her work as a campaigner for women to have the vote, having led the nonviolent suffrage organisation, the NUWSS from 1890-1919, and therefore played a key role in gaining women the vote.

She also engaged in other political activities such as supporting worker rights and overcoming laws which were based on a dual morality for men and women.

Parliament Square is not the only place where women have been overlooked for commemoration.  

Research by feminist activist Caroline Criado-Perez revealed; of the 925 statues listed in the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association database, only 158 are of a woman as a lone standing statue.

Included in this figure are numerous statues of Queen Victoria and numerous nameless sculptures, typically rendered as naked, curvaceous and reclining.

Criado-Perez commented that if you are a woman “ your best chance of becoming a statue is to be a mythical or allegorical figure, a famous virgin, royal or nude.”

The need for female representation was recognised as long ago as 1952 when a correspondent wrote to the Times about women being neglected in statues and memorials. The piece was entitled : “A Man’s World Even in Stone”.

Sadly there does not seem to have been a great deal of progress in the intervening years.  

It is not that women’s roles in history were minor, it is that they have not been celebrated enough to become common knowledge.

Many key women have not been recognised in stone… here are just a few;

Virginia Woolf,

Matchgirl strike leaders Mary Driscoll and Sarah Chapman (who’s pauper’s grave is at risk being moulded over),

Suffragettes including; Jessie Kenney, Sylvia and Christabel Pankhurst (there is a plaque for the latter on the statue of their mother),

Family planning pioneer Marie Stopes,

Social reformer Octavia Hill,

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson –  the first woman to train to be a Doctor (the rules at the time designed to keep woman from doing so),

Rosalind Franklin – whose x-ray work eventually led to the discovery of the DNA double helix and

The first British astronaut Helen Sharman.

Hard to believe that none of these women have a statue to commemorate them isn’t it?

A campaign for a statue of  Mary Wollstonecraft to be put on Newington Green  has been started.

Wollstonecraft was the author of the 1792 text  “Vindication of the Rights of Women” which was the first book in English arguing for the equality of women and men.

She is also notable as an early human rights advocate, educational pioneer, icon of social mobility, key Enlightenment philosopher, first female war correspondent and mother of Mary Shelley – let us hope this campaign proves successful.

You may ask why this matters, well in my view it matters because history matters.

Much of our cultural identity comes from the people and events we choose to celebrate.

Could a reason why women make up only 32% of the MPs in the House of Commons and local authority councillors be because we are socialised from birth into expecting those in such roles to be men?

I think one reason I have always been so drawn to the stories of the suffragettes is that learning about them  is the only time at school I that I can recall learning about females in history who were not Queens!

Another question is does the nature of many of the male statues being war related lead to a culture where we celebrate achievements in battle high above those in say medicine, or education?

I would say the evidence that we do this is all around us.

So let us celebrate our new statue of Millicent Fawcett, but let the real celebration be when the number of statues of women matches that of men and the number of women inside Parliament does the same.

Donate to the Mary Wollstonecraft statue here https://www.maryonthegreen.org/project.shtml

Petition to save Sarah Chapman’s grave is here https://www.change.org/p/minister-of-justice-save-sarah-chapman-s-grave-a-leader-of-the-1888-matchgirls-strike-trade-union-heroine?recruiter=109957635&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=copylink&utm_campaign=share_petition

Petition for 50:50 parlaiment here: https://www.change.org/p/50-50-want-to-build-an-inclusive-modern-and-gender-balanced-parliament-it-would-lead-to-more-responsive-and-informed-decision-making-so-everyone-would-benefit-50-50-are-asking-those-in-power-for-solutions-and-taking-action-join-us-5050parliament

Information of some statues that are of women in London http://www.secret-london.co.uk/Women_2.html

Private Renters Deserve Pets Too! By Kelly Grehan

Yesterday was National Pet Day.  A frivolous occasion, you might expect to be marked with humour in a country famed for being full of animal lovers.

But pet ownership is on the decline in the UK, falling by 7% in the last 5 years.  I believe much of this can be traced to the rise in renting.

The proportion of people living in the private rented sector has doubled over the last decade, as rising house prices coupled with stagnating wages have put the dream of owning a home out of reach for many, especially the young.

Around 5 million households, or 21% of the total are living in private rented accommodation, a quarter of whom are families with children.

Renting, is now often a stressful way of life, with renters without security knowing their landlord can raise the rent at the end of their tenancy agreement, evict them, and that they will pay the costs associated with moving.

In addition research indicates tenants are increasingly afraid to complain about poor conditions and disrepair for fear of eviction as landlords seek an ‘easier tenant.’

Pet ownership is another area (of many) where private tenants are denied opportunities taken for granted by homeowners and council tenants.

The benefits of pet keeping are well known.

For example they can offer relief from loneliness –  a growing problem in the UK, which has been recognised as a health issue.

On an emotional level, owning a pet can decrease depression, stress and anxiety; health-wise, it can lower your blood pressure, improve your immunity and even decrease your risk of heart attack and stroke.

Having pets teaches children responsibility, in the case of dogs can be a way of meeting new people and getting more exercise and fresh air.

Being excluded from keeping pets means private tenants are excluded from a traditional and beneficial part of British family life.

The expectation that tenants are not allowed pets, is part of the culture that persists where houses are seen as being the cash cow of the landlord rather than a home.

The fact that landlords have been allowed to ban pets is indicative of the way the UK sees landlords rights as more important than those of tenants: family life and childhood are second to the rights of profiteering.

In February, announcing plans connected to animal welfare, the Labour Party announced that when in power it will bring in an assumed right of tenants to keep pets in their home.

This may seem a minor policy, but I believe it will improve the quality of life for many people.

Inspiration Follows Inspiration By Kelly Grehan

I was 11 when my Primary School teacher said something that has never left me.

Talking about the suffrage movement she said “I hope none of you, but especially the girls, ever forget what others gave up so you would have the right to vote.”

This was the beginning of a love affair with the suffragettes and feminism for me.  

So I have been surprised that some of my fellow pupils from that class in 1990 have gone on to be apolitical and others opposed to feminism.

My experience has always been that to mention women and equality is to be met with a accusations of men bashing and to point out the subjectification of women in the media is to be accused of jealousy.

So, despite being a very vocal person I had not always fought as hard as I could on women’s issues.

Over the last six months, however,  I feel as if I have found my voice as a feminist.

This has coincided with a few things: firstly Kent’s new Labour MP Rosie Duffield has been instrumental in raising the profile of Kent’s Labour women, and very quickly we have formed a network, or what could be called a ‘sisterhood.’

It sounds corny, but it’s true, I feel supported by my Labour sisters, that we are all routing for each other.

I have also started blogging (https://theavengeruk.com/) and increasingly write about my lived experiences and those of my friends, and so by default these are often experiences that could be deemed women’s issues.

This has brought me into contact with a whole new network of women.

I have got involved with 50:50 Parliament, having met the founder Frances, at an event and it has brought back memories of all the reasons I became enchanted by the suffragettes 28 years ago.

Following on from this, myself and my friend Kate this week ran  Women’s Event at Dartford Labour, the first in our time as party members.

I spoke with one veteran member of the party who said her heart leapt with joy’ when she saw the invite because at last the issue is gaining attention.

Armed with the stories about the disparity between men and women at every level of government in the UK we made the case for 50:50 representation.

With our new network of Labour Party women we were able to find four amazingly motivational speakers, who represented the diversity of women in terms of backgrounds (the videos can be found here (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCKTFQzBXXEWXQwebXL76jNQ).

Hearing them led to other members telling their stories.

These stories are about lived experiences, and of course, women’s lived experiences are different to those of men, and both need representing.  

What the event confirmed is this:

Hearing women tell their stories inspires other women to tell their stories.

When woman speak up it inspires other women to speak up and so it stands to reason that more women standing will lead to even more women standing for election.

For me this is just the beginning of speaking out for 50:50 Parliament and I cannot wait to see where else it takes me and to all the fabulous women I will meet on the way.

Autism And Transition To Adulthood – Why It Was So Daunting By Matt Lynch

Eight years ago I was faced with the nightmare that every autistic person dreads – leaving school.

The days of only having to turn up where everything else is decided by someone else was rapidly coming to end.

The thought of having to somehow find a job, or more realistically claim benefits and sit around being more and more depressed by the day was only becoming more of a reality that I pushed to the back of my mind.

Procrastinating wasn’t going to help, but as nobody had the answers I was looking for it was the only option I was left with.

Before I knew it the fateful day came and went without much ado.

I remember sitting in the car on the way home looking at the lampposts fly past and thinking “well this is my life done”.

My brain was just full of little bubbles of information, floating around and bumping into each other, and trying to think about this only made it worse.

Thinking of anything would just burst the whole lot at once, which as you can imagine made finding a solution to any of the problems impossible.

As I’ve got older, I’ve learnt to just accept many of the problems and deal with the ones that I can do something about, as there’s no point in worrying about things you can’t do anything about.

However, in 2010 and aged 18 this just simply wasn’t possible.

Today I volunteer for the National Autistic Society local Dartford and Gravesham Branch, local NAS run school Helen Allison and am an autism advocate on a local steering group for Autism; giving advice to local professionals.

It has been a gradual increase in involvement for me and it helps that I am surrounded by people with an understanding of autism.

With the local support groups I help give advice to parents with children with autism, having been there myself and hope to continue to do this to make a position be change for other children and adults on the spectrum.

Matt is the Social Media and Web Officer for the local NAS Branch that he helped establish. Despite the Branch being less than one year old it has been awarded the status of Top 5 NAS Branches in the country. Matt gives talks on autism perspective for the Multi Agency Autism Group.