In six decades of life as a woman, I’ve seen countless expressions of patriarchy. From the family favouritism shown to my brothers, to the societal and workplace inequities of single parenthood, and now the creeping social oblivion of female middle age.
I’ve studied and worked in the male dominated professions of accounting and law, and held my own.
I have espoused feminist values since my teenage years, and spent the later part of my working life advocating for, counselling and supporting women, particularly women suffering family violence.
I have always been acutely aware of the prejudices and social injustices facing women, and spoken up accordingly. And until now, I have been fortunate enough to escape any direct attack on my womanhood or my feminist ideas.
This year, I enrolled in a masters program at UTas and joined the UTas Women’s Collective, with the innocent, but apparently naïve, aim of meeting and engaging with other female students of a feminist bent. And, for the first time, I have been subjected to overt ageist and sexist discrimination and abuse and denunciation of my feminist ideals, at the hands of other ‘women identifying persons’.
After a rather unpleasant exchange on the group’s Facebook page, it became evident the collective is not as inclusive as it claims. It began when I noticed some disagreement between members about the group’s priorities, and made the mistake of asking why the interests of transgender and queer collective members needed to be given preference.
The response was courteous enough to begin with, but I was soon being exhorted to “educate myself” about the unreality of biological sex, or risk removal from the group. I was lectured about the abhorrence that is “white female privilege,” and whilst the historic role of white privilege in many forms of oppression is undeniable, I cannot accept there is any element of “privilege” in being born female, as opposed to male, in a patriarchal society.
Collective members who joined the conversation also consistently used the jargon of the trans/queer movement and post-modern identity politics, and insisted on deference to trans/queer interests. Most made no attempt to hide their contempt for my “outdated” feminist ideas.
Whilst conversing with me on the group’s closed Facebook page, two group members were at the same time laughing at me and insulting me on one of their personal pages. The sort of thing “cool” 12 year old cyber bullies do to the odd girl out in their peer group. Only this time it was a couple of privileged, white, young women taking pot shots at an older woman – accusing her of being a TERF (trans exclusionary radical feminist – I had to look it up) and joking about being “nice” to her, even though she “just [didn’t] get it” and her ideas were totally repugnant to them.
After being told by yet another member that biological sex wasn’t real, and I was living in the past, I gave up on the conversation.
Since then, I note that one of the members who engaged in the Facebook insults was elected unopposed as the UTAS South Women’s Officer.
The collective’s Facebook page posts the occasional useful feminist article, but the overall transgender/queer bias is patently obvious. Only those who agree with a ‘feminism’ that prioritises trans/queer interests are welcome.
I fully appreciate the emotional and social consequences gender identity issues must have for transgender and queer individuals, but I’m not prepared to cede my experience of femaleness to the political agenda of some in those groups.
I am a woman, not a “cis-woman.”
And, seriously, when a collective member complains about their “queerness” not being taken seriously enough because they’re “low femme” and they have “a long term cis man partner” we know we’re truly in the realm of privileged, white, first world problems.
Thousands of women are out there right now – being underpaid, and exploited, and trafficked into sexual slavery, and raped and beaten and killed. Most of them have XX chromosomes and bigger things to worry about than their gender identity. If feminism has to be a game of priorities, I prefer to prioritise their struggles.
No doubt this article will see me banned from the collective for breaching their ‘secret society’ rules. And that might raise some interesting discrimination issues, especially since I’m not the only woman to be abused in and/or banned by the UTas Women’s Collective. Since the incident documented here, I have contacted other former members of the collective who have been similarly disparaged.
The narrow, exclusionary, and apparently anti-female attitudes of the collective’s management will not be ignored.
On receiving this article, Togatus staff contacted Ruby Grant, President of the Women’s Collective, for comment.
When asked about how this abusive and bullying behaviour should be dealt with, Ms Grant said “I can’t helicopter over the page to make sure that people are being nice to people. That being said, we have finally rolled out our safer spaces policy… I’m pretty sure that the safer spaces policy hadn’t officially come into play at that point, if this is the incident that I am thinking of.
“… it’s [trans people’s rights] something that a lot of people are very passionate about and it’s also something that a lot of people aren’t as informed about … and we’re all trying to educate ourselves and people make mistakes. I personally want to be patient with people and I regret that people aren’t as patient as myself and some other members of the executive of the women’s collective… People on both sides have said things are are offensive to both people.”
When asked if the Women’s Collective take measures against students who push it too far, and make other members feel they are uncomfortable being part of the group, Ms Grant said “We do. The safer spaces policy outlines the kind of things that we hope to try and move towards and it’s something we hope to pass on to the executive next year to improve how we’ve dealt with that. we’re trying to work through how to deal with people who have made other people feel unsafe, no matter what their perspective.”
Ms Grant declined to comment on why members who were involved in both the incident mentioned above, and the harassment from earlier this year are still members of the collective.