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UTas Women’s Collective: A new meaning for inclusive?

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 Most made no attempt to hide their contempt for my “outdated” feminist ideas.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.

  • Show Comments

  • Michael Vince

    How is your parents preferring other children over you “patriarchy”? How is being middle aged “patriarchy”?

    Evaluate your own inane and alienating crusade before critiquing others insanity.

    And may I remind you that the seeds of this modern “feminism” were well and truly sown and nurtured by your generation of “feminism”.

    Congratulations, you got what you wanted.

  • Isla Mhairi MacGregor

    Congratulations Bronwyn for outing the bullies……it is a necessary and often tiresome action needing to be taken from time to time. The human rights debate has become a tool for those who wish to bang whichever drum they choose to the detriment of the ongoing and urgent need to address socio economic disadvantage for 51% of the world’s population…WOMEN! And men’s advantage in keeping it that way.

    I have been informed that many individuals have been victim to the ‘secret society’ you are understandably criticising…such groups like this inevitably self destruct.

  • Matthew Holloway

    Nice to know that Ms Grant is willing to let ageism as a form of discrimination and the comments made by some members fly under the radar.

    If she had any integrity she would hold the members to account and call for the matter to be investigated by the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner.

    As a student at UTAS I will be calling to TUU to ensure none of my fee’s are going to this group. The only honourable thing for Ms Grant to do would be to resign from her post as President of the group.

    If your response as President is to take the position of (I can’t/don’t want to look into the behaviour of members), perhaps you don’t really have an understanding of what is required from a leadership position.

  • Tintookie

    Thanks Bronwyn for outing the behaviour of these Collective members. I have never experienced male entitlement in activist spaces anything near the level displayed by ‘women identifying’ males. ‘Transwomen are women’ is a sneaky slogan used to play on the guilt of white feminists who fear not being seen as ‘inclusive’ following years of (rightful) criticism from other women who had been excluded from the women’s liberation movement due to the colour of their skin, disability or wealth for example. A fear of not being seen as sufficiently ‘intersectional’ sends feminists without a solid analysis of patriarchy into a tailspin of concessions. Concession to males ‘identifying’ as women. An ingenious move I must admit, but one that I believe is coming undone. Women are waking up.

  • Isla Mhairi MacGregor

    This article adds some very useful views to this debate:
    From the Gender Apostates website:

    ‘Transgender Ideology Does Not Support Women

    Transgender ideology is in a state. Its central ideas are inconsistent with each other, have little support in science or the ethics of power analysis and are so divorced from reality they require a complete suspension of disbelief in order to sit in one’s head without suffering cognitive dissonance.

    Although I am drawing a distinction between those of us who are transsexual and those who identify and transgender, all these points apply to both groups.

    Here are some of the things the things that transgender ideology needs to do so that it may support the lives of women:

    Accept that feminism and other women’s movements do not and should not centre transgender people. At the moment, trans is dominating the discussions, even causing huge ideological rifts, within feminism, yet here in the UK today’s news (22 June) reports hospital statistics showing 632 new cases of Female Genital Mutilation in the West Midlands (apparently girls “are brought to Birmingham to be cut”) from September 2014 to March 2015.
    Accept that innate gender identity is based on ideas with such a tenuous link to observed science it is barely a conjecture. The transgender claim to womanhood (or manhood) is completely dependent on this concept of an innate gender identity, and taking this away strips the movement of its cloak of being a civil rights movement, championing the fight of an oppressed minority, and instead reveals this to be the cross-dressing wolf of men’s rights activism, huffing and puffing at feminism and women.
    To accept that sex and gender are not the same thing. Sex is a biological reality based on reproductive potential, and gender is a social system that harms women through stereotyping behaviour, by giving women the negative stereotypes and men those that are positive; gender itself is oppression, not a civil liberty. All transwomen by definition are biologically male, socialised as boys then usually ‘transition’ as adults, although in the present climate it appears to be coming acceptable for children to ‘transition’, which should be examined critically rather than accepted unconditionally. That our underlying biological reality remains fundamentally unchanged is not a value judgement, it is a morally neutral statement of fact, neither good nor bad, it just is and being a woman is not a feeling or an opt-in.
    To respect feminism, and this includes the ‘second wave’ without which today’s women’s rights, support structures and organisations would not exist. To accept that feminism is for and about women and girls, not transwomen. It is wrong to insist feminism centre transwomen, this forces the oppressed majority to centre the interests of part of the male oppressor class; women neither oppress nor have privilege by way of gender over trans people.
    To drop claims to womanhood based on the discredited and scientifically unsupported idea of ‘brain sex’. This is called ‘neurosexism’ and it is this sexist idea that has been used to stereotype and oppress women for millennia. It is our bodies that make human beings sexually dimorphic and ‘brain sex’ has no place in any modern civil rights movement.
    To cease insisting that language specific to describing over 50% of the population be erased to indulge the fragile egos of the 0.3% of the population that is trans. This means respecting women’s right to be able to describe their own bodies and experiences and also getting rid of the inherently redundant and coercively imposed ‘cis’; we already have a word for ‘women’ and that is ‘women’. Penises are the male sex organ, vaginas are female; this is how human reproduction works.
    To recognise that trans lives are different to the lives of women and that women are entitled to their own spaces, which should always be respected; it is not acceptable to attack women’s institutions that exist to support vulnerable women in the name of transactivism.
    To have honest discussions about autogynephilia. This is a real thing. Presently the existence of it is denied even though many trans people admit this is a motivation for their transition and pornography forms a central part of transgender culture. You cannot fight honestly for transgender rights while denying that autogynephilia exists.
    To accept and explicitly recognise that lesbians are women who are attracted to women, not transwomen, and that the ‘cotton ceiling’ is sexual coercion through shaming lesbians. No lesbian is bigoted, transphobic or hateful for having boundaries that exclude transwoman. This should be respected and those who do not respect this boundary should be admonished by their peers, especially those who make their living from exploitative activities like pornography. They should also accept that the word ‘lesbian’ belongs to women.
    Accept that men and women are socialised in fundamentally different ways, and that there is such a thing as ‘male socialisation’ and ‘female socialisation.’ Accept that it is unacceptable to abuse or make death threats to women or other transwomen on the internet. Single out the problem of male violence and stop blaming women for your difficulties, and this extends to using the acronym ‘TERF’ which is used so much and so indiscriminately its essence and meaning is a term of hate.
    It is fine to have disagreements with others, this is what discourse and debate are all about and we can do this without it becoming a matter of life or death. It is not acceptable to shut down any debate that you cannot control.
    Accept that ‘trans women’ fails in making ‘trans women’ a subset of women because reality gets in the way. Saying ‘transwomen are women’ is an erasure of the actual lived lives of both women and transwomen and at best makes transwomen appear broken. Do transwomen really feel like that? What anyway is the ‘trans’ for if that statement is true? Similarly ideas of being ‘coercively assigned male/female at birth’ immediately makes us start from a point of inferiority or defectiveness. This is not self acceptance, this is a crass denial of reality.

    Most importantly, those who are transgender should learn to accept themselves how and as they are without shame and understand that the people they owe the most to, and can learn the most from, are women.’

  • Bronwyn Williams

    On Monday 19 October I noticed I was no longer able to access the UTas Women’s Collective Facebook page. The next day I emailed one of the collective’s executive group, Heidi La Paglia, to verify that my membership had been cancelled. I was given no notice of my removal from the group, and no explanation or consultation was offered.

    It seems the concepts of ‘due process’ and ‘proper governance’ and ‘unfair discrimination’ are entirely foreign to the Women’s Collective executive. This is of some concern since members of that executive hold positions in the Tasmanian University Union – Ms La Paglia, for example, is state president and a board member.

    Like Mr Holloway, I pay Student Amenities Fees – it is unacceptable that they could be made available to a group that readily bans those who don’t agree with their agenda and ideology.

    The relevant correspondence with Ms La Paglia is copied below. There has been no response to my second email.

    Sent: Tuesday, October 20, 2015 1:10 PM
    To: Heidi La Paglia
    Cc: Ingrid Lagerewskij; David Sadler; Togatus – Digital Editor
    Subject: UTas Women’s Collective

    Dear Heidi

    I note that I have now been removed as a member of the UTas Women’s Collective. I assume this action was taken in response to the article posted in Togatus under my name on 16 October.

    Could you please advise whether it is the Women’s Collective’s official policy to arbitrarily remove members without formal advice, or explanation or any attempt at fair consultation with the member involved? If so, is this policy in line with that of other student groups at UTas?

    Following the incident in early September when I was abused and insulted on the collective’s Facebook page, and the personal page of a group member, I contacted the Vice-Chancellor’s office, the TUU, and the Togatus editorial team. I have copied those parties into this email.

    Regards

    Bronwyn Williams

    On 20/10/2015, at 1:40 PM, Heidi La Paglia wrote:

    Dear Bronwyn.

    Your membership from the Women’s Collective was recinded at a Special General Meeting of the Women’s Collective. The decision was made in relation to the Women’s Collectives Constitution and Safer Spaces Policy.

    As the Treasurer of the Women’s Collective, and an individual member of the group who does not have control over decisions; I do not take full responsibility.

    If you require further information, contact the Women’s Collective President, Ruby Grant, or On Ee the current Women’s Officer.

    Regards,

    Heidi La Paglia
    President, Tasmania University Union

    On 2015-10-20 2:36 pm, Bronwyn Williams wrote:

    Were members advised of the Special General Meeting and given the opportunity to attend? Is a copy of the Women’s Collective constitution available to members?

    Do either Ruby or On Ee have any comment to make about the collective’s policy regarding removal of members – without notice or explanation or fair consultation?

    Regards

    Bronwyn Williams

  • Matthew Holloway

    Dear Bronwyn,

    I commend you for making this information public and being transparent, something which the Women’s Collective seem incapable of.

    I look forward to pursuing my concerns about such an anti-democratic group having representation at the TUU and trust you will continue to out this totalitarian group.

  • julia weston

    Bronwyn’s article brought back memories of my involvement with the women’s movement in the 70’s – one in which I was passionately involved because of my experiences as a woman and the realization and relief there were other women who felt the same.

    However,after joining a group, mistakenly thinking they were women of the same mind, I became disillusioned by those who hated men and, as the movement was widespread, those in the USA who wanted to ‘cut up men’. If I questioned this it was intimated that I was not sufficiently feminist.

    It is a truism that whatever group one joins in life, be it environmental, political or religious they are all made up of leaders and followers. Whoever can make the most noise and/or threats becomes the leader and the rest follow like sheep encouraged to turn on those within the group who dare question the beliefs and aims. It is somewhat dispiriting when the awareness dawns that there is nothing one has in common with most of these people. At least not in a rigid formal group with, heaven forbid, constitutions and the like.

    What is this ‘women’s collective’ anyhow? Do they specify the qualification one needs to join? Do they include women who are struggling to raise children while studying? Does it include women who actually like some men? And what in the hell is the ‘unreality of biological sex’? What kind of intellectual wank is this? I would suspect that as many in this group grow up, get over whatever is bugging them in life and find another cause, they might even move on to actually enjoy the reality of biological sex.

    I suggest that Bronwyn starts another group of women who are kinder, more accepting; those who have learned from many years of life and experience, who can take individuals as they are with all their differences in sexual orientation, levels of growth and self awareness, and even those, still feminist, who actually like some men. Then have a laugh at this collective who are in danger of disappearing in the fog of nonsensical jargon. Take them seriously at your peril.

    Find a group that can be supportive, as well as non judgmental and, moreover, with a sense of humour. This latter I find is always singularly lacking in intense people with a mission in life.

    And overall avoid groups who have the dubious claim to represent women under the misnomer of being collective.

  • Diana Boston (Mancheeze)

    Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I will publish any and all information regarding the continuing harassment and silencing of women by transactivists who hide behind women’s and feminist spaces.

    Men are not women. This isn’t about inclusion, it’s about misogyny and dismissing women in favour of men.

    Feminism is about women and girls and it seems much of the liberal feminist movement has forgotten that.

    I’ve seen a great deal of transactivism, how it hurts women. There is no room for both. You’re either a feminist or a transactivist. There cannot be anything in between as women are being attacked and told that men are better women than they are. Women’s spaces are under attack.

    Shame on this student group for behaving in an antifeminist, misogynist way.

    Women should know better.

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