An open letter to Barbara Hewson from a survivor

Following Barbara Hewson’s vicious comments about rape and sexual abuse, a survivor got in touch with me asking me to put up this open letter that she wrote. She prefers to remain anonymous and I have posted it here. Content note: this piece discusses sexual abuse and the psychological impact of sexual abuse. 

Dear Barrister Barbara Hewson,

Today you have called for the age of sexual consent to be lowered to stop “the persecution of old men” and warning against “fetishising victimhood” in the light of the case of Stewart Hall.

Let me tell you, Ms Hewson, victimhood is not something to be fetished or enjoyed. As many have already said your remarks represent the fear that all victims have of being disbelieved and the accusations of being attention seeking liars who enjoy victimhood. Abuse is something that haunts and damages you for the rest of your life, effects all the decisions you make, the friends and relationships you choose, the relationships with your family and how you feel about yourself. It will have you awake screaming & crying in the middle of the night, make you afraid of your own shadow and make you hate yourself and the body you live in. It can make you want to hurt yourself, cause resentment and anger towards others and makes it hard to trust anyone. Your remarks show just how much you, as a supposedly impartial party, know nothing about the experience of a victim.

I am one of the victims you seem to know so much about. I have twice been subjected to the selfish actions of a man, a family friend, in a position of power who wanted to rape a trusting little girl, initially aged just 11 and then 13, who didn’t understand what was going on. My brain and body was so in shock and in denial about what happened that I blocked it out for years, only realising aged 15 what had actually happened to me. I had suffered years of mental health problems following my abuse, managed to be expelled from school due to my explosions of rage and extreme self harm and was chastised by every adult for just being a “naughty child”, by my school, my GP and my family. The moment I pieced together that this family friend 12 years my senior, who I had looked up to and admired, had actually raped me in his home and later in a more public space, I attempted to take my own life by swallowing two packets of paracetamol and a bottle of vodka while my parents were out.

I never received counselling following my unsuccessful overdose and, because of the relationship my abuser and his family had with my parents, I felt too afraid to come forward. As a 15 year old with a reputation for a short temper and years of mental health problems that were often fobbed off as attention seeking or just teenage angst, I felt I had no hope of being believed over my university educated, well respected and liked abuser with a promising career who had recently married and was expecting his first child. Because of this I had to live with my fear and the fallout from my abuse alone, resulting in years of self-destructive behaviour; I withdrew from family, entered harmful and abusive relationships, allowed myself to be used and taken advantage of by friends because I just wanted to be liked, despite my academic ability, I fell behind with work, I would go out, get drunk and have sex with anyone who was willing regardless as to whether even knew their names just to feel something, endured crippling insomnia because of horrific nightmares, found myself pregnant at 17 and dealt with having an abortion without any support or the knowledge of family or friends.

I am still living with extreme feelings of worthlessness and the urge to hurt myself because of the damage sexual abuse has done to me. I am lucky because I finally found a partner I could trust enough to confide in, help me come to terms with what happened to me and start rebuilding my life. I have finally ditched all the false friends I accrued who took advantage of my vulnerable nature and desperation to be liked and accepted, and now have a network of supportive & kind people who genuinely care about me and my well being. However, I have never sought to prosecute my abuser because that fear of being disbelieved and being told that I am playing a victim for attention is so strong. Because of the nature of my family’s relationship with my abuser, I even have to see him sometimes and you cannot even begin to understand how difficult and terrifying that is. I have no hard evidence of my abuse other than the decades of damage inflicted on my psyche. If I even thought about approaching the CPS, after initial investigation the chances are that they would say prosecution wouldn’t be in the public interest, and even if it did go to court, me and my integrity would be put on trial and dragged through the mud by the defense, not what my abuser did to me. I have weighed this up in my mind more times than I can count and I have concluded that I cannot put myself through the experience again.

Ms Hewson, the fact that you as an esteemed barrister in a position of authority see it fit to perpetuate the rape apologism and victim blaming that is already so prevalent in our society and prevents victims coming forward, speaks volumes about how out of touch you are and how little you understand about sexual abuse. It’s all very well from your privileged position to fire off soundbites about “fetishing victimhood” and “persecuting old men”, but you cannot even begin to understand how damaging, disrespectful and false those statements are. As someone who has lived the majority of her life with the knowledge that she was raped when she was still a child and has suffered decades of psychological & behavioral damage as a result, your statements are just a another reminder of how society protects and excuses abusers and chastises victims. As a representative of the British legal system, you have a responsibility to seek justice for victims, not sustain the cycle of shaming them into silence, allowing those in positions of power to go on raping & abusing and ruining lives.

The worst thing I’ve read today

Content note: this post discusses child sexual abuse and rape apologism, quoting examples

It’s early in the day, I know, but it will be a difficult task to find something worse than this. In fact, it had managed to be the worst thing I’d read today at 12.15am. It really is that bad.

The BBC have decided to rather innocuously title what followed with “Age of consent should be 13, says barrister“. Well, I thought, stupidly clicking. They’re probably wrong for the usual reasons that adults calling for the age of consent to be lowered are wrong, but surely this can’t be too bad?

How wrong I was. Barrister Barbara Hewson, who writes in weeping syphilitic chode publication Spiked, has written something which follows the standard Spiked line–vicious, nasty, rape apologistic, wrong, and thinking it’s oh-so-clever. Brendan O’Neill himself, king of the chodes, would be proud. Being so desperately attention-seeking, I’m not actually going to link to the Spiked article, because fuck them and all the horses they rode in on.

Let’s take a look at Hewson’s opening gambit:

I do not support the persecution of old men. The manipulation of the rule of law by the Savile Inquisition – otherwise known as Operation Yewtree – and its attendant zealots poses a far graver threat to society than anything Jimmy Savile ever did.

Yes, that’s right. Someone who is ostensibly a barrister believes that the function of Yewtree was not to finally–decades too late–investigate institutional abuse of children. Rather, it was to persecute those poor old men.

The thing is, if the numerous institutions who knew about this–and, at best, did nothing–had fucking done something at the time, nobody would be arresting old men. The reason the men being investigated are old is because decades passed before anyone survivors were able to make their voices heard.

Next up, Hewson goes for the standard Spiked editorial line of arguing with imaginary Victorians who have teleported into the 21st century, pausing to give us a history lesson that some actual Victorians raised the age of consent to 16 based on the fact that puberty back then happened at 15, and that this was basically just the result of some sort of “moral panic”. Yes. Hewson actually thinks it was a little bit excessive to criminalise having sex with girls who had not yet hit puberty.

Following a long-winded whine about how much she hates the NSPCC, Hewson explicitly states that she doesn’t think survivors should use the courts to speak out:

The acute problems of proof which stale allegations entail also generates a demand that criminal courts should afford accusers therapy, by giving them ‘a voice’. This function is far removed from the courts’ traditional role, in which the state must prove defendants guilty beyond reasonable doubt.

I am not exactly sure how one can do this without letting survivors speak, but whatever. This lady is a barrister and in its own way, this point lays bare how woefully inadequate this sham of a justice system is in dealing with sexual violence.

In amid dismissing historic instances of sexual violence as merely “misdemeanours”, Hewson also decides to declare that only some sexual violence is worthy. And guess what? It’s pretty much that faulty folk notion where a man leaps out of a bush and rapes a virgin.

Touching a 17-year-old’s breast, kissing a 13-year-old, or putting one’s hand up a 16-year-old’s skirt, are not remotely comparable to the horrors of the Ealing Vicarage assaults and gang rape, or the Fordingbridge gang rape and murders, both dating from 1986. Anyone suggesting otherwise has lost touch with reality.

Apparently putting your hands on a young person who does not want to be touched are not the same as gang rape and are therefore, according to Hewson, OK. I am not letting this person anywhere near children.

So what are Hewson’s recommendations? Oh dear, they’re awful.

As for law reform, now regrettably necessary, my recommendations are: remove complainant anonymity; introduce a strict statute of limitations for criminal prosecutions and civil actions; and reduce the age of consent to 13.

In short, Barbara Hewson wants to make it as difficult as possible for survivors to come forward, and make it as easy as possible for powerful men to rape young people. It is absolutely clear that her justification for lowering the age of consent is simply to make it slightly less illegal for men like Jimmy Savile to rape them. To Hewson, age is the only matter here: if one is over the age of consent and not being attacked and raped by a stranger, it isn’t rape.

Which actually makes her a pretty shitty lawyer on top of writing something so hideously unpleasant.

As for the statute of limitations, this reduces the possibility of survivors coming forward, decades later, when it is safe, because apparently Hewson wants a legal system where it is as unsafe as possible to come forward. This is exacerbated by her call to remove anonymity for complainants, a point which appeared nowhere else in her argument. It is not a non-sequitur, though: it is clear that her purpose is to protect men who perpetrate sexual violence.

It always shocks me when I see something so awful as Hewson’s piece. I sometimes catch myself feeling somewhat optimistic, as though the battle against rape culture, while gory, will be one we can win. These fragile hopes are dashed where I see a person arguing from a position of power that the law should find new ways to silence survivors and keep them vulnerable. Make no mistake: our enemy is huge, and there is a whole army of those, like Hewson, who are complicit.

And so the fight goes on, bigger than ever. Yet I will not rest. I do not want to see these bastards win.

Update: Looks like Hewson’s chambers are running as quickly as possible in the opposite direction from her.

Has it been scientifically proven racists and homophobes are stupid? Er, no.

A study from last year suggests something that most of us decent hummus-munchers will laugh at our hands behind: racists and homophobes are stupid, and the stupidity of their being racist and homophobic is mediated by them also being right-wing.

The paper, Bright Minds and Dark Attitudes: Lower Cognitive Ability Predicts Greater Prejudice Through Right-Wing Ideology and Low Intergroup Contact (Hodson & Busseri, 2012; paywalled, alas) suggests it has found a predictive between low general intelligence in childhood and greater levels of prejudice later life. The link was not direct, though. It was mediated by right-wing ideology. For homophobia, the link was also mediated by a low level of contact with gay people. The sample was large, with data from almost 16,000 people, and a longitudinal design was used, which is more robust than simply testing for a correlation. Sounds compelling?

Well no. In fact, it’s one of those studies that makes me want to set things on fire, it is so poorly conducted.

Participant problems

Let’s return for a moment to our participants. It is very important to note that the researchers did not directly collect any of the data they studied, and therefore are relying on existing datasets. This gives them little control over the measures used, and limited information about the participants which could prove to be pertinent.

They are mostly, shall we say, of a certain generation: one dataset of participants had their intelligence measured at the age of 10 or 11 in 1958, while the others had their intelligence measured at the age of 10 or 11 in 1970. In these groups, racism and right-wing beliefs were measured when the participants were in their early thirties, meaning that all of this was measured, at best, more than two decades ago. That long ago, Britain was a very different place, and I’m glad things don’t look so much that way any more, with white people fucking everywhere being all white supremacist. There was no information provided about the ethnicity of the participants, but given the time, it is safe to assume that the overwhelming majority of them were white.

Meanwhile, the sample for measuring homophobia was also pretty lacking, consisting of less than 300 US university students, who are hardly known for being representative of the general population. Unlike the participants included in the racism study, this project was, as far as I can discern, not longitudinal, but a cross-section, making it much harder to draw conclusions about anything being predictive.

Mangled measurements

Oh dear, where to begin? Every single measure used here is a whole can of worms, difficult to measure at the best of times.

In general, measuring intelligence is a fucking nightmare. Nothing is particularly satisfactory, and everything is likely to lead to raised eyebrows and sighs. This is, at least in part because it’s difficult to even agree on what intelligence is, let alone how best to measure it. It is also pertinent to note here that the vast majority of the participants had their intelligence measured decades ago, and that these measures may not necessarily be favoured any more, following a very long period of refinement and academic critique. Also, there’s loads more that, frankly, I’m already too tired of discussing the clusterfuck that is measuring intelligence to discuss, but please do pop into the comments with your thoughts on the matter because there’s lots  to talk about.

And do you know what is just as contentious as measuring intelligence? Measuring prejudice. It was noted quite a while ago that directly asking people about unpopular beliefs (and, of course, overt prejudice is hardly fashionable) will tend to lead to denial due to social desirability–people say what they think others want to hear. This is further complicated by the fact that over the years, what prejudice actually looks like has changed considerably. It is no longer “blacks need not apply” and “there goes the neighbourhood”, but, rather, dog whistles and unconscious biases and benevolent sexism and so forth. Obviously, this was not measured since most of the measuring was done so long ago. Instead, to measure racism participants were asked to indicate agreement or disagreement with statements such as “I wouldn’t mind working with people from other races”. Measures of homophobia were similarly direct.

Ultimately, if we pretend that the measure of intelligence was all right, the best we can conclude from this research is that low intelligence is indirectly associated with actually admitting to the fact you’re a fucking racist.

“Oh my god, they used Baron & Kenny” “You bastards”

Surely, at least the statistics are fairly robust?

Nope. Oh gods, no they aren’t.

Regular followers of this blog may have noticed I have certain nemeses, from certain feminists who reject intersectional analyses because it’s too hard, to Brendan O’Neill. Here’s another of my nemeses: the Baron and Kenny method for mediation analyses.

It is perhaps the most popular method for testing mediation, and it is popular because it is simple enough to do with a fairly basic statistical package without having to delve into writing syntax or running stats for hours. Basically, you need to run a few tests. You need to see if there is a significant correlation between the independent variable (in this case, intelligence) and the mediator (in this case right-wing beliefs). Then you check if there is a significant correlation between the mediator and the dependent variable (racism or homophobia in these studies). Finally, for a mediation to exist, there needs to be no significant relationship between the independent and dependent variables when controlling for the other two tests.

This diagram from Hodson & Busseri might make it easier to visualise:

Apologies for the lack of description. I am really slow at being able to interpret graphical representations of things. Does anyone want to volunteer to describe this image?


Anyway, there’s a lot of problems with this overly simplistic approach which the very-interested can read all about here. In short, multiple mediators can cancel each other out and basing things on significance might be a very trivial change indeed.

tl;dr: Take everything you see using Baron & Kenny with a vat of salt.


It might be nice to believe that our enemies are stupid, but when you think about it, actually that’s rather sad. It reduces the possibility for education if it prejudice is largely driven by a relatively fixed factor. It stops us from trying to understand where prejudice comes from and why people are prejudiced. It is really rather bleak.

The good news is, that study is largely a nonsense, so let’s get back on with smashing prejudice.

What the fuck, York Uni?

So, for some reason, York University Students Union is refusing to support a new Feminism Society. Their reasoning is fairly nonsensical, saying that the Women’s Committee branch of the union does pretty much the same thing so there’s no need for a feminism society.

Which would be all well and good, if, you know, having officers responsible for making sure equality on campus and having a space for feminist discussions was the same thing. Which they aren’t. Obviously.

Anyway, feminists in York are rightly pissed off at this nonsense and trying to make some noise. I support their attempt to get recognition and a space to meet.

Give them some friendly words if you support them too, and you might also be interested in signing this petition.

Kill all men

Well, well, well. It seems the latest thing feminism is fighting about is the phrase “kill all men”.

So, before I launch into this defence, let me point out that nobody is actually planning to kill all men. Not even some men. It’s just a phrase, an expression of rage, a rejection of a system which is riddled with violence.

“Kill all men” is a shorthand war cry, much the same as “ACAB” or “tremble hetero swine” or “die cis scum”. It represents a structural critique, presented in a provocative fashion. While my focus here is on “kill all men”, and therefore in relation to sexist oppression specifically, these points are applicable for all oppressors and all victims of oppression who dare to feel angry.

Patriarchy harms men, it’s true, but it oppresses the fuck out of women, and there are few, if any men who are not complicit in this oppression.  Most men are not rapists or abusers, but many are complicit in perpetuating this violence by spreading rape apologist myths, by failing to stand against violence against women and girls, and by simply not nailing their colours to the mast and acting as allies.

I remember once being at a reading group where we were discussing the SCUM Manifesto. It was a mixed group, and we had loads to chat about. If you haven’t read SCUM, I’d well recommend it, as while its conception of gender is kind of rooted in its time, there’s a very astute analysis of how patriarchy and capitalism interact to produce a system which oppresses women. There’s also some very clever satire of the thinking of the time, flipped and reversed on its head to present a biological argument as to why men are inferior. In fact, the whole thing just inverts this system in which violence against women and girls is endemic, and exaggerates the problem to its logical conclusion. It’s really a very good text, whether or not its author truly believed what she’d written.

Part of the power of SCUM is the effect it has on men. At my reading group, the men present were allies, and I remember vividly one saying “I don’t think she went far enough at the end, letting some of the men live and act as the Men’s Auxilliary”. All of the other men nodded along. They got that this idea is just fantasy, just a satire.

On the other hand, it’s pretty difficult to mention SCUM (or indeed just cry “kill all men”) without the misogynists crawling in, crying misandry.

And this is because misogynists completely fail to understand how power works. They miss the fact that in this society, violence against women and girls is rife, that it is an everyday occurrence which is seen to at best utterly unremarkable and at worst funny or aspirational. Saying “kill all men” and violence against women and girls are completely different. There is no serious threat of the women rising up and actually killing all men, all the while the hum of background noise of another women raped, murdered or beaten by a man. That this culture of violence is gendered, and the system is set up in favour of keeping things that way.

So is it any wonder that sometimes women are angry enough to express a wish to see their oppressors dead? And that this violent revenge fantasy remains just that–a revenge fantasy?

I suppose it is hardly surprising that utterances of killing all men draw such ire, even from feminists. Under patriarchy, violence is the domain of men. It is no coincidence that when women fight back, it is seen as disgusting: it allows the system to thrive. This is why more column inches are given to women who kill their partners who have abused them every day; this is why we see such sexualised depictions of women being violent in films, defanging the raw aggression; why patriarchy freaks the fuck out over Rihanna or Christina Aguilera singing about vengeance. And it’s why even merely uttering “kill all men” is seen as so shocking: we’ve internalised this sentiment, and the idea that women are not violent or angry. It is unthinkable that we can think violent thoughts.

So no, we’re not actually advocating killing all men, but what we need is for men to understand why we might. A secondary function of this powerful little phrase is to seek out allies. Some men simply cannot fathom that we might be this furious. And they cannot help us as allies, as we need.

And of course, all men are not deserving of death. In fact, most of them aren’t. I can think of a fair few I do wish painful, violent death on, although this remains but a fantasy. Patriarchy would destroy me were I to ever touch a hair on their head. Patriarchy already tries to punish me for merely expressing these thoughts, because they are unbecoming of a woman.

Remember, we are born and socialised into a culture of violence. Is it any wonder we may entertain violent fantasies against our oppressors at times?

Further reading:
Red Terror and #killallmen (Riotstarz)- An absolutely brilliant series of tweets on the topic.
Why can’t we kill all men? (Fearlessknits)- An alternative take, well articulated.


Things I read this week that I found interesting

A little late this week, because I had a dancing-induced hangover this week.

Abortion. On demand. (Aoife O’Riordan)- What does abortion on demand really mean? An exploration of this, and why the womb-botherers are so down on the whole idea.

How white supremacy works (Reni Eddo-Lodge)- Reni tackles what white supremacy is and how it manifests. A must-read for any white people who think white supremacy just involves the KKK.

Trans women in feminism: nothing about us without us (Celeste R West)- Spells out a really important position while debunking transphobia. An important read.

The Nude: Why? (G.Bénard)- An analysis of society’s hang-up on nudity in art, featuring some absolutely beautiful nudes.

Let Spare Rib reflect all the richness of online feminism (Reni Eddo-Lodge)- There’s been a lot of sneering at online feminism in the wake of the announcement Spare Rib magazine is coming back. Reni celebrates online feminism.

I might be glad about the return of Spare Rib – but let’s not pretend online feminism isn’t vital (sian and crooked rib)- Sian also celebrates online feminism, because it really is vital, yo.

Natural Allies (itsjustahobby)- Jem highlights similarities in oppressions experienced by trans women and sex workers. A thought-provoking piece.

9 Things Not to Say to Someone with Mental Illness (siaware)- A list of phrases which are thoroughly unhelpful when expressing your support of people with mental health problems. I think I’ve been guilty of most of them, so I found the suggestions of what to say instead really helpful.

Open Your Mind to the New Psychedelic Science (Wired)- A report on the Psychedelic Science conference, and the therapeutic potential of psychedelic drugs.

And finally, big cats are just cats after all, and therefore really love laser pointers.

RadFem2013 cancellation: the plot thickens

So, the plot thickens around the cancellation of the RadFem2013 conference. The booking agency who handled the booking say the following:

The booking with Off to Work, based at London Irish Centre, was going ahead with the Radfem2013 organising committee, who are professionally organising a successful event for the Radical Feminist Community. The organisers were completely transparent about their conference and we have no criticisms to make of them and we have no opinion at all about their political analysis.

Allegations that some media sources and bloggers are putting forward about the reason for the decision having anything to do with their political analysis, opinions, “hate speech” or the conference being in breach of legislation are completely false. Our partner, The London Irish Centre, is in agreement with us that these allegations are not the reason for this suspension. The reason, as outlined to the organisers, are specifically around the safety of staff, the overall ability of the centre to logistically manage the booking, and the level of disruption that a small group of protesters have caused. We support the conference going ahead and we are working with the organising collective to find a way forward to ensure that this happens.

This differs enormously from what the London Irish Centre said, which I quoted here. In short, the venue said that their booking subcontractors have relative freedom to book what they choose, but that if a booking goes against their policy, they will point it out to the bookers. Furthermore, they said that RadFem2013 violated their equality and diversity policy.

So it’s kind of hard to work out what’s actually going on here. There are two possible options:

(1) London Irish Centre are fibbing when they say it was an equality issue, perhaps to appear brave as they really pulled out due to MRA intimidation.

(2) The booking agency are fibbing, to keep clients happy, so they don’t look like the sort of agency who just book a hate rally without vetting their bookers in the slightest.

If the first is true, shame on London Irish Centre. Shame on them for ignoring the work of activists in pointing out that there are indeed equality concerns around RadFem2013 which are against the law. It’s worth noting that one of the organisers has outright said that trans women are excluded from the event. So yeah, shame on London Irish Centre for not listening to marginalised voices, but instead listening to MRAs.

And shame on the MRAs for attempting to intimidate. We all know they are lower than dirt, and their attempts to harass are repulsive and repugnant. They are vile.

In short, the first scenario is pretty fucking bleak, and what’s particularly unpleasant about it is that the people who are most affected by RadFem2013’s policies and the behaviour of its organisers are being completely erased. I suppose that’s not surprising, given many of RadFem2013’s supporters and organisers want to erase trans women, and the MRAs want to erase all women (which, of course, includes trans women), and the venue is kind of just going along with these horrible agendas.

The second option allows for a little more faith in humanity, and, in my view, is more likely to be the case. By this token, only the booking agency–and the small groups of nasties representing both RadFem2013 and the MRAs–are trying to save face. It’s a convenient fiction for all of these parties, and I’m surprised it took Off To Work so long to concoct, since the MRAs claiming credit and RadFem2013 giving them the favour of letting them keep this credit has been going on for over a week already.

As far as I’m aware, no matter how much both MRAs and RadFem2013 claim that everyone agrees with them, they’re wrong. A small number of bigots agree. A far larger number disagree with both RadFem2013 and the MRAs, and we attempt to fight for a feminism which includes all women, understanding that no woman is free until all women are free and struggling for a liberation for us all. But then there is the vast majority of the population who, sadly, do not care at all. That a spat over a booking of a building is essentially trivial. This is why I suspect that there is nothing fishy going on, but, rather, a booking agency trying to save face. To say anything otherwise requires crediting MRAs with far more influence than they have. They are growing increasingly irrelevant as feminism–inclusive feminism–is gaining strength.

Whatever is true about the booking of RadFem2013, it has brought out the worst in some very unpleasant people, and I’m dreading to see what happens next.

May Day, Haymarket and some awesome women

May Day is all about the workers. So, if you’re a worker or unemployed, give yourself a pat on the back for not being the oppressor, at least in terms of class. Yay, us.

The history of the day comes from the Haymarket massacre. Workers in Chicago were striking, demanding an eight hour day. Someone threw a bomb at the police, and the police did their aggressive dispersal thing. In the aftermath, seven anarchists were sentenced to murder at the hands of the state for something they were later pardoned for, once it was far too late.

Oh, and a lot of workers in the world still don’t have that eight hour day, and end up working longer hours, often unpaid.

A positive outcome of Haymarket, though, was it turned some awesome, smart women on to anarchism. So let’s give a round of applause for two of my sisters across time, Voltairine de Cleyre and Emma Goldman.

de Cleyre had her faith in the state’s justice system ripped away when she saw what happened to the Haymarket anarchists. You can read her journey into anarchism here. Goldman’s experience was similar. Watching the state kill innocent people, it seems, can turn quite a few people onto anarchism.

Both Goldman and de Cleyre went on to think very good things, and I’m going to take a moment to link to my favourite works of each of them. Obviously, they also said some dodgy things at various points in their lives, but frankly, it’s the positive legacy which has stood the test of time. The more problematic gets buried under the sands of time, after all.

From Goldman, I can’t stress enough how much I love her essay on women’s suffrage. She had a radical critique of the women’s suffrage movement while it was happening, emphasising how little would get done by simply inviting women into an arrangement which was thoroughly broken. She  also criticises the movement for throwing other women, particularly sex workers, under the bus. She concludes that the key to women’s liberation is not the ballot box, but:

First, by asserting herself as a personality, and not as a sex commodity. Second, by refusing the right to anyone over her body; by refusing to bear children, unless she wants them; by refusing to be a servant to God, the State, society, the husband, the family, etc.; by making her life simpler, but deeper and richer. That is, by trying to learn the meaning and substance of life in all its complexities, by freeing herself from the fear of public opinion and public condemnation. Only that, and not the ballot, will set woman free, will make her a force hitherto unknown in the world, a force for real love, for peace, for harmony; a force of divine fire, of life giving; a creator of free men and women.

From de Cleyre, I adore “Sex Slavery“, an exploration of moral standards and obscenity. She makes a wonderful and witty observation:

What would you think of the meanness of a man who would put a skirt upon his horse and compel it to walk or run with such a thing impeding its limbs? Why, the “Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals” would arrest him, take the beast from him, and he would be sent to a lunatic asylum for treatment on the score of an impure mind. And yet, gentlemen, you expect your wives, the creatures you say you respect and love, to wear the longest skirts and the highest necked clothing, in order to conceal the obscene human body. There is no society for the prevention of cruelty to women.

And of course, no discussion of de Cleyre is complete without a link to “Direct Action“, which is one of the finest calls to arms I’ve ever had the privilege of reading.

I’ll finish, now, with another quote from Goldman, from her autobiography about anarchism and joy. It is so pertinent to every social movement, and we would all do well to find the joy in liberation struggles.

I did not believe that a Cause which stood for a beautiful ideal, for anarchism, for release and freedom from conventions and prejudice, should demand denial of life and joy. I insisted that our Cause could not expect me to behave as a nun and that the movement should not be turned into a cloister. If it meant that, I did not want it. “I want freedom, the right to self-expression, everybody’s right to beautiful, radiant things.”