It’s a bright, sunny afternoon near the end of June and women are beginning to gather near the Reformers Tree mosaic in Hyde Park for the monthly Standing for Women get-together.
Although there are many trees in the park, the Reformers Tree itself is long gone. (If you’re interested in the history behind the tree, I write about it here). The mosaic marking the place where the tree may once have stood has been fenced off with large red plastic barriers, perhaps to protect it from the crowds which have gathered for the British Summer Time Festival. It’s a hot day and there seems to be a disproportionately high number of people buzzing around on rollerskates. Spirits are high. The festival stages are hidden behind high green fences, but the inevitable rainbow covering peeps over the top.
I’ve arrived a little early and am glad to sit down on the grass in the shade under a large oak and sip a cool drink. There are already around fifty women and a handful of men gathered under a nearby tree.
Kellie-Jay (aka Posie Parker) arrives a little late. Looking round at the open park space and trees, she jokes that this is a genuine ‘grass roots’ organisation. Women from all over the UK -and occasionally further afield- come to speak and hear others speak at the Reformers Tree. At a Standing for Women gathering, any woman can stand up and speak if she wants to. The meetings are filmed by Kellie-Jay’s bodycam and by a full-size camera which livestreams directly to her YouTube channel.
You can watch this one here.
“Good afternoon!” she starts, asking people to raise their hands if it’s their first time here; the first timers get a cheer from the rest of us. “Welcome to ‘Peakers’ Corner’.”
Being silent – or even polite- is why we’re in this mess in the first place, she tells us, encouraging women to stand up and speak up.
“If you do get in trouble, there are loads of us with apparently very deep pockets, and we will make sure we get you the best legal advice in the land because we are not going to stay silent about this absolute shit that is transgender ideology.”
“There is no hierarchy here at all. You get to stand up, you just put your hand up, you don’t need to queue… you come and speak. When you’ve finished what you have to say, you stop talking and everyone thanks you for yuor contribution and we move on.
So. Who would like to talk?”
Sam was first to speak. She reminded women that we are fighting different parts of the same battle and that all of us are needed in this fight. “In essence we share a common belief, that biological sex is real, that sex matters and that gender does not, will not and should not ever usurp that…. as a rule we are good, kind, socially responsible people… it doesn’t matter what your politics are, on this one matter we must stay united.”
A woman spoke about her experience with Oxleas NHS mental health Trust, who presented her with a patient satisfaction survey ‘full of questions that appeared to reject the concept of sex’. The Trust has been unable or unwilling to answer her questions and FOIs, including whether they prescribed certain drugs according to sex or gender identity. Despite the involvement of her MP, she has still not recieved satisfactory answers.
The next speaker said she had been ‘out since the early 90s’ and she had a message ‘specifically for young lesbians’.
“You absolutely have the right to say no- without shame- to all unwanted sexual advances and manipulation from these groomers. From these autogynephilic predatory men, pretending to be women, pretending to be lesbians… To to be same sex attracted is not phobic to anyone, not wrong and definitely not unkind. Anyone that tells you otherwise is an entitled opportunist who deserves nothing from you…. no matter what your indoctrinated ‘alphabet soup’ peer group is telling you.”
We older LGB have the responsibility to not be complicit in the homophobic lies being told to young lesbians… there is no pride in staying silent or fence-sitting.”
You can’t sit with us
Kellie-Jay has come under again attack recently, from women who some might loosely describe as being ‘on the same side’.
Social media is known for its hyperbole and sometimes tenuous grip on reality but accusations such as ‘consorting with the devil’ could understandably leave women confused as to what exactly we are supposed to be blaming her for now.
Is Kellie-Jay a Warrior of the Christian Right or a Lackey of Satan? It depends on who is casting the stones, it seems. I’m surprised somebody, somewhere on Facebook, hasn’t accused her of having contributed to the Roe & Wade result.
Oh wait, they have.
Kellie-Jay makes no secret of the fact that she is a single issue campaigner. She believes passionately in prioritising the protection of women and children from gender ideology, and in protecting the language we use to describe ourselves. Perhaps a helpful analogy would be someone who runs a donkey sanctuary and expresses little or no interest in looking after cats. That doesn’t mean she hates cats and hopes terrible things happen to them. It just means she’s really busy looking after donkeys.
Kellie-Jay doesn’t support any political party and has coined the term ‘femaleism’ to describe her activism. While the term doesn’t ring my bell I can understand why she would want to distance herself from a movement that has treated her so absymally, even as it simultaneously embraces those with far more dubious credentials.
Because have no doubts on that score, it does.
Julia Long spoke next, choosing to address this issue with an inspired revisiting of Mark Antony’s ‘Friends, Romans, Countrymen’ speech from Julius Caesar (Act 3, Scene 2).
To fully appreciate it, you might want to quickly revisit Antony’s version here.
A simple analysis & some politcal context are neatly wrapped up here.
There will be a test on Tuesday.
“Friends, sisters, adult human females, lend me your ears:
I come to banish Posie Parker not to praise her.
The evil women do prospers on social media
The good is often pointedly ignored.
So let it be with Posie. The noble X- (“I’m not going to name any of them” added Julia)
Hath told you Kellie Jay is a racist:
If it were so, it was a grievous fault
And grievously has Kellie-Jay answered it.
Here, under leave of X and the rest-
for X is an honourable feminist
So are they all, all honourable feminists-
Come I to speak at Posie’s exile.
She is my friend, faithful and just to me:
But X says she is a self-serving egotist
and X is an honourable feminist.
She hath invited women out to speak
Whose vigour now a general movement builds
Did this in Kellie Jay seem ambitious?
When the mothers who lost their daughters cried; Kellie Jay too hath wept:
Egotism should be made of sterner stuff:
Yet X says she is an attention-seeking narcissist
and X is an honourable feminist.
You all did see that in the US Congress buildings
She challenged- boldly- a man called Sarah McBride
Who now wields power as a senator to stamp upon our rights
Yet for this she was condemned.
I speak not to disprove what X has spoke
But here I am to speak what I do know.
We all do love her here, not without cause:
And cause we have to love each other now
As the sky across the United States of America turns red
And the rubble of Paktika in Afghanistan lies red
both soaked with the blood of women.
Yes cause we have to love each other now
More fully and more fiercely than we know.”
Next up was Doctor Em, who spoke about how she had once been afraid to come to events like this, and encouraged women not to be afraid to attend. She noted that there were more women here than ever.
“We have each other’s backs,” she assured listeners. “So if you are struggling we will care for you.”
“The open mic has introduced me to women and voices who we may never have heard of without it… to women frequently denied a platform or written out of their own history. I’ve made friends with women who make me laugh until I can’t breathe and who have really made me feel understood and included.”
Em thanked Posie and Iris and all those involved, concluding, “For those who are still nervous: my biggest regret is that I didn’t come sooner.”
As Em finished, the music started up inside the festival. Despite Posie’s yelling at them to shut up, the sound was so loud that we had to relocate. We packed up and shifted further down the hill. Picnic rugs and banners were gathered up, and babies and dogs gathered in- Leanne & Mary even had to move their tent- but a few minutes later we were settled in our new spot. The music flowed down after us, making it hard to hear the speeches unless you were close to the front.
“Some of what you’ll experience here is not necessarily just the words that people are speaking,” observed Kellie-Jay. “You might have to watch them at home if you so desire- but the collective kind of courage; that feeling like you’re not alone and feeling that you can say things here that maybe you’ve been too scared to talk about in your own life- that is part of the experience here.”
A young woman spoke about her childhood experiences at the hands of violent men, and expressed her concern that many bisexuals didn’t understand the damage gender ideology was doing to homosexuals. She planned to attend the Brighton meeting to speak to fellow bisexuals about the issues.
Emma, who had been reported to her employer for expressing her views on LinkdIn, said she had known little about this issue a year ago. After watching videos on YouTube, reading books and joining Twitter, where she saw ‘all the feminists raging about this’, she described herself as now being ‘full TERF’, expressing her concerns about the Tavistock’s prescribing of puberty blockers. She concluded by praising the Women’s Rights Network and emphasising the importance of raising girls to believe ‘you can be whatever you want’.
The music continued to permeate the circle so we moved further down the hill into an idyllic little space a few minutes walk away. It wasn’t really much quieter here but the speakers raised their voices and people moved in a little closer. Some of those at the back were trying to listen to the livestream on their phones. There were a couple of trees for shade, and some people parked themselves on a fallen log.
DJ Lippy stood up next. She spoke about sufragette Annie Kenney, who worked in a mill for fifteen years, and her commitment to the more millitant side of the suffrage movement. Annie Kenney was the only working class member on the board of the WSPU, and is from DJ Lippy’s hometown near Manchester. In her 1924 autobiography ‘Memories of a Militant’ Kenney observed how much she admired the ‘careful and methodical way’ in which the money was spent within the movement. DJ Lippy read us a piece from the memoir.
“No money was spent on advertising. If a chair would be suitable as a platform, why pay a few shillings for a trolley? If the weather was fine, why hire a hall? If the pavement were dry why not chalk advertisements of the meeting instead of paying printers’ bills? If a tram would take us why hire a taxi?”
You can read ‘Memories of a Militant’ here.
Thus the women of the WSPU worked collectively in the name of women’s rights. DJ Lippy encouraged 21st century women to do the same, pointing out that it costs nothing for local women’s groups to meet in the park, and that any one of us could arrange such meetings. When we meet outside, she said, the police have a duty of care to protect us, and ‘real life’ meet ups will bring new women into the movement.
“Just start speaking out wherever you are.”
Elizabeth, who described herself as ‘a lifelong socialist’, said she’d been shocked by the recent attacks on Posie and Standing for Women and her message was especially for ‘other lefties’.
“We on the left will do nothing but hurt ourselves if we carry on with factionalism and infighting and witch hunting and trying to find someone to attack for historical tweets,” she said, adding that we need a campaign against what she called ‘defence archaeology’. People are best organised by building movements through fun and unity, not hiding behind a screen saying, “I won’t talk to her, I can’t talk to her, coz she talked to her, coz she talked to her and that’s bad.”
Kellie-Jay responded by saying she would describe herself as apolitical because no party in the country had the interests of women at heart. It was ‘a bit weird’, she said, to be repeatedly attacked over things that aren’t true.
“I can’t lie, look,” she said,“If somebody saying horrible, untrue, defamatory nasty, vicious, bitchy things online about me means that somebody else says, “What did she really say?” I’m happy, because actually what I really say leads people to all of you, and everything that we talk about.” Adding that she didn’t care how people come to the movement as long as they come, she concluded, “To those women that have spent far too much time- tactically really dreadfully- saying terrible things about me, thank you very much, it means we got a bigger group here today.”
The next speaker was an eleven-year-old girl who said she wanted to speak up for the girls in her school who were obliged to share the mixed-sex toilets with sixteen-year-old boys.
“You can’t speak about it because we’ve got people who say they’re non binary and trans in our school and if you talk about it and then you’ll be called transphobic like I have and like my cousin has.”
She said she was glad her mother had watched Kellie-Jay’s videos because it had helped her realise it was more important to stand up for women’s rights than to be ‘kind’.
“I’ve realised that I’m not being kind, I’m actually standing for women’s rights so and I’m going to keep on fighting for women’s right until I die.”
Her speech was met with much applause and not a few tears.
Lexi, from Stop Surrogacy Now UK, was next to speak. Firstly she told us how she had originally started kickboxing for self-defence ‘because by the time I got to 21, three of my friends had been raped’. Since returning to it after a ten year break, inspired by the words of Magdalen Berns, Lexi’s found it really benefits her mental health and helps her manage her anger over the violations of women’s rights. She recommends that other women consider trying it.
Lexi went on to speak of how surrogacy has been condemned as a human rights violation by many groups and individuals. You can read more here, sign petitions and access a template letter to send your MP.
Maya spoke next. Firstly she confirmed that she hadn’t got her judgement yet, not did she know when it would be.
She talked about toilets and why single-sex services matter. A Sex Matters survey about single-sex service provision received over 7,000 responses. 97% of female respondents said single-sex toilets, showers and changing rooms mattered – in all areas of public life. 57% of women who answered the survey had been sexually assaulted in their lifetime. The survey, she said, should be evidence for the HRC that single-sex services matter.
Handing off her hat as she stepped up, Baroness Nicholson was next. She greeted us as ‘dear friends’ and thanked us all ‘very much indeed for this magnificent gathering’. She called gender identity – at least I assume it was gender identity – ‘a deeply unpleasant virus which as far as I can tell has come from across the Atlantic’ and told us about a conversation she’d had with a congresswoman who believed transwomen could get pregnant: “I wouldn’t have believed it possible that this sort of idiocy could come out of Congress!” she scoffed.
Praising the French who are showing increased concerns about puberty blockers (although not, as she suggested, banning them) as well as the Finns and the Swedes who are taking more cautious approaches than previously, the Baroness said that she believed the Cass Review would be widely noted and after that, ‘I would guess puberty blockers will never be allowed near Britain again’.
Speaking of her work campaigning for single sex wards in hospitals, she informed us that the situation concerning assaults was worse than had been previously thought.
She has also been speaking with the Gay Men’s Network, and described the LGB Alliance as ‘fantastic people’.
“For some reason a few people are trying to split us up. Ladies and gentlemen, this is above party politics. It’s nothing to do with party politics. We need every scrap of support, whoever it comes, from so don’t let people split us up: I for one will not allow that to happen.
I support Posie to the hilt, and all of you as well.”
Before the next speaker, Kellie Jay returned to the subject of ‘gender neutral’ toilets in schools. She spoke about how with the advent of adolescence, young people- especially girls- push away from their parents and invest more in acceptance from their friends, and that this is a developmetal phenomenon not a cultural one. The gaslighing involved in expecting a girl to accept boys in her toilets, and forcing her to deny biological reality, can cause huge amounts of mental stress.
“I wanna see you parents come on this hill with me and die for it… I want you to appreciate the gaslighting of your daughters …I want you to take it as seriously as if they were teaching Scientology as fact! You need to be campaigning at the gates of the school.”
When kids aren’t allowed to use the toilets during lessons, which is the case in many schools, they all go at break time, which is when the mean kids- boys as well as girls- gather to bully others. Posie spoke of boys timing girls to see how long they took in the toilets; others who hold their breath so they can hear what girls are doing in the cublicles. Reddit is full of adult men listening to women in the toilets- it is a fetish, she said, and gender neutral toilets are enabling it to get a grip in schools.
“If you’re still quiet and it’s happening in your daughter’s school, what are you waiting for?” she asked parents. “How upset, how afraid, does any girl need to be? How embarrassed does she need to be before you actually speak up? … Every single parent, you are the advocate of your children because if not you then who? Apparently these days, no one.”
Stella stood up and spoke about the recent event in Bristol, where masked men dressed in black had intimidated and threatened women with little recourse from the police, and read out a response to the letter she sent her MP, Thangam Debbonaire, representing Bristol West.
Debonnaire had written in reply that many women had written to her about the event.
“I do not understand why they were allowed to be in close proximity to women demonstrating their right to speak… I have contacted the Chief Constable of Avon and Somerset to raise concerns… I find it disturbing that behaviour by aggressive men in public- which clearly constituted abusive behaviour by the police force’s own definitions of violence against women and girls- appears to have been allowed… I have spent three decades fighting to end violence against women and girls… I will not accept this behaviour and will challenge every step of the way…”
Stella concluded by saying she’d never voted for Debonnaire before but she just might consider doing so now.
Jane Austen is the contact for Standing for Women Locals and can help link up women to others in their local areas. You can email her via Standing for Women.
“We have to tell our daughters that they are wonderful and that they are brilliant,” said Jane, weho is concerned about the gaslighting of girls and young women. “They don’t need to change their bodies, they need to love themselves.”
Jane stood up and spoke of the friendship and support she had found since first coming to the Reformers Tree meetings six months ago. Women can do small things, she said, if they don’t want to show their faces they can have small conversations or put up stickers. “Try to do one thing every day.”
Posie thanked both Jane and Iris for their help ‘through the sometimes tricky times’.
Sarah had travelled a long way to be here and said it was “fantastic to be here with all the strong women and beautiful men that are part of this movement.” A Greenham Common Woman and first timer at the Reformers Tree, she said she had just one thing to say: “I never thought I would see the day when nobody can say what everybody knows. If you can’t say the truth, that this is my hand and this is a woman, we’re screwed.”
This observation was met with much applause. Posie checked to see if any more women wanted to step up.
“Before we allow a penis haver,” she announced, “we’re just going to let the vagina havers speak.”
Carina said she would like to give us an update from Fair Cop. She emphasised their dedication to having an impartial police force that policed ‘without fear or favour’, asserting that it’s unacceptable that police forces are “parading around the country wearing the colours of political lobby groups such as Stonewall”.
Fair Cop “encourage people to please speak honestly and speak freely, and if the police make contact with you about so-called hate crimes, please do not admit to anything they throw at you until you have spoken to a lawyer.”
She told us about the Bad Law Project which will partner with Fair Cop to ‘attack the unlawful guidance and practise that masquerades as good law and legitimate practise’ and take on cases, on both the left and the right, that it believes have a good chance of success. “This is about freedom of speech… the truth is the truth and anyone coerced into silence for speaking the truth or having an honest opinion will have the support of Fair Cop and the Bad Law project”.
“I want to talk about doing something small,” said the next speaker, “because that’s what I did.” Some women who had met at a Standing for Women event in Nottingham went to the National Cycling Championships where a ‘certain person’ was competing. The women held up little flags at the side of the race. “Now every time the story’s in the newspaper, our picture is in it too: women, standing up for other women.”
She didn’t say what was on the flags. I meant to ask her later but I forgot.
It was the first time that Claire had come to London to the Reformers Tree and she said it was ‘an incredible experience’. Claire wanted to talk about abortion rights, commenting that recent events in America have ‘creat(ed) a lot of trauma for women all around the globe as we think about how our own rights are precarious’. When her daughter asked her if women here were going to lose their abortion rights, Claire had felt able to assure her that this was not the case because ‘in the UK we have a really settled popular consensus in favour of the right to choose’. She said it was important that we lend our backing to women in Ireland and Northern Ireland, who still had fewer abortion rights than us, and that women should not be compelled to provide a ‘life support system’ in the same way that we can’t be compelled to donate a kidney.
“If we can lend our backing to feminists in Northern Ireland and on the island of Ireland who are fighting still for fair abortion rights I think that would be a really valuable thing for us to do. And of course to lend our support to our sisters across the Atlantic who are facing uphill battles.”
Looking for a suitable link about abortion rights in Ireland, I arrived on the Amnesty page and was pleasantly surprised to find that they refer throughout to ‘women and girls’ rather than ‘pregnant people’, so I am happy to include their link on the subject.
Next, a woman stood up holding an icon. She identified herself as a Christian and held out a picture of Mary, Mother of God as she spoke. Referencing Matt Walsh’s film, What is a Woman, she said the question should not be ‘what’ but ‘who’.
“Woman is not ‘what’ woman is ‘who’! Woman is a mystery who can make you laugh, who can make you dance, who can make you sing, who can make joy rush through your heart- and we can hug, we can dance, we can do everything together, we can enjoy each other’s company: that’s what woman is…. woman is love itself.”
No more women came forward, so it was time for the men, and to welcome Trans Billy Bragg.
“Trans Billy Braggs are Billy Braggs. What’s happened to Billy Bragg? What is a Billy Bragg?” asked Posie.
“I’m Billy Bragg!” called out some of the audience. “No, I’m Billy Bragg!” “No, I am!”
Trans Billy Bragg read out some of the tweets from the conversation with Cis Billy Bragg, and others, that inspired him to change his name.
Cis Billy Bragg had observed that women could be divided into trans women and cis women, causing an epiphany for Trans Billy Bragg who tweeted the above in response. As you can imagine, much merriment and jolly Twitter japes followed, causing Cis Billy Bragg to shut up for the first time since about 1978.
You can read the thread here, unless, like me, you have already been blocked by Cis Billy Bragg.
One more woman decided to speak. She told us she had been banned for life from the Marlborough, an ostensibly lesbian pub in Brighton “for misgendering what I thought was just a young butch woman.” She wanted to thank ‘all the YouTubers’ for keeping her sane during lockdown, and educating her on this issue.
Last up, of course, was the inimitable Mr Menno. He hadn’t planned to speak, he said, but a woman who had a trans-identified child had asked him to thank everybody, tell us all how happy she was to be here and how ‘you keep her sane with all this craziness’.
Once on the floor he reflected that ‘every conversation matters’ and told us how he’d been recognised in the supermarket by a young woman who had then come along to the meeting today.
“Sing us a song!” called somebody, and as a grand finale to the meeting, Menno obliged with a brief but enthusiastic rendition of ‘Keep your Cis to Yourself’.
Posie wrapped the meeting up by reminding everyone that we are stronger together.
“If we continue to meet, and you have the courage to speak with conviction whenever you are called upon to do so, I promise we will win.
If you block out the noise of those that seek to divide, I promise we will win.
If you can speak truthfully, even when your voice shakes, I promise we will win.
Do know why else we’re gonna win? Are you ready?
Because I never lose!
Well done. Thank you for coming, thank you, thank you, thank you.”
How many people met up in the park on Sunday? Two of us did a head count about half way through and came up with 170 and 178 respectively. Someone else counted 190 a little earlier in the day. In the photo above- now stylishly re-imagined as a painting in an art gallery of the future- I counted 132, but only about 2/3 of the crowd is in the shot.
After the speeches were over, people settled into conversation as bottles of wine and fizzy water were opened.
“She accused me of biological essentialism,” I overheard a woman say to her friend. “I said to her, you’re saying that with a larynx and vocal chords.”
Someone had laid out some feminist books on a cloth with the plan that we could start a Sunday book swap at the meetings.
One woman was handing out tiny hand-made feathered badges in sufragette colours. Others were sharing out stickers they had printed at home. People kept offering me food and I kept saying “Is it vegan?” with a stupid hopeful smile.
“Yes!” grinned the woman with the massive box of Lola’s Cupcakes. “I knew some people would want vegan ones – there you go!” And she gave me a tiny but perfect red velvet cupcake that was totally delicious.
Dogs basked on the grass and babies fell asleep or chewed contentedly on biscuits. I nibbled on my cupcake and finished off the last of my flask of coffee. It felt really good to be here, with these generous and funny yet potentially fierce women.
Actually, I didn’t nibble on my cupcake, I scoffed it down in one gulp.
Mr Menno had a big box of Welsh cakes which he was distributing with enthusiasm. I shared out some red grapes and somebody gave me a banana.
I decided to ask a few of the women enjoying the last of the sunshine for their reasons for coming to the Reformers Tree today. So, to finish off this piece, here are some of their answers.
“Just basically fighting for reality. I’m a woman an adult human female: I’m not a ‘cis’ woman and I really resent the fact that our rights have been rolled back. I started off working in an office and I thought I knew sexism and all of that when they had the nudies up on the wall and it was all the boys club and all of that, and I didn’t imagine that 40 years later we’d be in the position we’re in. Everybody has to get up and make a stand now.”
“I’m here today because It’s always wonderful to meet like-minded women as we find ourselves, once again, 100 years on, having to defend our rights as Adult Human Females.”
“I’m here today because after last weekend in Bristol I think the police really need to get their act together and start listening to what women are saying to them about the threats to their safety… those people should never have been been anywhere near us.”
“I come here today to support all woman (sic). As a woman, mother of a girl, this very important in these days.”
I came here today to be with other women because I’m really upset about the Roe V Wade decision being overturned. It’s really comforting to be in the company of women who experience the same things as you do and to be able to share in the camaraderie and the brilliant company of the women here.”
“I’m here because I enjoy the company of other women, with a shared interest, working towards the same goals- and if there was ever a time that women need to be united, it’s now.”
“These meetings have given women the opportunity to come out of hiding and speak in a safe environment about their concerns for their children and society at large.”
“Hi, I’m here because I think it’s really important to meet up in real life with others who understand certain basic truths that, inexplicably, you’re not allowed to say in public life. This is not semantic, this is really important for women’s rights and for children’s bodily integrity. We have to connect with people in real life and talk about these things.”
“If women can’t define ourselves we can’t defend ourselves and we do need to defend ourselves more now than ever before.”
“I’ve been wanting to come for a long time so I’m very glad to be here. I’m seeing a lot of faces of people I’ve been following on Twitter and admiring from afar. I think it’s really important to have these things- and it’s a lovely picnic!”