Tell me about #ManFriday. What does it mean to you?
#ManFriday is a group of women who have varying amounts of things in common, aside from a want to uphold and protect the single sex exemptions in the Equality Act. We met on Mumsnet, though many of us are not mothers. We range from armchair activists, to people who get their tits out to smash the patriarchy. We are professionals, stay at home mothers, dropouts, pensioners and all else in between. We act because we have to protect the rights that our mothers and grandmothers won for us, so we can pass them on to the next generation.
I love it because of the gentle sense of humour we approach it all with. We campaign on a very serious issue, but we do so by taking the piss out of ourselves and the lunacy in some of the decisions being made at the moment. We don’t take ourselves too seriously (which is a bad habit of mine) and we make sure that the objects of ridicule are us. It’s extremely good for me to be involved in something a bit silly after years of being very serious.
What were the tipping events that propelled you into taking the direct action you do?
I had been ill for a good number of years. I had spent a long time turning frustration in on myself, it led to acute anorexia in my 30s (after many years dallying with it and suffering other MH conditions as outlets for my anxiety). Having finished therapy in November 2017, I needed an outlet for my energy and most of the things I used to take part in are now off limits (exercise based activity is something I’m not allowed to do). My therapist had got me into reading feminist theory as part of my treatment and that, along with the Mumsnet forum encouraged me to go to the WPUK meeting in London in late February.
I sat at that meeting as quiet as a mouse, in awe of all the other women around me talking about their experiences, their opinions, their plans. I was a bit starstruck seeing all the high profile feminists around me! I was so overwhelmed I didn’t even go to the pub afterwards (I know).
At that point I decided Hannah you have to do something. You have it in you to be part of this. You have time, inclination, care, so roll your sleeves up and get involved. This was just as #ManFriday was conceived on Mumsnet so I guess it was in the stars for me to get involved there.
Is there a particular favourite #ManFriday action you’ve participated in?
Definitely Hampstead Ponds. It was always on the list of somewhere to target after they decided to allow self-identified men into the women’s pond at the beginning of the year. We just wanted to wait until it wasn’t freezing cold! And didn’t we do well with the weather – it was an incredibly warm Bank Holiday Monday, which meant it was fairly busy.
Most of our actions are very small. This one felt huge because we had around 15 women there. Seven of us swam and the remainder handed out leaflets, guarded our bags, texted us when the police came (in spite of the fact we were swimming, durr) and spoke to people around us. We also had a film crew and newspaper reporter with us. As I’m sure you all know the police were called but we weren’t arrested. We were threatened with being booked for summary offences but I had checked with the people who run the ponds whether self ID was allowed before we went so they didn’t book/fine/charge us.
The camaraderie among the women, both before and after, was a wonderful feeling. There was such joy and many of us were meeting for the first time. I can tell you that when your first experience of someone is a political protest involving a mankini, a fake beard, police and a Sky News crew you become friends for life!
It’s also where we were told we are the politest protestors ever. A descriptor I now feel the need to live up to.
You’ve talked about having an eating disorder in the past. Do you feel it has shaped your feminism?
I can’t think of anything that shaped it more. I didn’t understand my eating disorder, which had been a constant in my life for nearly 25 years, until I started thinking about feminism. I said at WPUK Basingstoke that the only time that my eating disorder made sense was when I viewed through a feminist lens.
I know a lot of people think that eating disorders are about conforming to patriarchal beauty standards but that wasn’t the case for me, nor was it for most of the women I met in treatment. It was a way of managing anxiety that comes about in a world where everything you do is criticised when men are afforded the luxury of being able to behave in the same way you were, it was a way of becoming invisible in a sexualised world, it was a way of being quiet and being a “good” girl rather than a messy, scribbly, outspoken, difficult woman.
I still struggle with my eating disorder every day, and whilst it’s under control at the moment it lurks waiting to sneak back in. My new found confidence in being allowed to say stuff, and get things wrong, and be – for want of a better word – human, makes it much easier to tell it to fuck off when it rears its ugly head.
What made you stand up and offer support to Let a Woman Speak when the first meeting was cancelled by WPUK?
Mainly not realising quite how far away Truro is…
In all seriousness it’s because I watched the thread about the event before WPUK withdrew and saw how excited everyone was that something was coming to their little corner of the UK. Being in London you get everything, all the time, and if you miss an event you can be sure that there will be another one within a month, and I don’t really think about how the rest of the country is neglected.
This disappointment that was obvious from the organisers and the attendees when the event was cancelled really got to me. I got into ManFriday by thinking “what can I do to make a difference” and I suppose I applied that here too. It wasn’t a serious offer to speak when I emailed the organisers, just a let me know how I’ll support and I’m willing to come down if that will help and the rest, I guess, is history.
I also have a lot of empathy for Posie. When I was 14 I was bullied enormously, and called racist for daring to say that the Treaty of Versailles led to the rise of fascism in Germany, in a history lesson. I was ostracised by pretty much the entire school because of the contamination of the word “racist”, even though I knew that what I had said wasn’t racist and is generally accepted to be true. The social media comments from all and sundry towards Posie made me remember how isolated I had been when the same happened to me, and made me need to stand with her.
What keeps you going in the face of threats and hatemail? How does someone cultivate that resilience?
That’s a good question, particularly this week due to the doxxing (but we’ll cover that another time maybe). I am not particularly resilient. I am prone to being oversensitive and introspective and I really like to beat myself up (especially in the small hours of the morning) over something I may have said wrong in 1999 or similar. Somehow the hate I get here doesn’t affect me in the same way, probably because I know that I’m getting it sticking up for someone else and not me. It’s easier to do things for others, I find.
I also have the most amazing support network, both in the now-decimated #ManFriday group, and at home from my husband. I know, revolting and not very feminist-y, but he’s the kind of man who will drive all the way to Truro, not letting me take a shift because I have to be on top form to speak, and then all the way back the following day, not expecting me to take a shift because of an enormous hangover. He has my back and he knows how to help me manage my anxiety. That helps a lot.
Also for every hate comment or message, or nasty ganging up there are at least an equal number of messages of support, of love, of excitement and of encouragement. Both from strangers and friends alike. When you get a single one of these all of the vicious messages fade into the background.
What do you believe was the most important moment in your life that shaped what you do today?
This is a really tough one. I’m not sure I can pin down a single one, or even a cluster of small things that within themselves add up to a whole that makes sense.
What I can say is that I have a huge issue about fairness (probably due to being a middle child) and when I see injustices I get incredibly frustrated. Watching this injustice – hard fought for rights being removed by stealth – has lit a fire inside me that won’t go out. When we win this battle, I’m sticking around for the rest of the war. I will forever fight to improve women’s rights now, there’s no chance I’ll be caught sleeping again.
Which feminists, past and present, do you most admire and why?
I don’t have a huge amount of knowledge of feminist theory or the women who have long been fighting for our rights. It’s very much an accident that I’m here so I am going to cop out a bit and share this video and say I admire every one of the women in this video for putting themselves out there in this environment and fighting for women’s rights against the very toxic trans rights activists we’re up against. Every one of these women, doing it their own way, is an inspiration to me.
Do you think humour is important to feminism?
Hell yes. And not just to feminism. Humour is important to all aspects of life, even the very serious ones that you might not think it appropriate to laugh in. The ability to laugh at oneself is a real gift, as is a willingness to sacrifice yourself on the altar of dignity (though Amy does this better than me tbh). People tend to listen better when you tell things with humour injected than when you recite dry facts. A protest with masks and banners will come across to most people as intimidating and best avoided. One in a flowery swimming hat piques interest. I think the humour that #ManFriday approached this with is one of the big reasons the issue has been brought to the attention of the masses. Whilst we stand on the shoulders of giants, feminists I couldn’t hold a candle to, the humour we approached this with means their serious messages can be heard.
Could you give women one piece of campaigning advice that anyone can do?
Talk. That’s it. You don’t have to do it in person, or using your own name, but find a way to share the message. The best person you can do this with is your MP. Go to their surgery and talk to them about your concerns. Take the factsheet from http://sages.org.uk or downloads from https://fairplayforwomen.com and talk to them about your concerns. These people get to make the laws, so the more people that speak to them with worries the better. Please speak to your MP.
(I should probably follow my own advice and make an appointment to see mine as she’s been ignoring my letters).
What’s the best comeback you can think of to being called a TERF?
Oh do fuck off.
Where do you hope we will be with gender-identity politics in ten years time and where do you fear we will be?
I think there will be a lot of people with much better understanding of this issue than I have, but I’ll have a stab at answering this.
I remember growing up in the 80s and 90s and not feeling that being female meant anything, aside from having female biology. Gender stereotypes we’re enforced much beyond school uniforms (one of mine was a particularly fetching flowery dress that you couldn’t buy ready made, but I digress) and the separation of sports at schools. As I moved through secondary school the mixed schools seemed to do away with the girls play netball, boys play rugby mentality and started offering traditionally male sports to girls. I was at a girls’ school and wasn’t ever told that I would be held back by my sex, or that there was anything off limits to me. I hope that in ten years time we’ll be back there, where the progressive world the genderists claim they’re striving for actually exists.
What I fear is that we’ll have a whole generation, or more, of people who have sought to buy happiness, or find happiness through changing their physical selves, by buying the body of their “gender identity” before realising it’s all a lie. Much like the myth of everything being perfect if you lose half a stone. Nothing changes. The only way to happiness is acceptance of yourself as who you are. I think the mental health crisis we are seeing in the world will only worsen as a result of this. I am frightened that these people will seek to perpetuate this ideology in order to validate their own decisions. I fear for young people growing up today.
Do you think there any actions ripe for really focused action that are genuinely achievable in the near future? (Especially ones that feminists/allies with little time or appetite for sticking their head above the parapet could be involved in?)
The consultation is out now. Fill it in. Share it, but maybe with guidance coming from the women’s groups who have been heavily involved to this point. Make sure as many people as you can see it and fight for women’s rights to be upheld.
If people struggle with the concept explain what is happening in Girl Guides to them. That a natal boy can sleep in your daughter’s tent without you being informed. That normally makes people realise that women and girls are stakeholders in this debate.
I want to help. What can I do? Where can I read more?
You can do anything! None of us are particularly special, we’re just out there doing things.
Be a man on Fridays – manspread, mansplain, walk in a straight line, don’t reverse on a country lane.
Speak to your MP, your councillors, your School Governors
Most importantly please complete the consultation which is now open until 19 October. You can find it here:
What’s your favourite biscuit?
Borders chocolate ginger please.