"What are the people saying?"
The collective voice is important
I’m finally going through my inbox and trying to reply to the hundreds of messages of support I received back in July when I told my story of how I was bullied for my view that ‘obstetric violence is violence against women’. If you were one of the people who messaged me, via twitter DM, instagram, facebook or email (I even got a couple on linkedin!!) then please know that I read every single one and they all meant a great deal to me.
I also want to encourage you, if you see something similar happening to another woman (is it ever a man?), do send off a message or email to them. Even if it is just three words, “I support you”, it makes a difference.
At the moment, Kathleen Stock could do with some support, and you can contact her via her literary agent. Click here to message Kathleen.
If you subscribe to my newsletter but don’t know much about Kathleen Stock, but have seen her in the news and are perhaps wondering what her views are that have caused this situation, I really recommend this podcast with her, “What is a woman?”. It’s only 30 mins long and gets right to the point. Have a listen.
And the collective voice has made a difference at the BBC this week, too. They have rejected complaints that they published a transphobic article (this one, if you haven’t read it, about lesbians and how gender identity ideology affects what it means to be same sex attracted). They received 4919 complaints about it, but they also received 5520 emails of approval (one of which was from me).
I don’t have a record of how many messages of support I received back in July and August but at a rough guess I would say it was around 1500. Maybe more. Far too many to share them all but I’ve added some lines from a small selection below.
I share them because it feels like this support should be documented in some way. Not for any kind of ego-led reasons - this is not about me - but for the wider picture of what is happening culturally and how people are feeling.
“What are the people saying?”. Our culture is a group, groups have a life and a voice and an energy, and the collective voice is important.
“You are brave - but if people don't stop silently rolling over because they fear losing jobs, contracts, popularity etc. we start going down a very dangerous route. It's also equally important that people who put their heads above the parapet know how much silent support there is for them out there from those of us who don't have a platform.”
“I have been observing with much trepidation as events around gender terms and issues are evolving, especially in maternity services. I tend not to share my opinion with anyone except very close colleagues and friends through fear of negative repercussion. I have to wonder why male gender has not had the same transformation in terms of renaming. I really wish you well and send you my support!”
“Sorry that you have had to take this abuse, and thank you for being so clear about what used to be clear to everyone - only two sexes, which influence so much especially in the world of healthcare - and this doesn’t make anyone transphobic. And yes, I’m another one who supports invisibly, knowing that if I came out my ability to do good work would suffer… Each of us can make a difference… and in time, all of us will be able to speak openly again without vilification.”
“Becoming a mother made me a radical feminist because the positive birth experiences I had meant that I was able to see what a lie it is that women are weak. I was able to appreciate that a woman's sense and knowledge and intuition about what is right for her body should be trusted. Perhaps this is why the work that you and others like you do is such a challenge for men - and some women. Just what could be achieved if we acknowledged the truth of this strength and insight, and the value of these connections and wisdom?
So access that power, and take heart. Remember that the roots of the word 'courage' are 'from the heart', and keep doing what you are doing. Generations of women are with you.”
“As someone who has been a feminist since the 70s, (I am now nearly 80), I feel I must write to support you in your right to continue to use words such as ‘woman’ and ‘mother’ in your work. I assume that many of the objectors are younger than me and have not lived through the early days of the 20th century and are not aware of the progress that the women’s movement has made in the last 70 years or so.
Speaking as a linguist, I would like to point out that until the rise of the feminist movement, women had long been ‘disadvantaged’ if not ‘disappeared’ by language.
Consider words like ‘mankind’‘No man is an island’, ‘Stone Age Man’ etc etc.
This could lead to laughable definitions:
Man is a mammal who gives birth to live young whom he breastfeeds. His back aches ; he ruptures easily; his women have difficulty in childbirth’ (Encyclopedia entry)
‘People won’t give up power. They’ll give up everything else – money, home, wife…’
Women didn’t get the vote until 1915; couldn’t get a mortgage without husband’s or father’s consent and till the mid 20th century; couldn’t have a credit card until 1971. In early sociolinguistic research (ie first half of the 20th century), women were classified under their husband’s or father’s occupation. So a woman lawyer whose father was a road sweeper was classified as road-sweeper. The list is endless. In my childhood, it was considered ‘correct’ to refer to married women by their husband’s name: eg Mrs Charles Jones. It is still considered ‘correct’ in some circles.
So it horrifies me to see that the wheel is turning full circle - once again we are being ‘disappeared’. If the phrase ‘birthing people’ becomes the norm and terms such as ‘women’ are omitted, it will set a precedent for further changes: chest-feeding, persons who menstruate etc etc.
I should add that I am not anti-trans and I’m very happy to use whatever terms trans people choose, to use their preferred pronouns, to share facilities etc etc., but I feel that as women have to stand up and preserve what we have fought so hard for ie to be included on equal terms with men and trans people.”
(Dr Ann Williams, named and shared with permission)
“I am not a mother nor planning to be one but understand the sex based nature of our oppression especially around pregnancy and childbirth.
Thank you so much for speaking out and speaking the truth about biological reality and your experiences. Every woman who is brave like you helps the rest of us who are still learning to speak out.”
“I just wanted to write briefly to thank you for speaking out in support of women who want to be able to talk freely and respectfully about how women’s and trans rights can be balanced and harmonised. The fact that your calm and thoughtful voice has been shouted down and described as ‘hateful’ typifies the appalling toxicity of this debate. I share the concerns you’ve articulated about the reduction of biological women to a mere identity subset within the broader, increasingly nebulous category ‘Women’, but I remain too fearful to state that publicly. Thank you for doing so, in spite of the consequences.”
“Like you, I respect all people and will fight for their right to live their life as they want to, free from oppression, as any reasonable person must surely do. But denying base reality on the nature of sexual dimorphism just goes beyond the pale.
The fact that even asking a simple question about the implications of the usual mantras (TWAW etc) is verboten is alarming in the extreme. It is - as you described - dystopian, indeed Orwellian, with many of us guilty already of thought-crime.
What a desperately weird and troubling time we live in. Solidarity to you, and thank you for speaking out.
Regards, A feminist adult human male, very worried by events, and frankly too scared to speak out too loudly lest he lose his job.”
“I wanted to tell you that you are absolutely right, and that I value your courage in posting about it.
I find the gender debate terrifying - I watch how progressive women who have fought for years for equality, are silenced and bullied for speaking out.
I hope I’ll be able to find the courage to add my voice to the debate, but until then, please know that you are not alone.”
“The fact that this new ideology seeks to rob women of their unique humanity is what makes me saddest of all. I haven't had any children yet, but I believe that using your body to grow and nurture the next generation is one of the most extraordinary feats humankind is capable - and it's women that have this gift, not 'people' or 'folks.' Women. I also believe that it's precisely because males (including the trans-identifying ones!) are both terrified and envious of our power to create life that they are taking the words we use to describe our unique humanity out of our mouths.”
“Thank you Milli for speaking up and speaking out for women~ future generations and our daughters will thank you too.. for every horrible message or attack there will be tens of hundreds and thousands of women and girls (and men) around the world who agree with, and support, your words and actions.”
Writing this post reminded me of a book recommendation…a line from this book often goes through my mind, and I’ve made it the post title: “What are the people saying?”.
Published in 1992, this book is transcriptions of psychologist James Hillman and writer Michael Ventura basically riffing around the topic of what psychotherapy is, what it is doing right and wrong and what needs to happen next in order for it to actually help humans at a collective rather than individual level. They particularly focus on the way therapy feeds and is fed by a culture of individualism.
It certainly would be interesting to hear a follow up, ‘post internet’ discussion from Hillman and Ventura. The culture of individualism they explore has exploded in ways they might never have predicted thanks to social media, a virtual and disembodied world in which we can create our own identity and even filter and edit how we look and what we say in real time and in direct response to ‘likes’, or the lack of them. Mary Harrington explores this brilliantly in this essay, “For me, self-identification was a con”.
Here’s an extract from ‘We’ve had a hundred years of psychotherapy and the world’s getting worse’.
Until next time folks! M x
Ventura: Every day I fear going insane. I’ve never had a day in my life when I haven’t felt that.
Hillman: So letting the madness in becomes for you how you ban the Gods by giving to them. You keep them from possessing you by giving something to them.
Ventura: Yes, but it’s a dangerous game.
Hillman: Isn’t it a dangerous game to close the door and sit on the sofa and depend on the locks to keep the madness out?
Ventura: Much more dangerous. Because the madness is a lot stronger than the locks.
Hillman: I think the way of letting it in to most of our lives is pathology. The symptoms come - the marriage fights, the crazy child, the overspending, the drinking, the piling up of debt.
Ventura: The dependence on TV, the compulsive schedules that eat your life, the endless repetitive family feuds.
Hillman: What goes on in the house is the pathology. Now, when therapy tries to cure the pathology, instead of seeing that the pathology is part of the crack or the broken window, and that something is trying to get in, then it seems to me it’s creating more pathology and keeping the Gods even further away. And then they break in through the whole fucking society.
Ventura: If we don’t let the madness in, then collectively the society goes mad for us, and that’s called ‘history’. So in the long run there are enormous collective consequences for all these private evasions.
Speaking of the whole fucking society, when we saw the Kevin Costner film Dances with Wolves, I remember how struck you were at that scene - you know, the white soldier and the white girl who’s been raise as a Sioux, they’re getting it on, and the Sioux shaman is concerned about it so he asks his wife, “What are the people saying?”
Hillman: That’s terribly important, “What are the people saying?”.
Thanks for reading. Want to support me? I have 3 books which you can buy from any good book seller!
My Period is for girls age 9 to 13 and is filled with information and positivity about periods and puberty.
Give Birth like a Feminist is for anyone interested in why birth is a feminist issue. You don’t have to be pregnant.
The Positive Birth Book is a comprehensive guide to getting ready for birth with lots of humour and a dash of feminism thrown in.
Links to a few ways to purchase via my linktree - or just search the title name via your usual book shop.
Or you can buy me a coffee. :-)