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International Women's Day in Ireland

A renaissance of radical feminism

11 March 2021

Two very large and very important online meetings took place on International Women's Day in Ireland.  Rather than commemorating a story of ongoing advances for women they chronicled horrific attacks on women's rights, a decay of some of the organisations meant to protect them and the rise of ideologies proclaiming equality that in practice act to dismiss the need to defend women.

The first conference, Resisting captivity,  was chaired by Laoise Uí Aodha de Brún, of The Countess Didn't Fight For This.

Speaker Helen Joyce spoke of  Institutional capture - the way in which a number of women's organisations had transformed from activist organisations into members of the NGO networks, with a subsequent change in policy. The silencing of many voices in journalism and the growth of a new breed unaware of a need to speak truth to power had aided this process.

Fiona Mc Anena explained how bottom up activism had been transformed into top down lobbying  carried out away from public gaze. Those who asked questions were excluded. She gave her personal example of a survey that asked about trans issues and immediately discarded replies from gender critical individuals - the majority of the respondents.

Gearóid Ó Loingsigh spoke of the drive to make prisons gender neutral and the immense danger that this posed. Sexual violence was the main mechanism of retaliation and control against both male and female prisoners and separation of the sexes a major reform of the modern prison system,  now being thrown into reverse.

Maya Forstater gave her own history of slowly coming to question trans ideology and finding a need to express a gender critical critique. This led to her sacking and to court case where the judge ruled that holding the belief that there were two sexes infringed the rights of trans people.

At the second meeting, organised by the Irish Women's Lobby, a large range of speakers from Ireland and abroad gave expression to truly horrific exploitation of women.

Dr Christine Gaffney chaired the meeting.

Ruth Breslin of the sexual exploitation study group at  UCD gave an horrific outline of the lives of young women, many African and Asian, being ferried around the state, subject to intimidation and abuse. None of these women, she remarked wryly,  described themselves as "sex workers".

Annette McCay spoke of the struggle to expose the servitude of working class women in industrial schools and mother and baby units where kidnap for adoption, neglect of babies and infant mortality were commonplace. That battle goes on today with constant attempts to bury information and refuse compensation.

Stella O'Malley spoke of her book Fragile Bodies, her own experiences as a tomboy and current studies of young girls expressing a desire to be boys. An element was the intense sexualisation of girls bodies in a culture strongly influenced by porn when the children themselves were not ready to take on a sexual role or when the possibility of a gay orientation was invisible to them.

Rachel Moran, using her autobiographical book Paid For, outlined her own experience as a girl forced into prostitution. More recently the campaign to legalise abortion was largely dominated by the middle class and those without medical cover can not afford tests to check the viability of the fetus until well After the 12 week limit on unqualified abortion rights.

Feminist and journalist Julie Bindel spoke of her book Pimping of Prostitution, documenting the financial power of a global sex trade and the cover provided by the ideology of "sex workers" that presented servitude as a career choice.

Yagmur Uygarkizi of the group  RadicalGirlsss had just come from a demonstration in Paris where feminists protesting prostitution had been physically attacked by trans rights activists, an attack ignored by police.

Dr Kathleen Stock, author of Material Girls, documented how postmodernism had swept through academia, transforming a once vibrant study of feminism into guilt and privilege, denouncing material reality and bullying and silencing questioning voices.

Clara Berglund, a Swedish feminist leader, argued that current theories of sex and prostitution were a reflection of a neoliberalist approach to prostitution where the market ruled supreme. Both this model and the old Victorian model were contrasted to reforms where the clients and pimps were criminalised.

Gael Dines, author of Pornland, documented the incorporation of pornography into global capitalism. It was a massive internet business and within it porn scenes always featured violence against and degradation of women. Many children had been exposed and there was evidence that the industry was deforming sexual relations in the everyday world. Again she criticised a middle class feminist lack of concern and lack of solidarity with the poor and working class victims of the trade.

The context of the Countess  and the Women's lobby meetings was a general celebration of International Women's Day across Irish media and politics. The atmosphere was relentlessly aspirational.  All the major victories have been won and hard work and ambition will see girls and women through.

Irish socialists,  at least as represented by People before Profit, commemorated IWD in a parallel universe of Sex Workers and Trans self-identity.  The real world of working class women is many light years away.

The Irish Women's meetings are important. They demonstrate clearly the clandestine erosion of women's rights by neoliberalism and identity politics and showed how collective action by feminist activists can begin to roll back the offensive.

The discussion so far describes the offensive but does not fully analyse it. From a socialist perspective the bedrock of these attacks is the long retreat of the working class and the decay of the socialist groups.

The beginning of a renaissance in feminism must rapidly be attempted by socialists.

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