Below is the full text of the speech made by ManFriday’s Media Officer at a Women’s Place UK meeting on 17th May 2018.
My name is Hannah Clarke.
I support the rights of women and girls.
Men do not belong in female spaces.
A woman cannot have a penis.
I am not afraid to speak the truth.
I am here tonight to talk to you because of my involvement in the ManFriday movement. I’m sure that most of you will have heard of us, but for those who haven’t I’ll start with a brief overview.
I’ve called ManFriday a movement, I think a better word might be concept. We are a loosely organised group of women who are horrified by the implications of self identification and the resultant erasure of women. We are making a stand against what is happening by self identifying as men on Fridays. We show how preposterous it is to be able to self-declare as the opposite sex by doing exactly that.
This all came about when Amy Desir took it upon herself to address the ludicrous guidance Swim England produced to engage trans people in swimming. This guidance, soundly rejected by the good ladies of Mumsnet, included such gems as telling us women who object to penises in their changing rooms require education, whilst our boobs should be covered at all times for fear of causing offence. Amy started a Mumsnet thread one Friday morning in February telling us that she had arranged a meeting at her local pool to discuss her inclusion in men only swimming sessions as a self identified man in accordance with the guidance.
This thread inspired a whole lot of us – around 160 at the last count – to get behind the concept and thus ManFriday was born. We started with a Facebook page where we plan our protests and share resources and now have a website, a very active (and funny) twitter account, and a whole load of unconnected women joining in on Twitter every Friday using the hashtag ManFriday.
I joined after seeing Amy’s thread coincided with me wanting to be able to do something. I had attended the Woman’s Place meeting in London in February and was in awe of all the women there. I was too shy to put my hand up and talk – I didn’t feel like I had anything to say at all, but I think might make up for that now.
At this point I should confess that I am very late to the feminism party. Partly due to having been a teenager in the 90s when we all embraced ladette culture and insisted that we were equal to men by behaving like the worst of them. I thought we didn’t need it, and didn’t notice when my life was damaged by the set up of our patriarchal society. I should have noticed when my male juniors were given more respect than I was when I was managing client meetings. I should have noticed when my career faltered in my late 20s and early 30s in spite of me being, and remaining childless. I should have noticed when my doctors refused to take my gynae problems seriously, until my husband said he was on board with the treatment I wanted.
What it took for me to notice was me developing anorexia in my mid 30s. Not so much the developing of it, but the recovery from it. I can’t see anorexia as anything other than a result of growing up steeped in patriarchal oppression. A lot is said about it being a want to attain the beauty standards set out for us – which would be enough to label it a result of the misogyny present throughout society, but for me it wasn’t that. I was physically enacting the requirement of women to not take up space, to be unobtrusive, to not exist as an independent being, to pipe down. A wonderful therapist helped me work through how this environment had caused my illness and lit the spark that became a flame of feminism that now drives me.
Anyway, enough about me. Back to ManFriday.
Amy’s meeting ended with her being told they’d take time to consider her needs and would revert to her within a fortnight, though they eventually took a little over three weeks. In the meantime the rest of us started writing to our local pools. Men only swimming sessions are fairly few and far between, even in London, but I found one in near me in Dulwich, and sent an email asking them their policy.
They responded that I, as a female bodied self identified man, would be welcome to swim at their pool during the men only session and should change in the facilities that I felt necessary for myself. Having got the green light I shared my plan with the ManFriday group and what happened next was all a bit unexpected, to be honest. Amy said she was able to come, which was great as I really didn’t fancy doing it alone, and some journalists contacted us through twitter as they wanted to cover what we were doing.
You can read most of what happened next in the Sunday papers from the 18th of March, and I’ll be happy to talk about it in the pub tonight. Some points I’d just like noted for the record though:
- We swam separately, there was no strength in numbers (I was terrified, I can tell you)
- I wore a rash vest. As comfortable as I am with Amy swimming topless I didn’t want to. I hope it was still pretty clear I am a woman and that I shouldn’t have been in the swim session.
- I feel awful for putting the staff in the leisure centre in the firing line. Service workers on the front line, often on minimum wage, are being put on the spot with difficult decisions due to the ill-considered edicts from on high. This is really not on. And this next bit has been a secret up to now. I popped back to the leisure centre with some chocolates and a letter thanking them for their professionalism and appreciating we had drawn them into this melee but very much not apologising for what we had done.
Swim England removed their guidance the following week and have stated they’re opening it up for consultation. I have registered to be included in this, and urge you all to do the same via their website. Let’s get women’s voices heard above Stonewall, Mermaids, Allsorts, GIRES, Transfigurations and the rest of the trans lobby.
In following weeks we’ve been into high street changing rooms and shown how vulnerable we are to voyeurs when you allow men into changing rooms with women and girls; we’ve written to, and met with, our MPs and ministers; we’ve been on television and on the radio talking about the rights of women and girls (though we did turn down the documentary, where Munroe Bergdorf explains what it is to be a woman which was aired last night, thank the lord); we’ve mansplained, manspread and manslammed wherever we go on Fridays; we’ve used men’s loos and goodness are they revolting; Amy recently turned the men’s loos at parliament into gender neutral ones; one member asked for their sex to be changed on their driving licence – which was done with no evidence and no questions but has caused a significant upset on social media with supporters of self identification saying we’ve abused it and broken the law. Which is kind of the point. This is a movement anyone can join in with. Be a man on a Friday any which way you wish. And tweet about it using our hashtag.
Of course we’re asked often why we’re doing this. Both on an individual and collective level. Everyone will have their own personal motivations – mine are that I cannot fathom why my dysphoric illness was treated with therapy and meal plans – and quite rightly so – whereas gender dysphoria, even in young people, is met with affirmation, medication and surgery. That to me is like giving an anorexic a gastric band, liposuction and some diet pills whilst calling her fat and ignoring the complex underlying reasons for her dissatisfaction with her body.
ManFriday exists because the rights of women and girls are under a large scale, wholesale attack from the trans rights movement. It exists because our letters and our conversations are ignored. It exists because women’s voices are so routinely dismissed we’ve had to move on to direct action. Trans rights activism often called men’s rights activism in a frock, and frankly that’s what it is. Women are set to lose so much if this push in changing both the law and it’s application in our day to day lives succeeds. ManFriday exists to push back against this, to roll back what is already happening in statute and in practice.
In Scotland we have seen the word woman being redefined to include anyone with the protected characteristic of gender reassignment. This means that the legal definition of woman includes men. We cannot define ourselves as a sex anymore, and if we can’t define our sex how can we define our sex based protections and our sex based oppression?
In practice what we are already seeing is a race for service providers, organisations and companies to be the most progressive – even before the law has been changed. Ladies changing rooms and lavatories are now de facto unisex spaces (though men’s remain exclusive). Women’s sports – both professional and amateur are open to men now. In January last year we were told “This Girl Can”, now it’s more “This girl could, but should know she will be beaten or hurt by a male so needs to adjust her expectations or maybe just not bother”. Women’s political shortlists are open to anyone who declares themselves to be a woman. Women’s prizes and participation schemes are likewise open to self-identifying “women”. Even those who only identify as women part time are winning prizes and scholarships set up to improve female representation.
More important than these spaces – though they are pretty important – are those that the more vulnerable in society access. Women’s refuges, where there is consultation to allow self-identified women to work, putting the validation and feelings of men ahead of the safety, privacy and dignity of women and girls; hospital wards – we read about cases such as Phillipa Molloy’s where she was reprimanded and called a bigot for being afraid of a male bodied “self declared woman” on her locked psychiatric ward. A space where she needed to feel safe in order to recover was completely compromised to validate the delusions of a man. Prisons are another one – rapists are moved to the women’s estate where they go on to behave inappropriately towards both female inmates and staff, and assault female inmates. These women can’t vote with their feet and use another service provider, they have no agency and no choices and the authorities choose to put them at risk of great harm to validate men’s feelings and fantasies.
Most distressing, however, are situations where children are involved. The schools, the clubs, the extracurricular activities. I’ll park the idea of transgender children as it makes me very angry that children are being set on a lifelong medical pathway for not conforming with outdated stereotypes. But the current drive to put the needs of the transgender child ahead of everyone else’s and ignore the impact on the girls, and it’s mainly girls, around them is obscene.
We know that in Girl Guiding they’ve stated that boys can join and other parents shouldn’t be told that they are sleeping in dormitories or tents with their daughters. How many teenage guides need to be assaulted – and recent statistics show tens of thousands of teenagers sexually assaulting girls and women – or become pregnant through experimental “lesbian” sex before something is done to stop this madness?
In schools similar things are happening. One woman told me the story of her 11 year old daughter being faced with an 11 year old boy, who claimed to be trans, masturbating his penis in the girls’ changing room. This boy was known to behave in a sexually inappropriate way and was allowed unfettered access to the girls changing rooms by announcing his special trans status. This must not be allowed to happen. In a world where we’ve only recently had MeToo we are telling girls and young women that their boundaries can be ignored by men and boys. To paraphrase Posie Parker – surely all 11 year old girls have a right to enter a ladies changing room and not see a penis. All women and girls should have that right.
These are the spaces we have to fight to protect. I recently had a post deleted by Mumsnet for saying that anyone who thinks that women’s spaces should be opened up to men is either an idiot, a pervert, or someone who values their feelings more than the safety, privacy and dignity of women and girls. I stand by this, and it is why we have to protest against the changes. Even if you’re not a protestor – and I wasn’t one until 16 March – you have it in you to fight for our rights.
As ever, the pace of change moves faster and faster once movements gain traction. This is why we must act now. The change in language used is a huge indicator of how entrenched the Trans Rights Movement has become, and it’s something we must push back against. We must act to challenge every instance where an idiot says transwomen are women – a sentiment that only became mainstream a few months back. We must challenge every time we are called cis. Woman does not need a prefix. We need to remind everyone who says “assigned at birth” that sex isn’t assigned, it’s observed. Anyone who utters these words, particularly politicians, is telling you that they will tell you any number of lies – no matter how big or small – in order to shut you down, they are telling you that they have no respect for you or for the truth. Their arrogance on this point astounds me as it tells us so clearly that they have no integrity, and they don’t care that we know this.
We need to protest against the changes in statute and in society and protest as loud as we can. We cannot let the rights our grandmothers fought for be reduced and removed. We owe that to our daughters, our nieces, our granddaughters and our goddaughters. We owe that to ourselves.
When I sat at the Woman’s Place meeting in February I did think I couldn’t do anything. I did, and I am no more special than every one of you sitting in this room tonight. We can do things together – like attending this meeting, like petitioning parliament (the link if you haven’t signed it is on the ManFriday website), like sharing a gender critical article with our real life friends on Facebook, like sharing our experiences and knowledge on more anonymous platforms like Twitter – and I would say Mumsnet here but I fear Mumsnet has fallen. We can do things alone, like writing to or meeting with our MPs or ministers, like changing the sex marker on our driving licence and writing about it (and provoking the wrath of trans rights activists), like taking up space and talking to others about this nonsense, like going for a swim.
No act is too small. Two women went for a swim and helped smash no debate wide open. I certainly didn’t expect us to get the coverage and traction we did, but there is no way I will squander it now. The mainstream press is talking, the public is talking, the people in power might not be listening yet, but some of them are asking to meet with gender critical feminists. The tide is turning. Let’s keep the pressure up to ensure it doesn’t turn back.
I am not afraid to speak the truth.
A woman cannot have a penis.
Men do not belong in female spaces.
I support the rights of women and girls.
My name is Hannah Clarke. But I may as well be any one of you.