Why grooming is so hard to spot: The truth

Why grooming is so hard to spot: The truth

Dr Jessica Taylor

30 June 2020

Disclaimer: I give permission for this article to be used in training courses and education, as long as my name is clearly referenced as the author. This article contains important information that can be used to influence practice, so please do use it where you can.

Content Warning: Contains discussion of grooming techniques and tactics

Over the past 10 years or so, there has been increasing interest in teaching children and women to ‘spot the signs’ of grooming. This article will explain why this approach doesn’t work, and why grooming should be reframed as a common, normal human behaviour that we all engage in.

I know, sounds horrible doesn’t it?

But if you take the time to read this article, you will see grooming in a completely different way, not only in your own life but in the lives of others you care about or work with.

My key points will be:

1. We have defined ‘grooming’ to be too narrow

2. Grooming happens constantly, to all of us, and by all of us

3. Professionals are expert groomers

4. Victims of abuse need to know that grooming is common and constant

5. Grooming is hard to ‘spot’ because we are all socialised to accept grooming in everyday life – it is unfair to expect women and children to be able to do this

Okay. Let’s get into this.

1. We have defined ‘grooming’ to be too narrow

When I say ‘grooming’, I know what image that conjures up for most people. They think, sexual abuse. They think CSE. They think gangs of men abusing girls. They think of kids being groomed online. They think of women being manipulated into abuse.

When I say ‘grooming’, they think of a slow, careful, manipulative process in which a sex offender learns more and more about their victim, builds a relationship with them, asks them questions and then sexually abuses or attacks them.

The Oxford Dictionary defines grooming as ‘the action by a paedophile of preparing a child for a meeting, especially via an Internet chat room, with the intention of committing a sexual offence.’

The NSPCC defines it as, ‘when someone builds a relationship, trust and emotional connection with a child or young person so they can manipulate, exploit and abuse them. Children and young people who are groomed can be sexually abused, exploited or trafficked.’

The truth is, these narrow stereotypes of grooming are blinding us all from seeing the reality of how broad grooming really is.

Grooming is not specific to sexual offences at all. It’s not even specific to crime.

You can be groomed into a cult.

You can be groomed into terrorism.

You can be groomed into political ideology.

You can be groomed into domestic abuse.

You can be groomed into bullying culture.

You can be groomed into taking drugs or drinking.

You can be groomed into religion.

You can be groomed into changing your worldview or believing conspiracy theories.

You can be groomed into thinking you are mentally ill.

You can be groomed into eating disorders and body dysmorphia.

You can be groomed into hating yourself.

You can be groomed to be racist, homophobic, misogynistic or xenophobic.

As you can see, the process of grooming is about the manipulation, persuasion and control of humans. It is not specific to sexual offences at all.

By narrowly defining it, we have put our own blinkers on. We ignore the way grooming is utilised all around us. We then start to believe that grooming only happens to the most vulnerable, and that we can teach them how to spot the signs and how to stop it happening to them. But it rarely works.

2. Grooming happens constantly, to all of us, and by all of us

Some of you may be surprised to learn that you have been groomed. Statistically, many of us have been abused, so we will have been groomed by an abuser. However, the rest of us have been groomed in other ways that we have not noticed or understood.

Further, most of us have groomed another person into doing something we wanted them to do.

To understand why grooming is so hard to spot, you have to take a huge step back and look at grooming in society on a daily basis. As I go through this section, try to reframe your definition of grooming using my definition:

‘Something that someone does to someone else to convince, persuade, manipulate or control them into doing something that they want them to do (either positively or negatively).’

Grooming has been used to manipulate you every single day since you were born. You were groomed into behaving and thinking the way you do. Your social norms, beliefs, attitudes and world views were all given to you by adults with an agenda. Your parents, carers and families taught you their beliefs and behaviours. They taught you they were normal. Even if they weren’t.

Then you went to nursery or school, where the staff team groomed you into some very strange human behaviours such as going into a building where all children are dressed exactly the same way as you, sitting on the floor in silence, sitting with your legs crossed for no reason, putting your finger on your lips to show you are quiet, putting your hand up before speaking, responding to bells and buzzers to move or eat or take a break.

None of these are normal, natural human behaviours. We did not evolve to respond to bells or buzzers. We did not evolve to sit cross legged with 29 other kids dressed in the same clothes, with fingers on our lips, listening to one person explain punctuation marks. We do not actually have to raise our hand before we can physically speak. You don’t actually have to ask for permission to go to the toilet, you could have just stood up and walked out when they refused you permission to go to pee or change your sanitary pad. But you didn’t, did you?

None of these ‘rules’ are real.

They are norms, beliefs and behaviours that we are groomed to accept and take part in, using positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement.

You were groomed for your entire childhood, by everyone around you. No one escaped this process.

You are groomed into buying things you don’t even need by marketing, advertisements and product placement. You are groomed into wanting to look a certain way by fashion and pop culture. You are groomed into dieting at certain times of the year. You are groomed into buying certain stereotypical products at certain times of the year or for certain special days. You are groomed into believing that you can become rich and successful if you just ‘work harder’. You are groomed to believe that governments, authorities and big companies care about you and your family. You are groomed into upgrading your mobile phone when there is absolutely nothing wrong with it.

There is constant pressure to groom you in society – to market, to profit, to manipulate, to control, to silence, to persuade, to abuse you.

This is why you can’t spot the signs of grooming. Because it is happening to you 24/7. Because society is built on grooming and groomers.

Even you have groomed someone, at some point. If you have kids, you’ve definitely done a lot of grooming. If you are religious and encourage others to believe in your faith, you’ve groomed people. If you ever persuaded someone to do something you wanted them to do (positive or negative), you groomed them. If you have sold products to people that they didn’t really need, you groomed them. If you ever convinced someone to join a club, go to do something, change something about themselves or engage in something new, you groomed them to do so.

Grooming is a common human behaviour. It is not only sex offenders who can build a rapport, persuade, manipulate and coerce someone into doing something. Most of us are capable of it. Most of us do it every day.

If you’re in a long term relationship (or have been), consider what you did or what your partner did to ‘groom’ you.

Did they buy you gifts? Flatter you? Pay attention to you? Ask you questions about yourself? Tell you that you are special? Tell you that they would never want anyone else? Did they listen to you and centre you? Did they sacrifice things for you? Did they help you or were they there for you at times of trouble? Did they tell you they would never hurt you?

Yes, they did.

Did you do any of these things as part of your relationship building?

Yes. Of course you did.

You both successfully convinced another human that you are their best option as a partner, and that you are trustworthy, safe, loving and that the relationship is worth investing in, exclusively.

3. Professionals are expert groomers

It’s not just us who are capable of grooming and need to acknowledge what we do and why it’s so difficult to spot.

Professionals are expert groomers.

(Note: Whenever I say this in a speech or in training, professionals look with absolute horror and disgust at me. A couple have walked out. Some people sit with their arms crossed, glaring at me. This concept makes everyone uncomfortable. I’m aware of that. Keep reading.)

Social workers, police officers, counsellors, psychologists, care staff, teachers etc.

We are all expert groomers. We literally go to work to groom humans into doing things we want them to do. The social worker grooms families into doing something. The police officer grooms victims into doing something. The counsellor grooms their client into trusting them to disclose their worries. The care staff groom the child or adult into letting them bathe them, care for them and live with them.

Professionals are skilled manipulators. We call it ‘building rapport’. All professionals who I know, call it by that name.

They say ‘Well, we firstly focus on ‘building rapport because none of this works if you don’t have good rapport with the person.’

And I say, ‘How do you do that?’

They reply, ‘We build their trust in us. We ask them questions about themselves, find out about them. We tell them we are here to help them. We remind them that we care about them. We tell them they can trust us. We offer them help when they need it most. We build their self esteem by paying them compliments and using positive reinforcement. We take them places they like to go. We treat the kids to Macdonald’s…’

And at that point I say, ‘So, you groom them, then?’

To which I usually get either a nervous laugh or a look of utter horror.

I spend significant amounts of my time showing professionals and leaders that their ‘rapport building’ process is the same process that a perpetrator uses to abuse and groom victims. All of those things that professionals tell me they do to ‘build rapport’ are used to ‘groom’ victims into abuse, rape, trafficking, exploitation, extremism, bullying, racism, cults, belief systems. It’s all the same shit.

I’ve spoken to professionals who also accept that they manipulate families into doing things that they don’t want to do (for example, pressuring victims to engage in a criminal prosecution process or threatening action if a mum doesn’t report her husband for domestic abuse).

These are all forms of grooming.

Why is it important for professionals to acknowledge what they are doing?

Because we trigger our clients. We mirror the perps. We make our clients feel unsafe. We cause them to back away from us.

And then we flip it on them, and say ‘they are too hard to work with’ or ‘they won’t engage’ or ‘they won’t trust any of us’.

Sound familiar, fellow professionals?

Of course it does, this is par for the course. Professionals moaning that their ‘rapport building’ didn’t work, or that they have spent months ‘building rapport’ with a child or family and they still won’t disclose or report.

Like that’s a bad thing.

The truth is, lots of victims of grooming and abuse begin to feel unsafe when professionals use similar tactics to ‘build rapport’ with them. They trigger, they disengage, but they don’t know why.

They might say things like, ‘What’s in it for you? Why are you being so nice to me? Why do you keep pretending you care about us? What do you get out of this?’

This is actually massive progress for that person. They can feel you grooming them. They don’t like it. They are questioning your motives and agenda. They are wondering why you are putting so much effort into building rapport with them.

I teach professionals that you should start to see this as positive. This is a person beginning to process what grooming feels like – and beginning to critically analyse grooming behaviours. They don’t trust you, because you mirror the abuser. They haven’t figured that out yet, because grooming is so socially embedded and normalised, that they will rarely pinpoint exactly what is making them uncomfortable. But that’s what is happening there. The brain remembers the feeling. Remembers the betrayal and the manipulation.

Which brings me to my next point.

4. Victims of abuse need to know that grooming is common and constant

No matter who they are, or what age they are, people who have been subjected to any form of abuse or oppression – need to know what I’ve just taught you about grooming in society.

They need to know that they are subjected to grooming at all levels of society, at all times, by all people. They need to understand that grooming makes the world go round.

Why?

I have one main reason for arguing this point:

Because it reduces self-blame.

You see, we have created a disgusting narrative that victims of abuse ‘should have seen the signs’. We create national campaigns and we issue guidance about ‘how to spot the signs of grooming’. We do this, even to 5 year old kids.

We create ‘programmes of work’ with children, adolescents and adult victims about ‘keeping themselves safe by learning to spot the signs of grooming and exiting the abuse’.

What a load of shit.

How is this possible in a world in which grooming is a 24/7 experience?

It causes feelings of self blame, because in effect, we are blaming victims for not spotting the signs of grooming and not ‘protecting themselves’ from it.

Many victims of abuse question themselves and ask, ‘How didn’t I spot it? Why didn’t I know? How could I be so stupid?’

You’re not stupid, you’re normal.

Not even professionals can spot groomers. Not even the police. None of us can. We miss millions of them every year, even when the evidence is staring us in the face.

Professionals are no better at spotting the signs of grooming than the general public are, hence why professionals are just as likely to be in abusive relationships as anyone else. They are literally going to work, telling victims to ‘spot the signs’ and then going home to an abusive partner who subjects them to abuse every day and they can’t see it themselves. That’s normal.

We have professionals within our own teams who are abusing clients – and can we see it? Nope. When it comes out we all say, ‘Oh my word! What a shock. We would never have suspected them!’

Uhuh, so we can’t spot it, but we think 10 year old Kacy can, if she just does this worksheet and watches this video. Got it.

Further, even if you can see that you are being groomed, that doesn’t mean you have the power to escape, does it?

We have to have this conversation with everyone, because people need to know that it was never their fault that they couldn’t ‘spot the signs’ of grooming. No one can. It’s a myth.

5. Grooming is hard to ‘spot’ because we are all socialised to accept grooming in everyday life – it is unfair to expect children and women to be able to do this

My final point is about the huge injustice in expecting people (mainly women and children) to be able to spot the signs of grooming and then exit that process as if there is no power dynamic.

As this article has shown, grooming is embedded into the fabric of society. It’s not just common, it’s integral to several systems of control, marketing and authority.

We are all groomed to do things (things we might want, and things we might not want). We are groomed to do things that are not in our best interests. We are groomed to spend our money on things we don’t need. We are groomed into relationships. We are groomed into power structures. We are groomed into belief systems and world views. We are groomed into behaviours and norms that make no sense or have no purpose.

It is wholly unfair to expect anyone to be able to spot grooming for abuse, when it simply mirrors every other grooming process in the world.

We are placing standards on to people that we can’t even live up to. I can’t spot the signs of abusers in my life and I’ve been doing this for 11 years. Anyone who claims to be able to ‘spot an offender’ is a liar, and has a dangerous level of self-confidence.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve have feelings about some perps and I turned out to be right, but there is no way it was anything more than chance. Statistically, we are all surrounded by abusers. We probably each know 10-20 abusers. You’ll probably never know who most of them are.

Every time I’ve got one right, I’ve probably missed others. That why I try to educate as many people as possible about the realities of grooming, and the myth that we can spot the signs.

And if we can’t spot the signs, why are we going into schools telling children to spot the signs? Why are we telling women and girls to spot the signs of a rapist or abuser? Why are we ‘teaching’ kids that that should have spotted the signs?

We should never expect victims of abuse and grooming to know what is happening to them, or expect them to be able to escape.

I believe that what I am saying about grooming should be taught and shared everywhere. We need to change the conversation about grooming – and look at it as a huge social behaviour that is exploited and used by many types of abusers and manipulators. Narrowly defining it as grooming kids online for sexual abuse is missing the point by a country mile. We can’t tackle something if we can’t even see the scale of it.

If you have any questions about this article, give me a shout.

Written by Dr Jessica Taylor

Tweet: @DrJessTaylor

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/JessicaForenPsych

Buy my books: victimfocus-resources.com

Visit my website: victimfocus.org.uk

Email: jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

Disclaimer: I give permission for this article to be used in training courses and education, as long as my name is clearly referenced as the author. This article contains important information that can be used to influence practice, so please do use it where you can.

To my radical feminist sisters

To my radical feminist sisters around the world,

I am writing this open letter to all of you to uplift you and to remind you of your strength. Our strength.

Dale Spender wrote in 1986 that with every wave of feminism, comes a backlash of misogyny. The first wave feminists who were killed, tortured, abused, humiliated, force fed and beaten, changed the world for women, forever. As their power grew, the backlash grew.

As women found each other, loved each other and stood together, men in the patriarchy created disgusting, ugly public caricatures of them as witches, barren, old, haggard and hated. The point of this strategy was two-fold: to break their spirits and to hold them up as an example to the other women – of what would happen to them if they dared to join the suffragettes. Women pushed on. They fought for us. They gained our voting rights and property rights. They did this at huge personal cost, and at the time, they were hated viscerally and openly.

In the second wave of radical feminism in the 1960s onwards, women joined arms once again. The second wavers, many of which are still here with us (love and respect to you all, we owe you incredible amounts), progressed and achieved more than we realise. Our second wave sisters gave us rape support centres, domestic violence refuges, women’s shelters, single sex spaces, equality law, changes in divorce and custody law, feminist consciousness raising, feminist groups and contraception. Women in the second wave threw light on the way women were being discriminated against in every aspect of their personal and public lives. They continued the work of the first wave, by publicly and intelligently criticising and challenging the male establishment. They did this despite constant portrayals as man-hating, controlling, abusive, ugly, childless lesbians.

As you can probably see, there is a pattern forming here.

Our current feminism is not much different. The old stereotypes of us are still raging on from 100 years ago. Men still mock us for being feminists and concerned with women’s rights. The memes look exactly like the old suffragette postcards. Shit has not changed one fuckin bit.

We have again made massive strides, although we are more divided these days. As radical feminists, our purpose is to remain dedicated to the liberation of all women and girls from oppression around the world. This means rejecting white, upper class feminism which confines feminism to big words and protected bookshelves of academics and philosophers. It means debating with and often disagreeing with, liberal feminism. It means calling out misogyny within feminism, and misogyny that parades as feminism. Over time, uneducated onlookers have become annoyed and confused. Women are expected to club together and be homogenous. The fact that our feminism differs so much is the source of much amusement to men who don’t understand a jot of feminism. Of course, women are all so simple, that we must all agree.

This also means that we need to stand our ground as the next wave of misogyny hits us and attempts to push us back. Feminism is taking a real battering at the moment. Women who comply with the abuse and ridicule of feminists are rewarded with temporary protection from misogyny. People who publicly attack women are congratulated and awarded.

With every wave of feminism, there is a wave of woman-hate. We are more powerful than we have ever been, we are more connected than we have ever been, more educated than we have ever been and better resourced than ever.

The backlash and the upsurge of misogyny is heavy because we are making such collective progress. Women have platforms. We are talking about rape, domestic abuse, child sexual exploitation, trafficking, femicide, FGM, harassment, pay gaps, rights, and gender role stereotypes. Society is listening. Society is watching. 

Every time we speak out, write a blog, make a video or sit on a panel, we influence another woman or girl to realise the strength she really has. The power she really has. Don’t ever underestimate the power of your influence as a strong female role model. Whatever position you take up as a radical feminist role model, you will change so many lives.

The misogyny will continue to hit us because we continue to push forward. We have bigger platforms than we have ever had. This means thousands of men have access to us, and can abuse us with ease. It is clear from the violence and abuse we are subjected to online, that the crimes committed against all of us every single day; are being ignored. Many of us are told that the abuse we are subjected to is simply a consequence of being ‘in the public eye’ or ‘having radical feminist views’.

It’s frankly amazing how people have conceptualised radical feminism over the years. We’ve been branded as the crazies. Likened to genocidal dictators, murderers and serial paedophiles. The character assassination continues. We scare them because we stand firm and because we are not ashamed of our commitment to women and girls’ rights.

It paints a bleak picture. Or does it?

Are you not surrounded by radical feminists? Are you not able to read this blog? Are you not able to meet with your sisters online?

Do you see the activism around you? The lobbying and arguing and campaigning and world-changing?

Every woman has the power to make a change, whether that is small or huge. We must continue to talk to girls about radical feminism, and the incredible progress we have made since our first wave sisters stuck their necks out. Don’t allow radical feminism to become a dirty phrase again. Don’t succumb to pressure. 

Do not throw women under the bus because it protects you for a little longer. Do not stay silent whilst your sisters around the world are oppressed and murdered. Do not laugh along as men abuse and oppress women, thinking, ‘That will never be me.’

Use your strength. Use your resources. Platform women and girls. Protect them, support them, influence them and inspire them. Be the woman you needed to look up to as a girl.

Radical feminists are hated for two reasons:

  1. We unapologetically centre women and girls in our feminism, and we have no interest in bending to the pressure of patriarchal values or norms
  2. We are women

That’s pretty much it. People will come up with many different bullshit reasons why we are such disgusting women, but every one of them smacks of the same shit thrown at our first wave and second wave sisters. Stop feeding into it. See it for what it is. It’s recycled misogyny from 100 years ago because they can’t think of anything else to say or do to us.

This is about collectively and individually reframing us as the old, haggard, witches, bitches, mad, hysterical, evil, childless lesbians who hate men and want them all to die. They have nothing else left. They personally attack us because they have nothing else.

This is what happens when women attempt to do something for each other – men are so entitled and so accustomed to being centred, that they cannot handle being sidelined for a bit whilst we focus on the oppression of women and girls. See it as nothing more than a tantrum. Whataboutery in all its pathetic beige, beardy, boring, repetitive ‘glory’.

Women can hate us too. I see them. I see them often. The ‘egalitarians’ who hate feminism. The ‘feminists’ who tell us to go kill ourselves, die in a fire or call for our resignations. The women who internalise misogyny, use it against themselves whilst attacking other women for the oppression they are subjected to. The women who rush to the aid of the NAMALT crew. It really is incredulous that those women would use all of the rights, powers, voices and platforms that they have because radical feminists gave it to them over the last 100 years – to bully and abuse radical feminists. Irony doesn’t even touch the sides of that one.

The deeper irony being, that we will all keep fighting for their rights, even if they hate us. Even if those women say they don’t need feminism. Even if they say they hate feminism. Even if they say they don’t want those rights. Even if we disagree with them. We have been protecting women and girls (even the ones we don’t like) for decades.

I know how hard it is right now. I see so many of you struggling, giving up, getting tired and being abused. I see you trying to thicken your skin to face another day talking about the most basic shit, because you know you will have another day of abuse and threats. I see society get more and more misogynistic every day. I watch as some of the world’s biggest abusers and misogynists run our countries, royalty and governments.

My sisters, you are the force that the world needs right now. Every time you take a stand, you do something brilliant. You are a raging fire.

Women’s anger is pathologised because it is so powerful. We do not use our power to commit millions of murders and rapes each year. We do not use our power for worldwide warfare and genocide. We do not use it to dick-measure with our nuclear weapons. We do not use it to exploit developing countries. We use it to change the world. We use it to challenge the system. We use it to support other women. We use it to relentlessly defend our human rights. We use it to write essays and blogs that start debates and conversations. We set up conferences and groups. We create charities and grassroots projects.

We are the powerhouse that the world ignores but always expects us to be there to look after the kids and clean up after the men.

I want to remind you that the shit being thrown at us is disgusting, violent and abusive because it has a purpose: to silence and intimidate the most powerful female voices we have.

What people seem to forget is that within our radical feminism, we are made up of some of the strongest women in the world. We are refugees and asylum seekers, we are single mothers, we are trafficking survivors, we are women fighting cancer, we are women who have been beaten, raped, abused, strangled, tortured, imprisoned and discriminated against. We are ex-sex workers and women who have escaped prostitution. We are lesbians. We are activists, we are lawyers, we are academics, we are police officers, we are social workers, we are politicians, we are writers and performers, we are business owners and consumers. We are politically and economically active. We are voters. We have all lived through shit that people cannot even begin to imagine. We are living, breathing and dying in this feminism.

They cannot extinguish the fire we have set alight. The only reason they seek to weaken us, is because they recognise our power.

Now, you need to recognise your power, too.

Get back up, focus on your feminism and your love of women and girls, and get back to work. There is so much to do. Do not allow the accusations of hatred and abuse blur your vision. We know we don’t hate minority groups. We know we do not engage in transphobia. We know we don’t abuse and hate those who are different to us. We know we do not align with or support right wing, racist, homophobic groups who proclaim to be feminists and radical thinkers. These accusations are set ups. Deliberate conflations to encourage the hatred of feminists.

Radical feminism is the liberation of women and girls from the global oppression that is the patriarchy. Gender role stereotypes have oppressed and harmed us for so long. We have been minimised, ignored, gaslit, abused, attacked and silenced for so long. Yet, we are still here running the rape centres, the shelters, the helplines, the support groups, the women’s services, the households, the families, the communities and the female-led companies.

But we will keep going.

Millions of women and girls rely upon the work we do, whether we do it silently, covertly or publicly and loudly.

In sisterhood,

Dr Jessica Taylor

Psychologist

VictimFocus 

Email: Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

Website: www.victimfocus.org.uk

Tweet: @DrJessTaylor

Fbook: www.facebook.com/JessicaForenPsych

To all the women in relationships with men, wondering if they are lesbians

I’ve never been one to shy away from a topic, or to hide a part of myself. Or so I told myself.

I feel strongly that to be a leader of any kind, we must be transparent and authentic. That means talking about when you are successful – and when you fail. It means talking about when you are certain – and when you are uncertain.

It means being brave and being vulnerable. It means telling your truth so that others can find their truth.

It’s in this spirit that I write this blog about coming out as lesbian later on in life, and how many women have written to me since I came out. Women have asked me hundreds of questions about their own sexuality, and it seems that my choice to be with a woman has sparked something in themselves.

It’s left some women questioning themselves, their own sexuality and their marriages. This appears to be extremely common, with a Cosmo poll finding that 92% of women have questioned their sexuality.

I wanted to create this blog to answer some common questions – but they are answered from my own opinion and experiences. I do not position myself as an expert in sexuality or in lesbianism here. There are much better and more experienced advocates and voices on this than me.

I have however, tried to use my expertise in psychology, women’s oppression, trauma and relationships to answer some of these questions.

My experience

Last year, I left my marriage to a man because I was very unhappy and because I had slowly realised I was lesbian. I had realised I was attracted to girls when I was 11 years old and had messed around with girls for most of my teen years, however, I was also living in abuse and trauma for most of those years, and never got the chance to explore how I felt about those girls. The girls I did see or spent time with sort of felt like illicit secrets that I could never tell anyone about. Whereas everyone normalised the male abuse and ‘relationships’ with older boys and men. Over time, I think I just normalised the abuse, the attention from men and whilst I longed for girls, I never told anyone. I had never met a lesbian, I had no female role models who were bisexual or lesbian. It was way before social media. I never even thought to google it. I was too busy surviving every day, taking drugs and drinking.

Fast forward 17 years, I was 28, I had two children, married to a man who hated me, I was miserable, I was ill, I was stressed and I couldn’t ever feel true happiness. I threw myself into work and studying, I still didn’t know why I never felt fulfilled. It didn’t matter what I achieved in life, I never felt whole. I was still aware that I was attracted to women, but I had never processed it. That was, until I realised I had fallen in love with my best friend, and she had spontaneously told me she had fallen in love with me. We then went through what I can only describe as hell on earth to redefine our own lives, leave male partners, explore what we were supposed to do, talk for hours on end about what we wanted to do and how to find who we were.

We had to reframe so much of what we thought we knew about ourselves, and that’s an ongoing process. Thankfully, we were very close friends who had spoken in depth about many different topics for years, so it’s been fairly easy to navigate these complex feelings and experiences together. We’ve had the benefit of leaning on lesbians around us who have guided us and supported us when we’ve struggled.

We never really did the whole ‘coming out as gay’ thing. We just decided to be open about being in our relationship. I think some people thought we were joking at first, because we were friends. People realised fairly quickly that we weren’t joking.

We moved in together, something we longed to do and had often ‘joked’ about. In January this year we proposed to each other having commissioned rings for each other without the other one knowing.

Generally, people have been supportive. We’ve been subjected to a lot of online abuse and there have been some people around us who have outed themselves as homophobes but overall, we both think this is the best decision we ever made.

However, since then, many women have contacted me privately to tell me that they are lesbian too, and stuck in a heterosexual marriage or relationship. I am writing this blog for them. I want to answer some of the most common questions women have asked me in the last year.

Aren’t we supposed to be born gay or lesbian?

This is contested. There is no scientific consensus around this – and thousands of people realise they are gay, lesbian or bisexual later on in life. A recent large scale study reported in the Scientific American found that there was no single cause or gene for sexual orientation.

Sexuality is better viewed as individual and personal to you, rather than being down to a gene, or a part of your brain, or the way you were born, or purely socially constructed. It’s probably like many human issues – a mixture of genes, experience, socialisation and individual difference.

If you are a woman wondering why your sexuality might have changed over time, please don’t worry or feel scared. You also don’t have to be sure about your sexuality at any point in your life. There are no rules you have to follow. You might not ever want to label who you are. Realising that you are lesbian might really help to process your thoughts, experiences and feelings.

However, if you have noticed that you are now much more attracted to women than men, and you are starting to feel trapped in heterosexuality, you need to explore those feelings and listen to yourself.

What if I just don’t fancy men anymore because I was raped/abused and I need to find the right guy?

We’ve been asked this one a lot. At the end of the day, sexuality is about who you are attracted to. No matter what you think the reason might be, you don’t need to justify your sexual orientation.

Plenty of women are abused by men and their sexuality doesn’t change. However, some women are abused by men and then decide either that they never want sexual contact with men again, or that they find they are more attracted to women over time.

This again, is a contentious issue – mainly because people worry that if we acknowledge this change in sexuality can exist, abusers and oppressors will use it to claim we can change the sexuality of gay and lesbian people with conversion therapy.

This is a real danger, and I can see why people therefore deny that you can become gay or lesbian later on in life, but by denying it, we only invalidate thousands of real people and their real experiences.

The reality here, however hard it is to swallow, is that lots of women who have been abused, raped, trafficked, sold, harmed and oppressed will be more attracted to other women than they ever will be to men.

However, there are also many lesbians who have been lesbian for as long as they can remember (whether they have ever been abused by a man or not) and have never been attracted to men. It doesn’t appear to me that being raped or abused by men is a causal factor in sexuality.

Your trauma is important, but it’s not necessarily central to your sexuality. If it was, over a third of all women would be lesbian – because over a third of all women have been abused by a man.

I know in my case, I was attracted to girls by 11 years old, but my life took a very different journey and I was never able to explore that safely, so I didn’t. I repressed it (badly) for 17 years before I allowed myself the safe space to process how I really felt. Which leads to the next question that women have been asking me…

Why have I always fancied women but not connected the dots til now?

I think this one is about sexualisation and objectification of women, compulsory heterosexuality and misogyny.

Lots of women are sexually attracted to other women, but we also live in a society that deliberately objectifies and sexualises women and girls – so it’s easy to think that rather than being lesbian, you’re actually just ‘admiring her’ or ‘want to be like her’.

It’s also common for women to objectify and dehumanise sexualised women in porn and media – the impact is not limited to men and boys.

Because of this constant stream of sexualised images and portrayals of women, it might be harder for women to realise that they are actually sexually attracted to women because they are lesbian, rather than just ‘liking’ the images they see.

You might ask yourself, ‘Am I truly sexually attracted to women, or do I just objectify them?’

This level of critical thinking is extremely important and reflective, but it’s a bit harsh on yourself. This is a standard not applied to men, who are encouraged and allowed to objectify and sexualise women. If you’re attracted to women, you’re attracted to women. Straight people are not attracted to people of the same sex, no matter what. If you’re a woman who is sexually attracted to other women, you are not straight.

The same society that sexualises women also maintains thats heterosexuality is the norm, and that women and girls are supposed to want attention from men. We are all socialised this way, and women are often mocked, humiliated, abused for, and even measured by, their attractiveness to men and whether men want to sleep with them.

The world expects women to want men, expects girls to want boys – and socialisation is a very strong norm. It’s amazing how much young lesbians go through to be themselves and to be attracted to other girls whilst ignoring the noise of the world telling them that they are supposed to like boys.

This is even more prominent for young butch lesbians who are not only not conforming to heterosexuality but also rejecting femininity which is forced on to girls from birth.

There are a great many reasons why you might have fancied women and girls all your life but never realised that you’re lesbian (or bisexual). Because of the homophobia and misogyny in our society, it’s common for women who fancy women to repress their feelings or minimise them. Like me, you might have never been in a safe enough space (mentally or physically) to process your real sexual orientation, and repressing it might have been the only thing your brain could do for you.

Add in the amount of performative lesbian snogs that celebrities do and how lesbianism is repeatedly sold as a male porn fantasy and you can see how confusing it might be for some women to realise they are lesbian and that their sexual attraction to women is real and nothing to be scared or ashamed of.

Why do I feel jealous of lesbian couples?

If this is you, pay attention to this feeling. I’ve spoken to several women who are in relationships with men who feel this way and are starting to question why they get this pang of jealousy or longing when they see lesbian couples.

There is a real difference between looking at a lesbian couple and thinking, ‘Ah, they look lovely together and so happy’ and thinking ‘Why can’t I have that? I want that with a woman.’

If you feel jealousy, longing, upset or trapped when you look at lesbian couples, you might want to consider why that is.

Do lesbian couples represent something you feel is missing from your own life?

Do you feel trapped in your own relationship with a man?

Do you wish you were them?

Do you wish you had the opportunity to be with a woman?

Do you see yourself with a woman when you picture your ideal life?

Pay attention to those feelings, they are very important. Talk to someone you can trust about this.

Should I leave my marriage to a man and come out as lesbian this late in life?

This is a very personal decision and something you need to spend time considering. Mainly because to make this decision, you have to accept a degree of ‘selfishness’. Of course, you are not actually selfish when you realise you are lesbian and married to man whom you might love and respect but you are not interested in at all – but it will feel like selfishness.

This is because women and girls are socialised to put everything and everyone above their own needs and desires. I have spoken to lesbians who left male partners and who had children, who felt that they were turning everyone else’s lives upside down ‘just so they could be lesbian’.

That’s society talking. That’s feminine socialisation talking.

It is okay for you to want more from your life. If you have realised that you are lesbian, you can’t live a lie for the rest of your life just to please others and keep them comfortable.

Whilst it might mean you live out the rest of your days with a comfortable family life, you will live a half-life where you continue to lie to yourself and to everyone around you.

Long term, that’s not healthy for you and it’s not fair on you as a human, to have to live in such a state of denial for such a long time.

The other side of this is that if you respect and love your partner, and you have realised you are lesbian, he might deserve to know this. If he’s a decent guy who has loved and supported you (never hurt, abused, controlled, oppressed, cheated on you) then he deserves to know that you’re not attracted to him, that you are lesbian and that you don’t want to be with him anymore.

It means that he can pursue a relationship with someone who makes him happy and so can you.

If however, he’s an abusive arsehole, I couldn’t give a shit about him. All I would care about is you being away from abuse, being happy, being safe and being able to live as a lesbian.

Whatever you do, don’t ignore your feelings hoping that they will go away, or that you can pretend they don’t happen.

Lord knows I ended up so ill doing this to myself for years. Almost all of my health problems have disappeared since being able to live as a lesbian, and I can’t believe how much damage I was doing to myself by repressing who I was.

I love the man I’m with, but I don’t fancy him at all. I love him like a best friend or brother. I fancy women. What do I do?

The issue here is that some women will be in loving, caring, safe relationships with men they trust and respect – but they don’t fancy them at all. And they aren’t ‘in love’ with them like they would be with a woman.

If this is you, you might be feeling really conflicted – and this is understandable.

However, there is something really important to say here: it’s not healthy to keep forcing yourself to be intimate with a man when you know you are lesbian.

I’ve recently spoken to a lot of women who are in relationships with men, have realised they are lesbian and are either avoiding intimate contact all together, or they are having sexual contact with their boyfriend or husband that they really don’t want.

If you don’t fancy men at all, and you’re attracted to women, you might be realising that you’ve had a lot of sex over the years that you really didn’t want or enjoy.

If you think of other things, try to distract yourself, try to get it over with as quickly as possible, or sex with your male partner makes you feel uncomfortable or even disgusted, you might want to take some time to consider how much harm you are doing to yourself by forcing or expecting yourself to ‘perform’ heterosexuality when you aren’t sexually attracted to him.

This is another example of where you need to put yourself no matter how it feels. It’s not good for any lesbian woman to keep pretending she’s straight. However, this is much easier said than done for thousands of lesbian women in cultures, communities and religions that would ostracise, harm or even kill them for leaving a marriage to a man to come out as lesbian.

But what about coming out as lesbian after I’ve had children with a man?

This one is an interesting question and is largely related to everything else I have said. It is not uncommon for women to realise they are lesbian in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and even later on in life. On that basis, lots of us will have already had pregnancies or had babies. Some of us might have toddlers or small children. Some of us might even have adult children by then.

This doesn’t make you less of a lesbian. It doesn’t mean you can’t be lesbian because you have had children and have had sex with men (consensual or abusive).

If your sexuality is now that you are solely attracted to other women, and you are no longer attracted to men at all, then you are lesbian.

From speaking to plenty of women, there are also those who got pregnant with abusive or coercive men, or had babies very young, and had never had the chance to process their own sexuality in a safe way. This means that lots of women who have had children eventually realise they are not even attracted to men, have been attracted to women for years, but have already had children.

This is more common than you think, so please don’t feel alone if this is you.

Final thoughts

I am already accused of trying to ‘turn straight women lesbian’ every day on the internet so I am well aware of the abuse I will probably get for writing this. However, I know I searched for information like this in my mid twenties and found very little. I know that other women are writing to me, DMing me and asking me these questions every week.

I know that me coming out and being so much happier with a woman has sparked something in many women who follow me.

I want you to know that life is so much healthier and happier now that I am able to be who I have always been. I won’t pretend this has been easy, and the abuse for being lesbian is horrible.

I’m still getting used to the weird ways men treat lesbians – somewhere between sexual objectification and outright hatred.

However, I am the calmest, healthiest, happiest and clearest I’ve ever been. I feel whole, which is something I have never felt before. I often say to people that I’ve felt like I’ve been running on a treadmill for years, and suddenly, the running has stopped and I can breathe again.

What I will say is that if you are searching for this kind of information because you find yourself attracted to women, there is a part of you that already knows you are probably lesbian.

This isn’t anything to be scared of. Being a lesbian is the best thing that’s ever happened to me and thousands of other women who find so much happiness living with, and loving other women.

Take some time to explore how you feel and use this handy checklist if you are still questioning yourself:

1. Do you notice women before you notice men?

2. When you watch a film, are you more attracted to the female character than the male character?

3. Do you prefer to see or watch sexual materials with women than men?

4. Have you been attracted to or had a crush on a girl or woman you know?

5. Have you been having sex with men in which you just ‘bare it’ or ‘wait til he’s done’?

6. Have you thought about women when you have masturbated or had sex?

7. Have you sought out materials about being lesbian or bisexual?

8. Can you picture yourself having sex with or having a relationship with another woman? How does it feel?

9. How would you feel if a beautiful woman told you she was attracted to you?

10. Do you want to have sex with women?

Whatever your answers, if you have found this blog because you are questioning whether you are lesbian, consider talking to someone you really trust. Talking it through with someone you trust, or even talking it through with other lesbians might help you process your own feelings.

Dr Jessica Taylor

Tweet: @DrJessTaylor

Facebook: Facebook.com/JessicaForenPsych

Email: jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

20 signs your boyfriend or husband is a misogynist

Featured

10th April 2020

Written by Dr Jessica Taylor

The thing about lockdown is that it will be causing reflection and in some cases, forcing some very uncomfortable thinking to take place.

You might be missing loved ones, but you might also be starting to realise that you are in a relationship with a misogynist. This blog is to help women and girls think about whether they are in a relationship with a misogynist and consider the impact it may be having on you.

Before I give you the signs to look out for, let me explain what I mean by ‘misogynist’ or ‘misogyny’.

Misogyny is officially defined in dictionaries as:

‘The hatred of women including prejudice and contempt for women and girls. Misogyny can also include the belief that females are inferior humans to males.’

There has been a concerted effort to minimise and delegitimize the concept and language of ‘misogyny’.

When we discuss the reality and impact of misogyny, we are now met with accusations that misogyny is a myth dreamt up by feminist and ‘social justice warriors’.

The word ‘misogyny’ comes from two words. ‘Misos’ meaning hatred and ‘gune’ meaning woman. In the mid-17th century, it began to be used as ‘misogyny’ to mean the hatred of women. 400 years later, the definition has not changed, and we continue to discuss the global phenomenon linked to sexism – the hatred of females.

To people who have never considered this before, the concept of people hating 51% of the global population probably seems unlikely or farfetched. However, as my new book will and many other books about violence against women and girls already have shown, there are thousands of examples of the constant, enduring ways we hate, harm, control, abuse and kill women and girls all over the world and throughout history.

Misogyny is displayed in so many direct and indirect ways. Sometimes they are obvious, and sometimes they are hidden in seemingly benevolent messages and beliefs about women, men and social roles.

Misogyny has existed in several forms for thousands of years. Aristotle wrote that women were ‘inferior, incomplete, deformed versions of men’ (Freeland, 1994). Ancient Greek mythology contains many examples of misogyny, in which stories are told that the world was a peaceful and balanced place until Gods created women. However, later Greek literature generally considered misogyny to be a disease, as it contradicted all natural and social aims and norms to hate women and girls.

Second wave feminists tend to argue that misogyny is both the cause and the result of patriarchal control.

If you notice any of the following in your relationship or in the man you are with, you are living with a misogynist or someone who hold misogynistic views.

He tends to make comments about women being incapable, stupid or weak

He might make comments directly, indirectly or as ‘jokes’. He might like posts, watch shows or listen to speakers who consistently talk shit about women and girls. He might suggest that women are shit drivers, are too weak to perform certain tasks, are incapable of leadership etc.

He’s sees female equality as some tokenistic ‘woke’ bullshit

He makes comments about female world leaders, CEOs or female sports stars that suggest he believes they are only there because we have to play along with equality and pretend that women can do things as well as men.

He expresses a real distaste or anger towards female politicians and leaders

He might suggest they only got to where they are because they’ve slept with men or because of what they look like. He might talk about female leaders and politicians dress, body shape, face, appearance and behaviour in a way that is not relevant to him in male leaders and politicians

He doesn’t support or like you working or earning decent money

He is grumpy, annoyed, distant or offensive about your money. It might be that you’ve recently got a new job, had a pay rise or been promoted. It might be that you’ve gone back to work after having children and now have your own income source that he no longer controls. He has no interest in the things you are saving for and he doesn’t value anything you have paid for. In contrast, anything he is saving for or has paid for is the most amazing and kindest most generous thing ever to happen to anyone.

He uses phrases like ‘don’t be such a woman’ or ‘like a little bitch’ or ‘he’s a pussy’

The badge of the misogynist – his constant use of female as an insult. Every time he uses these phrases and phrases like it, what he’s really saying is that there is nothing more offensive than being female. Pussy is an insult because it’s female. Bitch is an insult because it’s female. ‘Don’t be a woman’ is an insult because he’s suggesting that being a woman is something to be ashamed of.

He expects you to be his mother and his housekeeper

Yeah. You’re supposed to look after him, mother him, cook for him, clean for him, do his laundry for him, keep his diary for him, remember his mother’s birthday for him, remind him of your own birthday, sort all the bills, write all the Christmas cards, advise him (though he rarely takes your advice), listen to him moan and so on and so forth. Your role is basically his constant servant, to fulfil his needs in every way possible at all times.

Sort of like a mother. Who he wants to shag.

Freud would have a field day. Wait? Didn’t Freud…?

He wants sex when he wants it, on his terms, how he wants it

Sex with him is sort of like an obligation, when you don’t want it, he gets angry with you. He has sex the way he wants, sex is not about your pleasure or about what you want. You rarely orgasm or you fake it so he feels fulfilled because he couldn’t handle knowing he’s so bad in bed. He sometimes withholds intimacy as a punishment. He wakes you up in the night wanting sex. He doesn’t take no for an answer. He might talk you into it when you don’t really want it. He might think he’s the most amazing guy in bed ever – and make sex all about his performance rather than your experience.

(NB – if any of these are true for you, this is sexual abuse and rape, and he’s not just a misogynist.)

If he does any ‘woman’s work’ he wants some sort of medal for it

He prides himself on hoovering once or cleaning the kitchen that weekend. But you didn’t hear the last of it for months.

He doesn’t really like or want to do any housework or childcare because he suggests to you that’s it’s your job, and he has important man things to do, like work and play on the Xbox. If he does help around the house and look after the kids, he wants constant praise and thanks for it. If you forget to thank him one hundred times a week, you are told you are ungrateful.

Alternatively, he does quite a lot of housework but reminds you of how good he is for doing stuff you ‘should’ be doing. He might do this in a subtle manner or literally tell you that he’s a good man because he does housework/childcare.

He puts you down

About anything. Your friends. Your hobbies. Your skills. Your interests. Your talents. Your appearance. Your family. Your accent. Your ideas. Your studies. Your opinions. Your dreams. Anything. He’s doing that because he’s weak as fuck and he wants you to feel as weak as him. He can’t stand that you are an independent human.

All his exes are ‘psychos’

Red flag alert. If all his exes are ‘psycho liars’ – you’re in danger. If every word he says about his exes is to convince you that they are all mad as shit and made his life hell, he’s trying to discredit them for some reason. He wants you to believe they are all crazy because he’s a misogynist who thinks angry, upset women are all psycho. He wants you to hate them, but why?

Think about it. Why would he want you to hate a stranger? And if his exes are angry and hurt by him, find out why. Not from him.

He’s like Jekyll and Hyde

One of the things you might notice is that he’s like two different people. He’s one person to you but a complete actor to everyone else. He speaks to you and treats you in ways he would never treat his friends. You might also notice he’s like this with his mother. He might be lovely to her face but absolutely vile behind her back. Or he might be absolutely vile to his mother whilst telling everyone what an amazing mother he has. Watch out for this one.

He literally believes he is a gift to women

The thing is with men who hate women, is that they also want to be desired by women. They think they are the best you will ever get, they might even tell you that. They might tell you they could leave you and get another woman very quickly whereas you would end up alone because no one will want you. He describes himself as the perfect partner and often lists all the amazing qualities about himself. He makes you feel like he is the only man who will ever look twice at you – but that women are crawling all over him and you’re lucky to have him.

He engages in benevolent sexism but dresses it up as respect for women

Red flag for a misogynist – they dress up their sexism by making it sound like concern or respect for women. Examples include ‘I’ll get that door for you’ or ‘women shouldn’t be carrying heavy items’ or ‘the army is no place for a lady’ or ‘women shouldn’t be exposed to lad culture’. He’s saying you’re not his equal. Women are less than him.

He doesn’t like you being praised or celebrated

Watch out for this one. Does he get moody or annoyed when people are happy for you or telling you how great you are? When someone thanks you or supports you, does he say they are ‘up your ass’ or ‘probably want something from you’? Does he get angry if others tell you you have talent or skill?

You might notice that he claims to be proud of you but it feels shallow or fake. That’s because it is.

He takes your ideas and passes them off as his own

Of course he does. He’s a misogynist. He can’t bear the idea of you thinking something before him or better than him.

He only helps with the kids in front of people

Ugh. This one is so disgusting. The way he leaves you to cope with the kids or baby for hours on your own until his parents show up and then he’s superdad. When they leave he’s back to ordering you around. He knows what he’s doing. He’s keeping up appearances. The way he calls it ‘helping with the kids’ like he’s doing you a favour.

He will get annoyed when you talk about misogyny and sexism because he doesn’t think it really exists anymore

No explanation needed here. He’s a misogynist.

He hates feminism and thinks women’s rights are a joke

Any man who hates feminism is a red flag for misogyny. What man who loves and respects other humans would not want equal rights for women and the end of oppression of women? If he doesn’t want that, there’s something wrong with him. He claims men are more oppressed than women and that feminism is man-hate. He thinks feminists are all disgusting, ugly, spinsters or lesbians. He’s a misogynist.

He may try to play you off against other women

He wants you to be insecure – he wants you in direct competition with other women or his exes. Worse, you might even feel that you’re in competition with his mother. It might be that he tells you other women are better than you. It might be more subtle than that. Maybe sometimes he brings up how amazing he thinks other women are whilst treating you like you’re stupid and worthless.

The last point is that he may actually learn over time not to show any of these behaviours or views. Despite this, he might still be violent and abusive towards you.

He might attack you, abuse you, force you to have sex or gaslight you but then go back to being ‘perfect’ for a while. Do not under any circumstances believe this bullshit persona. His violence is not accidental. The way he swiftly reverts to being ‘perfect’ and apologises profusely, is a tactic.

If after reading this, you think your boyfriend or husband is a misogynist, the best thing to do is to leave. I don’t say this lightly and I know how this will come across.

You can’t live with someone who hates you, puts you down and doesn’t believe you are his equal.

Don’t spend your life trying to prove yourself to a misogynist. You’ll never be good enough and he’ll make sure you know it. Don’t spend your life trying to raise children with a man like that either. The quicker (and safer) you and the children can get out, the better. Children, whether boys or girls, do not need a misogynist as a role model.

Finally, remember that his beliefs and values about women are not a reflection on you. You can’t change views like that and none of this is your fault.

But for your own sanity, talk to someone you trust and try to get out. If this article has raised an alarm for you, tell someone.

Written by Dr Jessica Taylor

Tweet @DrJessTaylor

Email: Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

My new book ‘Why Women are Blamed for Everything’ is out on 27th April 2020

Pre order: https://victimfocus-resources.com/products/why-women-are-blamed-for-everything-exploring-victim-blaming-of-women-subjected-to-violence-and-trauma-by-dr-jessica-eaton

Let’s talk about sex… and gender ideology

Dr Jessica Taylor

23 Feb 2020

I have been meaning to write about this for months. There is no doubt that it has become dangerous for women to write or speak about their views of gender, but that wasn’t what delayed this post.

What delayed this post was the sheer amount of information I would need to convey in this article to do the topic justice.

I am going to try to cover some main points relating to my stance on gender ideology. As a psychologist, an academic researcher, a lesbian and a woman who has worked in sexual and domestic violence with women and girls for over a decade, I have many perspectives and interests in this conversation.

Before I start, I would like to take the opportunity to state that I do not support any groups who mock, abuse or humiliate trans people. I refuse to support ‘feminists’ who are very clearly transphobic in its real sense, and use the guise of feminism to mock trans people and gender theory. However, I am certainly gender critical (in its real sense).

My main points will be:

1. The concept of gender is being wrongly discussed and defined which has confused millions of people

2. Telling children and adults that they are born in the wrong body is abusive and biologically impossible

3. You can’t challenge the gender role binary by upholding the gender role binary

4. Biological sex is real, important and remains a protected characteristic in law

5. Gender ideology has some repressive and homophobic ideas within it

6. Issues around gender present serious dilemmas for safeguarding

7. Gender ideology, like any other ideology, does not have to be accepted or supported by anyone else

The concept of gender is being wrongly discussed and defined which has confused millions of people

The word ‘sex’ has been used since the 15th century to mean the binary biological categories of mammals based on genetics and sex characteristics.

The WHO (2020) defines gender as ‘Gender refers to the roles, behaviours, activities, attributes and opportunities that any society considers appropriate for girls and boys, and women and men. Gender interacts with, but is different from, the binary categories of biological sex.’

My view is that there is no such thing as ‘gender’. I don’t believe gender is innate or biologically predisposed. I don’t believe it exists at all. As a radical feminist, I believe that the only way for all adults and children to be free from gender roles and gender is to eliminate it completely.

The word ‘gender’ has Latin and french origins. It meant ‘type’ or ‘kind’.

The term gender role was first used 1955 to mean ‘all those things that a person says or does to disclose himself or herself as having the status of boy or man, girl or woman.’

Stereotypes, basically.

In the 1960s and 1970s, second wave feminists such as Betty Friedan wrote about women’s gender roles being used to keep them in the kitchen and as slaves to men at home. Her book ‘The Feminine Mystique’ about the feminine gender role stereotypes was an extremely influential book for women who felt oppressed in the gender role expected of them.

During the 1970s, academic journals started to use ‘learned sex roles’ interchangeably with ‘innate gender roles’. However, by the 1980s the academic consensus was that sex was innate but gender roles were learned. From then onwards, gender (or gender roles) have been known to be socially constructed norms based on notions of masculinity and femininity.

The concept of ‘gender’ as we know it now actually comes from the phrase/concept ‘gender role stereotypes’ which was first written about and criticised in the 60s by second wave feminists. Gender role stereotypes were originally defined as a set of behaviours and characteristics that were socially constructed to relate to the roles of men and women. Women were described with and defined by a set of these ‘rules’ and so were men.

Women were feminine, quiet, pretty, submissive, content, polite, domesticated, kind, natural caregivers with no need for a career, education, opinion or ambition. They wore dresses and skirts, they wore make up, had long hair, wore high heels and existed to be looked at and adored by men. The gender role stereotype prescribed that women were heterosexual and wanted to be wives and mothers.

Men were masculine, strong, loud, dominant, aggressive, stoic, firm, goal-oriented with job roles, responsibilities, educations, opinions, the right to vote and the opportunities to progress. They wore trousers and suits, grew facial hair, never wore make up and existed to make money and protect their family. The gender role stereotype prescribed that men were heterosexual and wanted lots of sex with lots of women before eventually finding a wife and becoming a father to children (usually sons were desired) to continue their heir line.

These are gender role stereotypes. Anyone falling outside of those gender roles would be seen as weird, ill, mad or even possessed by demons – for a very long time. Women were routinely sectioned and tortured for being lesbian. Women who didn’t want to marry could be sent to asylums. Gay men could be tortured and killed. Women who didn’t conform to gender role stereotypes could be burned at the stake or sent for psychiatric treatment to make her more feminine and submissive to match the gender role she was pigeon-holed into.

The point of the critical discussion around gender roles was to argue that males and females could look, present, experience and explore life in many different ways without it being a disorder or an abnormality or a condition or a problem. For example, a girl could be masculine presenting, interested in things that society had constructed as ‘male’ or ‘masculine’ and it still doesn’t mean she’s a man or a boy – she’s a girl who loves stuff and wants stuff and experiences stuff that the world had told her is ‘man/boy’ stuff.

More recently, we have conflated biological sex with these gender roles. In academia, this started to happen in the 90s and 00s in certain disciplines. Instead of talking about gender roles and gender stereotypes, we are led to believe that gender is actually an expression of an innate identity or biological/neurochemical reality.

It’s as if no one can see how ultimately damaging this will be to society at large. Gender roles (now just shortened to ‘gender’ or extended to ‘gender identity’) are a set of sexist, misogynistic, homophobic social norms that are placed on humans to make them ‘fit’ into pre-agreed binary categories.

We have stopped talking about this definition of gender and instead been forced to accept a new definition of gender. A definition that many of us do not subscribe to.

Telling children and adults that they are born in the wrong body is abusive and biologically impossible

As someone who has worked with children and adults for over a decade, this narrative deeply worries me.

I don’t believe anyone can be ‘born into the wrong body’ and there is no scientific basis for this assertion. I note that no one has answered the question of where the ‘right’ body went during the gestation process or where the ‘wrong’ brain went as the baby developed inside of the female body. It is biologically impossible for a human female body to construct foetuses which contain ‘the wrong brain’ or ‘the wrong body’.

There is no such thing as a ‘wrong’ body or brain. We can definitely feel dysphoric, we can disassociate, we can become disconnected from our bodies – but we are never physically made out of the wrong body parts or brain parts. We are whole. We might not fit into the binary – but we are all whole people. Our bodies are not wrong, society is wrong.

What I do believe is that humans exist on a massive spectrum and society tries to fit them into feminine girls or masculine boys – most of us actually sit somewhere inbetween.

Until I was around 11 years old, I lived ‘like a boy’ and looked ‘like a boy’. I had short hair, I played on the boys football team, I only had boy mates, I refused anything pink, feminine, girly or maternal. I loved my brothers toys. I never wanted to be a mum. I was mistaken for a boy for years. People used to think my mum had two sons.

People used to say to her, in front of me: ‘oh boys will be boys!’ When me and my brother argued or play fought. My little sister was the most feminine, maternal, girly and cute little girl I knew. There was no mistaking that we were very different. She used to love playing with dolls and babies. I just didn’t get it. I’d much prefer playing with my brother’s cool toy that shot darts across the room.

I realised I was attracted to girls by 12 years old but thought it was a bit weird, ignored it and never told anyone. I had boyfriends and I think I did fancy them but not in the way I fancied the girls.

I hated my body and I hated my breasts. I used to slick all my hair back after a shower and wonder if it would be better if I was just born a boy. I used to wonder what my name could be if I was a boy. I never ever told anyone about this. By 13 I was well into puberty and had 30F breasts I could do nothing about. I hated dresses and skirts. I didn’t wear makeup and I didn’t care about learning to do hair or nails or anything (still don’t).

However, I definitely remember being sucked into ‘performing femininity’ because of comments from boys and men in my life. I definitely remember starting to self-sexualise and see myself as some sort of object/entertainment for men and boys.

I found feminism at 21 and learned that it was completely okay for me not to conform to notions of femininity. It was the first time that I realised it was normal to be a woman but not to conform. I loved learning about the way gender role norms expect women to speak, look, act, walk, exist in a certain way and suddenly lots of things started making sense to me. I realised that lots of the ways I felt about my body and myself were being pushed on to me by societal gender roles. This information was so liberating for me.

It wasn’t until I was 27 that I started to question if I was gay. I realised I was married to a man but I wasn’t attracted to him and I really just didn’t want to be around or with men. I started to dress more like how I wanted. Stopped trying to fit in. Stopped trying to conform. Found radfem and lesbian networks. Most of my friends are lesbian women, butch women and gender non conforming women. I hadn’t ever realised that I seemed to click much more with these women – they say you attract your clan. It seemed I did.

Last year I left my marriage to my husband and told my best friend I was in love with her. I have been openly lesbian for only about 9 months. In reality, it was much longer. Decades longer.

I often think that if I was born a decade later, I would be one of those girls being told I might be trans and I could live as a boy and bind my breasts and take hormones and so on.

I disagree with the entire concept of telling children or adults that just because they don’t conform to masculinity or femininity, or that they are gay or lesbian or gender non-conforming – they must be trans. They must be ‘born in the wrong body’.

Why can’t they just be male or female but with their own personality and look and style and ideas and beliefs?

You can’t challenge the gender role binary by upholding the gender role binary

One of the parts of this debate that makes the least sense is the concept of challenging binary notions of gender roles… by transing between two notions of gender roles.

Surely, the way to challenge the way society forces us into oppressive gender role stereotypes is to not conform to any of them.

Be the femme gay guy. Be the butch lesbian. Be the bisexual person who is completely ambiguous. Be femme one day and butch the next. Be whoever and whatever you feel. Present how you like when you like. Be a het guy who likes make up and dressing up. Be a het woman who hates all things feminine.

These are the ways to break the gender binary. Transcend it. Make gender irrelevant – that’s the thesis of radical feminism. Smash the patriarchy. Dismantle gender.

These aren’t just t-shirt slogans – they are fundamental aims of radical feminism.

However, we still have a gender binary. Even where people claim it is a spectrum, it really isn’t being talked about or perceived as a spectrum.

Why does a boy who doesn’t conform to masculine ideals need to trans to a girl? Why does a girl who hates femininity and feels more comfortable with masculine gender roles need to trans to be a boy?

Doesn’t that just support the binary? Doesn’t that just support the notion that you can either be masculine or feminine – but you can’t exist in between these categories?

‘If you don’t fit in one, you must be the other’ is literally a binary.

Society created gender roles of masculinity and femininity. And we force them on humans from birth. Not conforming to them doesn’t make us trans, it makes us human.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with girls or boys who don’t feel their ‘gender’ – I think the world is wrong. I think they should be allowed to be who they are without us telling them they must be a boy in a girls body or a girl in a boys body. Why should we medicate and mutilate them for not conforming to gender norms we have been trying to dismantle for decades?

Biological sex is real, important and remains a protected characteristic in law

It’s a very strange experience to watch the world of academia, wider society and the press try to perform the most incredible mental and linguistic gymnastics to pretend that sex is socially constructed the way gender roles are.

‘Sex observed at birth’?

‘Assigned male at birth?’

‘Cissexist’?

‘Cisgender’?

All these new words and phrases that are completely meaningless. Biological sex exists. If it didn’t, why do people even need hormone replacement therapies and hormone blockers?

If biological sex didn’t exist, why do all trans women start out as men before they identify as women? Why do they seek the same surgeries and the same medications? Why aren’t there any women who trans to become trans women? Sex has to exist for the transition to make sense.

Why do trans men need to bind female breast tissue but trans women seek breast augmentation? Why do trans women seek female hormones? Why do some trans people seek to have their biological genitals removed or changed? If sex was socially constructed, none of these things would need to happen for someone to transition to their identified gender. They could just do it. No surgery or hormones would be required if sex was socially constructed.

If biological sex is socially constructed, why do trans men need to take testosterone (male hormone) to cause changes to the body, whilst trans women need to take oestrogen (female hormone) to cause changes to the body?

Surely this demonstrates a biological basis of sex? If the correct sex hormones for each of the two biological sexes are used in transition processes, then surely this shows that biological sex exists and is not a social construct based in language and observations?

The reality is, sex is a biological, genetic, immutable fact. Gender roles are socially, historically and culturally specific. They are slightly different depending on time period, where you are in the world and what community you are in. Gender roles even change with social class. They are therefore not innate or biological in nature.

Whilst we are told ‘gender’ is a protected characteristic in the Equality Act 2010, this is not actually quite right. Sex is the protected characteristic in EA2010. The other protected characteristic is ‘gender reassignment’ or ‘transsexual people’. Both of which are considered by some to be outdated language.

However, this is important because it differentiates biological sex and gender reassignment. The law rightly protects trans people from being discriminated against by employers, institutions, education settings, businesses etc.

However, the same is true on the basis of biological sex. The EA2010 sets out the rights for males and females to have single sex spaces such as wards, toilets, prisons, hospitals, refuges, mental health provisions, education settings etc.

It is important to understand that biological sex is a real, factual, objective category for mammals. There are significant differences between human males and human females that must not be ignored.

For example:

The leading cause of death in males under 35 is suicide. This is not the same for females. Males are more likely to die by suicide than females. This is actually more likely to be linked to the way we socialise males into the masculine gender role which can be quite harmful to their own mental health and general well-being.

1 in 3 females will be raped or attempted to be raped by males in their lifespan. This is not the same for males. The statistic for men is around 1 in 20. This is not based on reporting to the police or convictions – it is based on anonymous self-reporting and therefore cannot be simply explained by saying that males report less.

The most common cancer in females is breast cancer, but the most common cancer in males is lung cancer (Cancer Research, 2020). This is not socially constructed. This is a sex difference. Breast cancer does occur in males, but it is extremely rare in contrast to female breast cancer.

The leading cause of death in males is heart disease whilst the leading cause of death of females in dementia (Public Health England, 2017). This is a recent sex difference finding – as the leading cause of death in both males and females used to be heart disease. However, heart disease in females has fallen whilst dementia in females has risen. This is not socially constructed, this is a sex difference.

Females are at risk from female genital mutilation in many different countries in the world. Males are not at risk from FGM. This should not really be a contentious point but I know a number of incredible activists working in FGM who have been called transphobic for saying that FGM is only done to females.

Males commit 97-99% of all global crime according to FBI global crime statistics (2017). Females are hugely underrepresented in crime, except for fraud and financial crimes in which they tend to commit around the same amount of crimes as males.

Males are the most incarcerated sex in the world, making up over 98% of the prison population. Offender management and offender rehabilitation research and interventions have therefore been based on male offending and male socialisation. This is important because we are now beginning to find that interventions that have been developed and tested with males in prison do not work with females. Conversely, we know that interventions and therapies that work with females have little to no effect with males. This one is more complicated, because it is likely to be due to the interplay between biological sex differences and gender role stereotype and socialisation differences.

Both historically and presently, females are the only sex to get pregnant or ever give birth. This is important because blood changes when females become pregnant and carry babies. Lots of medical research has found that males cannot receive a blood transfusion from females who have had a baby, because blood from females who have been pregnant have a different immune system response to males. Research from a 10 year study showed that males who received blood from ever-pregnant females were 1.5 times more likely to die from the transfusion (Middleburg, 2017).

Biological sex is real. Reproductive sex is real. Everyone knows which sex to go to when they want a surrogate mother for a baby. There are currently zero surrogacy agencies exploiting male bodies. There’s a reason for that. No one is going to pay for a male in a developing country to carry their baby.

Even in our own privileged countries, trans people and pro-trans activists who want to have babies after transition still know which process to follow to have that baby. They know that they either need to preserve their ovum, keep their uterus, have IVF or commission a surrogate. These are all exclusively female issues. Trans men who want to have a baby may still be able to do so because they have a uterus and ovaries. Trans women who want to have a baby would need a female partner or a female surrogate mother. Biological sex is inescapable when it comes to reproduction. It is interesting to see that even people who claim biological sex is a spectrum or that biological sex is actually just socially constructed or ‘observed’ – still know how to make a baby.

These are just a few examples of sex differences off the top of my head.

Sex differences are apparent in literally every medical, psychological, criminological, sociological, developmental and neurological discipline.

Therefore, sex differences remain extremely important.

What happens when a transwoman is in a serious accident and needs a blood transfusion but has had all of their medical records changed to say they are female? What if the transfusion kills them?

What happens when a transman needs an urgent X-ray or operation and their documents all say they are ‘male’ – so no one checks to see if they could be pregnant before the procedure?

In my view, it is absolutely acceptable to talk about people wanting to present as feminine or masculine without claiming that biological sex doesn’t exist. People feel dysphoric when their sex doesn’t ‘match’ their gender roles – but that doesn’t mean their sex is wrong, it means our socially constructed notions of gender are too restrictive and oppressive to be useful anymore.

Gender ideology has some repressive and homophobic ideas within it

One of the concerns that is often raised about believing that gender role stereotypes are actually innate feelings of ‘gender’ – and that biological sex is offensive and irrelevant, is what this means for gay males and lesbian females.

If sex means nothing and should be deconstructed, what does the word ‘homosexual’ even mean?

If children who are gay, lesbian or gender non-conforming are being told they are actually the opposite sex but trapped in the wrong body and are actually straight – what does this mean for gay rights and the perception of gay people?

Well, I can tell you what it means. It means homophobia can get a huge second wind under the guise of gender progression. Almost like palatable, socially acceptable, modern homophobia all dressed up as something kind and positive.

Case in point: Iran

Iran has the second highest numbers of transwomen in the whole world. Unlikely finding in a conservative Muslim country? Not really.

Iran has adopted the belief that being trans is better than being a gay guy. Instead of being a gay man, he can trans to be a het woman. Problem solved. Gay is an ‘illness’ that needs to be cured by transition in Iran.

Being gay in Iran is still punishable by death – whereas transsexuality was made legal in 1987. This means that Iranian activists such as Shadi Amen are now starting to speak out about the way the government is encouraging men to trans to women in order to ‘cure them’.

Whilst this direct approach is not yet being taken in the UK, the underlying ideology does exist. We know that many children who express gender dysphoria will go on to be gay or lesbian adults. The danger here is that we are essentially seeing a new wave of conversion therapy of gay and non-conforming kids.

To me, this does not look progressive. This does not look like a step forward for humans.

The second part of homophobia within the gender ideology is the argument that lesbian same-sex attracted females should date males who identify as transwomen.

I am being deliberately specific in my language here because I am not seeing the same pressure on gay males to have sex with transmen. And I sure as hell can’t see the pressure on het males to have sex with transwomen.

The pressure sits solely with females, mainly lesbians but also het females who are being coerced into accepting their male partners who come out as trans. This is misogyny in action.

A pressure on same-sex attracted people to have sex with someone of the opposite sex who says they identify as a man or woman – is homophobic. It’s not only homophobic, but it really does challenge our notions of informed consent.

No one is entitled to sex with anyone else, no one has a right to sex.

So therefore, everyone has a right to be HUGELY picky about who they have consensual sex with. You literally have no right to sex with anyone who doesn’t want sex with you. It doesn’t matter even if they say something absolutely ridiculous like ‘I’m not attracted to people with blonde hair’ or ‘I would never date a guy who voted republican’ or even ‘I am just not attracted to short men’.

It doesn’t matter, because it’s their right to choose who they have sex with and when they have sex and how they have sex.

This right is extended to lesbians. Lesbians do not have to accept or date or have sex with males who identify as transwomen. Just like lesbians do not have to have sex with other lesbians they don’t fancy – but they certainly do not have to have sex with males. Even males who have transitioned. No one can ever make them do that and it would be homophobic to infer otherwise.

This is why there are entire activist groups and movements about lesbian erasure and the way lesbians are being silenced and removed from conversations and events. Groups like ‘Get the L Out’ are considered ‘hate groups’ for talking about the way lesbians are being erased.

They are considered to be lying or exaggerating – or accused of being plain old hateful.

But in fact, they are raising extremely important points in radical feminism, in lesbian rights and in human rights.

If biological sex is ignored, gender roles become enshrined in law as ‘real’ and ‘innate’ and lesbians are seen as hateful bigots for not having sex with males who say they are women – lesbianism ceases to exist linguistically and politically. Whilst actual lesbianism (females who are same sex attracted) will continue forever, it is homophobic and dangerous to keep suggesting that lesbian women should give over more and more space to males.

By definition, males cannot be lesbians. To suggest they can is homophobia.

There are other groups who support het women whose husbands of many years identify as transwomen and are then expected to support that process or even stay in a relationship with the father of their children whilst he rejects decades of his own life (and her life, and their kids lives) and instead begins to call himself by a new name, dresses in feminine clothing and seeks surgery.

Most people would agree that the woman does not need to accept, support or stay with the male who decides to transition to be a transwoman. However, lots of wives in this position have been accused of being transphobic, bigoted and hateful if they do not stay with the husband and become a faux ‘lesbian’ couple, referring to her husband as ‘she’ and pretending to the outside world that she is same-sex attracted. Either way, the het female in this situation cannot win.

Note how this part of the blog is not about the erasure of gay males or het males – because this isn’t happening (yet).

Issues around gender present serious dilemmas for safeguarding

Some of the safeguarding issues we need to consider here include some rather contentious topics. Just because they are contentious does not mean they are untouchable or not up for discussion.

The first is the link between gender dysphoria and trauma from child abuse.

Having worked in this field for over a decade now, I can tell you that questioning your sexuality and identity after rape and abuse is very common and normal. We’ve always worked with children and adults who experience this trauma response – it is nothing new to those of us doing this work.

It is fairly common for sexually abused girls to start to reject everything female and feminine about themselves, hate their breasts, hate their vulva, wish they were a boy, start harming parts of their bodies.

Equally, it is fairly common for sexually abused boys to start to question their sexuality, reject their own bodies, hate sexual arousal, wish they were a girl and start self harming.

A couple of years ago, I spoke out about the amount of UK social workers who had been contacting me and talking to me about children on their caseload who begin identifying as trans after being abused, exploited, trafficked and raped. Social workers I have spoken to are concerned that the ‘affirm, affirm, affirm’ approach to gender is stopping them from being able to work through the dysphoria with children who have been subjected to life changing abuse. It is absolutely vital that we acknowledge that gender and body dysphoria is a coping mechanism and normal trauma response to sexual abuse.

This does not mean that all trans people were sexually abused, of course.

But it does mean that children who start to hate their bodies and talk about wanting to be a boy or girl need support and compassion. We also need to check why this is happening and what it might mean. Further, this means that we cannot simply ‘affirm’ a gender identity of an abused or traumatised child who might be naturally responding to serious abuse they have been subjected to.

Children being transed by their parents is now happening at an earlier and earlier age, claiming that children fully understand the concepts of sex and gender – when most adults don’t even understand sex and gender.

Parents and practitioners argue that the child understands that their gender doesn’t match their sex and that they wish to transition, take puberty blockers and medically transition. I reject this notion completely.

Not many people have studied the concepts of gender roles or where the terms come from. Some people can’t even correctly discuss the differences between sex and gender without conflating them. I do not accept that children can do this and then make life changing medical decisions.

I believe this will eventually come full circle and we will be presented with thousands of adults who underwent medication, surgery and social transition by (sometimes) well-meaning adults – who then come back and question us about why we allowed them to do that at such a young age.

I believe we will face thousands of law suits and investigations into the medical transitioning of children and adolescents in the decades to come, where we have left those humans infertile, ill, injured and scarred.

Actually, this is already happening within the detransitioner movement.

Children should never be transed, encouraged to bind or use packers, to take medication or to have surgery – and yet more and more children are being referred for treatment in the UK under the NHS and many more are being ‘treated’ privately.

As someone who works heavily in the abuse and grooming of children, I also tried to speak out about the potential for sex offenders to groom trans kids online a couple of years ago. Instead of anyone taking that safeguarding risk seriously, I was subjected to a number of vexatious complaints. Thankfully, I wasn’t merely making these cases up as they claimed and it was easy to back up. Complaints were not upheld and I was okay.

However, the cases were real. Social workers were holding UK cases in which kids who identified as trans were going online, seeking support and being groomed by sex offenders who were sexually exploiting and abusing them. In all of the cases I was made aware of, the abusers were men who identified as transwomen.

I can’t go into too much detail because the cases are so specific, but they included the abduction of a trans child who met transwomen online in a support group. The transwomen groomed the child to believe their parents hated them and would never accept them, convinced them their parents were transphobes and then trafficked the child hundreds of miles where they raped them and kept them there for days.

Another case of a trans child who was groomed on the internet by older transwomen was being given wigs, make up and money for images and videos of sexual acts.

When I tried to talk about this, I was immediately shut down and accused of making up these real cases. The reality here is that males make up 97% of all sex offenders. Therefore, it is more likely that transwomen (males) will sexually offend against children than transmen (females) would. There is no evidence to suggest that males who identify as women offend in any different ways to males who do not identify as a different gender.

Sex offenders can be anyone, this includes trans people. This might make everyone uncomfortable but it’s true. People accused me of using the same old argument as ‘gay men are paedophiles’. However, I was talking about real cases held in the UK – and I was talking about them for a reason.

My reason was that in both of those cases, the social workers were being limited as to what they could and couldn’t say or do. This was because they were being told by authorities that there were fears about being seen as ‘transphobic’ if they spoke about or reported on cases where transwomen had been grooming trans kids online.

It reminded me very much of the way we all gingerly tip toed around Pakistani sex offenders abusing children because the police claimed they didn’t want to be seen as ‘racist’.

Just like most Pakistani men are not sex offenders, most trans people are not sex offenders. But it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be talking about these cases. In fact, the only common denominator in sex offending and domestic abuse is male offenders. Biological sex is the underpinning factor. Maleness. That’s why we call it male violence.

I know that if this blog reaches as many people as it usually does, there will be hundreds, maybe thousands of social workers, psychologists, therapists and doctors thinking about their own cases of children they are working with. I know there already many professionals in the UK who are questioning how best to support children who are exploring their identity and sexuality – without necessarily affirming anything, directing them anywhere or suggesting they are trans or born in the wrong body.

I would argue that in studies of trans adults and trans kids, there is significant trauma history and abuse history. This cannot be ignored and needs to be discussed.

Gender ideology, like any other ideology, does not have to be accepted or supported by anyone

My final point is fairly frank.

Ideologies exist, theories exist, perspectives exist.

We are not required to believe them, adopt them, accept them or conform to them.

I do not and will not respect racist, misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic people or theories.

To an extent, we are not even required to respect them. For example, I do not and will not respect or support the perspective that paedophilia is a normal sexual orientation and that children can consent to sex. This is a common narrative in my field at the moment and it scares me to death.

Specifically, gender roles and gender identity are just theories and ideologies. We do not need to change the entire way we live, speak, write and legislate because we are being told to accept an ideology.

I think we’ve got the balance right with religions as ideologies. Religious people are protected in law, they cannot be discriminated against for their beliefs and they have rights to their own spaces. However, no one else has to believe their religion, accept their god, pray, speak about their religion, support their religion or change their language to validate their religion.

Millions of religious people live their lives knowing that millions of other religious and atheist people don’t accept or believe or validate their ideologies.

When religious ideologies attempt to force their ideologies on others through law and government, we call that oppressive totalitarianism. We actually go to war over that sort of stuff. We legislate against governments forcing ideologies on to people.

I find it interesting that we are not noticing the similarities in ideological totalitarianism here.

There are ways to protect trans people from harm, oppression, discrimination and abuse without forcing entire populations to accept gender theory and gender identity ideology.

I would never accept the persecution, oppression, abuse or harm of people with different ideologies and religions – just like I would never accept the persecution, oppression, abuse or harm of trans people (or people who believe gender ideology and gender theory).

If we can do it with multiple world religions that often conflict, we can definitely do it with gender ideology.

No one should be forced to change their language and thoughts to conform to a theorised ideology that isn’t even fully accepted in academia, let alone the vast complex world.

We can do this without oppressing and abusing trans people. We have to find a way through this raging debate that repositions gender as a theory and not as a reality that everyone else must validate.

Written by Dr Jessica Taylor

Ode to the woke bro

Ode to the woke bro

Dr Jessica Taylor

11/02/2020

He calls himself a feminist

And stands up for women’s rights

But he still jacks off to porn

On those lonely nights

He calls himself an ally

And supports a woman’s choice

To get her tits out for empowerment

But not to use her voice

He calls himself a feminist

But I think he is a liar

Because when women argue with him

He tells them to go die in a fire

He calls himself an ally

And he sure does love the sex work

But if his own daughter did it

He’d go fuckin berserk

He calls himself a feminist

And here he is again

To remind all the lesbians

That they should sleep with men

He calls himself an ally

Harassing female scholars on twitter

Telling her how to do her research

And then mansplaining it to her

He calls himself a feminist

But shouts at women on the net

That, ‘Not all men are like that!’

Just in case we all forget

He calls himself an ally

But will report you to your employer

If you talk about sex based rights

So you’d better have a lawyer

He calls himself a feminist

But claims that men are oppressed

Whilst tweeting slurs about an MP

For her ‘inappropriate dress’

He calls himself an ally

And says he has a wife and daughter

And jokes he‘d kill his 15 year old

If she started dating and he caught her

He loves his male privilege

And he calls himself woke

But as far as I can see

He’s just another angry bloke

He’s not a feminist

And he’s not an ally

He’s a woke bro with an ego

Just another misogynist guy

Tweet @drjesstaylor

Email jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

Dear Men: So you think you want a ‘strong, independent woman’

So you think you want a ‘strong, independent woman’.

Written by Dr Jessica Taylor

4th January 2020

This blog is written for men, talking directly to men. Men who have an interest in women (whether heterosexual or bisexual).

Even more specifically, the men who say that they want a strong, independent woman. The men who find powerful, determined women sexy.

The men who write on forums that they are looking for women who pay their own way, won’t ‘rinse them’ and have their own careers and minds.

The men who say they love an intelligent, educated woman because they are ‘feisty’. Ew.

Sound like you? Sound like a man you know?

There are some things you need to know before you go chasing women who have their shit together. If you get all the way through this blog and still think you can be a good partner to the ‘strong, independent woman’ you seek – then great stuff, crack on.

However, if this blog makes you uncomfortable or angry – you might want to re-evaluate your choices and consider that you will not make a good partner for a determined woman. You might even want to question whether you are fetishizing women or hope to control them.

I would hope it goes without saying, but I am proven wrong over and over again on the internet so here goes:

Many of the points I raise in this blog are relevant to all women. Respect all women. I cannot stress that enough. These ‘strong independent women’ you are interested in aren’t any better than any other woman and they aren’t worth more than any other woman.

Independent women don’t need you

The most important point that you need to get super comfortable with, super quick; is that the ‘strong, independent woman’ you want doesn’t actually need you for anything. She doesn’t need you to fund her life. She doesn’t need you to rescue her. She doesn’t need to be showered with gifts or compliments. She doesn’t need you to protect her. She doesn’t need you to provide for her.

No, she doesn’t need you. Instead, she is interested in you.

Wanting a partner is different from needing a partner. The women you are interested in don’t need you because they are already self-sufficient. If you are looking for a woman to fix, rescue, provide for and control – you need to look at yourself and explore why you want to be a dominator in your relationships instead of an equal.

The ‘strong, independent woman’ you want is looking for an equal contributor in a relationship, not someone who seeks to rescue her or control her.

You need to get comfortable with being wanted but not needed. If you want a relationship in which the woman is reliant on you for everything, the issue lies with you. Anyway, isn’t it the biggest compliment to anyone to be wanted instead of needed?

Independent women don’t want to fix you or babysit you

If you are attracted to women who have their shit together, don’t expect her to drop everything she is doing to babysit you and your life. Equals in a relationship support each other, but they don’t babysit one another. You are a grown man and you need to be independent, too. Have your own hobbies and interests and goals in life. Do your own washing, your own cooking, your own cleaning, your own bill payments. Remember your Mum’s birthday all by yourself. Look after the kids. Know where the Christmas decorations are. Book your own hospital appointments. Remember the kid’s parent’s evenings and plays without being reminded seven times.

Similarly, women are not your rehab. Not just the independent, strong women you fancy – but any woman at all. Your girlfriend, your mother, your ex, your female mates. None of them are here to fix you and nurture you. Women are not in the world to fix broken men.

No matter what has happened to you in childhood or in your life, it is not the job of a woman (the olde ‘love of a good woman will fix you’ narrative) to repair your broken pieces. Do it yourself, the way women have for millennia.

Don’t seek a relationship in order to fix yourself or to gain a full time maid and mother.  If this section is making you uncomfortable, you might want to explore your own therapy, support or advice before seeking new relationships. If you recognise that you are currently in a relationship with a ‘strong’ woman who you have been expecting to fix you or babysit you, stop.

Stop, take a step back, look at your behaviour and attitudes towards yourself and her. Then go and seek help. Like now.

Independent women have their own shit going on that you don’t need to be a part of 

The women you seek are likely to have a whole host of goals, priorities, responsibilities and roles in their lives that you don’t need to be a part of. It’s not that you shouldn’t care about what she is passionate about, but you don’t have to be the centre of it all. You don’t have to be included and you don’t have to be the centre of her attention all the time.

This is not at all negative. You both still exist as humans in your own right. You don’t have to do everything together. You need to respect each other and what you both care about, but you don’t have to be involved.

Traditionally, men have had these roles and goals for centuries and women were excluded from all of it. It was a social norm that women didn’t accompany men to their meets, their employment, their social events or their travels. Globally, there are still many environments and parts of life that women are excluded from because they are perceived as irrelevant or a nuisance to men. However, when a woman does the same thing, it is often seen as the woman not caring about her male partner or being selfish or neglectful to her relationship or marriage.

Think about what I am saying. Are you the bloke that moans that Steve has brought his missus to the pub again, but then guilt trips your girlfriend or wife when she wants to go out alone with her friends or colleagues?

You don’t need to be the centre of their world all of the time. You are supposed to be their equal. Go through life together – but that doesn’t mean that she needs to put you at the centre of everything she does.

If you have ever said the words ‘You’re supposed to put me above everyone and everything else…’ then you Sir, have issues with control.

 

Independent women are often feminists, activists, career focussed, or goal orientated – and you need to be happy with that

This one is important. This one is for all the men who claim they want a ‘strong, independent’ woman but hate feminism, activism, career-focussed and goal-orientated women. These attitudes are incompatible. Many women find feminism. They start to realise that there is discrimination, oppression and mockery of intelligent and successful women and they will find their clan. They become more and more critical of the way they are treated in their careers, studies and lives.

In the words of Maya Angelou, ‘Of course I am a feminist. I have been a female for a long time now. It’d be stupid not to be on my own side.’

The last thing they need is a man who is uncomfortable with feminism, women’s rights, career-focus and ambition. Especially when that man professed to be attracted to independent, go-getting women.

If anything at all, they need a partner who truly recognises, admits and validates their struggle and is by their side when they are belittled, mansplained, discriminated against and trolled for being brilliant. They don’t need you threatening to kick people’s head in for them. They need you to listen to them and be there for them when shit gets hard.

If you want an ‘independent woman’, you better get with the feminist programme and take some time to learn what feminism is, what it means to women and girls and why its so much harder for women and girls to make it in their careers, studies, sports, hobbies or passions. Read books. Listen to podcasts. Learn who her favourite feminists/activists/politicians are. Listen to the issues that affect her.

Not because it will make you attractive to more women, but because you actually want to learn this shit and care about it. Women can see right through woke bros.

If this section is making your skin crawl and you hate the concept of feminism, you’re better off just leaving all women alone to be honest. Feminism is the movement to liberate all women and girls from global oppression, misogyny and sexism.

If you can’t get behind that, stay away from females forever.

Independent women don’t want to be fetishized as some sort of sexy, domineering anomaly

The final point is about the way ‘strong’, ‘independent’, ‘powerful’, ‘boss’, ‘ambitious’ women are fetishized and sexualised as some sort of porn dream.

There are generally two ways this occurs:

  1. Men want to dominate, break down and domesticate women who are gender non-conforming, successful and independent as some sort of sick conquest to prove to themselves that they are still the most powerful person in the relationship
  2. Men want these women to dominate them, rule them, control them and harm them as some sort of submission to strong women as a fetish

News for you all – both attitudes towards successful women are abusive, unhealthy and porn-fuelled. Fuck off with both of them.

Yet, they are common attitudes towards independent women. Male song writers and performers of all genres have sang and rapped about domesticating successful women for decades. The obsession with ‘taming’ and ‘controlling’ women also rolls right through chick-flicks and romance films in which women are usually positioned as high-flying career women who are doing well until some bloke wants to fuck/date/marry them and then their life falls to pieces whilst the guy does literally everything he can to get what he wants and convinces her to move to Vancouver with him, fix all his life problems, care for his elderly mother and be pregnant forever.

Even the concept of the ‘strong, independent woman’ is bullshit really. The imagery of these women used in music videos, films, media and books are usually white, middle class, educated, rich, privileged, thin, beautiful and feminine.

Most ‘strong, independent women’ you will meet will not be from this walk of life.

She will be the teenage mother who raised three kids alone and is now the powerful matriarch who can hold down her household by herself.

She will be the young black woman who was discriminated against all the way through school, college and university until she graduated the top of her class and is now still standing strong in the face of racism and misogyny in her profession.

She will be the young woman who is covered in scars from self-harm who is now working as a therapist but is constantly up against discrimination because of the perception of her as a victim-turned-expert.

She will be the sixty-year-old butch woman who has spent her life marching to protect women and girls from trafficking, exploitation and abuse.

She will be the ‘mouthy, outspoken’ young woman arguing about politics online, out-classing everyone who tries to belittle and humiliate her.

She will be the divorced woman in her 30s who has decided to go to university to study the subject she never got to pursue when she was younger; all whilst working 40 hours a week and caring for her family.

These women are not a sex object to jack off to or fantasise about how you can make or break them. They are not a woman to be controlled or domesticated by you. They are not your mother. They are not your babysitter. They are not a fetish.

The ‘strong, independent woman’ you want is very likely to argue back, put you in your place when you step out of line, tell you when they aren’t happy, refuse to cook, clean and baby you and will more than likely leave you if you try to mould them into the submissive woman they are not.

Women exist in the world. They take up space and they make noise and they change shit up and they challenge you. Their success is theirs. Their hard work is theirs. Their struggle is real. Their effort and time are valuable. Their independence is important to them.

She is not a fetish. She is not an anomaly. She is not a conquest.

So, you think you want a ‘strong independent woman’?

And you’re sure you don’t just want to knock her down and mould her into your wifey?

Can you really be a respectful, equal, supportive man to a woman who has her own shit going on?

If you truly are attracted to strong, independent women – nothing in this blog will offend you or make you uncomfortable. Remember that.

Quick questions to ask yourself

  1. Are you comfortable with her having goals, priorities and ambitions that don’t include you?
  2. Are you going to support her when it gets hard or are you going to tell her to quit or ‘tone it down’?
  3. Are you going to feel emasculated by her?
  4. Are you comfortable with a woman earning more than you or being more successful than you?
  5. Are you fetishizing the woman?
  6. Are you seeking a woman to control, domesticate and tame?
  7. Are you turned on by her success or power and want her to dominate or harm you?
  8. Are you uncomfortable with feminism and activism?
  9. Are you comfortable with her seeking further education and opportunities?
  10. Are you comfortable with her remaining independent in her roles, spaces and responsibilities?

Think about your answers. Honestly.

Dr Jessica Taylor

Tweet: @DrJessTaylor

Email: jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

Facebook: www.facebook.com/Jessforenpsych

Social Immobility

Social Immobility

Dr Jessica Eaton

Before you even see me, you hear the way I drop my Ts

I mispronounce the words from books

And I laugh at the formalities

These halls don’t want me and I know I’m out of place

You explain the etiquette rules

And I try to hide the confusion on my face

Kanye said, ‘We wasn’t supposed to make it past 25’ I laugh and cry at those song lyrics

Cos I guess most of us are still alive

Josh died from drugs at 25 and Johnny was shot dead at 19 Mickey was inside by 21 and I was pregnant by 16

Kat had a baby from rape at 12 and Emily was stealing coke

We sold illegal CDs at school cos we were all so fuckin broke

Milli and Danny were both ran over by cars

And all the girls were touched up to allow them entry to the bars

Jess was stabbed at 17 and Weedy went missing when we were kids

Teachers told us we would never do anything, and some of us never did

The military recruited my mates at 16 and they went off to war

Scrawny lads risking their lives for £14K

Cos they know that’s a jackpot when you’re poor

We were all on drugs and drink by 13 and we dreamed of escape

We said we would grow up to be strippers and ballers

Whilst we were oppressed, abused and raped

But Laura ended up a teacher and Louise is now a lawyer

And Kim speaks three languages and works for a famous employer

Liam went from bottom set maths to a leader in education

Aimee is a midwife and Dan designs train stations

Alex is an artist and Jenny is a nurse

Becky escaped the YMCA, went to uni and got a first

Steph is a surgeon and I got my PhD

We are all the things they told us we could never be

And yet here I am in these halls, being told that I don’t belong

Told to tone it down, or change it up

My accent, my clothes and my upbringing is all wrong

I chat about my estate and the gulley and the weed

You don’t want someone like me teaching here And I was never supposed to get the PhD

I won’t hide where I’m from and I won’t forget where I was grown

That council estate where we all lived and died

Is carved on us like etchings into stone

I will stay where I am not welcome, and talk it to the youth

They cannot be what they cannot see

And they need to know the unashamed truth

#workingclassacademics

#councilestateacademics

Tweet: @Jessicae13Eaton

Email: Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

Website: http://www.victimfocus.org.uk

3 reasons we need to talk about token resistance

Written by Dr Jessica Eaton

Director of VictimFocus

Senior Lecturer in Criminal Psychology

1 November 2019

What is token resistance?

‘Token resistance’ is the act of pretending to resist sexual advances when really, you want to say yes.

The term ‘token resistance’ has been used to describe the way women and girls supposedly ‘play hard to get’, ‘act coy’, or ‘play it cool’ when men or boys show them attention or proposition them.

Make no mistake, there is societal pressure on women and girls to do these things to appear chaste, innocent or hard to obtain. They are often advised to ‘play hard to get’ when men or boys they like ask them on a date, ask for their number or come on to them.

Key studies in psychology from the 1990s onwards have shown that both men and women are likely to consider a woman’s rejection of sexual advances to be ‘token resistance’. Studies have found that when women reject sexual advances with anything other than crying, shouting and fighting back – it can be seen as token resistance from a woman who ‘wants it really’.

This blog will outline three key reasons why we need to talk about token resistance and the impact this concept is having on the prevalence and perception of male violence against women and girls.

1. It is fucking everywhere

Token resistance really is everywhere. It features in soaps, music videos, films, stories, fairytales and music lyrics.

When I give speeches, I often joke that every single romantic comedy you have ever watched is based on the concept of token resistance.

(Warning: I’m about to ruin romcoms for you for the rest of your days)

However, whilst people always laugh along when I talk about the tragic storylines of pathetic men who find a single, outgoing woman and then harass her for 90 minutes until she ‘realises’ she wants to marry or fuck him – this really is no laughing matter.

Consider how many romantic comedies you have watched which begin with a single woman who is working in a new job, just moved to a new apartment, just broke up with a shitty ex. Starts okay, right?

But the storyline changes quickly with the introduction of a man who would like to date/marry/fuck the woman.

Annnnnnd literally the rest of the film plot is the story of a man who:

  • Turns up at the woman’s workplace
  • Calls her repeatedly
  • Leaves her hundreds of voicemails
  • Follows her to a park
  • Turns up at an airport to stop her from going on a once-in-a-lifetime journey
  • Writes letters to the woman
  • Sends her flowers
  • Engages in huge public romantic gestures until the woman gives in
  • Flies to the woman’s parents’ holiday home in France to ‘surprise her’
  • Learns a skill or joins a class/club to follow the woman
  • Stalks her location and turns up there
  • Contacts all of her friends and family to tell them how much he loves/wants her
  • Stops her wedding to a man she loves
  • Manipulates or lies to the woman
  • Pretends to be someone he is not to trick the woman

The list is fucking endless. Those of you who watch a lot of so-called ‘chick-flicks’ will be able to write a list as long as your arm.

I’m sorry to break it to you: but those behaviours are not romantic at all, they are harassment.

The real kicker is that once the ‘token resistance’ of the woman has been overcome (read: her ‘no’ is ignored and then she is ground down until she literally can’t take anymore) – the plot of the film usually shows the woman ‘realising’ that she does want the man and then finally saying ‘yes’.

Yes to the sex, yes to the marriage, yes to moving in with him, yes to being in a relationship with him or yes to abandoning her career and family to move across the world with him for some reason. YAY.

Token resistance features heavily in films. But it also features in music videos and music lyrics.

I mean, how can we forget the rapey lyrics of Robin Thicke when he said:

Tried to domesticate you/ But you’re an animal/ Baby, it’s in your nature/ Just let me liberate you/ I know you want it/ I know you want it/ I know you want it/ But you’re a good girl

Music video upon music video of men wooing, following, stalking and harassing women in which the woman is seen to be enjoying the attention.

Even fairytales contain copious amounts of token resistance in which traditional female characters reject or ignore the advances of male characters who then woo them or win them over until they marry at the end. Most first generation Disney films are about the conquest of a woman.

Token resistance is embedded into so much media and into so many accepted narratives about sex, love and dating that it is likely to be having an immense impact on society.

Arguably, it is.

2. It is teaching men and boys that no means yes, or maybe, or try again later

Humans learn much of their knowledge about love, sex, dating, romance and respect from other humans. Whether that’s their role models, parents and friends or from music, film, soaps and media depictions of relationships.

Token resistance is not just a concept taught to women and girls who are taught to be scared of being seen as ‘easy’. This concept is taught simultaneously to men and boys who wonder how to capture the attention of that woman or girl they fancy.

Whilst a girl may watch a scene of token resistance and think, ‘So that’s how I’m supposed to act when a boy asks me out!’

A boy may watch the same scene and think ‘So that’s what I’m supposed to do when a girl says she isn’t interested!’

Instead of teaching boys and men that no really does mean no, the constant depictions of token resistance teach boys and men that women and girls don’t really mean no.

In token resistance, no means:

  • Maybe
  • Yes
  • Later
  • Try again
  • Try harder
  • Say something else
  • Keep talking to me
  • I like you but I’m playing hard to get
  • I want it really

Feminists often discuss how we will ever change the rape culture which exists in our world. How do we reduce or eliminate sexual violence against women and girls? How do we get abusive men and boys to understand that no means no?

The reality is, with relentless messages that no means yes and that they should simply keep trying and do something else to ‘win’ that woman or girl – we will never tackle rape culture. Men and boys are being socialised to believe that no means ‘yes but I don’t want to appear easy’.

3. It is contributing to the victim blaming of women and girls

Token resistance is embedded into our society. This means that millions of men and women have been taught or indirectly socialised that women and girls saying ‘no’ sometimes means ‘yes’.

We have been exploring the psychology of victim blaming and rape supportive attitudes for several decades now. Part of this research has been to explore how much the general public believe in rape myths such as:

‘Women say no to sex even when they want it’

‘When women say no to sexual advances, they are just playing hard to get’

‘Rape happens when a woman doesn’t say ‘no’ clearly enough’

These common myths directly relate to token resistance – and this feeds into the increasing levels of victim blaming of women and girls subjected to sexual violence.

For example, in the recent USA literature there is much discussion about a concept known as ‘sexual assault refusal assertiveness’.

Wait for it. Yep. It’s as bad as you think.

Researchers have been arguing that the reason women and girls are raped and abused is because they have ‘low sexual assault refusal assertiveness’ and therefore require training and education which helps them to ‘refuse’ an assault better.

In my own research, I found the opposite. My interviews with women who had been raped demonstrated that they had said ‘no’ to men several times in many different ways. None of their refusals protected them from the offender. Some women told me they had told the offender ‘no’ several times, then pushed their hands away, then moved away from them and then tried to convince the offender not to hurt them and it still hadn’t worked. This was true for women in stranger rapes and in domestic violence.

Clearly, their ‘sexual assault refusal assertiveness’ skills were fine. The problem here was the offender. The offender did not care that they said no. Suggesting that women and girls who are raped or abused had ‘low sexual assault refusal skills’ is most definitely a form of victim blaming which comes from the concept of token resistance.

Another example of the way token resistance feeds into victim blaming of women and girls is in the courtroom.

I often say that in the courtroom, whilst there are technical rules on what is and is not allowed to be used against the victim or against the offender – the majority of the rules protect the latter. For instance, you cannot use the ‘bad character history’ of the offender even if he has raped 5 women before, because it can ‘bias the jury’. In order to use this against him in a trial, you must have significant reason and prior permission.

However, the same process does not occur for victims, in which literally anything to attack their character or their history is admissible. What she was wearing, how many people she’s slept with, what kind of knickers she was wearing, whether she watches porn, whether she was abused in childhood and even whether she’s ever told her GP that she has mental health needs – these factors can all be used against the victim without prior applications or protection from the court.

It is therefore no surprise that one of the best defences in rape and sexual assault trials is to admit the sexual act occurred, but to argue that she ‘wanted it’ or ‘lead him on’ or ‘asked for it’.

Many years ago, it would have been a valid defence to argue that the offence never occurred and the woman is making it up. However, with the development of evidence collection and investigation techniques, this defence is no longer wise. Instead, it makes sense to admit or partially admit the sexual contact, but the claim that the woman consented or didn’t say ‘no’.

Concepts of token resistance rear their head in the courtroom on a regular basis. Women are accused of wanting the sex, asking for it, leading the man on, not saying no clearly enough, giving mixed signals, flirting with the man or even saying no when she really meant ‘yes’.

What can we do to combat token resistance?

As such a heavily employed belief in our society, it will be hard to combat. However, I do think there are some simple and practical things we can do to create change as soon as possible:

1. Talk about it openly and with as many people as possible. Most people don’t even know this exists, but once you point it out to them, they can see it everywhere.

2. Stop teaching oversimplified lessons on consent. Yes, I know it’s nice to believe that all we have to do is teach kids that ‘no means no’ and they will never grow into rapists and abusers. But consent is so much more complicated and contextual than what we are teaching. Why aren’t we teaching children about token resistance and how harmful this is?

3. We could start to challenge media representations of women who ‘want it really’ and instead show depictions of men and boys who do take ‘no’ for an answer and move the fuck on with their lives

4. Talk to girls and women about the social pressure to say ‘no’ when they are interested in men and boys – due to the shame attached to having sexual desires and sexual interests. In reality, no always means no. Men and boys should take no for a no. But it might be worth talking to women and girls about the way society teaches them that they are supposed to be ‘up for sex’ but also coy, protective and hard to get.

5. Talk to men and boys about sexual harassment and the way that movies, stories, soaps and music encourage them to harass and stalk women and girls even when they have said no. Get them to think critically about the amount of media and social norms expect them to keep pursuing women and girls who don’t want them, and how to deal with rejection respectfully.

Written by Dr Jessica Eaton

Director of VictimFocus

Senior Lecturer in Criminal Psychology

Tweet: @Jessicae13eaton

Fbook: http://www.facebook.com/jessicaforenpsych

Email: jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

Web: http://www.victimfocus.org.uk

Shop: http://www.victimfocus-resources.com

Work with women and girls? It’s time to reject psychiatry

Written by Dr Jessica Eaton

14th September 2019

Is it that time again? Time to shake the field up again?

Seems so.

Diagnosing women and girls with personality disorders after they have been abused, traumatised, trafficked, raped, neglected or harmed – is disgraceful practice. It needs to end. We all need to lobby, campaign, influence and convince decision makers and leaders to reject personality disorders as quack science.

Yet, when I say this to social workers, nurses, family support workers, police officers and teachers – they look at me like I’ve grown two heads.

It’s the look of, ‘But, diagnosing them helps them, doesn’t it? We can get them the help they need if we can just get them the diagnosis. Right?’

You see, many professionals I teach or work with, have never even considered the trauma-informed approach to working with women and girls who have been traumatised. They have been taught traditionally, medically and oppressively. They don’t subscribe to the medical model because they have chosen it as their ideological approach – they subscribe to it because they had no idea there was an alternative.

To their credit, many of them listen intently as I explain the origins of psychiatry, the theories and models, the lack of evidence and the abuse of psychiatric diagnoses that has oppressed classes and groups for decades. Similarly, many of them realise that their practice has been misinformed or misled. Some of them have a feeling of confirmation when they attend my training – a feeling that they had never truly subscribed to the medical model of working with women and girls subjected to abuse, but they didn’t know the language, the theories or the evidence to back themselves up. They didn’t know how to fight against it.

As the years have passed, I have incorporated more and more trauma-informed, anti-psychiatry approaches into my work, training, research and speeches. The impact has been incredible. So many professionals are now able to see that diagnosing girls and women with personality disorders and psychosis after they have been abused is not only harmful, but will impact them for the rest of their lives.

And as I have said, this is not completely down to me – because so many frontline practitioners already felt very uncomfortable with our practice, anyway.

However, because so much mental health and abuse training is medical-model-dominant, they have never been taught an alternative explanation.

We need to provide alternative narratives to practitioners and we need to do it now.

My top 4 messages for frontline practitioners working with women and girls

  1. Learn the oppressive history of psychiatry

The medical model of mental health is so dominant that it is communicated as ‘the’ explanation of emotional and mental life. Many of us have been taught that mental health issues are genetic, neuropsychological/physiological, developmental or a combination of all. We are taught that medications can ‘balance people out’ or ‘help them prepare for therapy’. We are taught that some people need to be locked up and sedated for their own safety.

As of September 2019, 7.3 million British adults (1 in 6 adults) are taking antidepressants and a further 3.9 million British adults are taking anxiety medications such as benzodiazepines, Z drugs and gabapentinoids.

But this monopoly on our mental life didn’t happen overnight. Long before we started talking about ‘mental health’, we punished, killed, sacrificed, outcast and abused people who did not conform to our social norms of behaviour or character. Many feminists and historians now suggest that the death of up to 100,000 women who were murdered for being ‘witches’ between 1450 and 1750 were often women who were non-conforming, disabled, ill, intelligent, opinionated or had been abused and traumatised.

In the European Middle Ages, mental health started to become mixed with religion. When someone was not conforming or was traumatised, it was proposed that they were possessed by demons or satan. Most ‘treatments’ for mental health included religious ceremonies, exorcisms, torture or death of the person. In some cases, it was argued that the only way a demon could be stopped, would be to kill the ‘host’ person.

As time passed, mental health was proposed to be caused by imbalances of fluids in the body and brain. Excess bodily fluids such as bile, blood or choler were said to cause ‘hysteria’, ‘melancholia’ or ‘mania’. However, the religious approach to mental health continued for a long time. Quakers set up many asylums and developed religious conversion treatments to ‘cure’ mental health issues.

Lieberman (2015) puts it well, ‘The mentally ill were considered social deviants or moral misfits suffering divine punishment for some inexcusable transgression.’

Asylums multiplied across America and Europe during the 1700s and 1800s, and professionals from all different backgrounds became interested in working with the ‘mentally ill’. Asylums became sites of experimental research, surgery, treatment, torture and death of patients – on which the ‘science’ of psychiatry was built.

Psychiatric experiments, tortures and surgeries included everything from holding patients under freezing cold water until they ‘calmed down’ (read: passed out or drowned) to deliberately ‘releasing humors’ from the patient by bleeding them, blistering them, starving them or purging them. In 1927, Wagner-Jauregg won the Nobel Prize for ‘proving’ you could treat schizophrenia by injecting malaria-infected blood into people with the diagnosis.

By 1941, insulin shock therapy was rife. In this ‘treatment’ for ‘mental illness’, people were injected with extremely high doses of insulin to cause seizures and coma, claiming that when they came around, they would be cured of madness.

By the 1940s, electroconvulsive shock therapy (ECT) and frontal lobotomies were common. Whilst frontal lobotomies stopped being used by the 1980s (although this did mean that over 100,000 people were subjected to them), ECT is still used today. In fact, it is making something of a comeback – and now being used to ‘treat’ autism in some clinics in North America.

I have personally worked with children who have been subjected to ECT in the Midlands in the UK, after they were abused and raped. One girl I worked with in 2013 was completely wiped out by ECT sessions on the NHS, so much so that she used to come to my sessions and fall fast asleep on the sofa for hours, and then wake up confused and upset. She was being given ECT sessions for ‘depression’ because she had been sexually abused.

By 1955, psychiatric medications were a fairly common way of ‘treating’ madness. But it wasn’t for many more decades that we stopped using language like ‘hysteria’, ‘madness’, ‘retardation’ and ‘mental illness’. However, despite this seemingly positive shift in language, we are still using some of the same treatments, misconceptions and oppressive practices we have used throughout history. We have moved towards the term ‘mental health’ which we now equate with ‘physical health’ – but we still use oppressive, dangerous and abusive practices to ‘treat’ the natural, normal distress of traumatised people.

The language got nicer but the practice, well, it didn’t really evolve.

Throughout these years, the groups most significantly affected were Black people. Psychiatry is notoriously white, elitist and racist. Always has been. Still is. Racism was embedded into theory, practice and research. Psychiatrists believed that Black people had smaller brains than white people, were ‘naturally’ better at hard labour and slavery, were less psychologically developed and were more aggressive, emotionally unstable and violent. These beliefs still have an enormous impact on mental health practice, in which people still believe that Black people are more likely to have ‘mental health issues’, more likely to have ‘schizophrenia’ and are more likely to be violent or commit crime.

My questions to practitioners are:

Did you know all of this? Did you know that our modern psychiatric system is built on all this suffering, death, murder, oppression, racism, abuse and torture?

Have you really researched the history of the treatments and medications your clients are being prescribed?

Do you really understand and believe the labels your clients are being given?

  1. Borderline personality disorder (or EUPD) is misogynistic twaddle

Along with the racism and classism in the psychiatric systems, there is the harrowing misogyny. In 2019, women and girls are 7 times more likely to be diagnosed with BPD or EUPD than boys and men showing the same symptoms. Again, the origins of this oppression hark back to hundreds of years ago.

From the 18th century, ‘hysteria’ was classed as a women’s disease, linked to femininity and the female form. ‘Hysteria is the woman’s natural state’ (Laycock, 1840) and ‘A hysterical girl is a vampire who sucks the blood of the healthy people around her’ (Mitchell, 1885: 266).

Much of the BPD or EUPD diagnosis is based on gender role stereotypes and sexism. Women and girls are ideally polite, nice, happy, content, quiet, have no opinions or ambitions and live to serve others. ‘Difficult women’ are frequently diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (Ussher, 2013). The typical borderline patient has been described as a ‘demanding, angry, aggressive woman’, who is labelled as ‘mentally disordered’ (Jimenez, 1997: 162, 163) for behaving in a way that is perfectly acceptable in a man. Research found that men’s sadness and anger was considered to be related to situational factors – such as ‘having a bad day’ – whereas sad or angry women were judged as ‘too emotional’ (Barrett and Bliss-Moreau, 2009).

Indeed, I always make the point of telling frontline practitioners that the diagnostic criteria from DSM II for ‘hysteria’ and the diagnostic criteria from DSM V for ‘borderline personality disorder’ are very similar. Hysteria has been described as the ‘wastebasket of mental health’ and BPD has been described as a ‘catch-all diagnosis’.

They are essentially the same diagnosis. They are both targeting women and girls. They are both built around gender role stereotypes. They both oppress traumatised and abused women. Where hysteria (or ‘wandering womb syndrome’) was said to be caused by women’s hormones and biology – BPD is said to be a disordered personality. Both innate, internal causes which need to be medicated, treated and dealt with.

The ‘symptoms’ or ‘diagnostic criteria’ of BPD are:

  • Fear of abandonment
  • Unstable or short relationships
  • Unclear or shifting/changing self-image
  • Impulsive, self-destructive behaviours
  • Self-harm
  • Mood swings lasting minutes or hours
  • Feelings of emptiness
  • Intense anger
  • Feeling suspicious, paranoid or disassociating

Most people would agree with me when I say the following three things:

  1. Anyone who is traumatised by abuse or exploitation would hit enough of these criteria to be diagnosed with a personality disorder
  2. Most people at pretty much any point of major stress, would exhibit these behaviours as a normal response to distress and change
  3. These feelings are completely justified in traumatised and abused people – and therefore do not constitute a disorder or abnormality. These responses are normal.

We need to think much more critically about how many of the girls and women on our caseloads are being told that their responses are abnormal and are caused by personality disorders, rather than caused by the people who abused, oppressed, scared and harmed them. Why would we want to collude with the victim blaming and encouragement of self-blame of women and girls like this?

My questions for frontline practitioners working with women and girls are:

Did you know that BPD and EUPD were so closely related to hysteria and women’s ‘madness’?

Have you not ever wondered why so many of the teenage girls and young women you work with are being diagnosed with personality disorders after traumatic life experiences?

Have you ever considered how a woman or girl is ever supposed to move forward if she has been told that her personality is disordered?

  1. Psychiatric diagnosis will stay on her file for a long time

Many of our systems in the UK require a psychiatric diagnosis in order to get a service for the woman or girl we are working with. This means that girls might be diagnosed with a mental health issue before they are allowed access to a mental health service or counselling service. It may mean that a woman has to be diagnosed with a disorder before she is allowed to be referred to a service that can help her.

Psychiatric diagnosis has become the gatekeeper of therapeutic services. So much so, that even counsellors and psychotherapists are colluding with the psychiatric diagnosis of their own clients. Many practitioners are told that the best thing you can do for the girl is to get her the diagnoses she ‘needs’ so they can access funding, support or services.

This is very short-sighted.

One of the things that many practitioners are not warned about, is how long those psychiatric diagnoses will impact the girl (soon to be an adult woman in a completely different set of services). When teenage girls who have been sexually exploited, raped or abused get two or three psychiatric diagnoses, are medicated with antidepressants or mood stabilisers and are then kept on those drugs or treatments for the rest of their childhoods – what do you think is going to happen to them when they reach adulthood?

They will be miraculously cured, have their diagnoses removed and live a healthy, normal life?

For most of those girls, their diagnoses will impact them for a long time. They may be refused access to services, refused access to education, housing, occupations, college courses and volunteering opportunities. They may be told they are ‘too unstable’ to be involved in projects or to start therapies. They may even be flagged as having personality disorders to their local police force, ambulance crews, fire service and GP surgeries.

Many professionals I teach are unaware that the psychiatric diagnosis can be passed to emergency services who then use that information out of context to label the woman or girl as ‘high risk’. This may mean that ambulance crews are told they have mental health issues before they attend an address. It may even mean that they call for the police to support them. Further, it may mean that a GP is less likely to believe their symptoms or illnesses because they have been flagged as having a personality disorder.

These issues are serious and long-term. I have personally worked with and met many women and girls affected by this discrimination.

My questions for frontline practitioners are:

Did you know this happened to women and girls?

Would you still encourage them to get psychiatric diagnoses, if you knew this would define them for the years to come?

Wouldn’t it be better to support the girl/woman with the trauma and to talk to them about what it means rather than encouraging them to get a psychiatric label?

  1. Do everything you can to reject deficit models of working

The final thing I always teach practitioners to do, is to reject the deficit model of working with women and girls – or any humans to be honest. The deficit model, like the psychiatric model, is dominant in all our practice with children and adults. We have been taught that the pasts of girls can predict the futures of women. Professionals are taught to assess the past of the girls to enable them to predict their future – whether they will be abused again, whether they are at risk of CSE, whether they will be criminally exploited, whether they will end up ill, in prison, self-harm or suicidal.

Whilst it might be tempting to have some sort of algorithm that could predict the outcomes of women and girls, I prefer to teach practitioners that women and girls can overcome and work through everything and anything (with the right humanistic support). I prefer to teach them to work from a strengths-based model; to see all women and girls as whole humans with an entire future ahead of them. A future that is not defined by what someone else put them through.

Instead of seeing women and girls as traumatised, doomed or broken – I want practitioners to acknowledge their trauma, work in a trauma-informed way, but to see them as capable, intelligent, powerful humans with potential, skills, coping mechanisms and many values to give to the world.

Moving away from a deficit model means not only rejecting the diagnosis of women and girls as mad, mentally ill or hysterical – but rejecting the way we try to quantify, categorise and predict the future of oppressed and abused women and girls.

My question to practitioners:

Wouldn’t you rather see women and girls as potential lawyers, activists, musicians, scientists, teachers and artists than believing the deficit model that these women and girls will amount to nothing?

Around half of our own workforce were abused in childhood (Eaton and Holmes, 2017). If the deficit model was correct, how did we all get into these jobs? Wouldn’t most of us be completely ineffective?

If we believe the deficit model to be correct, why do any of us bother doing our jobs at all? Aren’t we all in this line of work because we believe that every human has the capacity to process their trauma and go on to live a fulfilling life after abuse?

Reject psychiatry for the good of the women and girls you work with 

For these reasons and so many more that I teach and write about, we must reject the psychiatric diagnosis of women and girls subjected to traumas. In fact, reject all psychiatric diagnosis. The evidence base for psychiatry is shameful, elitist, oppressive and dodgy as fuck. How this profession has continued to tout itself as a real science is beyond me. How millions of people are prescribed more and more drugs for human distress whilst we leave them in abuse, poverty, oppression and trauma disgusts me.

We can change practice and theory. We can refuse to diagnose women and girls with psychiatric conditions. We can challenge the concepts of personality disorders used to oppress and label women and girls who have been abused. We can stop referring people subjected to abuse into medical model services that will tell her she is mad and needs treatment. We can stop supporting deficit models of working in which we use numbers, calculations or assessments to predict the outcomes of women and girls who have been abused.

We can commit to research, read about and learn about the way psychiatry oppresses populations of people. We can learn about new models of trauma and mental health support such as the PTMF (Power, Threat, Meaning Framework).

I will leave you with this thought:

As the outspoken, difficult woman of the 16th century was castigated as a witch, and the same woman in the 19th century a hysteric, in the late 20th and 21st century, she is described as ‘borderline’ or as having premenstrual dysphoria disorder. – Ussher, 2013

In conclusion: Same shit, different era.

Written by Dr Jessica Eaton

Author of ‘The Reflective Journal for Practitioners Working in Trauma and Abuse’ £17.99

Author of ‘Why Women are Blamed for Everything’ Pre-order £17.99

Co-Author of ‘The Little Orange Book: Learning about abuse from the voice of the child’ £14.99

https://victimfocus-resources.com/

 Email: Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

Tweet: @JessicaE13Eaton