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