‘Meeting gender critical women’ (and radical feminists) is a series of articles in which I’ll be introducing you to as many gender critical women as I can, to show that we (for I’m one too) are real people. We are reasonable women, with rational and considered views. Not the demonic, hateful, bigoted ‘TERFs’ that some claim we are. The pieces I post here will be long reads of sorts, but still fairly short because of the medium. As such, they’re a flavour of the woman and her experience, rather than the full story.
After a number of false starts with a Zoom call, Angela Wild and I give up and resort to the telephone. It’s not such a bad compromise because I can at least still enjoy the dulcet tones of her French accent, which I mention because it makes her such a joy to listen to. But it’s not the sound of her voice alone that makes our conversation so compelling.
You may already know Angela’s work through her Wild Womyn Workshop project, not least because J K Rowling bought one of the t-shirts she designed – appropriately emblazoned with the words This Witch Doesn’t Burn – and tweeted about it. The endorsement came with pros and cons. It was great publicity, but not everyone who saw it responded well. Oddly, it was pretty much left to The Daily Mail to cover the story of the death threats Angela received as a result and the ongoing attempts to ruin her business and deny her a livelihood.
There was a time when the so-called left wing press would have been right behind a lesbian feminist who owned and ran a women-centred project which defends and fights for women’s rights using art and creativity. Especially a ‘traditionally left wing leaning’ one, who as a secondary school student went on demos against Jean-Marie Le Pen’s National Front in her native France. Sadly those times appear long gone.
Angela’s supposed wrongdoing – which those who threaten her use as an excuse – is that she’s a radical feminist for whom ‘gender critical’ as a concept doesn’t go far enough and is a ‘watering down of radical feminist analysis’. So how does she define radical feminism?
“I think that it’s understanding women’s situation in the world is class based and women as a sex class are oppressed by men as a sex class and that this goes throughout our lives in every aspect that we can imagine,” she explains.
“I fear that if we just go to being gender critical we forget about the traditional way that patriarchy has always oppressed us – through motherhood, through heterosexuality, through economic oppression…”
“[G]ender critical, it is just like narrowing down to something and then realising ‘Huh! They are teaching [gender ideology] through school’, but schools are a patriarchal institution, the law is a patriarchal institution, so if you step back and see it as a system of oppression that encompasses everything, then you can’t be surprised by what’s going on today.”
For those with little experience of feminist thought, let alone the current battle for women’s rights in which the very definition of ‘woman’ is being contended, Angela’s views might seem strident. In fact she is simply being honest, in the manner of following the maxim ‘speak as you find’. In her very first job, aged 18, she was sexually harassed with pornography by her male boss – but was unable to leave for around five years.
“I’d had jobs before but it was my first real job, that I really wanted to do career-wise. I got to it through an internship, so for a period of time I was supposed to be trained and that doesn’t leave you in a very powerful situation within a work environment if that environment is unhealthy or toxic.”
She goes on to explain how there was also ongoing ‘low level sexual harassment’ from male colleagues and from elements of her own work.
“For example it was my job to Photoshop women. I was constantly asked to… enhance [images of] women’s bodies and faces to make them more appealing to the male gaze. Which meant I was constantly in a state of objectification, self-objectification, and [subjected to] the comments from the men who were all into porn.”
After finally leaving the job, she came to the UK, but it turned out things are no better for women in Britain. She found herself trapped in a nightmarish heterosexual relationship that went on for 13 years.
“It was a controlling, domestically violent relationship. I got pregnant and, as often when pregnancy happens, domestic violence increases or the level of it increases. It became impossible for me not to see it by the time I was pregnant and I left the father when my child was about six months old.”
Radical feminism and the support of other women enabled her to turn her life around. The seed of it was planted when she left France and to try and make sense of what had happened to her at work she became ‘obsessed with understanding pornography’ and decided to find and read everything she could on the subject, starting from Dworkin.
I ask her if she hates men.
“I hate what they do to us!” is her emphatic reply.
She adds: “It’s the wrong thing to ask, because if a lot of us don’t like men very much… what did we go through to come to that conclusion – that if there is a man in the room, I am not safe.
“[They] blame women for not liking men , ‘oh you’re just a man hater!’, but men rape women every nine minutes and they kill us every two days, is that any incentive to like them? Are they very likeable? Rationally speaking, the question is why do some women like men?!
“[But] they are not part of my every day life, so hate is (she trails off). You put a lot of energy into it. I don’t actually put a lot of energy into it. I don’t think about them. I’m woman-centred.”
Which brings us back to the reason for our conversation, and this piece of writing. Gender critical may not go far enough for Angela, but her world view is woman-centred. She, entirely reasonably, does not want to have to deal with men anymore. Policies and law that promote self-identification of ‘gender’ over the material realities of biological sex will inarguably affect Angela for the worse.
Angela isn’t alone in her wish to live a life that doesn’t involve men. She is probably more vocal about it than some women, but she is far from the only woman I know who feels this way. Our conversation turns to whether heterosexual women can be radical feminists and how to encourage more women into feminism, given the unpalatable truths it reveals to us about our lives.
“I really think every woman can be a feminist. I think that being a feminist is the process of liberating oneself. No one is free from patriarchy, even lesbians, and I think it helps to not be around men too much to think.
“I [also] think it’s really important to acknowledge that not everybody is in a situation to see.
“A lot of women are in a situation where it’s not that great at home, you know? We are oppressed in our home and very often when we live with an abusive man, that really restricts our ability to think critically about the world. Oppression is really personal.”
With this kind of serious talk, you can probably see why she describes herself as ‘not the fun kind’ of feminist. Yet our long conversation is punctuated with her laughter and she seems to embody a kind of joie de vivre – even when we’re talking about the serious stuff.
She is nothing like what the nonsensical accusations levelled at gender critical women would have us believe, such as the idea that we are (irrationally) obsessed with the issues.
Instead she is proof that there’s more to justifiably angry feminists than our work for the cause. For example, someone who was obsessed would not choose to live in west Wales and to be away from the hurly-burly of the battle. Yet that is where she’s based and she describes it as a ‘relief’. She concedes that as an artist she also couldn’t afford to have a studio in London, but mostly her choice of location shows that she takes her own advice.
“I think I’ve done my share of living in cities, which I’ve done all my life, and need now the sea next to me and the mountains and the woods. Especially when we work on such difficult topics and campaigns and stuff like that,” she says.
As a writer, I rely on words to make the people I interview come to life on the page but I’m aware of their limits. This piece is far too short for instance, but I hope the 1,400 or so words you’ve just read convey what a thoughtful, intelligent, warm and funny woman I found Angela Wild to be and give you a sense of her humanity. In any case, I’m certain they present a much fuller and more realistic picture of her than the word ‘TERF’, as typed or shouted by someone who’s never even spoken to her.
- You can buy Angela’s wonderful t-shirts and more at https://wildwomynworkshop.com/