Conflict on Campus: @UVicWomyn call to save the Women’s Centre

Tweeted by Alison Chapman: "Seen outside the uvic women's centre. And another reason why feminists need to be radical #uvic"

Tweeted by Alison Chapman: “Seen outside the uvic women’s centre. And another reason why feminists need to be radical #uvic”

Tara Prema, Feminist Current, July 21, 2016

After 35 years, the University of Victoria Student Society (UVSS) Women’s Centre is moving to adopt a new name and a new mission, but not everyone is on side. The small office and lounge in the Student Union Building re-opened in June 2016 after a two-week closure; however, the Centre remains unstaffed amid controversy and alleged misconduct involving staff, members, and an ex-coordinator who is transgender.

In November 2015, the UVSS Women’s Centre announced it would be changing its collective name to “Third Space” and expanding to serve not only “self-identified women,” but any “gender variant and gender non-conforming person.” This change appears to be in line with UVic’s updated human rights policy prohibiting discrimination on grounds of “sex (including gender identity).” But the change conflicts with the wishes of some students and with UVSS bylaws that specify the space is for UVic women.

Women’s history

From 1973 to 1981, the University of Victoria Women’s Action Group (one of BC’s first organizations for women’s liberation) pressured the UVSS to establish a women-only drop-in, library, and referral service. In the years since, the Women’s Centre collective lobbied for women’s history courses, expanded daycare facilities, and campus safety, and held workshops on topics from feminist theory to self-defense.

Back then, women’s studies departments, rape crisis centres, and equal rights in higher education did not exist. There were few tenured women and even fewer supports for female students.

The battles took years, but activists succeeded in establishing the centres and a measure of equal rights on campus, as well as bases of operation to organize more widely against rape, harassment and discrimination. The UVic collective, described as a “strong, radical, feminist voice on campus,” led and participated in women-only events from Take Back the Night to pro-choice initiatives, and provided a place for women to discuss feminist theory and plan for action without fear of male censorship.

Shelagh Day was on the frontlines with WAG during those years of struggle for crucial rights and resources. She is now president and senior editor of the Canadian Human Rights Reporter and a member of the Order of Canada. “I do think women’s space is extremely important,” Day says by phone from Vancouver. “It certainly was when women began to be active at UBC and UVic.”

“It remains important to have spaces where women can talk about their lives and their experiences as women and how they analyze that,” Day says.

“I’m always disturbed when women’s spaces are taken away or money is taken away from women’s activities and women’s networking. Of course, other groups also need spaces that are comfortable and appropriate for them. And I think it’s really important that that happens. What I worry about is particularly women’s space being taken away or defunded or turned into something else.”

“Divided and toxic”

Today the Centre is undergoing “turbulence and discomfort,” according to a July 12, 2016 letter to members from Erin Ewart, UVSS executive director,

“[I]ndividuals have not felt safe, have been oppressed, and have been bullied in the space,” Ewart wrote. “All these experiences have culminated in a collective that is divided, a center that is toxic, harassment, and a sense of hopelessness moving forward.”

According to The Martlet, UVic’s student newspaper, the website was closed temporarily and social media accounts were “deactivated” earlier this year. Reached by phone at the UVSS office, Ewart says, “There were concerns about privacy, so the website was temporarily taken down to update the passwords.”

The website was restored in June 2016. Shortly thereafter, a message appeared on the page that Ewart says was “not put up by either of the coordinators.” The post castigated the university for not doing enough to prevent sexual assaults and concluded “UVic is the enemy.”

In June 2016, the collective held a Community Debrief in an attempt to address conflicts at the Centre. A collective member who goes by the name Lexa MacKay* recounts a chaotic scene:

“There was a lot of disruption. [Former coordinator] Daphne Shaed demanded that the hiring committee bypass union rules and hiring rules and get [Shaed] back as a hire. But that wasn’t going to happen. Nadia [Hamdon], the new coordinator, was already hired, and the hiring committee was happy with her. They said she is extremely qualified.”

During the meeting, Shaed, who self-identifies as a “tranny cyborg Hindu daphne shaedwoman,” and a “heterosexual lesbian,” accused Centre coordinator Kay Gallivan of “transmisogyny.” A supporter of Shaed asked Gallivan if she was “afraid of transwomen.”

A second meeting was scheduled for July 14, 2016. According to MacKay, a long-time collective member, Hamdon and Gallivan spoke of “continued incidents of harassment since the previous meeting and they said they were afraid to go in [to the Centre] because they felt unsafe.” The Centre is not currently operating, they said.

Jim Dunsdon, Associate VP for Student Affairs, was present to warn the group that the Third Space website may have been hacked and that the Centre could face sanctions for its message.

Discussion focused on moving forward from this turbulent period and completing the transition to Third Space, including changing the Centre’s signage.

“In moving forward, it is also important to recognize the difference between having a voice, advocating for change and calling bodies in when oppression has occurred and engaging in bullying and harassment type behaviors,” Ewart wrote in the July 12 letter. “The focus needs to begin to shift to the bigger picture and away from two individuals. Harassment can take many forms and can be anything from subtle, passive comments, to acts of violence.”

Voting or consultation?

Regarding the change from “Women’s Centre” to “Third Space,” Ewart says no further consultation with students is planned.

“We did a large consultation with surveys and polls that went out,” she says. When asked for details, Ewart referenced a poll that was posted on the Centre’s website. The web poll introduced the subject of a more “inclusive” name and asked respondents what name they would prefer and why. The survey has since been closed and the results have not been made public.

MacKay says a group of feminists on campus provided extensive feedback via the poll. “We felt it was erasing women,” she says. “They just went ahead and [made the changes] anyway without even talking about the criticism.”

Third Space is currently the unofficial name of the Centre, according to policies adopted at its annual meeting in November, and Ewart says the Third Space name will be official once it’s approved by the collective.

The Third Space website suggests the change might still be subject to “a referendum for all undergraduate students to vote on this matter.”

In any case, according to UVSS bylaws, the space is the Women’s Centre, and membership is limited to “all registered undergraduate women students.” Changing UVSS bylaws requires either a two-thirds vote by the directors, a two-thirds vote of members at a general meeting, or a majority vote in a student referendum.

The new Third Space constitution distances feminism from its history as a political movement for women’s liberation and the end of patriarchal oppression, defining it instead as “a mode of analysis that recognizes the right of every self-identified women, non-binary, and gender fluid to develop to their potential free from oppression” [sic].

The Centre and its staff are funded entirely by student fees, and female students make up 60 per cent of the student body.

The discourse

Controversy has dogged the Centre in the past year. While serving as Finance Coordinator, Shaed attracted negative attention for publishing a full-page, full-frontal nude photo in the June 2015 edition of the Third Space zine produced by the UVSS Women’s Centre. The image was titled “My body is not my shame — Daphne Shaed, Tranny Cyborg.”

Shaed, a political science, linguistics, and computer science student, drew criticism again in February 2016 after tweeting a photo of a student pouring red paint across UVic Pride’s new rainbow crosswalk along with the hashtag, #feelingsilenced. Shaed brushed off accusations of vandalism, tweeting, “the paint washes off, just like your inclusivity.”

“They don’t speak for us,” a Martlet commenter responded at the time. “[Shaed’s] attitude is exclusionary and they are frankly bullies. But any critique of action is shot down – even anonymous concerns are dismissed as ‘cis/straight’ trolls.’”

As of mid-July 2016, Shaed is still listed on the Centre’s website as a coordinator.

Meanwhile, MacKay says feminist literature and discussions that are critical of gender theory, pornography, and prostitution are not permitted at the Centre. After leaving feminist pamphlets at the Centre in January, she received an email from Shaed, explaining that members of the Centre may not challenge certain ideology, including the notion that “sex work is work” and the idea that “woman” is defined based on “a system of self-identification.”

MacKay asked:

”Is there room for ideological diversity in the Women’s Centre? I would like to run a radical feminist group. Would you find that acceptable?”

Shaed replied:

“[W]e can not support discourses that inherently erase others. There is room for discussions in the Women’s Centre, but not when it comes at the expense of undermining the legitimacy of other members and their identities.”

Student frustration with the change is evident on a Twitter page called @UVicWomyn, which was started by MacKay and some other anonymous women in an effort to respond to the proposed repurposing of the Centre.

An email to Centre members from Gallivan and Hamdon said the @UVicWomyn account constitutes “a form of bullying and harassment,” adding, “The UVSS and the Third Space coordinators have taken steps to get the page removed.”




Earlier this year, the Centre’s collective apologized for its “deep history of ‘radical feminism’” which they characterized as “exclusionary, racist, and trans exclusive.” The group committed to “unlearning elitist social justice mentalities.”

Safety and equality

The issues confronted by UVic women three decades ago are still on the front pages today. University parents still struggle for adequate childcare services and sexual assault survivors on campus still find their safety is not a priority with administrators (although their silence is).

Meanwhile, the rate of male violence against women is rising in BC and across the country. In 2015, 19 BC women were murdered by men, two of them in Victoria, and a spate of sexual assaults against women in communities near the University in July 2016 has women on edge.

“A number of women [have been] assaulted on campus,” MacKay says.

“Men target women for assault and it’s not based on how we identify, it’s based on our biology. Women are attacked because we’re female. Being born with a vulva is an automatic target on your back for sexual violence.”

She says women-only spaces protect women by removing the threat of male violence.

@UvicWomyn points out that trans students will benefit from a million-dollar endowment for a Chair of Transgender Studies announced early in 2016.

While the group is in favour of safe space for transgender or “gender fluid” students, they also want space available specifically for women.


@UvicWomyn’s online petition states that “people born male who identify as women have the right to their own space, but not at the expense of women’s space.”

The petition, which gathered over 250 signatures in its first three days, continues:

“Women-born women also have the right to organize on their own terms with others who share the female designation at birth and who were socialized as women, in order to heal from and organize against male exploitation and oppression of women that’s based on our biology and socialization.”

Lee Lakeman, a feminist pioneer and the founder of one of the country’s first safe houses for women, agrees. “My experience is that women-only space is vital to anti-violence work. We seem to think differently, more strategically in that space. It’s easier for women to be bold where we don’t feel censored,” she told me over phone.

“Once you accept that women don’t have equality in society, then it’s fairly obvious that women need to be able to distance themselves from men in order to collectivise.”

“In order for women to have enough room to think, they need some time away from the overpowering presence of men,” she says.

Tara Prema is a former student of journalism and women’s history.

*Lexa MacKay is a pseudonym used at the request of the student, who fears reprisals, including harassment and removal from the collective and the Centre

Dear @MayorGregor: Thanks for the sex

An open letter to Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson

Dear Mayor Robertson,

I want to thank you for making it so easy to buy women in your city. It means a lot to men like me.

Let me explain. I’m a john. I buy sex from women on the street, in massage parlours, from online ads. And I’m not ashamed. Why should I be? Sure, it’s against the law, but you and the police are on my side, right? That’s great. The system is working fine – don’t change a thing.

I live in the suburbs and I drive into Vancouver whenever I get the urge. When I roll up, the girls come right over. Makes me feel like a king.

Feminists make a big deal about prostitution being dangerous. Sure, the girls are nervous about serial killers and so on. I can tell by the way they look at me when I get them alone. But do feminists ever think about the needs of men like me? At least this way, I get what I want without the risk of being charged and having to go to court. I’m a family man after all.

So what if I break the law? Sometimes in more ways than one. But a working girl in Vancouver isn’t going to call the cops because Vancouver police won’t do anything. I feel good knowing that’s not an option for her. Powerful.

Feminists make such a big deal about consent. I say as soon as she takes my money, she’s already consented to whatever I want to do to her. If she had other skills, why isn’t she using them? She’s making money on her back and she should be grateful for whatever she gets, even if it’s only a cot in a dirty basement. There are plenty of desperate refugees who would trade places with her. I think I’ve had a couple actually. I’m an equal-opportunity employer.

Of course, we all understand the coercion part. But honestly, do these feminists think police will even try to stop sex trafficking in Vancouver? When there are so many girls and young women in other countries with barely any hope of surviving war and famine? Not to mention the situation on indigenous reserves. At least here they have a slightly better chance of survival, and the main thing is, they’re doing a useful service for men like me.

I’m just one of thousands of johns in and around your city. So listen up, because this is what it’s all about – men looking for girls. Where we go doesn’t matter, whether it’s Main Street, in the suburbs, or in your neighbourhood. Who we find doesn’t matter. She could be anyone. We’re the the only ones who matter. It’s about being real men. We should be able go out with our bros, find some girl and have a real good time. It’s because we want what we can’t get at home. Most women, like my wife, are prudes who can’t take what I’m giving. So the hell with them, I’ll find someone who will.

When my sons get old enough, I’m taking them to a brothel so they can pick out any girl they want. That’s what my dad did for me, and his dad for him. They say before white men came to this place, there were no prostitutes, no bawdyhouses, and no word for rape. Well I say you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs. We built this country, we civilized it, and I’ll tell you, Vancouver today is a great place to be a free man with cash in your pocket.

Keep up the good work buddy,


Creating John-Free Communities


Transwoman charged in “hate crime” will go to trial


Brooklyn Fink admits burning a Pride flag last year at University of British Columbia in an act that advocates called a “hate crime.” However, this week the male-to-trans student pleaded “not guilty” to the vandalism that frightened other students and led to the cancellation of a transgender march of remembrance. So far Fink has refused to be represented by a lawyer. The trial is set for three days in March 2017.


The most radical, revolutionary gender practice ever

If you really want to play with gender, particularly if you’re male, then the best way to do that – the most radical, revolutionary, genuinely non-masculine conforming thing you can do – has nothing to do with your dress or your hair or your makeup or your choice of pronouns.

As a male person, the most gender non-conforming thing you can do is to stop making demands of women – of their time, of their resources, of their domestic, emotional and sexual labour. You can stop calling your mother cis scum, and start helping her with the domestic chores. You can stop asking what feminism can do for you, and start asking what you can do to make the world a little more amenable to women.”

– Anonymous


Police seek BC transwoman for gender clinic “terror”


via Gendertrender

Police have issued an arrest warrant for Jayne Ellen Heideck, a suspect in the arson attack on Dr. Pierre Brassard’s gender surgery clinic in Montreal.

On May 2nd, a man carrying a machete, an ax, and a gas can entered the side door of the clinic after hours. He was witnessed by a worker who assumed he was a fellow employee who was locked out by the back dumpsters. The man rushed past him into the operating theatre and ignited the incendiary, which set off the sprinkler system, damaging clinic equipment and supplies. He left the premises before the fire department arrived. Personnel who remained in the building evacuated and no one was harmed. Over $700,000. in damage was caused, and surgeries were cancelled for two days until an alternate temporary facility was arranged.

The transgender community described the incident as an “act of terror” against transgenders, likened to attacks by men on women’s reproductive health providers, and called for hate crime charges to be brought against the perpetrator. Egale, the Canadian Human Rights Trust, stated:

“This act of arson is a symbolic affront to Canada’s trans community, and nothing short of hate crime. The attack underlines the threat of violence that is endured by Canadian trans people on a daily basis, and affirms the continued need for positive change in our country’s public perception of trans people.”

The suspect, Jayne Hellen Heideck, 42, of British Columbia, is a transwoman and apparent ex-patient of Brassard’s. Heideck is charged with breaking and entering, arson by negligence, arson with disregard for human life, among other charges.

While the transgender community decried the lack of outrage that the “hate crime” received in the mainstream press and blogosphere, common sense led most sites, including this one, to suspect the perpetrator may be a member of the transgender community itself.

In 2012 transgender activists attempted to fire bomb a Wells Fargo bank in Portland.

In 2012 transgender activists shut down the University of Pittsburgh repeatedly via bomb threats scrawled on bathroom walls and sent over the internet.

In 2012 a transgender activist threatened to firebomb the feminist London Radfem 2012 conference.

In 2015 a transwoman was convicted in an arson attack on the San Francisco home of facial feminization surgeon Doug Ousterhout.

In 2015 Stacie Laughton, first elected openly transgender state representative, was arrested for threatening to firebomb a hospital.

In 2016, a transwoman confessed to an arson attack on the Gay Pride flag at the University of British Columbia.

How I became a cis-privileged shitlord

by Anonymous. Originally posted on Young Radical Feminists.

Josephine Bloggs

I never thought I’d end up one of the “Freeze Peach” brigade. I am, and always have been, a knit-your-own hummus guardian-reader type. My parents both wear birkenstocks, and weep loony lefty tears at the music of Billy Bragg. I always prided myself on being so broad-minded that there would be no cap capacious enough to accommodate my great, broad temple, bulbous with pious left-wing views. No minority was, well, minor enough for me. My lapels were positively weighty with rosettes and badges for this or that struggle – gay rights, women’s lib, etc. Greer was my God, the earnest feminist discussion group my church. I would tell men to “check their privilege”, or just generally put a sock in it with the zeal of the young and right-minded. The cannon, I gleefully told my fellow students, was sexist. It was important that we hold our tongues and listen to the views of those more marginalised. Public discourse, I maintained, was and is dominated by self-important white heterosexual men, with accents even plummier than my own. I still believe this – really, I do. I believed that freedom of speech could and should be curtailed in order to address what I saw (and still do see) as a fundamentally unequal status quo. The oppressed must be heard over the oppressor. That is, of course, until I got to university, and found out that it was, in fact, me, who was the oppressor. It was then that I found out I was cis, you see.

I’m well-versed in feminist stats. Two women a week die at the hands of a current or ex partner in the UK. Men own 95% of the world’s resources. The average entry age into prostitution in Europe is 15. FGM is endemic, and has reared its ugly head here in the UK. There is so much to be done. You can only imagine my surprise when I found that student feminism centred around pronouns, safe spaces, trigger warnings. The world is cruel to women, and rather than fight it, my fellow “feminists” wanted gender-neutral bathrooms and the right to ignore the ills inflicted upon other women. I criticised the porn industry and was duly chided for being “sex-negative”. I was boring, old-hat, a frigid old bra-burner; an oppressive one at that! Women, you see, cannot conceive of the endless harm done to non-binary and trans people by brats like myself. Woman, the implication was, has had the monopoly on suffering for too long. To struggle is to have a macbook, teal hair, and the pronoun “xir”; ten or so years ago these bouji brats would have been content being goths – but now they’re non-binary. Do you, dear reader, conform religiously to the dictates of gender? Are you not a walking pastiche of your sex? Trouser-clad women, look away now – you are, in fact, non-binary. Being non-binary sounds brill, to be fair. Even if you have a penis, you get to whinge a great deal, and tell women in no uncertain terms to shut up. Behaviour that would have seen you deemed a big dirty sexist three or so years ago gets you a great many approving nods in modern feminist circles. I had long thought that, as feminists, our whole schtick was that there was no such thing as the male or female brain – that woman had the grey matter necessary to lead countries and become CEO’s. That it was nurture, not nature, that had seen women consigned to the kitchen. These long-held views were thrown out the window in order to appease trans-activists. Caitlyn Jenner, I was told by one militant atheist-feminist, had a “feminine soul”. That would explain where all his/her decathlon medals and sired offspring came from!

Universities are pretty bad for sexual assault. That’s stating the obvious, really: the world is bad for sexual assault. But universities particularly so: lots of young people, many of whom spent the past 12 years in a single sex environment, suddenly descend upon a campus or small university town, and hit the pub. Efforts on campus to teach people about meaningful consent and things like that are meagre. The NUS’ one concessionary bid at combating sexual assault on campus was to ban pop ditty “Blurred Lines”, elevating a standard-issue sexist song into the martyr-ly anthem of free speech advocates who like creepy songs about coercing reluctant beaus into bed (or, to call a spade a spade, assault.) All women know about creepy men: there are few women who haven’t lingered too long by the tampon machine in the women’s toilet in order to escape the advances of a leering lech in a nightclub. Our student union bar has two such women’s toilets: sensible, considering that girls inexplicably wee more, and the university rugby team (the male one, naturally), has taken to pissing on the floor of the union bar at sports nights: the women’s toilets are often a great deal more appealing than the bar itself. This state of affairs will be coming to an end soon – one of the women’s toilets will be changed into a “gender neutral” one soon: for “non-binary people.” This is obviously very nice for non-binary people with penises (although any good feminist knows that penis does not mean male, you guys!), but not so fun for tedious, whining uterus-bearers, many of whom fear sexual assault, and know and recognise single-sex spaces such as toilets as a place of welcome respite from the threatening behaviour of men. Que sera sera – these spaces are hardly sacrosanct anyway. I recently went for a wee in the women’s loos, only to find the seat up and the bowl covered in piss. Interesting.

When I tentatively suggested that banning Julie Bindel (“Bindel”: the name alone is “triggering”) from campus might be a bit daft, I was deemed a transphobe, my presence in the university feminist group “unsafe”. God forbid your ideas go unchallenged at university! But the echo-chamber prevailed – she was turfed (or should that be TERF-ed?) from campus. The students slept safe in their beds (or polyamorous communes) once more. In the two years since, I marvel at my naivety. On the cusp of graduation, I would never dare to air my unpopular views like that. As a “cis” woman, I know full well that I am perennially on the verge of “cissexism” – to observe that the penis is male is akin to saying that you think that babies are lovely, but better fried than grilled. I play sports, but wouldn’t dare suggest to my team that I think it might be just a little unfair that transwomen can compete with women in the Olympics. That would be terribly oppressive – transwomen may be allowed to compete with the advantage of denser bones, greater height, superior strength, and testosterone levels seven times that of the average “cis” woman, but what about their feelings? The hard work and perseverance of potential gold medallist females pales in comparison to the importance of the feelings of transwomen; everything does, in fact. To question that a bloke in a frock has had the same experience of womanhood as, well, a woman, is oppressive. So don’t do it. Ever. That’s my experience of it, at least. That’s how I came to find myself on the side of those people I’d disdained for so long: free speech advocates. Bristly-necked men who consider it their constitutional right to watch rape porn; frothy-mouthed Christians who picket abortion clinics; religious fanatics who call gay people the most appalling things. And now me – a whey-faced guardian reader who queries the right of a man in a mini-skirt to use the women’s loos. Just recall the candidates for this year’s NUS women’s officer. One of the candidates has a manifesto that boasts of trans rights, and a five o’clock shadow to rival my Dad’s: by modern standards, he’s a far better feminist that I’ll ever be.

ISIS executes 250 women and girls for refusing to be ‘sex slaves’

The cold-blooded killings allegedly took place in Mosul, the second biggest city in Iraq, after the victims were hand-picked by IS soldiers.

The women were forced into temporary marriage, or sexual jihad, and those who refused were murdered, sometimes with their families, said Kurdish Democratic Party spokesman Said Mamuzini.

Islamic State vehicles drive through Mosul. Photo: AAP

“At least 250 girls have so far been executed by the IS for refusing to accept the practice of sexual jihad, and sometimes the families of the girls were also executed for rejecting to submit to IS’s request,” Mr Mamuzini told AhlulBayt news agency.

Another official, Ghayas Surchi from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan said women were not allowed to go out alone in the city or choose their own spouse.

IS forcefully gained control of Mosul in June 2014 after the fall of the Iraqi army, but US President Barack Obama said he was positive the city would be reclaimed “eventually”.

An Islamic State fighter holds an ISIL flag and a weapon in Mosul. Photo: Reuters

“My expectation is that by the end of the year, we will have created the conditions whereby Mosul will eventually fall,” Mr Obama said on Monday.

The horrific executions echo similar killings that took place last August, when almost two dozen women from Mosul were slain for refusing sex with Islamic State soldiers.

Yahoo7 News, April 22 2016

The Pimping of Pregnancy: Exposing the international commercial surrogacy business

From Julie Bindel, Byline

Birthing a Market, A Study on Commercial Surrogacy (2012) estimates that there are currently 3000 clinics in India offering surrogacy services. Surrogacy is a 2.3 billion dollar industry annually. Around 10,000 foreign couples visit India for reproductive services each year.

Dr Nayna Patel, a frontrunner of the Indian surrogacy movement, heads the Akanksha Infertility Clinic in Gujarat, where more than 600 surrogate babies have been born. Not only does Patel see the industry growing, she is gearing up for it and is building what is being dubbed as the world’s first multi-million dollar ‘baby factory’ in Anand, Gujarat, which will be a one-stop-destination for surrogacy. Patel predicts a 12 percent growth in the sector per year.

Whilst the rich Westerners buying surrogacy services often see the ‘service’ as a human right, many would argue that using poor, brown women as incubators is racist, colonialist, and akin to prostitution.

This reproductive tourism is usually viewed as unproblematic, and almost an act of kindness on behalf of the commissioning parents, because, it is argued, the women who carry the babies have no other way to earn a living.

But in Gujarat, and other poor, rural parts of India, parents of multiple daughters sometimes sell the older ones to trafficking gangs and pimps, who take them to cities to work as surrogates and earn money for their younger sisters’ dowries. Surrogates in India are usually paid under $8,000.

Once working as surrogates, women can be kept in cramped quarters and told when to eat, drink, and sleep. Monitored like prisoners, they may be required to refrain from sex and riding bicycles. Surrogates can also be prevented from using painkillers, even for conditions such as migraine, or required to take medicines like Lupron, estrogen, and progesterone to help achieve pregnancy, all of which can have damaging side effects.

During the ‘pimping of pregnancy’ project I would visit several countries that are known as hot spots in the rent a womb business, such as India, Thailand, and Mexico.

Countries such as France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Bulgaria prohibit all forms of surrogacy. In countries including the UK, Ireland, Denmark and Belgium, surrogacy is allowed where the surrogate mother is not paid, or only paid for reasonable expenses. Paying the mother a fee is prohibited.

Commercial surrogacy is legal in some US states, for example, California, and countries including India, Russia and Ukraine.

In these countries, with vastly different legal systems, I would meet the commissioning parents; brokers; clinicians; surrogate women; and those campaigning to end the commercial trade in wombs. I would ask the question, is outsourcing reproduction another form of bonded labour, and is it widening the gap between rich and poor, the global north and south. Would commercial surrogacy exist at all if it were not for the increasing acceptance of the financial exploitation of the female body?

I would also look at the boom in the sale of breast milk. In the US, new mothers with professional careers are offered work-based ‘lactation rooms’ as incentives to return to work as soon as possible after giving birth. They can make on-line bookings for the purpose-designed pumping chairs in these rooms, where they can ‘comfortably’ plug in and express milk during a work-break. Lactation rooms are coveted as a sign of a caring workplace, with the newly developed ‘Corporate Lactation Policies’ of companies like Goldman Sachs becoming an accepted substitute for maternity leave.

Very poor women are being pimped and coerced into selling their milk, and there are even instances where the women are impregnated in order to produce the milk for sale. I would be looking at how ethical the companies that broker the sales, such as Prolacta, and whether it is aware of the exploitation behind the commercialisation of this product. I would talk to those who buy and sell, and look at the diverse stories behind this new and insidious form of wet nursing.

Please help me raise enough funds to do this research. I would bring you the very best in evidence, and will work hard to access interviews with those involved, in whichever way, in this market. I want to live in a world where it is unacceptable to put a price on a baby, or consider the inside of a woman’s body a saleable entity.

Read more The Byline.

“Maybe what feminism needs is separatism, not inclusion”


By Jocelyn MacDonald, Feminist Current

In a time where inclusion has become one of feminism’s key priorities, a founding idea has fallen particularly out of favour: separatism. The mere accusation of not being “intersectional” (something that actually is imperative but is mostly misapplied by the same liberals calling for “inclusiveness”) is enough to shutter events, spaces, and organizations that center women. The idea of separatism, even among many feminists, calls to mind the dreaded hairy-pitted second-waver who spells women with a “y,” or those unfuckable dykes, buzz cuts and all (LOL, amirite?). You’ll see prohibitions against separatism any time any group of women tries to organize anything, ever. “This event is for anyone marginalized by patriarchy,” liberals will say. Thank you, but literally everyone is “marginalized” by patriarchy in some way.

Liberal feminists and leftist dudes alike have lost the plot — feminism is separation from a system that keeps women subordinate to men and funnels resources straight off women’s backs into men’s hands. The reason this tactic is cue for a laugh track is because our Patriarchy knows that separatism is a legitimate threat to male supremacy. In fact, it is the first bralatov cocktail lobbed.

If you want the real story, read Marilyn Frye’s pamphlet, “Some Reflections on Separatism and Power.” First published in 1977, it’s only 10 pages long. Since you’re a modern woman, you’re probably reading this on your cell phone in the bathroom, at one of your jobs, so I’ll summarize it for you as directly as possible.

Feminism is separatist

Frye explains that feminism is a philosophy, not for, but against inclusion. The dominant paradigm says, “Men have a right to women’s bodies, to women’s labour. Women are invited to participate in public life to the degree that we, men, decree.” Feminism says, “No. That is not the natural or inevitable order of life on Planet Earth.” We don’t want to come to your capitalist imperialist hegemony party.

Male separatism is status quo — from petty public space (Manspreading on the train! Catcalling!) to the highest halls of power ­(scant representation of women in government and industry). This means that feminist separation is rebellion — women excuse ourselves from “institutions, relationships, roles, and activities which are male-defined, male-dominated, and operating for the benefit of males and the maintenance of male privilege.”

And here’s the really important part: “This separation being initiated or maintained, at will, by women [emphasis original].” It’s not about advocating for an island of lesbians cut off for eternity from half the human race (OK, I wouldn’t turn it down, but I’ll admit it’s not practical), rather, it means we say when the walls go up and for how long, who passes through the gate and who waits outside.

Men are parasites

Maybe the thing that would get Frye in the most trouble today is the assertion that males and females live in a relationship of parasitism. The wisdom of patriarchy says that the female is subordinate to the male because he protects and provides for her. But women have always contributed to our own material support — in fact, in whatever capacity men provide or protect us, it is because the circumstances of patriarchy itself “are designed to make it difficult for women to provide for [our]selves.”

All sorts of studies concerning the happiness of heterosexual marrieds show that the men in these relationships are significantly happier and healthier than unmarrieds, while the reverse is true for women. Women involved with men report greater depression, worse health, and less stability than the men with whom they’re partnered.

It’s super unpopular to say this, since most of us have men in our lives who we like, and who we’d like to call our feminist allies if not also brother, father, husband, pal. The fact is, however, that male privilege makes men thieves of our mental, spiritual, and physical energy, or as some of my favorite sisters like to call it, our gynergy. Sometimes you just need a break, even from the good ones (#NotAllParasites).

Access is power

Frye lays it out thusly:

“Differences of power are always manifested in asymmetrical access… The super-rich have access to almost everybody; almost nobody has access to them. The resources of the employee are available to the boss as the resources of the boss are not to the employee. The parent has unconditional access to the child’s room; the child does not have similar access to the parent’s room… Total power is unconditional access; total powerlessness is being unconditionally accessible. The creation and manipulation of power is constituted of the manipulation and control of access.”

Throughout patriarchal history, men have had virtually unlimited access to women’s bodies. They have engineered and maintained this through marriage, denying access to abortion, and undervaluing women’s labour, among others too numerous to list off. When women cut off that flow of benefits, we begin to assume power, and it drives men bonkers (and too often, murderous).

Definition is power

Under patriarchy, women are defined as beings unable to say no. Whether overly sexual or nurturing and indulgent, “woman” is a person who has boundless capacity for self-sacrifice. In fact, she exists only in relation to a man. Men are the default people, and women are both men’s reflection and their shadow. A woman who separates defies this definition.

In the act of separation, women expand the idea of what females are capable of, what we look like, and who we love. Women come up with new language with which to self-define, but we often can’t change the language of those around us. “Generally,” says Frye, “when renegade women call something one thing and patriarchal loyalists call it another, the loyalists get their way.” But while saying something does not make it so, creating one’s own community makes space for shared language.

“When we take control of sexual access to us, of access to our nurturance and to our reproductive function, access to mothering and sistering, we redefine the word ‘woman.’”

What separatism looks like now

Men, of course, are the master separatists. They refuse to make room for women even in relative trivialities like movies and video games. Just look at what MRAs say about Mad Max: Fury Road and Gamergate.

When women try to separate, to create space for ourselves to think, to relax, to heal, to organize, to learn, all fucking hell breaks loose.

Men terrorize and stalk their wives even once they are in domestic violence shelters. Elliot Rodgers broke into a sorority to kill women because he felt rejected.

In 31 states, rapists can sue for custody of their children. Not even women who have been legally victimized by men are granted separation by the state.

My local lesbian bar, The Wild Rose, is full of straight bros looking to sitesee in Homodelphia. About as many “cis-het” dudes marched in Seattle Dyke March this year as nonbinary/genderqueer/butches/femmes/or otherwise-identifying lesbians.

The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival is over. At its peak, it was the largest gathering of dykes and woman-loving-women in our solar system. Think about that for one fucking minute. Think about what it would feel like to come from all over the world, from countries where it’s illegal to be a lesbian, from small towns in the Midwest where you’ve never even seen a woman in Butch regalia (except in your dreams), to come to a place and suddenly see yourself everywhere, and suddenly feel safe to be your authentic self. Now, liberal feminists, MRAs, family-values types, and — hardest of all to swallow — the queer community, delight in its destruction. No matter where you stand on what makes a woman-born-woman, the fact is that the MichFest community struggled in earnest with self-definition (which, one more time for the record, included transwomen). However, women, and especially lesbians, are not allowed to self-define, so we cue up that laugh track again and share some Everyday Meninism articles about how awful and evil Michfest was.

The thing that all separatist spaces have in common is that all of them are at-will spaces for women to retreat to. They all have different reasons for separation. They all define for themselves the separation criteria, i.e. what folks inside should share in common. And in each case, they are threatened and attacked, mostly by men and sometimes by loyalist women.

Arguments against separatism are post-feminist. They pretend our work is done and that men are not responsible for and complicit in the subjugation of women as a class. Not only do they harm women, they also harm those men who would be our allies, because these arguments suggest that men are too fragile to be denied access to women. They suggest that women benefit from a relational identity to men, when really, women are fine as entities unto ourselves. For courageous women, for feminists, what lies in the woods of Michigan, or the halls of the Seven Sisters, or behind whatever wall women have put up, is the opportunity for self-love.

Jocelyn Macdonald is a Seattle-based writer, editor, and podcaster.


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