Never ‘marginal’

Filia has the short talk that Selina Todd would have given this morning if she hadn’t been abruptly pushed out at the last minute.

I am delighted to be here today. I owe my life to Ruskin College and my career to feminism. My parents met at Ruskin in 1967. My mum was one of 6 children who grew up in a working-class family in Leeds. She was the only girl. Here’s something she wrote recently about her childhood: ‘As a five- or six-year-old I had refused to touch my parents’ birthday present of a doll with a pram, sensing the restriction such a role-defined toy would place on me. My brothers would never have been offered such a present. I wanted a bike and after months of rejecting them, the doll and pram were sold and I got my bike. Action paid off.’

I grew up in a world very different from the one of her childhood. Thanks to the Women’s Liberation Movement, I had the right to equal pay and equal rights at work before I even got to school. When I started history at my coeducational comprehensive school in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the influence of feminism meant that the first history class we ever had was in women’s history. We were asked to go and interview the oldest woman we knew about her life. For me, women’s history and working-class history were never ‘marginal’, absolutely central to any understanding of who made change happen and how.

And they weren’t “exclusionary” either.

Today we continue to fight for those rights that the first Ruskin conference, and the movement it helped to create, campaigned for: the right to women’s refuges, women’s history teaching, equal pay and against male violence. At times it is easy to despair that this fight must continue. But history reminds us feminism never starts from a good place: it is borne from oppression. History also reminds us of the great victories that arose from that day at Ruskin fifty years ago. It is an honour to celebrate those feminists who made so many of our lives and achievements possible, and with whom we stand in sisterhood today.

The right to women’s refuges, in particular, is under attack not just from the right, not just from openly domineering men, but also from the woke left and from men who pretend to be women.

Selina Todd added a statement on the no-platforming:

I am shocked to have been no-platformed by this event, organised by Oxford International Women’s Festival and hosted at Exeter College. I was asked to participate in October 2019, and I explained to the organisers that some trans activists may object to my being there. I was then told that trans activists had already expressed hostility towards the event because they claimed second-wave feminism is inherently trans-exclusionary. However, the organisers decided that because I am a historian of feminism and working-class women, they would like to invite me, and were open to many different points of view being expressed at their event. I was delighted. I am deeply interested in the history of the WLM – my first academic article focused on it – and my parents met at Ruskin shortly before the first conference was held there. Participating had personal and scholarly significance. 

She warned them about the trans “activists” bullying, and they invited her anyway…then took it back hours before the event.

Between October 2019 and February 2020 I helped the organisers to get support from Oxford History Faculty – in the form of student helpers, facilitators and some funding – and to find media contacts. I was stunned to receive a phone call at 6pm on the evening before the conference telling me that I had been no-platformed. The organisers say this is because of pressure from trans activists and Feminist Fightback. I refute the allegation that I am transphobic, and I am disappointed that the organisers have refused to uphold our right to discuss women’s rights – one that the original organisers had to fight hard for.

I’m disappointed and very very very pissed off.

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