In the febrile context of gender identity politics, high-profile left-wing feminists have charged Kellie-Jay Keen (aka Posie Parker), a women’s rights activist, with making dangerous far-right alliances and giving a voice to white nationalists. A heated dispute has taken place in the Twitter-sphere which as yet shows no sign of abating. Why should an outsider view the conflict as anything other than an internecine spat? Quite frankly, why should anyone who is not a feminist care?
I argue that there are important reasons to care, not least because the dispute shines a light on broader issues such as: women’s rights, the safeguarding of children, free speech, who has the authority to control the narrative about who can speak and who can’t, the conceptual blurring of boundaries between left and right, political responsibility, and the health (or otherwise) of current liberal democratic institutions.
Accusations that Keen is racist are not new and were initially alleged by A Woman’s Place UK (WPUK), a left-wing organisation. Since 2017, WPUK has admirably performed the heavy lifting to alert the public to the danger that gender self-identification poses to women and children. In 2018, it invited Keen to speak at an event, but almost immediately de-platformed her. She had written a series of tweets in which she first expressed disapproval of the Muslim practice of covering the hair of pre-pubescent girls with the hijab and second, she pointed out that highly-publicised grooming gangs in English towns were entirely made up of Pakistani Muslim men. Keen complained that although feminists were happy to analyse critically the social conditions of masculinity and rape culture, discussion is disallowed when it pertains to the specific social conditions of rape culture within Muslim communities including Pakistani men’s attitudes towards white girls. WPUK concluded that Keen’s “stated views on race and religion” do not “reflect a feminist position” on “how sex, class and race intersect to oppress women.”
Keen began to eschew left-wing feminism, arguing it is more concerned with appeasing its socialist masters than standing up for the sex-based rights of women and the protection of children. She started her own organisation defiantly named Standing for Women, and now organises monthly rallies called Let Women Speak. Any woman—left, right or centre—can take the mic. Women can be black, white, religious, atheist, agnostic, working-class, middle-class, anti-abortion, pro-choice, young, old, lesbian, straight and bisexual, married, single, dating, childless, mothers and grandmothers. In a culture of fear, of censorship and self-censorship, women’s collective public testimonies provide evidence of the real dangers to women and children of gender identity ideology and its political and social impact in the UK. Women report feeling empowered by the social solidarity of the rallies and emboldened to go back to their workplace, family, friendship group and so on to boldly challenge the misogyny and authoritarianism of a culture dressed in progressive garb.
However, Keen’s rallies have come under critical scrutiny by high-profile left-wing feminists. A rally was held in Brighton on 18 September 2022 when prior claims resurfaced about Keen’s alleged racism and that she holds views incompatible with feminism, this time with a further allegation that she is allied with the far-right and in cahoots with white supremacists. The two following incidents are the alleged empirical evidence for the truth of these claims: A 20-year-old woman Sophie Corcoran, unknown to Keen, took the mic. She is a freelance writer who appears on GB News and who, feminists allege, holds “extreme far-right views.” Secondly, the event was live-streamed, without Keen’s knowledge, by two people belonging to an alleged white supremacist group, Hearts of Oak. Under subsequent forensic scrutiny, this claim was found to be unsupported. Keen refuses to apologise, arguing that to do so would undermine the whole political purpose of enabling women’s free speech in “the public square.”
Sarah Ditum, a feminist journalist, categorised Keen as “a Poundshop Marine Le Pen” who does not care “about any woman apart from herself.” Accusations soon reached hyperbolic proportions. Jeni Harvey, a feminist writer, described the Brighton rally as “co-opted by nationalists, racists and woman haters, therefore damaging it irreparably and rendering it unfit for purpose.” She accuses Keen of creating a movement that sits “on the same side of a police line with fascists.” She argues that “given the increased platforming of right-wing speakers” (women?), Keen has brought about a division “in the so-called gender critical movement.” Where the true feminist movement is represented by WPUK, it has now “broken off into a mass, populist affair, in thrall to the cult of personality and ready to bat eyes at anyone offering crumbs of attention.” Harvey declared: “If I am divisive, then good.”
Feminists who have worked tirelessly for years to expose the normalisation of men’s sexual abuse of women and girls, and who have quite rightly become respected figureheads for the gender-critical women’s movement, have also pitched into criticism of Keen. For example, Julie Bindel, a feminist journalist, campaigner for women’s rights and co-founder of Justice for Women, roundly endorsed Harvey’s analysis, saying: “I 100% agree…I mean, EVERY word.” Karen Ingala Smith, a campaigner against violence against women, defended the term Poundland as valid “shorthand” for an organisation which is “poor quality, rip-off and dependent upon exploitation.” She very much appreciates her socialist colleagues’ “feminist analysis and interrogation of class and race inequalities.”
Keen’s supporters, in response, have flown to her defence against what seems to them to be excoriating ad hominem comments. A black woman, @MsGiveZeroFox, describes Keen’s detractors as “Head Girls.” She writes:
To witness the sheer bravery and courage and kindness of the Tervern [a collection of TERFs] … and have “professional feminists”… try to undermine that solidarity with false accusations of White Nationalist associations, is incredibly disappointing. I don’t need anyone’s permission to speak at an open mic event. There are some in this movement who want to nurture a feminist movement that is left-wing, anti-racist, and trade unionist in values. That’s great, but there’s a ton of women who don’t meet those criteria yet are equally at risk of having their sex-based rights removed.
She says, “The stink of ‘far-right’’’ that left-wing feminists are creating is “death” to the women’s movement. “Killing that perception ought to be the number one priority because conflating it with ‘right-wing’ is the number one weapon in the arsenal of trans rights activists.”
DJ Lippy, a working-class, left-wing political activist classifies Keen’s detractors as feminists who want
us to organise YOUR way, and have the right to dictate how WE do our work. No. This is about diluting our message and excluding the women from conversation who speak the truth. You couldn’t do it any other way, so you went to the racism card, which the Left plays whenever it loses. You make all our mates think we are mad, bad, unsafe. Right-wing/fascist adjacent. You muddy the waters so much that bystanders pull back from the movement.
Another woman called Aja, a working-class black lesbian poet, says, “Please don’t police our voice just because we use ours in the way you don’t use yours.”
The leitmotif of left-wing feminists is that women belong to a male-dominated structurally oppressed sex class. They are nevertheless proud to cleave that sex class into opposing groups, thus fragmenting its potential for collective resistance. Having elected themselves the feminist political purity monitors, they have clearly scored an own goal. They have given a clear signal to the “ordinary” women—in WPUK terms, women who are oppressed by the intersection of sex, race, and class—of what might befall them if they attend further rallies. Women will not only have to brave transactivist bullies who hurl smoke bombs as well as slurs, but they may also have to face the punitive value judgements of the guilt of racism by association with Keen, or of being too stupid to realise the dangers to women of an alliance with fascism. In a private conversation, one woman said to me: “Then feminists wonder why so many women don’t call themselves feminists!!!”
What do left-wing feminists mean by far-right? If they mean the authoritarian exercise of power by an elite group which suppresses dissent and non-compliant conduct, then they might benefit from reflecting on their own political tactics! If it is racist to see hijab as a tool of patriarchal oppression then Keen keeps excellent company with the women protestors in Iran bravely burning their headscarves in breath-taking defiance of the morality police. If it is not feminist of Keen to flag up that the grooming gangs consisted entirely of Pakistani Muslim men, then not being feminist would have helped draw attention to the fact that countless girls were subjected to rape and sexual abuse carried out for years with impunity because authorities, social services and police were afraid of appearing racist. The girls, most of whom were working class and troubled, were not seen as victims but as the cause of their demise.
High-profile left-wing feminists conclude that Let Women Speak is not fit for feminist purpose. I disagree. Keen’s political tactics rejuvenate the “speak out” model which sparked the second wave of feminism in the 1970s. Women’s current “speak-outs” reveal a chilling social phenomenon: In liberal democracy decent people, in the name of progressivism, tolerate brutalities such as the medical transition of children, or men’s sexual abuse of women in prisons or hospital wards. In defaming Keen, feminists mirror the ideological fundamentalism of transactivists who chanted in high volume at Brighton: “Posie Parker is a fascist.” Surely the irony is not lost on the above feminists that they too have been accused by transactivists of being allied with the far-right, or of being Nazis because of their gender-critical views. In hurling the slogan at Keen they, like the transactivists, are evacuating the term ‘far-right’ of meaning. As such, they may help bring about the very politics they fear and drive to the right those women (and men) who are fed up with being gagged by the left and told who can or cannot speak out on this issue. Italy, for example, has elected its first female prime minister, hailed by the media as far-right, and who stood on the following platform:“No to the LGBT lobby, yes to sexual identity, no to gender.”
In a world where left-wing media deprive gender-critical women of oxygen, high-profile left-wing feminists are unapologetic about their own political expediency in embracing platforms such as the right-wing press and GB News. They deny Keen a similar right to navigate the complex terrain of how to speak out against the misogyny and sexism of gender identity ideology and politics. I suggest that out of common human decency, if not sisterly solidarity, feminists should cease attacking Keen who, like them, fights for the protection of women’s sex-based rights, agency, and bodily autonomy. Not only are the optics bad concerning the stereotypes of women in-fighting (to the delight of sexist men of both the right and left), but this is a trifling matter with regard to the much larger ethical issues at stake. In the interests of justice for women and children, it behoves gender-critical feminists to reject the proposition that a left/right division between gender-critical women is “good.” For the success of a growing, substantive grassroots movement that just might have a chance of finally tearing down the elaborate gender identity edifice, just LET WOMEN SPEAK.
This article first appeared in Julian Vigo’s Savage Minds Substack