A leading feminist used an appearance in Corby to urge women to continue the fight against inequality 100 years on from winning the vote.
Dr Heather Brunskell-Evans, a philosopher and social theorist from Northamptonshire, is one of the leading - and sometimes one of the most controversial - voices in modern feminism.
She was invited to speak in Corby as part of the Votes & Voices programme, a series of events organised by women in the town to celebrate the 100th anniversary of women being given the right to vote.
Dr Brunskell-Evans spoke on a range of issues including prostitution, pornography, transgenderism and how to challenge gender stereotypes in daily life.
She said that, 100 years on from the year the Representation of the People Act was given royal ascent, women are still a long way from reaching equality.
“I am a feminist because of the terrible double standards we have in our society,” she said.
“They still cohere around women being seen in relation to men.
“Men are the norm: women get compared to men.
“The suffragettes and suffragists had this belief that if women were given the vote, if they took their place in the political sphere, then everything would sort itself out.
“Getting the vote hasn’t brought about women’s equality. We are 100 years on - why has it not happened yet?
“We have to reframe how we see men and how we see women.”
Dr Brunskell-Evans is a trustee of FiLia, a feminist charity, and director of its stop violence against women and girls section.
At her talk in Corby yesterday, she talked about prostitution and her concerns over how the law may change to legalise it. She cited the Nordic Model - where women involved in prostitution are never prosecuted, but men are, as the ideal way of changing how society views prostitution.
She said: “Men have simply reframed prostitution as sex work.
“I think it’s exploitative and I think its abuses girls and women.
“Not just those prostitutes, but larger society.
“We are saying ‘these girls can be used, but these girls over here can’t’
“If prostitution is work like any other, then we’d be encouraging our daughters to do it. There’d be advertisements in the Job Centre.”
She urged people to talk to their friends about the issues. She said: “It comes back to trying to speak out about these things.
“A hundred years ago ‘nice women’ didn’t complain about these things.
“I think that equality is not going to be achieved without speaking out.”
Earlier this year, Dr Brunskell-Evans was removed from her position as a spokeswoman for the Women’s Equality Party’s for publicly, on Radio 4, expressing her unshakeable view that gender is a social construct and that “caution should be exercised when medically transgendering children”.
It is an issue that is splitting feminists and the trans community and one that will be debated this month when the government takes a look at proposals to alter the Gender Recognition Act 2004 (GRA) to make it possible for people to self-identify as whatever gender they feel themselves to be.
The (GRA) lets adults officially register a change to the gender assigned at birth if they can provide psychiatric assessments and proof of living for two years in the gender they wish to be recognised.
Activists say this is intrusive and overly medicalised so the government is looking at ways it can be simplified so that self-identification can take place.
Some feminists say that this could mean that men have access to spaces reserved for women - changing rooms, women’s refuges and as applicants for jobs reserved for women to address gender imbalance, like all-women political shortlists.
More radical feminists, like Dr Brunskell-Evans, say that men can never become women even after surgery. This view has caused understandable and intense discord between some parts of the trans and feminist communities.
At last night’s meeting, Dr Brunskell-Evans said: “The GRA would allow men to self-identify as a woman and then be a woman from that point on and I think this is extremely problematic.
“I don’t think transwomen are actually women.
“The change to the law was going to go ahead. It’s patriarchy through the back door.
“Women started to wake up and now we have another consultation.
“I think women should fight against this like mad.”
On the Gender Recognition Act, LGBT campaign group Stonewall says: “A reform of this outdated legislation means that trans people looking to have their gender identity legally recognised in a straightforward way, which isn’t costly, invasive and doesn’t treat being trans as a mental illness.
“At the moment, the process is so traumatic and demeaning that many trans people simply can’t face it. There’s no need for it to be this way. Lots of other countries, including Ireland, already have simpler systems in place. And the only consequences have been positive for trans people – it really hasn’t affected anyone else.”