I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I opened Feminism for Women: The Real Route to Liberation. While I have boundless respect for Julie Bindel, and consider her a dear friend, we don’t always see eye to eye. We’ve clashed over the term ‘Karen’, fallen out over a feminist event, and will no doubt argue again in the future. I’m telling you this not to frame my review as unbiased (nothing in this world is neutral) – rather, so that you understand it wasn’t inevitable that I give this book a glowing review. But it’s happening, because Feminism for Women is bloody brilliant.
The book assesses the state of the feminist movement today, analyses the most pressing concerns we face, and offers women a roadmap for how we can move forward collectively. Bindel is a persuasive writer. Her arguments are carefully reasoned, compelling in their delivery. Though her words about the full extent of male violence against women and girls in this world are not easy to read, shattering the illusion that we are ever fully ‘safe’, this perspective is grounded in decades of experience working to end that violence.
As well as male violence, Bindel warns against ‘femocracy’, the corporatisation of the sort of feminist activism that built the women’s sector from nothing. When feminist organisations “became fearful of offending their stakeholders”, Bindel argues, “the form of feminism they espoused became tamer and less threatening to the establishment.” And reading these words, I couldn’t help but wonder: was this why Edinburgh’s government-funded feminist organisations stayed unanimously silent when Bindel was attacked in their own city after giving a talk about women’s rights?
Anyone even vaguely familiar with Bindel’s work will be unsurprised that Feminism for Women rejects the notion that lesbians can have penises; that women’s shelters and rape crisis services should be mixed-sex. Her feminist politics are uncompromisingly woman-centric. But Bindel does not simply stick to what is expected from her for an easy win. She makes an impassioned case for intersectional analysis of the sex industry, asking that we as feminists recognise racism, classism, and Imperialism as factors heightening women’s vulnerability to male violence.
Anyone even vaguely familiar with Bindel’s work will be unsurprised that Feminism for Women rejects the notion that lesbians can have penises; that women’s shelters and rape crisis services should be mixed-sex. Her feminist politics are uncompromisingly woman-centric.
While Bindel mentions the extreme misogyny weaponised against household names such as J.K. Rowling and Martina Navratilova, as backlash to their stance on self-ID, she gives equal care to the plight of women of colour without wealth or fame to shield them from the extreme fringes of trans activism. Bindel highlights the case of Raquel Rosario Sánchez, a Dominican student subject to a sustained campaign of harassment for chairing a Woman’s Place UK meeting back in 2018; Lucy Massoud, a Libyan woman who became LGBT representative for the Fire Brigade’s Union and volunteered to be Grenfell Liaison Representative. Despite her success in both roles, Massoud – a lesbian – was dropped when reported for ‘homophobia.’
It’s always significant, which voices an author chooses to amplify. And Feminism for Women is all the more meaningful because it contains such a rich tapestry of female experience. Bindel writes about the women-only community of Umoja in Kenya, founded by survivors of men’s sexual violence; feminists researching the horrific patterns of ‘lesbocide’ in Brazil. And she delivers as thoughtful a reflection on compulsory heterosexuality as one is ever likely to read, weighing up the covert and overt pressures that lead women to desire relationships with men.
The book’s most striking anecdote follows Bindel and her partner Harriet Wistrich out for dinner with another lesbian couple at a posh restaurant, where the maître d’ not-so-jokingly asked about the absence of menfolk and became irate when told “there are no men.” These four lesbian customers were described as “cunts” by their waiter. As Bindel points out, “had we been a hen party, all would have been well.” But encountering four lesbians happy in each other’s company triggered naked hostility among the male staff.
Ironically, Feminism for Women would be at home on any Gender Studies reading list. Few contemporary feminist texts invest this level of thought in lesbian experiences, both in mainstream society and within the LGBT community. But many of the young women who would benefit most from reading this book would never pick it up, simply because Julie Bindel authored it. And therein lies the real tragedy.
In spite of the controversy attached to Bindel’s name, it steers clear of polemic, making effective use of interviews and research to emphasise systemic, sex-based inequalities.
Bindel makes the case for a feminism where women prioritise one another – including younger and older women. “Let us build a feminist movement grounded in solidarity,” she writes, “as opposed to conflict and sectarianism.” This ethos shines through nearly every page of Feminism for Women – with one notable exception. Bindel’s dismissal of “clicktivism, the presence of young women on message boards and zines.”
One could argue that message boards and zines are a continuation of proud feminist traditions around independent publishing and newsletters – the very same activism that brought us publications such as WIRES, updated for the digital era. And perhaps such blanket denunciations impede the solidarity between younger and older feminists that Bindel is so keen to foster.
That being said, Feminism for Women is a powerful read. In spite of the controversy attached to Bindel’s name, it steers clear of polemic, making effective use of interviews and research to emphasise systemic, sex-based inequalities. This book also banishes the stereotype of the joyless radical feminist – Bindel’s good humour offsets the more unpleasant themes of Feminism for Women. It would take a saint to get through her deadpan description of Dunter – a man who continues to advocate autoerotic asphyxiation despite the fact he has lost “many friends” to “breath play gone wrong” – without cracking a smile.
Feminism for Women: The Real Route to Liberation is out on 2nd September and available to pre-order on Amazon.
Claire Heuchan is an author, essayist, and Black radical feminist. She writes the award-winning blog, Sister Outrider.