Andreia Nobre desribes how she was attacked in the street for discussing feminist issues. “Punch a TERF” is not a cute slogan, it is inciting violence.
A few years ago, women with whom I talked on social media in feminist groups were explaining to me that we were being forbidden from talking about issues that affected female bodies and female anatomy – regardless of how they identify.
This was before the “MeToo” movement. Before Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Epstein, Larry Nassar. Because, apparently, women are still allowed – ish- to talk about sexual harassment from wealthy white men, but we still can’t complain (out loud) that the latest vaccine for HIV was approved to be used only in men. Or that the author of a book called “The Vagina Bible” can’t advertise her book on social media because people are afraid or disgusted by the word “vagina”.
My feminist friends who I spoke online (I normally try to meet in person as many as I can) were explaining about “female erasure”. This is a real thing. Female erasure happens when air-bags are tested on dummies that resemble the male anatomy – taller than the average woman, no breasts, for instance. Or when CPR procedures are taught incorrectly because they also use dummies that resemble the male anatomy.
This subject fascinates me, because I am a woman. It feels awkward to me to see female erasure in action, because I experienced all my life a kind of invisibility. It’s not a magical trick: it’s bloody erasure. I speak and people don’t listen to me because I am a woman. I scream and if they hear me, they call us angry, hysterical.
Recently, I read about coverture: it’s a piece of old law that has never been completely dismissed. It says that no woman is allowed to have a legal identity. In law, that meant women could not have material possessions, run businesses, divorce, have guardianship of their own children. It still happens, now more on a social aspect. Because it used to be done by law, many people still do it to women as a kind of “tradition”. You can see that when a straight couple wants to get a mortgage, for instance, and they put the husband’s name as the first borrower, and the wife’s name as the co-borrower, even if the woman is more well-off than the man.
Nowadays, instead of going forward and putting women back in the human’s history timeline, instead of acknowledging women’s achievements, women’s worth as human beings with rights and specific needs, we’re going backwards. Patriarchy is finding more ways of erasing women by forbidding women to be called women, mothers, pregnant women, to talk about breastfeeding, periods or the female genitalia and reproductive system by erasing the language used for thousands of years, claiming it’s not gender neutral.
So in August 2019, I started a thread on Twitter. I focused on issues that only or mostly affect female bodies. So far, I have been updating it with at least ten new issues per day for two months. Twitter decided to shadowban my account with a feature called “reply deboost”, which hides my comments, for using to words female and women/girls. For about 50 days, this thread was impossible to open from the first tweet. It would simply not load. But I persisted, even after someone said to “stop with the scaremongering”, or another said “you liked a tweet from a terf, so I will not read about these issues”, or “can you stop calling these people women in your thread?” Well, many people have said I could talk about these issues. That women are not been erased at all. So I persisted.
That leads us to 10/10/2019. For two weeks previously, many twitter users decided to post pictures of themselves holding weapons (baseball bats, for instance) to illustrate what they would like to be doing to TERFs. “Punch a TERF” has also been around for a while now. So I believe there is a close connection to what happened.
I was talking to a friend about single-sex spaces, free speech, issues that happen to women (She was baffled when I said that it’s still technically illegal to have an abortion in UK, even though most women will fall into the many exemptions to have an abortion). At some point, we started unravelling a bit more about how is not possible to change your sex – and our bodies won’t allow us to identify out of our material reality.
At this point, we were going home, waiting at a traffic light. When the green man came, someone grabbed me by a shoulder to make me look at them. Thinking it was just someone random, maybe homeless and with a mental illness, I just tried to get away from them. But they came in front of me, blocking my way, grabbing me by both shoulders and shaking me, while shouting something that could be understood as “get a grip” and “wake up”, showing that they wanted me to stop speaking about these issues. Again, I dodged them and kept walking forward. That’s when this person punched me in the back of my head a few times. They said it was “to teach me a lesson”.
My friend pulled me from there to prevent her (it was a female, according to the police) from keeping hitting me. We stopped at a certain distance, she went away under the looks of several people around. They looked like they were waiting to see if she was going to try something else, but she turned a corner. Only then, they started walking again. And so did we.
At this point, I was thinking: “it’s just my bad luck”. It was a random person. It could have been because I’m not French (this happened close to Paris). But here are some things to notice:
-This person passed by us when we were sitting at a table in a cafe, minutes before the attack;
-We didn’t understand everything she said but my friend had this firm impression they were complaining about what we were talking;
-The very subject we were talking at the traffic lights were how it’s not possible to change sex.
-She followed us from the cafe to the traffic lights and stood behind us, close enough to hear, with enough time to hear. What we were talking;
-She shouted angrily in English what could be related to the issues we were talking about;
-She didn’t target both me and my friend. It was only me. And I was the one explaining about how we have to acknowledge anatomy for medical reasons.
If you can take one thing from this story, let this be it: free speech has to be the ability to express opinions that may hold key points for actions that make people’s lives better. Not worse. If you want to express views that may bring bad outcomes to someone or a group of people, you have to accept that you might be challenged and asked to reconsider. It’s not free speech to post pictures online with baseball bats. “Punch a TERF” is not just an expression of free speech – or as many claimed, just banter.
When people post, share and spread these pictures or anime where you can read “Punch a TERF” as free speech, you enable people who probably don’t have your values or may not be well informed to go acting on your speech. Acting, physically, doing what you say it must be done. They said it was just banter. Now people who may not be very well informed listened to them, thus putting the safety of me and my family at risk. And for what? What is so outrageous about raising awareness of issues that affect female bodies? Patriarchy, is that you?