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Take It To The Bridge: Beyond the “Rage of the Girl Rioters” (part 1/2)

2011 October 4

So. March For The Alternative hit Manchester’s Tory Party Conference last weekend, and this weekend there’s more direct action on the way.

In the era of headlines like RAGE OF THE GIRL RIOTERS, what’s it like for women on the front line of anti-cuts protesting in the UK right now? Roxanne was at that first sit-in at the London Vodafone flagship store on 27 October 2010 – out of which a nucleus of energy exploded into the movement we now call UK Uncut.

Uk Uncut logo: black silhouette of an open pair of scissors, inside a red circle with a prohibitive red line across themHey Rox, thanks for talking to us. What do you think is the struggle for women in terms of the impact of these cuts? Obviously “women” aren’t a monolithic or homogenous group, but is there a distinct fight?

“The full scale of the public sector cuts fall in a way that is unbalanced in terms of gender. Women make up most of the public sector jobs being cut, women rely most heavily on public services and on certain benefits that are being cut, and where vulnerable people like children, the disabled and the elderly are stripped of their governmental support, it has historically been women that step in to bridge the gap and become carers.

“The cuts attack services that women depend on in order to live ‘equally’ with men, services that are there to compensate for existing gender inequalities – Rape Crisis centres and helplines, SureStart and childcare benefits. These are not privileges. Many women rely on these services. Without them, the progress that past generations have made by fighting to get us this far is being unnecessarily sacrificed. The cuts will push us back in time in terms of women’s rights and equality.

“I don’t believe the struggle is distinct – this is a fight that everyone should be fighting – but we should be aware of what we are fighting for and what we, as women, truly stand to lose. The message out there is not clear enough yet – as these cuts fall, they will cut through the progress women have made.

“The problem is, because of existing sexism within our society and a scepticism towards ‘feminism’, it is still so hard to have conversations about women and the inequality we struggle with. I believe we need more and more great acts of exciting and inviting civil disobedience to get people thinking seriously about gender and the cuts.”

Have you found that the police and the media have treated you differently as a female protestor?

Daily Mail front page headline reading RAGE OF THE GIRL RIOTERS: Britain's Students take to the streets again - with women leading the charge“Not so much the media, but the police yes. Of course. In the most extreme sense, my personal experience of being arrested was interesting in terms of my treatment as a woman. The fact that I am young and female was repeatedly used against me, as a way to make me feel inferior. Of course, that’s often what the police aim to do with any arrestee; to intimidate and isolate. But after talking to male activists, it seems to me that the treatment is often different if you are a woman in custody.

“I was arrested by a woman. She commented frequently on my appearance, asking things like, “Do you never brush your hair?” and when I was asked if this was my natural hair colour, she pulled at my roots and answered on my behalf, “No.” A friend of mine was arrested at the same time, and the woman arresting her was even worse. She searched through her backpack, pulled out a pair of underwear and pulled a face like she was disgusted to be holding them. She stretched them out and waved them in the faces of the male officers around, who seemed genuinely embarrassed and uncomfortable at the treatment this woman was giving my friend.

“It wasn’t any better when I was in the cell. I was not allowed to use my own tampon, and when I asked for a new one I was told the police station didn’t keep any. I was then given one hours later, which I had to use until I was released after 24 hours. Why don’t police stations have to stock tampons? They have to go out any buy you food if you have special requirements. I was also told I had to be watched closely as I inserted the tampon, which I later found out did not happen to other female activists in different stations. Taking away human rights as basic as this seems like just one more way to reduce an arrestee to a more helpless and regretful position.”

black and white photo of crowd of protesters seen from behind with a UK Uncut scissor logo banner. Photo by Richard Clemence, shared under Creative Commons licence.

So how did this all get started for you, and is anti-cuts action your first foray into public protest?

“I was involved in environmental activism before UK Uncut, and that is where I learned about the use of direct action as a political tactic. I also learned how to use the consensus model of decision making which empowers each individual to have their say and play an equal part in the movement. These skills have been invaluable to me in every action I have been involved in.

“I felt that I had to do something to try and stop the government cutting the services that I am most proud of, that society’s most vulnerable people rely on to live in this country. I used to be proud of the structures we had built here to support our population- we built the NHS when we had a bigger deficit than we have today. We should all be proud of such universal services, and we shouldn’t give up the fight and watch as they are all sold off to profit-making companies.”

Come back tomorrow for part 2 – more from Rox, why Block The Bridge should be your next demo, and how to get involved with protesting the cuts. Thanks to Rox for giving us her time.

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