Jalna Hanmer is a feminist of 70 years. She was responsible for bringing women's studies to UK academia and was a founder of the National Women's Aid Federation. Jalna talks with Julie Bindel about her life's work and the forthcoming exhibition at FiLiA 2023 on the renowned Brighton 1996 ‘International Conference on Violence, Abuse and Women's Citizenship’. The podcast was previously published on Julie Bindel's Substack.
Men Need to be Accountable
Jalna Hanmer in conversation with Julie Bindel
Julie: Hello, it's Julie Bindel, and this week I'm speaking with Jalna Hanmer, a former professor of Women's Studies, who, in fact, was pretty much responsible for bringing women's studies as a discipline in academia to the UK before, of course, it all went horribly Judith Butlerite-wrong, and we saw women's studies be replaced with gender studies or queer studies.
Jalna: Well the whole point was that sociology, which was the field I'd come from, was entirely about men. So it was really an open field, that anything that one cared to say about women would be ‘no’.
Julie: Jalna is a sociologist who has used her skills and her knowledge within her activism. She was one of the founders of the National Women's Aid Federation in 1974.
She was also one of the key organisers of the hugely influential and important conference on all forms of male violence towards women and girls, held in Brighton in 1996, a big international conference, and it can be credited with being a key component of the foundation of the global women's movement against male violence.
Very, very important. Really important. work that Jalna has done, including looking at repeat victimisation of women when it comes to rape, sexual assault, domestic violence and abuse.
Prior to Jalna's really, really ground-breaking research, the assumption even amongst some feminists and service providers was that if women have been subject to men's violence in several relationships, we must look at the woman. There's something wrong with her. She's doing something to attract these men. In fact, what we do know now and what is common sense is that these men look for particular vulnerabilities in women. So if she's been in one abusive relationship, she is more vulnerable than had she not been.
If she'd been raped and sexually abused, sexually exploited in childhood, then she is more vulnerable to being pimped as an adult.
All of those theories began in some way big or small with Jalna Hanmer.
Jalna is now 92 years old. She hasn't quite retired. I think that she once told me she would retire when they carry her out in a box.
She's living with her family just outside Barcelona in Spain, and I went to visit my old friend, the woman that I think can be credited with changing the course of my life. I met Jalna when I was 18 years old in Leeds. In my thirties I was extremely lucky to work with her in helping organise the Brighton conference and ever since we have been close friends and comrades.
Lisa-Marie Taylor is CEO of FiLiA and she's also a founder of the conference and she is coordinating this Brighton conference exhibition.
Lisa-Marie: Hey everyone, and welcome. I am so thrilled that Julie has asked me to do this. I've known Jalna and Julie for well over a decade now, and some of you may know that I came to feminism quite late in my late thirties and Jalna, Julie and many others were so generous with their time and their sharing of knowledge. I owe them an immense debt of gratitude. I have huge admiration for Julie and Jalna for their hard work over many decades and their tenacity and I think most of all for their feminist analysis.
Now, along the way, my journey to feminism, I kept hearing about this seemingly mythical event, a conference held in 1996 in Brighton, where 3000 women came together and took part in workshops and panels and discussions. Andrea Drawkin was one of the speakers, and the conference was called The International Conference on Violence Abuse and Women's Citizenship.
A couple of years ago Sheila and Heena came to me and said, we've got the cassettes, the original recordings from this 1996 event, do you think FiLiA might like to have them? Well, of course we said yes, and we managed to get some funding and we've been able to digitalise those recordings and we're building a platform right now, so that we can bring those recordings to a wider audience. We're also going to be bringing some of the recordings and some other bits and pieces from that event to our conference in Glasgow in October of this year.
Now it turns out that Jalna and Julie were both part of the organising group that brought this conference into being. So I'm absolutely thrilled to be introducing this particular podcast and you'll hear more about the 1996 event during it.
So Jalna and Julia are both previous speakers at FiLiA, I'm really hoping that they'll be there again in October.
I can't wait to listen to them again and you're in for a real treat with this podcast. So do enjoy and I will see you all in Glasgow. Take care.
Julie: Jalna, we are looking towards FiLiA this year, 2023, which will be in Glasgow. And you've been to pretty much every FiLiA in the last few years anyway.
I think probably you missed one. So did I. It's a great conference. I mean, we all love FiLiA. But this year something special is happening. So just for the listener, the conference that you organised along with Kathy and help from many others that were privileged to be involved, that was held in Brighton in 1996, a week-long conference on Violence, Abuse and Women's Citizenship, is going to be given another airing at FiLiA. They have got some funding and they are going to put on a big exhibition about the 1996 conference. They have many of the physical audio tapes of the talks, of the plenary recessions, of the individual keynote speeches, and they're going to put that all together, a visual and audio exhibition. So it'll be a bit like recreating the event itself for the women. Well you've been interviewed for it and they'll interview you again, obviously and you'll no doubt be speaking about it at FiLiA in October.
Jalna: That’s fantastic and if I could look at what I've said previously, because it's been a long time. One forgets things.
Julie: Well, 1996 is a lifetime ago for some of the women who are going to be at FiLiA, because it's multi cross-generational, this conference. They won't have been born in 1996 or they will have been children in 1996. So think about it. I can't do the math. How the hell, long ago was it?
So we are talking about 27 years ago. So there will be women at the conference and listening to this now who were not alive when we had that conference.
So let's, let's have a look then at what led up to organising that conference all that time ago.
Now, obviously, you didn't just start your feminist or political campaigning with the Brighton Conference in 1996, so you've got quite a long history of political activism and feminist campaigning. You are very old, let's face it.
Jalna: Yes, that's right. I'm in my nineties,
Julie: And I'm 60 now. So I was a kid. I was in my teens when we met and you know, you probably hadn't even started approaching the menopause. This is what we are talking here. This is all good because what we need is for young women to know their history.
So you were Professor of Women's Studies and you pretty much brought women's studies to the UK, didn't you?
Jalna: Well, yes, there was somebody who was professor of Women's Studies down in Kent, and when I heard about that I thought, yes, that's what we need up in Bradford, because Bradford was an engineering college really, basically. and it had this relatively small social science department of which there were sociology and also social administration.
I was in the social administration department where Hilary Rose was the ‘chairman’, all women were ‘chairmen’ so she was chairman of that. And there was another woman who was the chairman of the sociology department and that was unusual because there were only three women professors in the United Kingdom at that point in time.
Julie: What point in time are we talking about? Is this in the 1970s, early 1970s?
Jalna: Yes, I think so. And the woman who wasn't at Bradford was somewhere in the Midlands and she was the first woman professor appointed after the Second World War.
Julie: So three altogether by the time you brought women's studies. And people were asking, why did you need women's studies?
Jalna: The whole point was that sociology, which was the field I'd come from, was entirely about men. Only men. There were no women except the occasional woman appeared in family studies. And that was it. So it was really an open field. Like anything that one cared to say about women would be ‘no’.
Julie: Yes. Well, you know, I was doing a debate a few years ago at Durham University debating society, which is, you know, it's one of the top five debating societies in the country. And I was debating a man who considers himself to be a men's rights activist. In other words, he's a proud anti-feminist. And he was saying that women have had it too easy. Men are the ones now suffering from feminism, you know, the routine. And he said he, he was doing his five-minute spiel to the students and he waved his arm expansively around the entire library in which we were debating and said ‘look at this collection. All I can see is women in science, women in sport, women in education, violence against women and girls’. He said ‘where are all the books on men?’ And a student, a female student stood up and said, ‘excuse me, every single other book in the library’ so that’s what we’re talking about.
Jalna: That's absolutely great.
Julie: So you obviously were one of the handful of academics that was also doing feminist campaigning and activism outside of the ivory tower and this is why Brighton, that great conference, week-long conference, 3000 delegates, so many countries and regions of the world that I couldn't even name them.
Jalna: I learned about demonstrating by being involved in the anti-war movement, the Vietnam anti-war movement. And that was a really good education. In particular, one man really kind of took me under his wing and helped me develop in ways that you needed to develop if you were going to lead protest movements. And that was incredibly helpful because once I was able to get involved in women's studies, I could take what I'd learned from that other involvement, into women's studies.
Julie: And then with the work that you developed on men's violence against women and girls, of course that meant that you were very embedded within the Women's Liberation Movement.
Jalna: Absolutely. I was one of the first early members of the Women's Liberation Movement in Hampstead, where I was living at the time, and the Women's Liberation Movement started in Hampstead. It was another group, but once my neighbour and I were able to talk to them about it. My neighbour said, right, we'll start a group here, another group.
So we met in her flat on the ground floor of 20 Thurlow Road and involved other women who came and we discussed issues that they wanted to talk about.
Julie: What were the issues?
Jalna: That's hard for me to remember.
Julie: The same old, isn't it? I mean, we were saying yesterday, different centuries, same shit. Men's violence.
Jalna: Yeah. They wanted to talk about that. They wanted to talk about how discriminated they felt they were and that they really didn't have something that the government was talking about, which was equal opportunities. And they were angry about it. Which I thought was good. What you want is to be angry.
Julie: Anger is good. We fuel the women's movement on anger.
Jalna: Absolutely. Without it, you can't do anything.
Julie: Without it, we are what they say we are, which is victims. Which is the last thing that we are.
Jalna: That's true. That's, that's really true.
Julie: But in the midst of you doing all of this work publishing really important research, such as the work on repeat victimisation on domestic violence and abuse and sexual assault within interpersonal relationships. That was so important, wasn't it, because prior to you publishing that work and then the ensuing awareness raising, it was assumed that women were repeatedly victimised because there was something wrong with the woman.
We looked at the woman, didn't we? Why does she keep having relationship after relationship with violent men? That was the question, wasn't it?
Jalna: Absolutely, nobody was looking at the men. Absolutely nobody. So we had to turn that around so we could actually look at the men and not focus solely on the women and that was quite innovative.
Julie: I mean, massively, because we had often the phrase was ‘violence against women and girls’ or ‘women who were raped’ or ‘women fleeing domestic violence.’ We didn't talk about perpetrators of domestic abuse. We didn't talk about the rapist.
Jalna: No, that's absolutely correct, we didn't. It's interesting, why? I think the reason why, all this work to the extent it was actually a very, very small field, but to the extent there was any work was being led by men. And I think that that was the issue. So how to get that field away from the men and focus on women was really what we had to do.
Julie: Well in sociology, in anthropology, in criminology, all those feminists that did that work.
Jalna: That's right. And that was rather hard to do because women were so marginalised.
Julie: It's incredible the way sometimes women are referred to as a minority. A minority!
Jalna: Exactly. 51% of the population.
Julie: That's right. That's a big minority!
Your CV and your body of work, thankfully, is extremely well documented, and this is what we're arguing needs to happen with all our work from what people call the second wave of feminism. I think we just call it feminism, don't we? It built up to you at the unit at Bradford University, looking at men's violence and women's response to that.
And then the idea, the absolutely crazy idea came up that you would organise a week-long conference in Brighton, international, if you don't mind, a time before cheap travel. Pretty much at the beginning of the internet. We only just had emails at that time.
Jalna: Yes, that's right. And we chose Brighton because it was free because we had absolutely no money. So people paid to come to the conference and that's how they made money at Brighton. You didn't pay for the location.
Julie: Well, we had the huge conference centre, that some of the big Party conferences are at.
Jalna: And that was the other part of it. People knew Brighton as a place where big conferences were held.
Julie: And we obviously raised money prior to the conference by running smaller conferences on themes to do with Women's oppression and abuse and men's violence. We raised enough, just enough money to host it and to get our keynote international speakers over from developing countries from the global south, more so than the global north. We prioritised those women, India, south America -
Jalna: Well, were we determined to have an international conference and that can't just consist of North Americans and Europeans, which it had up to that point.
Julie: Oh. And the North Americans had dominated the political scene. But one thing that I will always remember, I'll remember everything from that week with affection and inspiration. But it was very funny the way that we knew that the North American feminists, some of whom were our keynote speakers, some of whom were merely delegates, we knew that there'd be complaints about the hotel, that the pillows were too hard, the shower was too small, whatever. So you put your sister Joanne on the complaints desk, didn't you?
Jalna: I did, yes, because I thought she'll be good at this. She actually knows Americans; she knows how to deal with them. And the English really didn't understand them.
Julie: So the pettiness and the spoiled behaviour.
Jalna: Yeah, exactly. So my sister was really great on that. She knew exactly how to deal with them.
And so when they complained about things like the pillows were too hard, she was able to deal with that. Now no English person would have been able to have dealt with that. I really don't think they would know what to say to that.
Julie: But it was perfect because Joanne's got such a calm manner and they went away placated and we got on with being complained at about disabled access, about class politics, about all kinds of things, which is all part and parcel of having a big feminist international conference anyway.
Now, it was a week long. It was looking at themes from harmful cultural practices to domestic violence and abuse, rape and sexual assault, prostitution and the sex trade, pornography, just to name a few themes. We had violence against women within military settings. All kinds of pertinent issues that didn't usually get discussed.
Jalna: What actually happened was we asked women, what do you want to talk about? So they have lots of different things they would wish to talk about. So we organised small meeting rooms for them where they could talk about the things that they thought were important. And that really was unusual. That just didn't happen.
You went to conferences where the agenda had been set and you discussed whatever the organisers wished you to talk about. So we set up a different kind of conference really.
Julie: It was hugely inspiring because of the thousands of women. There were some men there and there were lots of women from African nations that were talking about initiatives to tackle male violence that we'd never heard of because we were not yet globalised and we had no social media. As I say, we had email, but many women in the nations that were represented didn't have access to email or the internet. It was still dial up connections. And we learned so much from each other.
And one of the things, of course, that we took away from that, because there were many action points for us, was the work being done in tackling the users of prostituted women, the punters, the Johns. And the likes of Norma Hoteling, who since died; Andrea Dworkin who since died; Fiona Broadford, who's very much with us here; Irene Iverson, who since died. All of those women talked about sexual exploitation and prostitution, and the fact that this is not a choice, not a job and it is violence against women.
Jalna: So we were able to join that up, which was really important at the time because prostitution was just seen as something women chose to do. like it was something they wanted to do.
Julie: It was even empowering her!
Jalna: So we had to really turn that around completely, which took a while. It wasn't that easy to do, actually.
Julie: We made a decision that what we wouldn't do is have a debate on the stage between those of us that knew that prostitution and the sex trade in general was harmful to women, a cause and a consequence of our oppression. And those that were arguing on behalf of the pimps and the traffickers, basically saying it's a job. It's work. It's freedom, it's choice. We weren't going to have that played out at that conference because the conference would've been completely destroyed by that debate.
Jalna: That's right. We wouldn't let that happen.
Julie: Andrea Dworkin was there. We had to have security for Andrea. Do you remember that? That's right. She wouldn't stay at the same hotel that we stayed at because she thought there'd be a danger to her. She had learned to become very scared actually, of the threats upon her life.
Jalna: Yes, She had, she really thought someone was going to kill her. And so it took a lot of bravery to stand up on that stage and speak when she was such an obvious target.
Julie: But we had such fun though, didn't we? Because there were the evenings where we would go out with some of the speakers and we would just laugh about some of the absurdity of men's excuses and posturing. And all of the things that only feminists can do when we get together.
Jalna: We had a great time in Brighton. Brighton was the most wonderful conference. We laughed a lot.
Julie: There's been nothing like it since, but I'm hoping that there will be again, and that's partly why FiLiA wants to showcase what happened those 27 years ago, at its conference in Glasgow. Tickets are on sale now, so you know, come along and sign up for it. We'll be there, won't we? You and I'll be there and many others will be there.
What do you think today, pushing 30 years on from that conference, are the key issues facing women today?
Because we've made huge progress. And, and in fact, our type of feminism, the challenging men's violence, has actually been more successful than any other type, than the socialist feminism, than the liberal feminism. We’ve actually changed laws. We've changed hearts and minds, haven't we?
But men are still killing and raping and beating women.
Jalna: That carries on because there really isn't the kind of opposition to it that we need.
Julie: What do we need?
Jalna: We've always talked about law enforcement, that it's inadequate, they don't really do what they should be doing, which is not only catching these men, but putting them away for a while. And they don't. They just fine them. Well, something ridiculous happens and they get off.
Julie: So they fine them if we're lucky.
Jalna: Yeah, exactly. So if they're found guilty, now, juries do not like finding men guilty of crimes. They really don’t.
Julie: Crimes against women and children. They don't mind finding some men guilty of some crimes. But just usually not the crimes against us.
Jalna: That's true actually, because they think, what did she do to deserve that? And as long as that's in a man's mind and there was a point when there were virtually no women on juries and we objected to that. We said, you have to put women on juries although we had no means to make them do it.
Julie: Since when did we ever have means to make them do anything but we still did.
Jalna: Exactly. But we made a big fuss about it that they needed women on juries because we thought women would be just that little bit easier to influence in this particular area than the men were. Because no man really wants to be held accountable for violence against women. He may not be violent against a woman, but he just doesn't want to be held accountable for it either, and one can understand why.
Julie: Speaking of which, one of the things that was also really interesting at the Brighton conference was the fact that there were some men there doing actually quite impressive work in tackling other men about their violence and their attitudes towards women.
Jalna: Yes, that’s true there were.
Julie: Where are those men now?
Jalna: Oh, I have no idea.
Julie: We do need them to do the work rather than be held up as saints or leaders of the women's movement. We just need them to get on with the work they're doing.
So what would that look like in your view, if you had a man, whether he is in academia or activism, if he said to you or to me and FiLiA because there are a handful of men always at FiLiA, often doing good work. If they said, look, we actually believe that we have a role to play in challenging men about their violent and abusive and misogynistic behaviour and we'd be very glad to hear that, wouldn't we?
Jalna: Well, we always have been. Exactly. And we've encouraged them to get on with it. It's difficult for women to make those kinds of charges against men in a way that will make the man change. But if another man says, look, this really isn't on. You've got to change how you behave, that's different. So that's really important. If men would do that. Now men were quite frightened, I think, of doing that often.
Julie: Because it made them look like they were not very manly, I think. And they're all affected by that.
Jalna: And the other man would look at them and say, are you nuts?
Julie: Well, and they're in danger, the weaker men, or the men perceived to be weaker are actually in danger of the bigger, toughest, stronger men's violence, aren't they?
Jalna: Yeah, exactly.
Julie: What an absolute dog's breakfast.
So you and I with many other feminist friends and colleagues who've worked together forever, I mean, I was 18 years old when I met you, you know, you are 32 years older than me, so you're a generation older than me. I meet women who are two generations younger than me at FiLiA. We span a number of generations and we are all very different in terms of where we come from, but we are united by the passion and the commitment to end men's violence against women and to liberate women from that.
Jalna: Yes, absolutely. And that enables us to overcome a lot of differences which matter in other contexts.
Julie: I agree.
Please come to the conference in Glasgow, the FiLiA Conference, and please immerse yourself in the retelling of the story of that Brighton Conference. And Jalna and I will be very happy to tell you all the stuff that didn't make it to the exhibition. Like all the stuff that you know, a little bit off kilter, shall we say? All the secrets.
Thanks Jalna, Lovely to talk to you.
Thank you for listening. See you at FiLiA in October in Glasgow.