[The following is a translation from the Spanish of “Magdalen Berns: heroína feminista de nuestro tiempo“, by Lara Salvatierra, El Plural, 16/09/2019. Original translation by genderdesk, released under license CCO which is similar to PD, go ahead, use it, improve on it, without attribution. And thanks to whoever wrote Linguee and Spandict, not to mention Google Translate.]
Magdalen left us too soon, she died the morning of Friday, September 13, 2019 due to the glioblastoma she had been battling for two years. Magdalen was surrounded by the love of her family and friends, the news of her death had a profound impact on her fans, even though it had already been made public since August 21, that she had entered palliative care, we were all hoping against hope that the situation would manage to reverse. Before the announcement, innumerable tributes of women from different countries, filled the social media, celebrating the courage of her life, the power of her voice, and the brilliance of her intellect.
It’s hard to talk about her in the past tense. In her own words she was “Lesbian (not the political kind); a physics graduate from the University of Edinburgh; a FLOSS accessibility hacker (the legal kind); an XX feminist (not , the fun, kind); ex-amateur boxer (the competitive kind); a blogger; an activist; a cultural libertarian; a Londoner; a critic of religion, capitalism, identity politics, conservatism, neoliberalism and socially imposed gender norms.”
Magdalen perfectly understood the global necessity that we as women position ourselves, and construct our own spaces to talk about sex, critique from the perspective of feminism, gender identity and the questions that impact the human rights of women. She was harassed in her own university by both the students and the leadership, for declaring herself openly lesbian and saying in public meetings that the problem of gender identity is real and that it mainly affects women since feminism as a political entity is being snatched away from us. She was beaten for saying that lesbians do not have a penis, she was virtually harassed and called a thousand contemptuous names, the designation “terf”, the accusation of “transphobia” and many other insults simply for telling the truth. She decided to continue speaking out, denouncing what neoliberalism and that which is called “mainstream feminism” tries to sell: a lifetime of patriarchy with a progressive disguise.
She could have looked the other way and simply continued with her life, avoided trouble, gotten away from everything… but nevertheless she decided to speak, and she did it in a critical and informed way, so since April 2016 Magdalen gave us videos about feminism, defending in each installment the rights of women in general and lesbian women in particular. Her direct positioning as a critical feminist of the genre was her princple characteristic, that and the clarity of her arguments. She quickly became very popular and her videos on YouTube got hundreds of thousands of views in a very short time, because in addition to the strength of her arguments, she had an irreverent sense of humor, which brought us closer to the theory from a more approachable perspective.
I believe that I do not exaggerate when I say that radical feminists, to a greater or lesser extent, find in Magdalen a necessary example to be able to express, from our place in society, the importance of the feminist debate on issues that directly affect us as women. Sharing this fight with her has meant for many of us, pride, sisterhood, self-criticism … we have created strong networks, protecting each other and facing neoliberal, misogynist and gender advocates with the same strength as that which she would have done. Magdalen is an inspiration and her legacy does not end here.
Now is the time to continue with the tools that we have inherited, like so many marvelous women before her, she left when reality shows us that it is now when we need her the most. The examples of what is essential in what has become the feminist position in the face of neoliberal discourse of transgenderism are obvious, now that in the first Trans Pride March held in London, a call has been made in social networks to beat and simulate hangings of the so-called “terfs” in other words, beat and harass the gender-critical feminists who defend exclusive spaces for women and call for them to stop renaming the category of woman and stop saying that lesbians have a penis.
The structural sexist violence of our society is real, a simple Twitter search for the hashtag #RIPMagdalenBerns, shows us an absurd amount of users, mostly transactivists and their “allies” disrespecting Magdalen, calling for their followers to go dance on her grave, take joy in her death, thanking the brain tumor that caused her death . All of this is clear, it is not considered hate speech by the majority of social networks, where nevertheless, many of us have been banned for saying that women have a vagina. These same platforms, which support this type of neoliberal discourse disguised as progressivism, are what oblige us women to hide, to use pseudonyms, to avoid demonstrations, public political meetings, for our own safety and for the safety of our families.
Why do I say that Magdalen Berns is a feminist heroine? Because she faced the enemy with her bare hands, on our behalf and for our benefit, and it is time that we do the same for her and for those who came before us, and above all for those that will come after us. We cannot remain silent, it is a feminist duty in the current times that everyone take ownership of their own voice, in the space that each one can, whether it is making a brother-in-law keep quiet, sharing books with other friends, speaking at work about the necessity for feminist proposals, voting for candidates that represent our ideals … There are many ways for us to get the power of our own voice. If we do it all together, we will be closer to the free and feminist society we want.