Julie Bindel (born 20 July 1962) is an English writer, radical feminist, and co-founder of the law-reform group Justice for Women, which since 1991 has helped women who have been prosecuted for killing violent male partners.
A visiting researcher at the University of Lincoln (2014–2017), and former assistant director of the Research Centre on Violence, Abuse and Gender Relations at Leeds Metropolitan University, Bindel's work focuses on male violence against women and children, particularly prostitution, pornography, stalking, religious fundamentalism, and human trafficking.
Bindel has authored or co-authored over 30 book chapters and four books, including Straight Expectations (2014) and The Pimping of Prostitution (2017). She is also the editor, with her partner Harriet Wistrich, of The Map of My Life: The Story of Emma Humphreys (2003). She writes regularly for The Guardian, New Statesman, the Sunday Telegraph magazine, and Standpoint.
Julie Bindel in 2015
|Born||20 July 1962|
|Occupation||Journalist, writer, cultural critic|
|Organization||Co-founder of Justice for Women|
|Known for||Law reform, advocacy journalism|
|Movement||Radical feminism, lesbian feminism|
Bindel and her two brothers (one older, one younger) grew up on a council estate in Darlington, north east England, after moving there from a terraced house that had coal fires and no indoor toilet. She attended Branksome Comprehensive School from 1973 to 1978, leaving a year early without anyone noticing, she wrote. She came out as a lesbian in 1977 when she was 15.
When she was 17 Bindel moved to Leeds and joined the Leeds Revolutionary Feminist Group, which was campaigning against pornography. Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, was still on the loose; from 1975 to 1980 he attacked at least 20 women, several working as prostitutes, and murdered 13 of them, in Leeds, Bradford and the surrounding area. Bindel describes being followed home one night in November 1980 by a man with a dark beard and wiry hair. She ran into a pub to get away from him and reported what had happened to the police, who asked her to complete a photofit. The following day the body of Sutcliffe's final victim, a 20-year-old student, Jacqueline Hill, was found less than half a mile from where the man had followed Bindel. When Sutcliffe's photograph was published after his arrest the following year, Bindel realised that her photofit looked almost exactly like him.
It was anger about the Sutcliffe murders that drove Bindel to campaign to end sexual violence against women. She wrote that she was angry that the police investigation had, in her view, become more focused when the first "non-prostitute" was murdered. She was also angered by the police's assertions that prostitutes were the killer's target, although from May 1978 none of the victims had fitted that profile, and by police advice that women stay indoors. Bindel took part in feminist protests against the killings, including flyposting fake police posters in Leeds advising men to stay off the streets:
Attention all men in West Yorkshire, there is a serial killer on the loose in the area. Out of consideration for the safety of women, please ensure you are indoors by 8pm each evening, so that women can go about their business without the fear you may provoke.
Bindel has served as the assistant director of the Research Centre on Violence, Abuse and Gender Relations at Leeds Metropolitan University (1990s), researcher at the Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit at London Metropolitan University (2000s), Visiting Journalist at Brunel University London (2013–2014), and Visiting Researcher at the University of Lincoln (2014–2017).
Bindel's research into violence against women in domestic and personal relationships has been a central feature of her work. Together with her partner, Harriet Wistrich, a solicitor, and Hilary McCollum, Bindel co-founded Justice for Women (JFW), a feminist law-reform group that campaigns against laws that discriminate against women in cases involving male violence against partners. E. Jane Dickson wrote in The Independent in 1995 that the group was being run by Bindel, Wistrich and their dog, Peggy, out of their North London home; Peggy did "her bit for the cause by snarling like Cerberus at the approach of a male footfall".
JFW was created in 1991, initially as the Free Sara Thornton campaign, to secure the release of Sara Thornton, who had been convicted the previous year of murdering her violent husband. JFW was launched in solidarity with Southall Black Sisters, who were campaigning for the release of Kiranjit Ahluwalia, convicted in 1989 of murdering her husband.
One of JFW's earliest cases was that of Emma Humphreys. Humphreys had been convicted of murder after killing her violent pimp boyfriend in 1985 when she was 17. In September 1992 she wrote to Justice for Women from prison asking for help. With their support she successfully appealed the conviction, claiming long-term provocation, a significant decision at the time. News reports from 7 July 1995 show Humphreys, Bindel and Wistrich holding hands on the steps of the Old Bailey after the judges ordered that Humphreys be released.
Humphreys, Bindel and Wistrich,|
outside the Old Bailey, 7 July 1995
(YouTube video, directed by Pratibha Parmar)
Humphreys died three years later of a drug overdose. Bindel, Wistrich and Humphreys had become friends, and it was Bindel and Wistrich who found her dead in bed at her home. They co-edited a book based on her notes about her life, The Map of My Life: The Story of Emma Humphreys (2003). They also award the annual Emma Humphreys Memorial Prize to women and groups that raise awareness about violence against women and children.
In 2008 an issue Bindel had campaigned on for over a decade became the focus of government legislation. Justice for Women and Southall Black Sisters had sought to change a law that protected men and penalised women. If men murdered a partner in the heat of the moment, an appeal to provocation was admissible in mitigation. Such an appeal was not practical for women trapped in violent relationships, because murders carried out in the context of ongoing subjection to violence tended not to occur in the heat of the moment, but would often be calculated to provide an escape from violence. The campaign to change the law sought to resist the mitigation that men could appeal to when partners were murdered, and allow the sustained violence to which women could be subjected to act as a mitigating factor. Harriet Harman, Minister for Women and Equality, was of a similar mind on this issue, and legislation was proposed that would change the law to this effect.
Bindel has been researching and campaigning against prostitution since the 1970s and has written regularly about it since 1998. While working at Leeds Metropolitan University in the 1990s, she coordinated the Kerb Crawlers Re-education Programme, a John school in the city. An abolitionist, she argues strongly against efforts to decriminalise the sex trade under cover of promoting "sex workers' rights". Her position is that it is "inherently abusive, and a cause and a consequence of women's inequality ... a one-sided exploitative exchange rooted in male power". For her book The Pimping of Prostitution: Abolishing the Sex Work Myth (2017), she interviewed 250 people in nearly 40 countries, visited brothels, and spoke to prostitutes, pimps and the police.
She has been commissioned several times to write reports about the sex trade for charities and local authorities. While working for the Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit at London Metropolitan University, she co-authored a report in 2003 on prostitution in Australia, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Sweden. In 2004 she produced a report for Glasgow City Council on lap dancing in the UK. In 2008 she co-wrote (with Helen Atkins) Big Brothel, a report commissioned by the POPPY Project, which examined 921 brothels in London's 33 boroughs. They wrote that 85 percent of the brothels were in residential areas—nearly two-thirds in apartments and one-fifth in houses: "Wherever you are in the city, the likelihood is that buying and selling women is going on under your nose."
Bindel and Atkins recruited male acquaintances to telephone the brothels for them, asking what was on offer. They telephoned only the ones advertised in local newspapers; Bindel estimated that the brothels made £86m to £209.5m a year as a result of this advertising. Penetrative sex was available from £15 to £250, with an average price of £62, and two percent of the brothels offered unprotected penetrative sex for an extra £10 to £200. Many of the women were from Southern or Eastern Europe and Asia. One brothel offered what they said was "a Greek girl who is very, very young". Bindel wrote about the findings in her Guardian column:
When Frank rang a brothel in Enfield, he could hear a baby crying in the background. When Alan called one in Southwark, he could make out the sound of a child asking for his tea. And when Mick called another to inquire about their services, he was told that he could have a "dirty Oriental bitch who will do stag nights, anal, and the rest."
The Big Brothel report was criticised by 27 academics and other researchers involved in research into prostitution, who complained that the study had been conducted without ethical approval or acknowledgement of existing sources, and had been co-written by a researcher with anti-prostitution views. The POPPY Project responded that the report was one they had produced independently, that they were not an academic institution, and that it was important to provide a counterbalance to the positive focus on the sex industry found in the media.
Bindel writes for The Guardian, the Sunday Telegraph magazine, New Statesman, Truthdig, and Standpoint, and is often interviewed by the BBC and Sky News. She began writing for newspapers in November 1998, while she was working at Leeds Metropolitan University, when The Independent published her article about the Leeds Kerb Crawlers Re-education Programme.
In 2001 she was given an occasional column in The Guardian, with more frequent contributions from 2003, after she wrote a longer piece about female sex tourism in Jamaica. Topics have included child abuse, cyberstalking, the failure to prosecute sex offenders and the consequences of that failure, and biological theories about what drives sex offenders. She has also covered gender-neutral toilets, "Why I hate vegetarians", Barbie and Ken—"a 1950s pre-feminist monstrosity, resplendent in her passivity" and "a drippy, pathetic man who appeared to have no penis"—and Arsenal football club—"I went to bed with a smile on my face. Why? The most arrogant team in England was given its comeuppance."
Bindel is critical of how difficult life is made for women who report rape, and how the investigative and legal process ends up with women being dealt with more like the offender than the victim, in an environment where some appear to think it is more important to safeguard the rights of men who might be accused maliciously. Her writing on rape has appeared in newspapers in Kuwait and India. She wrote in 2006 that she would not report rape herself: "We may as well forget about the criminal justice system and train groups of vigilantes to exact revenge and, hopefully, deter attacks. Because if I were raped, I would rather take my chances as a defendant in court, than as a complainant in a system that seems bent on proving that rape is a figment of malicious women's imagination."
Bindel refers to herself as a political lesbian feminist. In 2010 she entered The Independent's "Pink List" as no. 98 of the top 101 most influential gay and lesbian people in Britain. She began writing about lesbian issues in 1996. Her work for The Guardian has included articles about lesbian chic, lesbian child-bearing, the cosmetics industry, cosmetic surgery for women, and scientific theories about sexuality. In January 2009 she wrote about the radical lesbian feminism of the 1970s and 1980s, and her desire to return to those values. Her lesbianism is "intrinsically bound up" with her feminism and campaigning to oppose sexual violence. She described her horror when she was younger at the idea of settling down with a local boy:
I was ... struck by the drudgery on display. While men were out drinking, embarking on fishing trips and generally enjoying their freedom, women were stuck cooking for them, cleaning for them, and running around after children. For women, heterosexuality seemed a total con.
She concluded the article with an invitation to heterosexual women: "Come on sisters, you know it makes sense. Stop pretending you think lesbianism is an exclusive members' club, and join the ranks. I promise that you will not regret it." Bindel does not support the idea of marriage, which she calls a "patriarchal and outdated tradition" stemming from a time that women were viewed as the property of their fathers, then of their husbands. The taking of a husband's name she calls "branding". She extends the same criticism to same-sex marriage; marriage should be rejected, not reclaimed. "Dress it up, subvert it, deny it all you want," she said in 2016. "Marriage is an institution that has curtailed women's freedom for centuries ... It can never be a feminist act." She argues that the state should instead regulate civil partnerships for same-sex and opposite-sex couples.
A critic of identity politics and what she calls "the emergence of feminist preciousness", Bindel argued in 2014 that call-out culture had replaced political activism. She cited, as successful feminist campaigns, Justice for Women's work to change the law so that "nagging" was no longer a defence for husbands who killed their wives, and the efforts devoted to outlawing marital rape. Instead of fighting these institutional battles, feminists were focusing now on shaming individuals. "Petitions have taken over politics," she wrote. She is critical of the practice of no-platforming, arguing that "censorship is the new normal". Banning Roosh V from entering the UK, for example (he has said that if rape were legalised, women would be "more careful" with their bodies), would not change that every year in England and Wales around 400,000 women are sexually assaulted, she said in 2016.[a] No-platforming achieves only that we are left uninformed about certain views.
Bindel argues that gender is a social construct, an outcome of socialisation, and that gender roles are a cause of women's oppression. She would like to see an end to gender entirely. She wrote in 2008 that gender-reassignment surgery is an attempt to keep gender stereotypes intact, and that the diagnosis of gender identity disorder (GID) subscribes to outdated views about how females and males should behave. "It is precisely this idea that certain distinct behaviours are appropriate for males and females," she wrote, "that underlies feminist criticism of the phenomenon of 'transgenderism'."
These views have brought her into conflict with the transgender community. Her first article on transgender issues was a December 2003 report on "Claudia", who regretted having had surgery and believed that the psychiatrist had not taken sufficient care when diagnosing GID. (The General Medical Council ruled against the psychiatrist in 2007.) In 2004 Bindel wrote in The Guardian about a male-to-female transsexual who had complained to a human-rights tribunal in Vancouver about not being allowed to train as a rape counsellor. Bindel wrote: "I don't have a problem with men disposing of their genitals, but it does not make them women, in the same way that shoving a bit of vacuum hose down your 501s does not make you a man." The newspaper received around 200 complaints, and Bindel apologized for the article's tone. When she was nominated in 2008 for Stonewall's "Journalist of the year" award, transgender activists picketed the ceremony. The London Feminist Network staged a counter-demonstration in Bindel's support. Because of her views, she has been no-platformed by several student unions, including from the University of Manchester in 2015, where she had been invited to discuss: "From liberation to censorship: does modern feminism have a problem with free speech?".
In 2012 Bindel described female bisexuality as a "fashionable trend" caused by "sexual hedonism", and broached the question of whether bisexuality even exists: "[B]isexuality is sold to heterosexual women as some type of recreational activity far from their 'natural home' of straight sex. It is seen as 'temporary lesbianism'"—having a girlfriend, for a straight woman, is like having "the latest Prada handbag". As a longtime active member of the lesbian community she has felt uncomfortable with the increasing inclusion of sexuality- and gender-variant communities into the expanding LGBT "rainbow alliance": "The mantra now at 'gay' meetings is a tongue-twisting LGBTQQI. It is all a bit of an unholy alliance. We have been put in a room together and told to play nicely."
Reports, book chapters
Bindel, Julie (18 December 2007). "Tourism built on abuse". The Guardian.
Bindel, Julie (5 July 2003). "The price of a holiday fling" (PDF). The Guardian.
Bindel, Julie (10 January 2007). "The rise of the cyber-stalker". The Guardian.
Bindel, Julie (30 January 2008). "Lesbianism is a choice", Lesbelicious.
Faye, Sean (19 February 2016). "If you don't like no-platforming, maybe it's you who's the 'special snowflake'". The Independent.