Reclaiming the Sheffield Women of Steel

On the evening of Friday 19th November, a group of women from the Northern RadFem Network, consisting of radical feminists from across the north of England, chose to congregate at The Harlequin on Nursery Street, to hold their first Christmas Social.

We chose The Harlequin to show support to a pub that has stood up for women’s rights against what can only be described as an onslaught by trans activists, who attacked the pub to try to discredit their business, because the pub owners opposed trans rights activist efforts to erode everything that we are as women. Efforts to corrupt and delete our language, to rename our body parts, to alter literally everything that shapes us as women.

Due to the spread of us all in the network, several of our members elected to stay overnight in Sheffield. This meant that a good many of us would be in Sheffield for the day on the Saturday and this represented a good opportunity for us to create an action event.

Earlier in 2021, a group called DPAC Sheffield decided to dress the Women of Steel in transgender garb, stating in their tweet that they were now trans women of steel. The insult to women was felt far and wide. Several Northern RadFem members vocalised their unhappiness with DPAC Sheffield directly and were instantly blocked by their twitter admin.

With the 16 days of activism centred on violence against women due to start on the 25th November with the International Day to End Violence Against Women, it was entirely unnoticed that we were actually going to do our action on the so-called ‘trans day of remembrance’, 20th November. It was more of a coincidence at the time of planning, but when you consider that there have been absolutely zero trans people killed in 2021, and only 3 in the last 9 years, without even trying, we did have a point to make.

In the north of England alone, 26 women had been killed by a man known to them, with 122 killed throughout the UK.  That total number of women killed by a man known to them now stands at 129. The number has risen by 7 in just three weeks.

Whilst we were in Sheffield we were going to commemorate actual victims, not imaginary ones.

One of our members had knitted some suffragette scarves, one each for our mighty women of steel, plus an additional 5 scarves for members of the network, to keep us warm.  With printed materials in hand and the names of the murdered women on hearts, we were ready to reclaim our women of steel. To commemorate our lost sisters, and to bring the truth of femicide to the shoppers of Sheffield, and to do what we do best. Talk about the issues of radical feminism that matter the most to us.

For this action, my job was to find out more about the 22, then 24, then 26 women that were killed by men across the north of England. Starting with N’Taya Elliot-Cleverly on the 29th January, aged 20 from Liverpool, right through to Pauline Quinn murdered on the 9th November, aged 73 from Worksop.

Of all the things that I’ve researched or written about as a feminist, this one task tore a hole through my being in ways that the abuse that I have suffered at the hands of men could never touch me. It was all too personal. My heart broke multiple times over as I delved in to the crimes that ended the lives of these sisters who no more could walk at my side. I found as many pictures of the women as I could. I learnt who they had left behind. I found out who had taken their lives so cruelly and how. That research has left scars on my soul that will never leave.

It was important research though, essential even. As we stood in Sheffield that cold Saturday, we could easily have come in to contact with the friends and families of the victims local to the Women of Steel. Gracie Spinks, 23 from Chesterfield, killed on the 18th June. Terri Harris, 35 from Killamarsh on the outskirts of Sheffield, killed on 19th September. These were truly local women. We had a responsibility to know who they were, how they died, who killed them, or our action risked being empty of the truth of a woman’s reality and ultimate end. We could not let our sisters down like that. Our actions come from our hearts and our hearts were filled with all those lost sisters.

As we are a collective of radical feminists from across the north and not just from Sheffield, we invited women from local Sheffield groups to join us at the Women of Steel at noon on the Saturday to stand with us as we remembered our fallen sisters. It is their city that we were attending and we like to work with other feminist groups. Some of the Sheffield women joined us at The Harlequin the evening before and enjoyed the social with us. More joined us on the day, and we were so grateful for their solidarity. We include a copy of a write up for the local paper about the day’s activism.

Sheffield Telegraph – 2nd December 2021

With our Women of Steel wrapped with the fine suffragette scarves our Northern RadFem sister had made, we also gave them a suffragette flag to hold between them and adorned them with the names, ages and locations of the 26 women that had been killed in the north of England by a man known to them. One of our sisters read out all of their names and we held a three minute silence to signify the average 3 women killed every week by a man known to them here in the UK.

Personally, I found it near on impossible to hold back my emotions. I felt like I knew everyone of those sisters. I could see their faces and remembered the details of their deaths. The time it took to read out those names and hold that three minutes of silence felt like another eternity of pain placed on to my soul. But that’s why I’m the feminist that I am, because I love women, and I wish to protect them and myself from the harms inflicted upon us by men.

Those fresh layers of pain placed around my heart will only serve to make my resolve stronger, my fight more fierce, and my fear of standing up against misogyny and men subside.  

As shoppers passed by we engaged with as many as we could. We handed out information cards to those who didn’t have the time to stop and we offered comfort to those that did stop and were so moved by the emotions of our action. A few women stood in front of those Women of Steel and cried from the pain of seeing such a visual representation of our reality. With so many of us having experienced male violence, it is impossible to not be moved by the sight of another woman’s grief.

We did those women proud. I say it not with arrogance as an activist, but because the more times we take to the street and tell their stories. The more times we visually represent their loss to our numbers. The harder we make it for those names and stories to be consigned to the ‘yeah, but who cares?’ pile. We care. We will always care, because that is what radical feminist activists do. We care and we act on the caring.

We will be back Sheffield. On that, you can be sure.