Daughter of Heroines

Roanoke College women’s swim team (front row) and supporters at press conference at Hotel Roanoke, Oct. 5. (photo/Scott Dreyer)

by Margot Heffernan

The year is 2023 but it feels as if the calendar has rolled back a hundred years for women and girls in Virginia, and just about anywhere else in the Western world. Hyperbolic? Over the top?

Sadly, no.

Each day women are censored, denigrated, and erased; called bigots for speaking biological fact; losing to men in female sports; redefined with terms like “chest feeders” and “uterus havers.” Violent male felons are routinely housed in women’s prisons in at least four states because they “identify” as women. And private female spaces are ceded to biological men in schools and other public places.

Virginia is a microcosm of the problem writ large. Remember the scandalous sexual assault of two Loudoun County girls over two years ago that were perpetrated by a male who gained access to girls’ restrooms. Recall the recent Roanoke College attempt to hijack the women’s swim team by allowing a man to join. Then, on September 27th, at a Turner Ashby High cheerleading event in Rockingham County, several males entered the female locker room without consent from the girls. Some cheerleaders felt compelled to change in the shower stalls or bathrooms of their female-only locker room.

Such egregious things happen when culture reverts to a dark time, when females were expected to cower and submit to outrageous misogyny that says it is perfectly acceptable for young women to give up their spirits and bodies to the will of a male-centric culture; for full-bodied males to waltz into private girls’ spaces unannounced.

Many of these events are the result of anti-female recommendations like Ralph
Northam’s Model Policies for the Treatment of Transgender Students. We are expected to swallow the unscientific idea of “nonbinary” and “gender fluid” children at the cost of female bodies and lives. Girls, it seems, must simply accede to the demands of a small minority that dictates woke propaganda and archaic notions about women’s rights. Young women must bend a knee to a male who imagines himself in the wrong body.

That is what such policies realistically amount to.

Clearly, such ideas are nested in the thinking of school boards and a broad swath of institutions statewide. Recently, though, the citizens of Rockingham County stepped up and did the right thing by women and girls. The school board flipped, and the newly configured board is expected to vote for all of Governor Youngkin’s model policies, including the most important — those related to parental consent, compelled speech, and same-sex bathrooms and athletics. These are the provisions that stand for the rights of girls and protect our young female citizens today.

What can we do to build on this success? How can we bolster and promote policies that enhance the rights of women and girls in Virginia and fight back against the modern threats that we face?

Women’s Liberation Front, or WoLF, is a nonpartisan radical feminist nonprofit that works to restore, protect and advance the rights of women and girls using legal argument, policy advocacy ,and public education. As an organization, we are stalwart believers in the abolition of gender ideology, a concept that equates to women’s oppression: this ideology is a new-fangled way to continue the subjugation of women, a boot on the neck of women everywhere.

We at WoLF know that this antiscientific ideology is a cudgel to women’s most intimate needs and desires. It destroys girl’s bodies and minds by telling them that they are “nonbinary,” “gender fluid,” anything but the girls they are. Toxic puberty blockers, wrong sex hormones, and devastating experimental surgeries are promoted as a “treatment” for the diagnosis of “gender dysphoria.” This ideology also propagates the absurd notion that a man, stylized and outfitted in the garb of a stereotype, can identity as a woman, allowing him access to women’s sports and private spaces. These ideas are intricately woven into the fabric of modern culture in Virginia and the western world.

But there is a flip side, a prominent and growing fissure in the gender ideology behemoth. And that is the many girls and women who have been hurt by this credo, for they are the leaders of a new generation. Their voices will not be tamped down and they will not shut up. And they are here, in Virginia. Suffragettes, really, ready to stand up, all over again.

We at WoLF stand with them, fighting for and with them. We have their backs. In September, WoLF was in Roanoke alongside other women’s groups, rising up, and speaking out at a press conference with the Roanoke College swim team when a man was allowed to join their team. This man stepped off the team, while the college administration rightfully walked its policy back.

WoLF’s robust history of activism and legal work resonates in the world of feminism. We filed a lawsuit on behalf of incarcerated women in California, women who had been assaulted due to passage of SB132, the state law that mandates that men who “identify” as women must be housed in women’s prisons if they so choose. WoLF was the only feminist organization in the U.S. to submit legal briefs to the Supreme Court calling for the preservation of sex-based civil rights laws and objecting to legal recognition of “transgender status” under such laws.

WoLF supports the recent landmark lawsuit, Ayala v. The American Academy of Pediatrics. Isabella Ayala was a 14-year-old autistic girl suffering from depression and PTSD after a sexual assault when she was coerced into believing that she was “transgender.” Her path to irreversible medicalization via puberty blockers, wrong sex hormones and experimental surgery left her with permanent injury. This is a pivotal lawsuit because it names the doctor who authored the 2018 AAP policy that promotes the damaging experimental “treatments” referred to as “gender affirming care” as well as the American Academy of Pediatrics, which supports this devastating model.

And WoLF doesn’t stop there. We are actively engaged on the ground with members in every state. We provide women who wish to be active members of a community that supports their fundamental rights with agency that hears their voices. Sisters in Action is that community. As members, women are not only able to access an online community to interact and learn from each other: Sisters in Action are actively invited to promote change. To keep their ears to the ground for news about pressing issues in women’s rights. To move and work in a vital community that is trained to go forward and be at the forefront of feminism at the local level and on the national scene.

Virginia continues to be a pivotal state in the fight for women’s rights. Since the late 19th century, the suffragette movement was a vital part of Virginia history, fighting not only for women’s voting rights, but for the very idea that women were sentient beings, capable citizens who fit into the larger decision-making framework of education, healthcare and child labor reform. It was a long and winding road, back then. The Equal Suffrage League of Virginia joined national groups to change state and local laws, and eventually pass the Nineteenth Amendment, which granted women the right to vote. Tennessee was the 36th state to ratify in 1919.

Virginia was not among them.

It’s a funny thing about history, isn’t it? How it repeats, as they say. Or foretells. Maybe Norman Cousins said it best: “History is a vast early warning system.”

Prescient words no doubt.

And so we must continue. Take in all those things we thought were over and done with. Heed the past. Move forward with its unvarnished memory in our sight. Recognize the new threats to women, many ginned up and retrofit with a fashionable, progressive spin.

Here in Virginia, a state where the executive director of the Virginia High School League, Billy Haun, announced last July that the league does not plan to update its policy that allows students to file an appeal on the team that matches their “gender identity,” we must protect women’s sports.  In another words, boys are permitted on girls’ sports teams in Virginia.

We must fight to protect children from the predatory grip of pediatric gender clinics that are housed at the University of Virginia and Virginia Commonwealth University, as well as many more venues across the state. These clinics dispense toxic drugs to minors under the pretense of “gender affirming care,” a failed system of experiments that cause permanent medical harm. We know too well that girls and young women are victims of this cult-like belief system, that girls have been swayed in great numbers by peers and social media to assume a “trans identity.”

Let’s listen to the original Virginia suffragettes. And remember. Hear the call of their long-ago voices; whispers now, but still here. Adele Clark. Nora Houston. Kate Waller Barrett. Lila Meade Valentine. So many more.

How much has changed, they might say.

Or, how little, too.

Women. We are each the daughter of heroines, in the end, aren’t we?

WoLF recognizes that when we bind together a powerful reality is conveyed. One that is handed down by legacy; one that cannot be dismantled, shoved or swayed by the vagaries of a society that is not always on our side.

Sisters in Action is our inheritance. A resistance; not a salve but remedy. A hand from the past. A gift for our time.

Come join us if you can.

Are you a woman who is interested in becoming a Sister in Action? Go to womensliberationfront.org to apply.

Margot Heffernan is the Board Vice President at Women’s Liberation Front.