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Storyhouse vs Women

By Beth Crochet


Part 1.


Let me tell you a story.


Once upon a time, there was a theatre in the North-West historic city of Chester, called Storyhouse. This was a council-funded theatre which also claims charitable status.


Storyhouse were holding a women’s weekend to coincide with International Women’s Day. What a lovely idea! WRN in North Wales thought this was definitely something we should be part of, so we emailed and asked if we could have a stall at their ‘marketplace’ event, and they enthusiastically said yes. They asked if one of our members would take part in a panel entitled Navigating the Rights of Women. On checking the event programme, we found out the other panel member was self-styled activist Patsy Stevenson. We politely explained to Storyhouse that we were declining the offer to appear on the panel as our views are not aligned with the other panelist, but we still wished to be part of the Marketplace. Faster than you could say ‘Abracadabra’, we were disinvited from the whole shebang. Storyhouse told us that there was no point in doing the Marketplace if we were not going to do the panel.


It's not a good idea to shut down women. We were going to the ball! We began to organise, we put the shout out to all the nearby WRN groups, Shrewsbury, Manchester Cheshire, our sisters in Northern RadFem, Standing for Women and Resisters, and the planning began!


It was a two-pronged strategy; inside we would attend some panels and ask the questions they didn’t want us to ask. Outside we would hand out leaflets and put up banners saying “Storyhouse Silences Women”. We would engage with the public and tell them Storyhouse did not want us at their Women’s Weekend!


Meanwhile, we were trying to get an answer out of Storyhouse. We had been told no panel, no marketplace, and wanted confirmation that all stallholders would be doing a panel. After repeated emails they finally answered yes (more later) but they also wanted to inform us ‘Storyhouse is a trans-inclusive organisation, and for Storyhouse Women’s Weekend we will only be partnering with organisations who share our values’. I think they may have read our website! This seems to be the actual reason why we were disinvited: WRN centre women in our women’s movement, and Storyhouse do not.


Part 2.


The day dawned grey and raining, but we were not to be deterred. Those of us with tickets for the opening session headed in to get an idea of the tone of the weekend. We were not surprised to hear inclusion was far more important than women’s and children’s safety. Then it was time to check out the Marketplace. There were 6 stalls, but not a single one was exclusively for women. The majority of the space was taken up by a choir, who were singing ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time’ as I spoke to the VAW stall. Poor choice.


Unsurprisingly not all stall holders were doing a panel.


Outside, despite the pouring rain, Chester was busy as usual. Women handing out flyers were having positive engagement from the majority of the passers-by, many of whom stopped to chat. A couple of parents had heartbreaking experiences of their children being sucked into transition and they didn’t know where to turn. We were able to signpost to Safe Schools Alliance and Transgender Trend for help. A group of young men stopped to say they were a band who had enough of the misogyny and homophobia of gender ideology and were writing a song about it.


Storyhouse called the police and told them a complete fairy story that there was criminal damage happening, this being the tying of placards to bollards and railings with ribbon! They must have said someone had been misgendered as the police arrived with blue lights flashing! They listened to Storyhouse’s ‘complaints’ rolled their eyes and left. Next the council’s ‘Safety Officers’ turned up to remove the ‘dangerous’ placards and took them away, proving it’s not only Storyhouse but Cheshire West and Chester Council who try to silence women.


Now it was time for the main panel, the one we declined and got us disinvited. The 800 capacity theatre was almost empty. There were 10 of us, and around 30 other women.


There was very little discussion on the specific rights of women. Patsy spent a long time talking about the right to protest and how this must be protected and the necessity of freedom of speech. This is of course ironic given what she had posted on X earlier in the day.

Whether by design or by chance (I know which my money is on!) the 20 mins of audience questions was reduced to 2 mins. But now was the time and up stood the indefatigable Cllr Mandy Clare. Mandy asked Patsy a perfectly reasonable question; isn’t it the height of hypocrisy to sit on the stage talking about freedom of speech and the right to protest when she is making defamatory posts about a group of women, standing in the rain campaigning for women’s rights. Someone tried to shout Mandy down, a staff member was already hovering around asking Mandy to sit down. But Patsy said she would answer the question. She proceeded to call Mandy and the women protesting, transphobic, and perpetuating dangerous ideas that are leading to trans people being murdered. All of this captured on smartphone video footage.


This is the point the audience erupted. Women who weren’t even part of our group were shouting the question wasn’t transphobic and asking Patsy questions. The manager was tugging at Mandy’s bag trying to drag her out of the auditorium. The chair of the panel was trying to restore order and reminded us there was a quiet room with an art therapist ready with crayons and potato printing.


We filed out to the foyer where the manager demanded we leave and stop recording. But we had tickets for the whole day and said we weren't leaving even though the staff kept repeating ‘transphobic’ as if this was some shibboleth which would make us disappear. One of our members tried to explain it to a staff member by using her own life experiences. She suffers from Multiple Sclerosis and asked if, when her disease worsens, is it transphobic to ask for female only intimate care and expect an actual woman? Yes, that was transphobic and akin to racism. There was no compassion, no understanding of disabled women’s need for dignity or safety.


The police were called again and of course had nothing to do but roll their eyes. Mandy has been barred from Storyhouse for asking a perfectly reasonable question about women’s rights at a women’s rights event. There has been a meeting to decide if this ban will be upheld, and we await to hear the decision.


Of course it won’t end here. We’ve had so much support from women (and men) in Chester and further afield. People have rightly been appalled. Storyhouse offered a mealy-mouthed statement on the events of the day. Patsy claimed that ticket sales of her event were given to a trans charity, but as a charity itself, Storyhouse were forced to deny this as they are barred by charity regulations from using their income in this way.


We have made complaints to Storyhouse and the Council and will wait to see how they will respond. We will not let this lie. Storyhouse discriminated against WRN and all women who believe sex is immutable. It’s time the Stonewall fairy story came to an end.



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