The Feminist Case for Opposing Lockdown

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Below we reproduce, with the author’s permission, a feminist analysis and case against lockdown policy. We believe this is an important contribution to the debate as there has been a general lack of discussion in the mainstream with regards to the disproportionate impact of lockdown on women. We hope that republishing this article prompts more debate on lockdown among feminists, women and other oppressed groups. 

The Feminist Case for Opposing Lockdowns

By Naomi Bridges, originally published 25th Nov 2020 at

We appreciate the pandemic has been a difficult time for many, we believe this is a conversation worth having and if anyone would like to talk about how lockdowns are affecting women’s rights, or have affected you personally, we would be interested in publishing writing on this issue.

On 23rd March 2020 Prime Minister Boris Johnson made a televised announcement telling the British public: “From this evening I must give the British people a very simple instruction – you must stay at home. To put it simply, if too many people become seriously unwell at one time, the NHS will be unable to handle it – meaning more people are likely to die, not just from Coronavirus but from other illnesses as well.”

This followed Matt Hancock’s address to parliament on 16th March, saying that all unnecessary social contact should cease. These were all measures taken by the UK government in response to COVID-19, a disease caused by a coronavirus previously unknown to scientists, but very similar to other coronaviruses. Appearing to affect China first with viral videos of people dropping in the streets, shocking images from Italy of army vehicles removing bodies followed weeks later. It was frightening. It was a new virus. The media had a field day, fear sells better than sex. 

China shut down, then Italy. There was an increasing sense of agitation amongst the British public, who were looking to the government to do something to reassure the people that they were in control. Lockdowns started to be discussed in the media. There were warnings that lockdowns trap women with their abusers, and that women’s rights and independence may be rolled back, but these went unheeded and on 23rd March the UK ploughed headfirst into a lockdown policy. The devastating effects were almost immediate. It is difficult to pin an increase in male violence on any single factor, as Karen Ingala Smith points out, however in the first three weeks of lockdown 14 women and two children were killed by men which is the highest it has been in this three week period for at least 11 years.

Nine months on we find ourselves in another lockdown. Lockdowns were unevidenced, untested and never recommended in any pandemic plans by the World Health Organisation when they were implemented in March. It was known that they would hurt the vulnerable by the committee that advised the WHO. They still aren’t recommended by the WHO, and definitely not as a first line of defence. Nine months later we now have mounting evidence of their efficacy and the harms they cause. At the peak of the virus in Spring, for every three people that died of Covid-19, the lockdown measures killed two. A peer reviewed paper studying 160 countries found that factors such as general health, average age of citizens, and prior flu seasons dictated how badly Covid-19 affected a country, and that “this burden was not alleviated by more stringent public decisions” i.e. lockdowns. Yet the UK government has been using a series of tactics to ensure compliance to the lockdowns and other pandemic response measures, and many seem to be straight out of the abusers’ handbook:

Duluth wheel of power and control

The Duluth wheel of Power and Control was developed by researchers in Duluth, Minnesota, in the early 1980’s after speaking to many abused women. The inner circle has eight sections, and Her Majesty’s Government has exhibited behaviour that can be analysed using this framework.

Using Intimidation

The intimidation has been two-fold. Police in Derbyshire used drones to film dog walkers, despite this being allowed within the law, and police have been disbanding lawful protests and administering punitive fines. The threat of being handed a £1000 fine for not staying in your home it’s not just intimidating, it’s financially crippling for many. The threat of becoming a criminal for hugging one’s parent has intimidated many into not exercising their right to family life. 

Alongside this, the misleading government messaging on how prevalent and deadly this virus is has led some people to be so afraid of leaving their homes they won’t venture into their own gardens.

Using Emotional Abuse

paper prepared by the SAGE behavioural science sub-group on 22nd March, outlining options to increase adherence to social distancing measures, remarks that “a substantial number of people still do not feel sufficiently personally threatened” and that “the perceived level of personal threat needs to be increased among those who are complacent, using hard-hitting emotional messaging.” 

The government and council leaders have also put out messages like “Don’t kill granny” and “hanging out in parks could kill.” Grandchildren should never be subjected to messaging suggesting they would be responsible for their grandparent’s death. It’s hyperbolic, insensitive, damaging to young minds and given the evidence on how children very rarely pass it on, bordering on lies.

Government advert

 The government has also regularly flip flopped on policy, and has been criticised by the UK Statistics Authority, a data watchdog, for presenting out of date data and over estimating deaths in order to justify the second lockdown. 

Using Isolation

This speaks for itself, we have been cut off from our family, friends, our social networks. The government can now tell you where to go, when you can go there, how long for, who you can meet whilst you’re there, and what you are supposed to wear when you get there. 

Minimising, Denying and Blaming

There has been scant discussion taking place in Whitehall concerning the material harms and collateral damage caused by lockdowns, such as a 1493% increase in abusive head trauma in children during the first month, even though many health professionals have been raising the alarm.

Boris Johnson, in an address to the nation on 22nd September, talked about how there had been “too many breaches” and the virus had gotten in. The lockdown and associated measures have little or no effect, and Johnson’s remarks serve to victim blame a largely compliant public for not following all the nonsensical rules that do little to nothing to the virus. 

Using Children

The Coronavirus Act included powers to detain children on public health grounds for a period of up to 14 days. The Act allows this to be done, in specific cases, without consent from someone responsible for the child. 

The government also unlawfully scrapped 65 safeguards when instituting the Coronavirus Act, without consulting the children’s commissioner or other groups, including legal timescales for visits of social workers to children in care. 

Additionally, the disruption to schools based on PCR positive tests has meant that many parents, often with only hours notice, have to drop everything and bring their children home from school for two weeks. Children’s education and social networks are disrupted, and many parents are in danger of losing their jobs for taking too much time off work. 

Using Male Privilege

Perhaps not the most obvious comparison, but we know that the pandemic response has hurt women disproportionately to men. The Institute and Faculty of Actuaries publish analyses of mortality and have found that out of the excess deaths that were not covid related, 42.4% were men and 57.6% were women. 

The Wheel also makes note of “making all the big decisions” and “acting like ‘the master of the castle’”. Is there another way to characterise the way the government has taken to ruling by decree?

Using Economic Abuse

Many people have lost their jobs, and are told they are not allowed to go out and earn a living. Others have been placed on furlough, and a 20% pay cut is absolutely devastating for many people. Redundancies are up by 79% amongst women and 23% amongst men. Without a job, or a family unit that includes people with jobs, we become entirely dependent on the state. 

Using Coercion and Threats

Huge fines have been doled out, and the public has had various carrots dangled in front of us such as “lockdown to save Christmas.” We can refer to Biderman’s Chart of Coercion and note the “occasional indulgences.” These are coercive tactics and aim to reinforce the status of the abuser and provide motivation for compliance with the abuse. 

Perhaps the most pernicious and pervasive threat throughout has been the threat of not being able to use the NHS, in case it gets overwhelmed due to the public not complying. Firstly, it is completely moot given that elective surgeries were cancelled, and there were an estimated 27 million fewer GP appointments between March and August. Routine screenings were paused for months, in fact 1 million women missed breast cancer scans, and many cancer treatments were stopped. We weren’t allowed to use our NHS anyway. Secondly, the NHS was never overwhelmed in the Spring and is not overwhelmed now. Overall, respiratory hospitalisations and deaths are normal for this time of year. We know that infections were in decline in the community before locking down on March 23rd, so we know that the lockdown did not change the peak of deaths or hospitalisations in April, and the NHS was not overwhelmed. However, in 2018 people were dying in hospital corridors. Where was the lockdown for that? Even in May, still in the throes of the Spring pandemic, the majority of “covid admissions” to a central London hospital trust were a previous diagnosis not related to the current admission. 

These measures are being used to cajole the public into submission, and the justification is based on bad data, misleading statistics and in some cases outright lies. We are told the measures are necessary, that our abuse is necessary, in order to control the virus, because we may suffer if we don’t. This is the biggest abusive tactic of all, that it is all for our own good and that the only reason this is being done to us is to keep us safe. 

“It is a tragedy beyond the power of language to convey when what has been imposed on women by force becomes a standard of freedom for women: and all the women say it is so.” ― Andrea Dworkin, Intercourse

 If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this piece you can phone the National Domestic Abuse helpline for free, 24 hours a day, on 0808 2000 247. 

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