The vitriolic response to Boycott Gardies shows why Nice Girl Feminism is fucked

Martha Saunders
Martha Saunders  /  12 Comments

This Sunday, a new student campaign, Boycott Gardies, was set up in response to a harrowing anonymous blog post by a female student on FLY Cambridge describing a member of staff at the fast food restaurant touching her body and physically blocking her exit to the store unless she kissed him. This falls under the legal definition of sexual assault.

The Boycott succeeded, and it did so with astonishing co-operation and geniality between the two parties. Within 36 hours the police were investigating, codes of conduct were being written, CCTV examined; within 48 hours the boycott was called off after negotiation with the manager, who agreed to implement all the suggested terms. The page had nearly 1,300 likes and women were sharing their experiences.

The Boycott Gardies campaign and its small victory was such a good, pure and simple thing. It gave power and basic due process to an anonymous victim of sexual assault. It gave a manager who’s ignored past complaints of harassment the impetus to act and make his business safer for half his customer base.

Whether it worked had momentous repercussions for every woman in Cambridge that went beyond one man at one little independent kebab shop. If the student body rallied around the campaign, it would validate the voices of young women and show that finally, people were ready to listen.

Van of Life is tastier anyway

Van of Life is tastier anyway

This campaign may have happened because of one woman’s story, but it was about every woman, and it was for every woman. We read these stories with a surface reaction of shock, but deep down there is a lurking sense of familiarity. Minor sexual assaults such as these are endemic to the extent where I would be surprised if I had a single female friend who has not had her body touched sexually without her consent.

On the few occasions ( reports estimate around 15%) when we do report them to bouncers, business owners or the police the reaction is usually disparaging. Legal repercussions are incredibly rare. Despite what happens to us often going above and beyond the minimum requirements for the incident to qualify as a criminal sexual assault, the frequency has completely normalized it to us and made reporting the outright crime an overreaction.

There’s this pervasive sense that if only men knew how much this happened to women, they’d be horrified. Many of them are horrified, but the idea that any of them don’t know is bullshit and we all know it. Articles detailing the experience I just did are two a penny; as are blog posts, campaign posters, viral videos, interviews, and the casual conversations of the women who surround you every day. Besides, where are all the crowds of men who squeeze my arse at the bar and try and corner me on my way back from Cindies coming from if everyone’s secretly horrified by sexism? I’m sick to death of the mainstream trend in sexual assault and other feminist campaigns of “awareness-raising” and respectability politics. Everyone knows what’s happening – a large percentage of them just don’t want to listen to women.

The toxic misogyny, willful ignorance and outright bullying against these women was most explicit of all in Spiked’s response to the Boycott Gardies campaign, which articulated sentiments echoed across comment threads throughout the Cambridge cyberspace. In it, Luke Gittos - who will probably never go to Gardies in his life - actively takes the piss out of the anonymous blog poster.

Luke Gittos is a London-based solicitor in his twenties

Luke Gittos is a London-based solicitor in his twenties

He implies she is ridiculous for feeling violated and mocks her for stating that she “panicked”, alone and drunk late at night, when a man physically blocked her from moving unless she kissed him. He proceeds to denounce other victims of sexual assault and women who feel unsafe at night as “vindictive,” “narcissistic,” “self-obsessed”, “entitled,” “uppity,” “poshos,” and “brainless”. He actively encourages Cambridge students to financially support the business by buying from there. He rounds things off with a drastically inappropriate KKK analogy made all the more disturbing by the fact that the blog post was written on FLY, a platform for Cambridge’s women of colour.

Luke Gittos knows exactly what’s happening to young women who go out alone at night. Luke Gittos has read a plenty of blog posts by victims of sexual assault. Luke Gittos just doesn’t give a fuck because he, 90% of the Spiked readership and commenters, and an unhealthy portion of the Cambridge undergraduate body are misogynistic, entitled, hateful people.

They would rather online bully a girl who was sexually assaulted than have her perpetrator investigated and, god forbid, see a fairly basic code of conduct implemented at a small fast food restaurant. They have probably never in their lives been groped and forced to kiss a kebab waiter out of genuine fear of physical sexual violence, or been shoved against a wall by a group of men, or walked home accompanied by explicit rape threats hollered across the street. But they still think they know how that feels better than the women who have, and don’t mind telling them so.


I don’t want to win over predatory Gardies waiters with two  recorded arrests for sexual assault or bullying toxic mansplainers like Luke Gittos to the feminist cause. They are not my good time pals. They don’t deserve my earnest conversation over G&Ts in the Union bar or appealingly designed posters which visualize sexual assault compared to shark attacks.

I’ve learned two things from the Gardies boycott – first, that direct action does work. Second, that while there are still so many people in the world who can unempathically shit all over something as well-intentioned and good as a campaign to bring justice to a sexual assault case, respectability politics and nice girl feminism is fucked.

We must be militant in our empathy but also militant with our ideology. Revolution isn’t spending hours attempting to convince Luke Gittos of the virtues of intersectional feminism, it’s aggressively consigning him and his backwards, vitriolic compatriots to the dustbin of history.

  • This makes no sense.


  • A Man

    I think you’d be surprised about how little aweness there actually is amongst a lot of men about these sort of stats.

    Just because you are surrounded by people who know this stuff not everyone is. A lot of guys aren’t close friends with many girls or those who are may not be particularly active feminists.

    I think there is still a lot to be said for nice girl feminism :)

    • martha

      it’s not about stats - they can observe these things happening every single day of their lives, and I have only been friends with active feminists for 6 months. Before that many of my friends did not identify as feminists but nonetheless all commented on this kind of touching which is as I said pretty endemic. Who are the literally millions of people doing it if nobody knows what’s going on? Or their mates who watch and encourage them? And even the most apolitical of my female friends have many a time shared a poster or article about sexual assault. It’s very well established in social discourse. At this point, if you don’t think it’s an issue, you’re just not listening.

      • Alyson

        But that assumes they perceive the world accurately.

        Privilege underestimates oppression, that’s like a defining feature of it, people literally tell me i must be reporting figures from some other country when I give them accurate stats.

        People with privilege deemphasise and individualise incidents of sexual assault - because they literally cannot even imagine structural oppression.

        • A Man

          Martha - There is a difference between seeing these things and consciously noticing them as sexist (sad but true). A lot of people won’t register these things until it happens right in front of them or a close friend decides to tell them about it.
          From my experience I have to disagree about people sharing posters or articles about sexual assault, I don’t think I’d ever seen this on facebook before I came to university. Maybe they were there and I saw them, but I didn’t *register* them. I think you can scroll past things very easily, it takes a big step change for one to start picking up on things.

          Alyson - I think you’ve got it spot on. Some things are very difficult to comprehend, especially if you don’t want it to be true. Another thing a lot of men struggle with is the concept of internalised misogyny. One really don’t want to face up to the fact that they are, in essence, subconsciously sexist. It’s also daunting to commit to changing your behaviours to try and stop this happening and to catch yourself every time you slip up.

          • KathyG

            “Some things are very difficult to comprehend, especially if you don’t want it to be true.”

            This is very true A Man. But cognitive dissonance is a matter of perspective; it works both ways. You are clearly enlightened and so can detect it in the unenlightened but the unenlightened regard you as deluded and themselves as undeluded and would claim to detect the same contradictions in you. Now obviously we both know that yours is the correct position. After all, you say yourself: ” I don’t think I’d ever seen this on facebook before I came to university.” So you were not always in possession of your current insight.

            You were fortunate enough to move into an environment where you could come into contact with brave and intelligent people who were able to point you towards the sort of Facebook pages which allowed you to address your aberrant behaviours. Not everybody is so fortunate. In the olden days when the likes of Brendan O’Neill and the buffoon Gitto were at university Twitter didn’t even exist and intersectionalism hadn’t been discovered. We should pity them as much as revile them. In time, they’ll come around.

          • A Man

            “We should pity them as much as revile them.”

            And isn’t pity is a trait of ‘nice girl feminism’? In which case I’d come to the same conclusion as before - there is definitely a place for it.

          • KathyG

            No. They’re entirely different concepts. One panders to bigots, the other maintains its integrity and demands that the bigots make the change to fully rounded human beings. Nice girl feminism allows nice girls to exist within a fully realised nice girl bubble where a fully coherent, self-consistent nice girl analysis rightfully has traction and makes truthful statements about the underlying misogyny that infects their existence. The other feminism changes things.

            In fact, the words of a large bearded German spring to mind. “Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is…”

          • A Man

            Okay Kathy, I completely agree that you have to have ‘do-ers’ as well as talkers. But I feel you also need the nice girl approach to make people more amenable to those changes.

            Yes you often need to take a militant stance to get anything done, but the article suggested there was no place for the nice girl approach. Whereas I believe a mixture of the 2 are most effective.

            (I’m also starting to think we have a different opinion of where we draw the line between nice girl and militant…)

          • KatieG

            Well, indeed. I think we’ve taken different things from the notion of niceness but I think we are probably in agreement. There are plenty of nice militants, well liked and respected even by their opponents. Dennis Skinner springs to mind, Rosa Luxembourg and, I suppose, keeping it topical: Jesus.
            I think you’re thinking about courtesy which is available to all. However, ‘nice girl’ to me has traditionally implied compliant or obedient, never rocking the boat. That’s certainly not the way.
            I think courtesy is a good thing and despite what the SJW/Twitter radicals might suppose, it needn’t blunt your resolve or the strength of your message. Screaming ‘apologist’ or cunt or killallmen might make them feel empowered or edgy but it’s basically childish. It reduces debate to the level of adolescent boys; exactly the ground on which the men who are the problem like to play. I’ve been on marches where certain feminists scream all sorts of pseudo radical obscenities as though that were an end in itself and then look around for congratulations and adulation. It puts me in mind of the boys at my primary school who looked for kudos by peppering their talk with fuckin this or cunting that. It was even lame when I was 8 or 9. Then again, I was brought up in a pretty sweary household. I think a lot of these people were actually fairly ‘proper’ middle class girls who are effectively late developers in the rebellion stakes and are making up for lost time by adopting language, actions and opinions for the sake of their ‘image’. Just how staunch those opinions are, I have always doubted.

  • Stavros

    Thank you for this.

    I especially loved this bit…”They don’t deserve my earnest conversation over G&Ts in the Union bar or appealingly designed posters…”

    I’m not sure many people actually deserve your earnest conversation…we’re simply not worthy. Not worthy even to touch the hem of your garment. Although, strictly speaking, “This falls under the legal definition of sexual assault”, so maybe not.
    It’s so good to see brave and talented young writers like yourself take a stand and show Brendan O’Neil et al that you’re nothing like the cosseted, self-righteous, hysterical stereotypes depicted in his splenetic white dude rant. Where did he ever get the idea that today’s students are so feeble precious and ever desperate for victim status and ready to run screaming at the slightest provocation to demand protection from the agents of the state? You’ve shown you’ve got guts, agency and a sense of proportion. FFS…you even managed to get “codes of conduct rewritten”! I can just see the scenes in the Patriarchy’s secret bunker the day that that news arrived. I’ll bet they all had a face like a slapped arse…oops…can I say that?

    Only one problem, for me, with this piece: you refer to a “kebab waiter”. I’m not so sure about this phrase. Don’t get me wrong. I know that it’s not uncommon these days to see even non-cisgendered middle class class white women serving in kebab outlets but to previous generations, the ‘phrase kebab’ waiter might well carry connotations of heteronormative males of Mediterranean or Middle Eastern origin in a less than pristine white coat, given to ritually muttering: “Zu vant sheelees sos viz dis?” And, so I really can’t work out why you couldn’t have just used “waiter”, or, better still “service operative” so as to remove any suspicion that your accusation carried any sort of racialised agenda.

    A little quibble, I admit. But, these things are important as I’m sure you’re aware.

    • C

      Excellent comment, Stavros. They absolutely did show Brendan O’Neil et al that they had a sense of proportion, seeking things like improved code of conduct and ending their boycott once their immediate concerns for their safety were addressed. Of course, given your comment about the patriarchy, perhaps you feel they should have burned down Gardies instead? To be more intimidating?