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Magdalen Berns, vlogger who took a stand for women’s rights

Former Hampstead School student had tiny stature but packed a punch in the boxing ring and stood up for those in need

07 October, 2019 — By Susan Chynoweth

Magdalen Berns

IT was in her early thirties that noted vlogger and feminist activist Magdalen Berns decided on a complete change of heart, abandoning her career as a sound engineer and going to Edinburgh University to study physics.

Not long after graduating in 2016 she was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.

Those dry words obscure the vividness of Magdalen’s life and personality.

Witty and warm, and with an acute intelligence, at Edinburgh her political energies turned to women’s issues, often clashing with LGBT and other women’s groups over her determined defence of women’s sex-based rights in the face of the new but relentless demands to redefine sex as gender.

She set up her vlog and, in April 2016, published the YouTube video There’s no such thing as a Lesbian with a Penis!

Magdalen’s direct, deadpan delivery, coupled with her sharp wit and the incisive intelligence with which she skewered the absurdities of gender ideology, made her an international hit and, as one of the best-known feminist speakers of her generation, she addressed meetings across the country.

Her tiny stature belied her strength and courage – courage which was often called for in the face of harassment.

She never backed away from speaking her truth and encouraged others to step up and speak up.

Recognising the threat to women’s rights posed by attempts to reform the Gender Recognition Act, Magdalen campaigned alongside other feminists in Scotland. In June 2018, when she already knew she had a terminal brain cancer diagnosis, she co-founded the group ForWomen.Scot, which has grown to become the largest women’s rights group in Scotland.

Born in 1983, Magdalen attended Hampstead School where she developed her interests in science and music.

After leaving school she worked as a sound engineer in Camden, Spitalfields and anywhere else they played music she liked.

She was an activist from her early teens, campaigning against Huntingdon Life Sciences and giving out election leaflets for the Socialist Labour Party.

Magdalen had other strings to her bow.

As a pioneer of female boxing, she won the Haringey Box Cup in 2010 and became a member of Scotland’s first female boxing squad in 2011 when she won the British Universities Boxing Championship.

Study then took her away from boxing as she became fascinated by coding, participating in the Gnome Foundation (Google) Summers of Coding in 2013, 2014, 2015 in San Jose and Prague, where she worked on a programme to help the severely disabled.

Terminal brain cancer is a terrible diagnosis at any age and for a young, active woman in love with life it came hard.

Truthfully, she never complained.

She took the stoical attitude that everyone dies and she had lived a full life. She leaves behind a grieving family and friends as well as many others fired and inspired by her energy.

Magdalen died in Edinburgh earlier this month but she had a special place in her heart for Camden and the friends she still had there.

Her last appearance in the borough was at Conway Hall in 2017, with Julie Bindel headlining.


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