Ever since I started writing about time travel, I’ve been desperate to interview the Kind Girls.
Both famous and elusive, this supposed women-only vigilante gang have drawn comparisons with historical folk heroes from Robin Hood to the Scarlet Pimpernel. Which is apt, because — if the Girls are to be believed — they, too, are figures from history.
No-one had heard of the Kind Girls until last July, when they used their Twitter account (which had no more than a handful of followers at the time, and has since been deleted) to claim responsibility for a recent spate of vandalism.
They said that each incident corresponded to a trip they’d made, back in time, to prevent a crime that would have happened if they hadn’t been there. Each time, they said, they’d arrived on the scene in time to distract a man who was about to hurt a woman; and then, once the woman was safely away, they’d threatened the man with consequences if he ever did it again. And they’d smashed up a nearby window, or car, for emphasis.
There was widespread scepticism. As commentators and the police and politicians pointed out, for a man to attack a woman was vanishingly rare. What was the likelihood of so many attacks being foiled in a matter of weeks? If there was a crime wave going on, they said, it seemed to consist only of this strange vigilante gang going on a smashing spree.
In subsequent social media posts, the Girls went on to claim something much more extraordinary. If male violence against women was rare, they said, it was because of them.
According to them, history was once dotted — splattered — with stories of men hurting women. But soon after time travel became possible their group began to go back and make amends; and the rest, the Girls say, is history as we know it.
The Battle of Rouen, 1431? According to the Kind Girls, this would have been the site of Joan of Arc’s execution, had they not turned up to lend her some firepower.
The Women’s Insurrection, 1536? We all know it as the moment women rose up against the English monarchy, in revolt against the planned execution of Anne Boleyn. But the Girls say there is another version of history: one in which Anne died and the King continued to reign.
And the Pendle riots of 1612. And the London uprisings in 1888. And more. If the Kind Girls’ tweets and Instagram stories and TikTok videos are to be believed, their network of time-travellers have not only prevented crimes against countless individual women; they have also played a key role in some of the defining events of world history.
Without their interventions, they say, the world would be a very different place: a patriarchal society in which men weren’t afraid to attack women physically, sexually, and/or with the power of the state.
They report eye-watering facts from alternate timelines: a woman killed by a man every three days in the UK. Women walking home with their keys splayed between their fingers like claws, ready to defend themselves. Murdered women’s bodies left lying in parks for their families to find.
Their claims are bold, controversial, and more or less impossible to prove or to debunk. But I want to believe. And more than that, I want to meet the women behind the stories.
Given the group’s somewhat enigmatic approach to publicity, I expect to have trouble getting an interview. In the end it proves surprisingly easy: a few DMs are exchanged on Instagram, and a video call is arranged for the next day.
I join the Zoom call a few minutes early, and the Girls are already waiting: three of them, gathered around what I later learn is the kitchen table of their shared house. They introduce themselves: Zora is the one with tattoo sleeves and ferociously thick winged eyeliner; Jamie is round-faced and smiling, with a labret piercing and a phenomenally loud laugh; Rachel is quieter, more serious, in oversized glasses and a chunky jumper. They all look to be in their late twenties.
Me: First of all — why the Kind Girls?
They laugh among themselves — they were expecting the question.
Rachel: It’s derived from The Kindly Ones. That’s another way of describing the Furies, from Greek mythology.
Me: Ah. Goddesses of vengeance?
Jamie: That’s us!
Rachel: Except that it’s not, really. I think the comparison with the Furies really springs from the fact that we’re like…like deus ex machina, you know? When there’s a woman in a situation and it’s looking hopeless — suddenly, there we are. But we don’t take revenge against men for hurting women. We stop men hurting women.
Me: How do you stop them?
Zora: Sometimes just turning up is enough. You know, there’s a guy harassing a woman, things are about to turn nasty — then here we are, coming around the corner, chatting to the woman like we know her. The guy loses interest and takes off.
Me: And that’s it?
Zora: No. See, this is why we work in teams. Massive teams if it’s a bigger incident — one of the historical ones, maybe. But if it’s just one guy, it works best with three or four of us.
I already, desperately, want to join them for one of these actions. But first I have more questions.
Me: So what role would you each play, in your team of three?
Zora: Rachel kind of coordinates the whole thing. She’ll be like, in our ears going “OK, the guy’s approaching now, move in.” Then Jamie will generally take care of the intended victim, make sure she gets home safe.
Jamie: People tend to trust me. I have a nice face and a reassuring bosom.
Me: And Zora, what do you do?
Zora: I’ll go after the guy and give him a talking to.
Me: Trying to get him to change his ways, that sort of thing?
Zora: Er…not really. More like: telling him that if he ever thinks about doing what he was about to do, we’ll find him and do bad shit to him. Remember, we’re after these guys because we know what they would have done. So we know things about them. Their names, their addresses. We’ll use that to scare the shit out of him.
Me: So it’s like a performance?
Zora: I mean, I don’t have to act. I fucking hate these guys.
Me: I have to be honest…that doesn’t sound terribly kind.
Jamie: Being kind isn’t the same as being nice. Sometimes being kind means getting really, really angry.
Me: And how long have you all been involved?
Jamie: Maybe six months or so.
Zora: About a year.
Rachel: Yeah, same.
Me: Wow, so that’s — around the time the first time-travel hubs opened in the UK, right?
Zora: Right. I mean this movement started pretty much as soon as time-travel became possible. The women who came up with it — I don’t know the details, but I’m sure you can find this online — it was, like, the first thing they thought of: how can we use this technology to make this a safer world for women?
Me: That’s so interesting. What we know about time-travel technology is that it was developed largely as a way of protecting the environment — of going back to undo centuries of damage that were apparently in danger of making the planet unliveable. So are you saying that, to those initial women, the issue of women’s safety was a crisis on that sort of scale?
Zora: No shit.
Rachel: It’s really hard to overstate the problem. At that time — in that timeline — more than a third of all the women in the world had been physically or sexually assaulted at least once in their lifetimes.
Me: A third?
It sounds preposterous, but they all nod with absolute confidence.
Me: And how many of those assaults were by men?
Zora: The overwhelming majority of them.
Me: A small group of men? Or was it something all men did?
Jamie: It definitely wasn’t something all men did.
Zora: But it was too many men.
They laugh again, but it’s a different kind of laugh.
Me: I’m genuinely asking! Why did they do it?
Rachel: It was because they could.
Me: No, I’m serious -
Rachel: So am I. Men who wanted to rape women? They raped women. Men who got angry and didn’t know how to deal with it? They hit women. They did it because the women were there, and because they could. They could because they always had, and they always had because they always could.
Zora: That’s the point of this whole movement. That’s why it started. To prevent individual women from getting hurt, yes. And also to let men know they couldn’t get away with it.
Rachel: The women who set this whole thing up, they wondered: what if every time a man hurt a woman, something truly frightening happened to him? What if they key message of the history of the world was “do not fuck with women”? What would the world look like?
Me: So what’s the next action you have planned?
Jamie: This is a really tough one.
Rachel: We read about a man who murdered his wife last week. Just up and strangled her after fifty years of marriage.
Zora: Normally we like to remove a woman from a situation as early as possible. But that’s going to be difficult this time.
Me: Hang on.
Me: If all this travelling through history — changing the stories of Joan of Arc and Anne Boleyn and all that — if that was supposed to make the world safe for women, why are women still getting murdered?
Me: And come to that, if every time you change the past it creates a new timeline, how come you all know so much about the timeline where all this never happened?
Jamie: …Look, you’re the one writing this.
Rachel: Yeah, Grace. Don’t blame us for your plot holes.
Zora: Right? We’re not even real.
Zora: Don’t ‘what’ us. This is a story you’re writing, you know it is.
Rachel: I mean, at least you’re finally writing it. The first draft’s been lurking around since #MeToo.
Me: I’ve been busy -
Zora: Oh, spare us. You’re not a journalist covering the emerging science of time-travel. Time-travel isn’t real. You’re trying to write your way out of the patriarchy.
Me: I -
Jamie: Because you don’t know what else to do, do you?
Me: I -
Me: It’s just…I’ve been going on Reclaim The Night marches for years.
Me: I’ve been living with it for years. We all have.
Me: Knowing that whatever happens to us will be our fault, somehow.
Me: For walking down the wrong street or drinking too much, or liking sex too much, or for saying yes or for saying no. Or for defending ourselves, or for not knowing how to defend ourselves. For dressing wrong or looking wrong. For acting like a victim, or not acting enough like one.
Me: I’m just so tired of it. I’m so tired of explaining myself. I’m tired of hearing “not all men”. I’m tired of being told that bad men are just…out there, and that they’re inevitably going to rape someone so all you can do is make sure it isn’t you. You put your mask on to keep the virus away and you put a longer skirt on to keep the bad men away.
Me: When I was nineteen I knew I was going to fix all of this. I thought I would have fixed it by now. But now I’m just…writing this, because it’s the only thing I know how to do.
Me: I used to be angry all the time.
Me: But now I’m just so tired.