The background to JK Rowling's tweets

(54 Posts)
StellaOMalley Sun 14-Jun-20 12:39:37

Not enough people know or understand what happened to JK Rowling so I tried to reach the middle ground with this article in the Sunday Independent. I'd really appreciate if this could be shared:
Can't we discuss this without an online mobbing?
Stella O'Malley

Gender politics is a complex subject which needs to be discussed with thoughtfulness and honesty, writes Stella O'Malley.

The extraordinary events surrounding JK Rowling in the last few days are difficult to follow but they have highlighted an issue largely ignored by the general public: the controversy surrounding gender politics.

Now Rowling, well known for her left-leaning politics and philanthropy, has been vilified as "a transphobic bigot", perhaps more people might be motivated to grapple with the politics of gender identity?

In many ways, it all began with Pippa Bunce, who expresses a female gender identity for half the week and then expresses a male gender identity for the other half of the week. "Put simply, I like to dress up as both gender forms and I embrace both parts of myself equally."

In 2018 Pippa Bunce was listed as one of Britain's top 100 women in business and Maya Forstater, a tax expert who worked at a think tank, discussed this issue on Twitter. "I have no problem with men wearing dresses, but we don't need to confuse acting in a stereotypically feminine manner with being a woman!"

Forstater's tweets were reported by some of her colleagues for "non-inclusive language" and subsequently her contract was not renewed. She took a case to an employment tribunal saying that "no one has the right to compel others to make statements that they do not believe". The judge disagreed and Forstater lost the case.

In response to this, Rowling decided to enter the debate and tweeted on December 19, 2019: "Dress however you please. Call yourself whatever you like. Sleep with any consenting adult who'll have you. Live your best life in peace and security. But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real? #IStandWithMaya #ThisIsNotADrill."

Rowling declaring openly that she was not a believer in gender identity theory unleashed the wrath of a vitriolic mob. Gender identity theory maintains that a person is the gender they declare they are and it is not for anyone else to have a view on this. In a tolerant society, this seems a reasonable concept and many people agree with it. The problem is that some people - including some trans people - argue that children (anyone under the age of 18) are too young to decide their gender and they should not be able to make decisions that can involve irreversible medical procedures.

Some also claim that gender identity theory allows dangerous men to freely self-declare their identity in places such as prisons and refuges.

Perhaps the biggest problem with gender identity theory is that it does not seem to tolerate people who don't accept it.

In response to her tweet, Rowling was declared a Terf- a trans-exclusionary radical feminist. She was also called a "hateful, spiteful, ignorant hag" and "a transphobic whore who needed to be punched", among the thousands of angry tweets in which violence, rape and misogyny were notable themes. There were many public burnings of her books.

Then, last month, Rowling published a free book, The Ickabog, for children, during the pandemic. She invited children to send in their drawings and spent some weeks commenting on Twitter about them.

In the midst of this, she accidentally copied and pasted a quotation into a tweet about a nine-year-old child's drawing. Many of us know the horror of sending a message to the public rather than to a private person. For Rowling, with 14.5m followers, the horror must have been intense.

"I love this truly fabulous Ickabog, with its bat ears, mismatched eyes, and terrifying bloodstained teeth! In court, Wolf claimed the Facebook post in which he'd said he wanted to 'f**k up some Terfs' was just 'bravado'. #TheIckabog."

The court case to which Rowling inadvertently referred dated back to April 2018, when 26-year-old trans woman Tara Wolf was convicted of assaulting Maria MacLachlan, a feminist in her 60s, at Speakers' Corner in London.

It emerged during the case that when Wolf heard about a proposed meeting to discuss gender identity, she had posted: "Any idea where this is happening? I want to f* some Terfs up, they are no better than fash [fascists]."

Rowling deleted the tweet and apologised: "I'm going to say this once and I'm going to say it calmly and politely. I certainly didn't mean to paste a quotation from a message about the assault of Maria MacLaughlin [sic] into a tweet to a child... However, I am not … ashamed of reading about the assault. You should know by now that accusations of thought crime leave me cold. Take your censorship and authoritarianism elsewhere. They don't work on me."

Twitter almost combusted and she was vilified and accused of "literally killing trans people".

A week later Rowling decided to confront the issue head-on with a series of tweets. In the first, she responded to an article that used the phrase "people who menstruate": "I'm sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?"

She then went on to tweet: "If sex isn't real, there's no same-sex attraction. If sex isn't real, the lived reality of women globally is erased. I know and love trans people, but erasing the concept of sex removes the ability of many to meaningfully discuss their lives. It isn't hate to speak the truth.

"I respect trans persons' right to live any way that feels authentic and comfortable to them... At the same time, my life has been shaped by being female. I do not believe it's hateful to say so."

The insults and outrage seemed to reach a pinnacle and the general public, who have been mostly unengaged about this complex issue until now, began to scratch their heads and wonder whether it was true that the author of the Harry Potter books was a transphobic bigot.

Daniel Radcliffe, the actor who played Harry Potter, responded with an open letter disavowing Rowling's views: "Transgender women are women. Any statement to the contrary erases the identity and dignity of transgender people."

Rowling, who had previously been known as a defender of minorities, a billionaire who pays her taxes and had founded Lumos, a charity for children, responded with a 3,670-word essay that explained her reasoning.

She pointed out that she has been reading about gender issues for some years and described her concern for the 4,400pc increase among girls attending gender clinics. She wondered whether, had she been born 30 years later, she would have tried to transition.

"The allure of escaping womanhood would have been huge. I struggled with severe OCD as a teenager. If I'd found community and sympathy online that I couldn't find in my immediate environment, I believe I could have been persuaded to turn myself into the son my father had openly said he'd have preferred."

Rowling also pointed to the over-representation of autistic girls among the teenagers who are seeking to transition, and the increasing numbers of people now de-transitioning.

In the essay, Rowling revealed that she is a survivor of domestic abuse and sexual assault (Two days later, The Sun decided to capitalise on this revelation by tracking down her ex-husband and leading with the headline "I slapped JK and I'm not sorry").

Rowling explained in her essay that she had never spoken about it previously out of respect for her daughter. She concluded: "So I want trans women to be safe. At the same time, I do not want to make natal girls and women less safe."

Emma Watson, who played Hermione in the Harry Potter films, didn't seem to have been moved by Rowling's essay and subsequently tweeted her support for the trans community: "I want my trans followers to know that I… see you, respect you and love you for who you are."

Rowling must feel exhausted and beaten by this topic, having excavated very private details from her life in an attempt to appeal to a sense of humanity from her detractors. Equally, thousands of people report feeling devastated by her words.

History has taught us that if there is any hope for resolution we will need, as a society, to engage with difficult issues with thoughtfulness and honesty.

Rowling has been brave to speak her mind and this has highlighted the problem with cancel culture and online mobbings.

Is there any hope that we can soon begin to discuss complex issues without descending into a brawl?

OP’s posts: |
XXSex Sun 14-Jun-20 12:48:33

Well done. Sunlight sunlight sunlight

StellaOMalley Sun 14-Jun-20 13:00:39

Thanks! It had to be edited a lot as it was very long. But I tried to keep the most essential details in.. I hope I did - there was soooo much detail involved x

OP’s posts: |
LillianBland Sun 14-Jun-20 13:02:28

That’s brilliant OP. I stand with JK.

digbee Sun 14-Jun-20 13:07:03

This is a really great summary. Thank you for sharing it!

Collidascope Sun 14-Jun-20 13:10:23

Great piece

truthisarevolutionaryact Sun 14-Jun-20 13:11:41

Fab article. And yes - tackling this calmly is essential (but difficult!)

FantaOra Sun 14-Jun-20 13:21:04

Stella, as you pointed out with the quote from Tara Wolf, lot's men love a brawl.

Gncq Sun 14-Jun-20 13:23:00

Thanks Stella
I would say you've earned a new Twitter follower but I'm already following you 😘👍

It's great these conversations are actually getting into MSM now x

PamDenick Sun 14-Jun-20 13:31:33

Thank you.

Botsy Sun 14-Jun-20 13:32:24

Great summary, thanks Stella. I'll go and find you on twitter grin

OceanPacific Sun 14-Jun-20 13:37:22

Great article, Stella. I started a post earlier today about how there seems to be no room for reasoned and respectful debate on most topics today, and this highlights that issue further.

LumpySpacedPrincess Sun 14-Jun-20 13:38:07

Great article Stella, clear, concise and compassionate.

PamDenick Sun 14-Jun-20 13:40:29

Still cant understand why not one of the main three HP actors has not come out to condemn the Vile online Misogynist abuse that JKR has been subjected to.

BuzzShitbagBobbly Sun 14-Jun-20 13:48:49

Succinct reader comment on HP actor comments:

I wonder if they would all be opposing her view if there was another book to film

OvaHere Sun 14-Jun-20 13:53:08

Great article thank you. I'm pleased this is in the Independent as a counter to that drivel about women who want safety and privacy being white supremacists.

OvaHere Sun 14-Jun-20 13:54:18

Actually ignore that I see it's not the same Independent. Never mind. Still a cracking article.

Langbannedforsafeguardingkids Sun 14-Jun-20 13:55:39

Still cant understand why not one of the main three HP actors has not come out to condemn the Vile online Misogynist abuse that JKR has been subjected to.

And the death and rape threats. And the glorification of domestic violence (yes Sun newspaper, I'm looking at you).

The very clear subtext seems to be it's ok to threaten and even hit women who don't agree with you.

It seems they're falling all over themselves to say they support men who think they're women but they don't feel similarly compelled to stand up and condemn actual violence against women.

And always the focus on transwomen and not transmen. What about the transmen Daniel Radcliffe, eh? Your sexism is showing.

Thanks for the great article Stella, we need more like this.

growinggreyer Sun 14-Jun-20 14:00:52

Thank you Stella, when I just want to collapse into furious tears you have calmly laid it all out and published it. star

Destroyedpeople Sun 14-Jun-20 14:03:20

Oh well better than that ghastly piece by that O'Neill woman . Wasn't that the Irish independent as well?

Whiskaplucka Sun 14-Jun-20 14:12:30

Thank you so much Stella for explaining it. I'm going to copy to my own facebook page.

hypernormal Sun 14-Jun-20 14:16:21

Thank-you, Stella, excellent piece.

DreadPirateLuna Sun 14-Jun-20 14:21:44

Still cant understand why not one of the main three HP actors has not come out to condemn the Vile online Misogynist abuse that JKR has been subjected to.

Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood) did stand up against the abuse, while still disagreeing with JKR about trans issues, and she was subject to an online mobbing for it.

MrsKCastle Sun 14-Jun-20 14:24:59

Fantastic. Really pleased to read this.

CatandtheFiddle Sun 14-Jun-20 14:25:13

In many ways, it all began with Pippa Bunce,

Thanks for this @StellaOMalley It's really clear & balanced.

(In a side topic, I do wish some journalist could do the digging to find out whether Philip Bunce is paid less in proportion to his cross-dressing days as Pippa.)

But where this all started? It's been going on for a long time. I remember feeling somewhat disturbed over the vicious debate and bile expressed towards Prof. Germaine Greer when she opposed the appointment of a transwoman to a Fellowship at Greer's college (Newnham) back in the 1990s, I think?

Greer's point - and it's the point we need to keep making - is that men are raised with masculine privilege. And that all-women, single-sex provision is made to try to mitigate - at the edges - the effects on women of such male advantage ...

Many of us older feminists have been perturbed by the claims of transwomen for quite some time.

Thanks for writing what you've written - I hope you don't get villified, and are able to keep working.

Join the discussion

To comment on this thread you need to create a Mumsnet account.

Join Mumsnet

Already have a Mumsnet account? Log in