The hounding of JK Rowling shows a society that has forgotten how to think Sarah Ditum Telegraph 11.06.20

The original article is here.

What did JK Rowling do wrong? The world divides on this point. For one group, her sins are so transparent that even asking for more detail is beyond the pale. They just know that Rowling is transphobic.

For another group – larger, quieter and more anxious about making a mistake – it’s simply baffling that the world’s most famous children’s author should be condemned in op-eds, disowned by the cast of the franchise she made and accused of effectively killing trans people. They see the reaction, and they see what Rowling has said, but cannot fit the two together.

On 6 June, Rowling tweeted a link to an article headlined “Creating a more equal post-Covid-19 world for people who menstruate”, with her own comment: “‘People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?”

A bit later, she followed this up by saying: “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.”

And between them, these two tweets made some people very angry. So, on 10 June, Rowling published a personal (very personal) essay explaining why she’d made these statements, despite knowing the incendiary nature of the trans debate. In it, she explained that she is a survivor of both domestic abuse and sexual assault. “I want trans women to be safe. At the same time, I do not want to make natal girls and women less safe,” she wrote. And in clear, factual terms, she outlined her concerns around opening women-only services like refuges to any male who identifies as a woman, and her worries about the drastic increase in girls and young women transitioning. This made people even angrier.

The Washington Post ran a column titled “J.K. Rowling’s transphobia shows it’s time to put down the pen”. Guardian columnist Owen Jones derided her as “a multimillionaire celebrity” (perhaps it would have complicated his narrative too much to acknowledge that she’s a multimillionaire celebrity who has also, like millions of other women, suffered male violence and sexism). Emma Watson – who you may remember from the UN’s #heforshe campaign for gender equality, and from being terrible in everything – also didn’t mention Rowling’s disclosures but made sure to firmly disassociate herself from the woman who gave her a career.

And this was the acceptable side of the outrage. At the same time, thousands upon thousands of misogynistic tweets have underlined the opinion that Rowling ought to just shut up – that she’s old, dried-up and embarrassing, and should simply drift off into the oblivion befitting any woman over the age of “hot and pliant”. What there hasn’t been is an explanation of why wanting to keep the common-sense and generally accepted usage of “woman” for “female person” is categorically hateful, or why raising the issue of competing rights is so horrendous.

The reason that explanation hasn’t been made is that it doesn’t exist. Cases such as that of trans rapist Karen White (who was housed in a women’s prison despite being fully anatomically male and committed further assaults against fellow inmates) show Rowling’s concerns are not merely intellectual. If you adopt the principle of unquestionable self- identification – “a woman is anyone who says they’re a woman” – there will be more Karen Whites.

Young women who transitioned to live as men and then reidentified as female are speaking out about the harm gender identity doctrine has done them. They should be listened to. But if the Rowling farrago shows one thing, it’s that there’s little appetite for listening.

Some people seem so delighted to have an opportunity to trash a successful woman that anything she actually said can be gleefully twisted or ignored. Others are simply too scared to stand up against the storm, however absurd the shapes it bends them into (there’s little less edifying in modern life than seeing apparently intelligent people earnestly explaining that sex isn’t real).
What did Rowling do wrong? She broke a taboo, and out came the Death Eaters. Still, sex does exist, and it does matter. The more people who are willing to state that obvious truth, the less power the enforcers of permissible thought will hold over all of us.

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