A rather upsetting trend I’ve noticed recently is that of popular mainstream feminist broadsheet columnists in the UK being total wankers on twitter when they are met with criticism. I mean, I rather like Caitlin Moran. I think her books are funny. I do honestly think that despite every silly, often ill- judged thing she’s said or crack she’s made, she is essentially well meaning. I’m not as familiar with Suzanne Moore, but I’d have given her the benefit of the doubt too. Problem is, these writers, when discussing gender, sexism or modern feminism, are often in for stiff criticism from the feminist blogging community. Most of the criticisms concern their treatment of race (i.e. Moran doesn’t discuss it at all) or pointing out unhelpful language in otherwise well meaning pieces (i.e. Moore’s now-infamous ‘Brazilian Transsexual quip), and it can admittedly get very intense- I can only imagine because most of the blogs written in response to Moore’s article are articulate, indignant and blisteringly intelligent.
If it had been me, I’d be sitting there going ‘Ooooo fuuuuuck, she’s right.’ because the criticisms are valid- don’t ostracize Trans women. Either we’re in it together or we’re not- there’s nothing nice in excluding anyone from the woman party. It’s really important to recognize that in the world, different women are treated badly for different reasons- because of race, class, age, nationality, sexuality or even their physical body (btw Moore, the status of a woman’s genitals is never ANYBODY’S business except her own). And all the current transphobic bullshit getting thrown around seems to boil down to ‘Stop giving out about this, we have BIGGER THINGS to worry about! Like the Daily Mail, and page 3!’ and this is exactly the thing women have been told all down the years when they complain about things that bother and oppress them. ‘Focus on the real problems, gawd.’
The backlash to Moore’s comment in her article was swift and sharp and at first, I went ‘really?’ I read the piece and the critique, and was like ‘all this for one throwaway comment that was a bit off colour? That seems extre- Ooooooh, the tweets..’ Yeah, Moore responded to sustained criticism by taking to twitter with some incredibly ill-advised comments about mutilated genitals and similar transphobic comments. It was hideous, unpleasant and unprofessional as a writer. And in the face of even more vitriolic criticism, she then left twitter altogether, while the British journo gang on twitter all mourned her departure and berated those who ‘bullied her off twitter’. That’s where I get a bit bothered.
People had every reason to call Moore out on such horrible language. It doesn’t matter if she’s nice in real life, and that she’s your mate- writers, recognize when you have inadvertently offended someone or been wrong. This has happened a few times- Caitlin Moran, who as I’ve said I enjoy a lot as a writer, said on twitter she ‘could not give less of a shit’ about non-white women when she was called out on her lack of comment of the issues of race surrounding feminism. It was so, so disappointing Moran was cool to me, she complimented my jumper and signed my book. I like how she describes things and her writing style is somewhat similar to mine. It was really disheartening to see a writer that has a lot of charisma and talent be so… childish about criticism.
And that’s what I’ve observed. A whole group of well meaning, right on, cool feminist columnists who will not ever take heed of criticism. Maybe they’re used to lots of ‘LOL, ur shit’ comments online, or maybe they’re jaded from years working in media, but it’s a killer blow to any writer- to think you’re above being called out on shit you get wrong, even if you’re doing it with a well meaning point, or for the LOLz like I usually am. Just because your friends all gather around to defend you, it rings hollow because you actually were really offensive and nasty to an already marginalized group. One of the most intelligent things I ever heard anyone say was when Caitlin Moran said ‘Always make sure you’re kicking up [When you write]. Get at David Cameron, don’t attack some schmoo in the back with a bad hat’. That’s the kind of philosophy I like in my comedy and in my writing. Kick up, at the elites and the movers and shakers and let them know when they’ve gone wrong.
When you attack trans people, you are pretty decidedly not kicking up. Some of the most liberal, right on, feminist, LGBT-allied people I know are still a bit… weird about the idea of trans people, and in the idea of reassignment surgery. Trans men and women have it unspeakably hard in a world where even the right on liberals are iffy about them. Trans people are still a cruel punchline in comedy in a way that is considered waaay more acceptable than gay people, or women. ‘Whoops! That bird you nearly scored is ACTUALLY a MAN! LOL!’ that’s bullshit and it’s not fair. But for the ‘Moore getting bullied off twitter’ narrative to hold, Julie Burchill had to cast Trans people as the elite, so that she could kick up. She criticized the ‘trans lobby’ for their perceived abuses and language, Comparing the word ‘Cis’- used to describe anyone who’s gender matches their physical sex- to ‘cyst’. Worth noting that ‘Cis’ actually derives from latin and also refers to men as well as women and has NEVER BEEN USED as a derogatory term. Unless you count ‘Cissie’, which you don’t, obvs.
Now, obviously I don’t know what it’s like to be under sustained criticism like that. I am a teeny tiny drop in the sea of internet blogs. I just faff on about whatever I feel like, I have no overreaching agenda or theme other than having ROFLs and the odd angry post about sexism, but at the end of the day, I am just being funny for an audience of friends and friends of my friends. In fact I do shy away from really getting into deep questions about gender and feminism simply because there are so many razor sharp, clever feminist bloggers who I fear will tear my shit up- it’s a very intense field of debate and I don’t think I have the moxie for it, tbh. I acknowledge my own privileges- I’m white, I’m cis, I’m heterosexual, I’m from a reasonably comfortable background.
Does this mean I’m ‘not allowed’ write about race, or the working class, or LGBT issues? I say heck no, I can write about what I want, but it does mean I have to make extra sure I have my facts straight- and accepting criticism when it’s needed. The only time this has happened really was when I made a quip about the ‘suicide clause’ that’s causing so much debate over the new abortion legislation. I posed the question of why a woman would fake suicidal thoughts when she could just GET THE BOAT TO LIVERPOOL (Embarrassing emphatic caps lock is my own) My friend Emma commented on that piece, explaining that not all women have the money or resources to travel for an abortion, and their desperation can’t be ignored. And I was very, very embarrassed that I could have made such an error in reasoning, admitted my flippancy and moved on. That’s what you do. You take it on board. If you’ve caused offence, you apologize. Don’t fight back, or be a wanker on twitter. Just say ‘my bad, I’ll try to be mindful of this in future’ and move on. Amend the piece if you can. But don’t start kicking down at those who you should be listening to.
Let this be my pledge. If I should ever, in the course of my writing, be a wanker about criticism, someone take me to the side and say ‘dude, not on. Stop being a wanker.’ Don’t let me stamp and shout and be a knob on twitter (I am always a knob on twitter, but I mean like, a proper offensive, mean spirited knob).
Niamh ‘Still likes How to be a woman even if it’s problematic’ Keoghan