Sage advice

Women are being warned not to put herbs in their vaginas after a Marie Claire article suggested that they should use parsley to “kick-start” their periods.

It’s easy to laugh, but it’s actually quite a serious problem: time and again magazines and online magazines aimed at women print deluded and sometimes actively dangerous health advice from people who haven’t got the faintest clue what they’re on about.

Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop site is a good example: it urges women to do all kinds of dangerous things to their genitals and weasels out of taking responsibility for any resultant injury or infection with a disclaimer effectively saying that “the products or procedures mentioned on the site are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.” Some of Paltrow’s fact-free tips have appeared in supposedly reputable magazines such as Women’s Health.

A few years ago, one study looked at the articles about complementary medicine in a range of women’s magazines. Of the 150 articles studied in 15 women’s magazines, 131 “were written by non medically qualified contributors”. Of the 150 articles, 95 made unsubstantiated claims about herbal “remedies” that can be very dangerous for some people.

I’m surprised Marie Claire slipped up, because as magazines go it’s one of the better ones. But it’s an industry-wide problem. Between “alternative” medicine, dangerous diets and cheerleading for cosmetic surgery, women’s magazines are often really bad for women’s health – and the more magazines move online and become low- or no-paying content farms, the worse the problem is going to become.

How about we try making the world better for men too?

As ever, the Daily Mash does a great job of skewering a news story: this time, the ridiculous outrage over a Gillette ad.

A RAZOR blade company has expressed surprise that its latest advert has pissed off a lot of dickheads.

In a stunning development, the company’s latest campaign – which calls on the #MeToo movement to tell men to be ‘the best they can be’ by not being dreadful – resulted in a totally unexpected backlash from spluttering idiots.

The most spluttering of the idiots are so-called men’s rights activists, who continually campaign for men’s right to suffer disproportionately from mental health issues and to die younger than women. They don’t quite put it that way, of course, but that’s ultimately what resisting change to ideas of masculinity means.

The point that’s being spectacularly missed in angry rants kicking back against the idea of toxic masculinity is that the concerns are about the “toxic” bit, not the “masculinity” bit. It’s like responding furiously to an article about acid rain by saying #notallrain and suggesting that snowflakes want to ban all precipitation.

Gaby Hinsliff, writing in the Guardian, sums it up very well:

Feminism has endlessly opened up horizons for girls, giving them permission to be anything they want to be. They are bombarded with messages about how it’s fine to be both smart and pretty, encouraged to visualise themselves in male-dominated careers and to push the boundaries of behaviour considered “acceptable” for women. That paves the way for girls who never fitted the pink princess stereotype to be far more comfortable in their skins.

But expectations of boys have remained more rigid, to the detriment both of those who don’t fit the macho stereotype and of those who will grow up to be the victims of insecure male rage. “Let boys be boys” is an excellent principle. But only if we recognise the full range of things boys are capable of being, when we let them.

I’m reading The Guilty Feminist just now. It’s a great example of pop-feminism publishing: affirming, angry in places and often very funny. The message is a simple one: don’t let other people limit who you are and who you can be.

The male equivalent of that isn’t men’s rights activists bleating about how liberals and feminists and LGBTQ people have ruined their world and demanding we stay in 1953 forever. It’s accepting that masculinity is just as broad a church as femininity. It’s making room for all kinds of men, and all kinds of expression. It’s about freeing men from suffocating stereotypes that tell them who they are and who they have to be, or have to pretend to be.

It’s about ensuring our sons and our brothers get to be the best possible versions of themselves.

The kids are alright

Wouldn’t it be great if, instead of the thinky thoughts of anti-trans columnists, we had some actual research into children, gender dysphoria and gender identity?

Look what The Atlantic found!

Since 2013, Kristina Olson, a psychologist at the University of Washington, has been running a large, long-term study to track the health and well-being of transgender children—those who identify as a different gender from the one they were assigned at birth. Since the study’s launch, Olson has also heard from the parents of gender-nonconforming kids, who consistently defy gender stereotypes but have not socially transitioned. They might include boys who like wearing dresses or girls who play with trucks, but who have not, for example, changed the pronouns they use.

I’ve been a fan of the author, Ed Yong, for a long time: he’s a very talented and conscientious science writer. This is typical of his work: he’s taken Olson’s study and looked into it in some detail.

Unlike newspaper columnists, who offer zero evidence with 100% confidence, Olson offers detailed evidence but is also quick to point out the limitations of the study. Nevertheless, it’s interesting: children’s gender identity appears to be a pretty good predictor of whether they’ll turn out to be trans. From the article:

Charlotte Tate, a psychologist from San Francisco State University, says that this quantitative research supports what she and other transgender scholars have long noted through qualitative work: There really is something distinctive and different about the kids who eventually go on to transition. From interviews with trans people, “one of the most consistent themes is that at some early point, sometimes as early as age 3 to 5, there’s this feeling that the individual is part of another gender group,” Tate says. When told that they’re part of their assigned gender, “they’ll say, ‘No, that’s not right. That doesn’t fit me.’ They have self-knowledge that’s private and that they’re trying to communicate.”

This bit is key:

Olson’s team also showed that those differences in gender identity are the cause of social transitions—and not, as some have suggested, their consequence.

In other words, children are not coerced into having a particular gender identity: you can put Jimmy in as many dresses as you want but if Jimmy isn’t trans, he won’t suddenly become trans or develop gender dysphoria.

Older trans people are going “no shit, Sherlock” at this point: if it were possible to persuade people to change their gender identity, there wouldn’t be any trans people. You can’t talk people into or out of being trans any more than you can pray the gay away: some of us tried not to be trans for decades, and will spend decades trying to deal with the damage from that.

Once again there are very strong parallels between today’s harmful anti-trans bullshit and previously harmful anti-gay bullshit. That’s something the Atlantic article makes explicit, describing the work of American psychologist Evelyn Hooker.

In the 1950s, when many psychologists saw homosexuality as a mental illness (largely because they had only ever worked with gay people who had records of arrest or mental-health problems), Hooker surveyed a more representative sample and found that gay and straight men don’t differ in their mental health. That was instrumental in getting homosexuality removed from a list of mental-health disorders in 1987. “We’re sitting in a similar moment today with transgenderism,” says Devor. “The mental-health issues that we see are largely the result of living a life that blocks your expression of your gender. My view is that the work coming out of Olson’s group will have an Evelyn Hooker effect.”

I’m not naive enough to think this will have any effect on the mainstream media coverage of trans people in general and trans kids in particular: the moral panic is too well established. But it’s yet more evidence of the growing gap between the reality-based community and the commentariat. All too often, the you-couldn’t-make-it-up brigade are doing exactly that.

“It was my first taste of what it meant to have my freedom taken from me.”

Helen Taylor is the author of The Backstreets of Purgatory, which is ace. She’s a hell of a writer, a genuinely lovely person and the writer of this heartbreaking piece about being sectioned.

We were supposed to have one-to-one sessions where I told him what I was feeling. It was meant to help, to give me some kind of release.

‘Ronnie, I think you are a prick,’ I told him.

‘I don’t give a fuck what you think,’ he told me in reply.

If you’re not familiar with the term, “sectioned” means being detained under section 25 of the Mental Health Act. Taylor was sectioned after a traumatic experience made her existing depression considerably worse.

It’s not an easy read, but it’s a powerful piece.

Screens are not safe

A new study from Oxford University has been making waves today: it apparently demonstrates that despite much publicity over the dangers of screen use for children, screens are no more dangerous than eating potatoes.

Inevitably, that’s not what the study actually says. In one of the few sensible reports, Techcrunch explains:

the study does not conclude that technology has no negative or positive effect; such a broad conclusion would be untenable on its face. The data it rounds up are (as some experts point out with no ill will toward the paper) simply inadequate to the task and technology use is too variable to reduce to a single factor. Its conclusion is that studies so far have in fact been inconclusive and we need to go back to the drawing board.

“The nuanced picture provided by these results is in line with previous psychological and epidemiological research suggesting that the associations between digital screen-time and child outcomes are not as simple as many might think,” the researchers write.

The confusion is partly due to the university overselling the study, and largely due to crap reporting by people who just regurgitate the press release instead of actually reading the report. It’s quite impressive to see “study shows that knee-jerk articles about screens are based on shit science” reported as “screens are safe, says science!”

The snowflake generation

The world is full of snowflakes, we’re told. Thin-skinned, easily triggered and constantly seeking innocuous things to be outraged about, they’re the enemies of intelligent discourse. “Don’t like that thing because it’s baaaaaad!” they bleat, immediately leaping to the worst possible take on whatever it is they’re manufacturing outrage about today.

No, not millennials. Middle-aged straight white media guys.

Today’s gammon with attitude is fake-photo publisher and dead-children’s-phone-hacker Piers Morgan, who appears to have exhausted his outrage over vegans being able to buy tasty food in shops. Today he’s railing against Gillette over an advert that isn’t being broadcast here; in order to be outraged about it, he’s had to actively seek it out in order to upset himself. It’s quite a good ad, incidentally, but it dares suggest that old-fashioned masculine stereotypes aren’t brilliant. Cue well-paid outrage from well-paid stereotype peddlers.

The profile of people like Morgan – or rather, Piers Stefan Pughe-Morgan; he doesn’t like people using his full name because it somewhat undermines his man of the people schtick – demonstrates that punditry is the very opposite of a meritocracy. “The thing you think is good is bad” is the laziest possible take on anything, and it’s something most of us grow out of in the playground: the charm of hearing “it/she/he/they is/are shite” as a nuanced critique of your favourite film, artist or band palls somewhat after the age of seven or so.

I took my kids to the zoo a while back, and one of the unexpected delights was the sight of an angry monkey furiously masturbating at the visitors, much to the delight of sniggering schoolkids. Morgan should be worried. If it works out how to use Twitter, it could be coming for his job.

Why are LGBT people so sad?

Stonewall Scotland has published a worrying report: half of LGBT people have experienced depression in the last year, rising to 72% among trans people. More than half of trans people have thought about taking their life in the last 12 months.

Here’s the thing, though. LGBT people are not more prone to depression or suicidal ideation if they are in a supportive environment. In those environments, rates of depression and suicidal ideation pretty much revert to the same as non-LGBT people.

The difference is largely environmental. If your everyday environment is abusive and unaccepting, it of course has a direct effect on your mental health.

It’s not the only factor – trans people are currently treated under the auspices of mental health provision, which means we’re in a desperately unfunded part of a desperately underfunded part of a desperately underfunded NHS, a world where mental health counselling has a waiting list of more than a year – but it’s a significant factor. The newspapers that concentrate on the invented “dangers” of trans people in hospitals while ignoring a very real mental health crisis are part of the problem.

New York, London, Paris, Munich, everybody’s talking ’bout… stochastic terrorism

Do you know what stochastic terrorism is? It’s a fairly obscure term, and it describes making the bullets for other people to fire.

Stochastic terrorism is when you demonise a particular group of people and violence ensues. You aren’t directly responsible for the violence, because you’re not the one actually perpetrating it. But you made it happen.

We know the power of words. Hate speech is the precursor to hate crime, from Nazi Germany to the genocide against the Tutsi of Rwanda. In that latter example, Tutsi men, women and children became “cochroaches” to eradicate (a slur recently revived by loathsome troll Katie Hopkins to talk about immigrants to England; that was part of a climate that’s seen a surge in anti-immigrant violence in the UK).

If you demonise Catholics, anti-Catholic violence will follow. It’s the same with immigrants, Poles, muslims, LGBTQ people.

Writing in the Media Matters blog, Brynn Tannehill accuses right-wing media of a form of stochastic terrorism against trans people, with multiple examples.

The conservative tabloid the Daily Mail in the U.K. recently introduced a new line of attack against transgender youth based on an anonymous “whistleblower” teacher who claimed that older transgender students at an unnamed British school “groomed” young autistic students to trick them into believing they are transgender. This narrative of contagion, “grooming,” and recruitment is exactly the same approach used for decades to stir up suspicion and hatred of gay men. For instance, Helen Joyce, the finance editor at The Economist, recently wrote an article at Quillette baselessly asserting that the transgender movement has advanced the interests of pedophiles.

These messages trickle down to the base. Stories of communities banding together to abuse and discriminate against transgender children have been in the media for years. Last year, parents in Achille, OK,communicating in a Facebook group for students’ parents suggested telling their children to beat a 12-year-old transgender girl and threatened to castrate her. As a result, the girl’s family made plans to leave town.

Transgender students are being physically assaulted in school for their gender identity as well. The FBI reported that in 2017, anti-LGBTQ hate crimes rose for the third consecutive year.

In 2012, legal scholar Tobias Wolff predicted in his paper “Civil Rights Reform and the Body” that transgender people would become a target and that many of the attacks would center on fear and disgust directed at transgender bodies. He correctly noted that this directed angst would manifest itself as labeling transgender people as sexual predators.

Wolff also drew direct parallels to the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s, when fear of Black bodies was channeled into calls to protect white women and children from sexual predation at swimming pools. Violence directed at Black people during that period was undeniably a direct result of this stochastic terrorism and prejudice. Today, we are seeing the same tactics toward transgender people, used to similar effect, and they are protected by the same case law.

The people who write these snide, malicious little articles are the worst kind of coward: the kind who stands behind the bully, telling them who to hit.

Why aren’t we talking about the dangers of YouTube?

Buckey Wolfe is a follower of the QAnon conspiracy theory. He’s a supporter of the far-right Proud Boys, and he’s been charged with the murder of his brother.

Buckey Wolfe called 911 on Sunday evening and admitted killing his brother, saying that “God told me he was a lizard” and telling the dispatcher, “Kill me, kill me, I can’t live in this reality,” according to court documents.

In a fascinating Twitter thread, Travis View follows Wolfe’s online journey by tracking the YouTube videos he liked. The journey begins with fitness, motivation and music videos but then YouTube does what YouTube does. When Wolfe liked some videos by the YouTuber Hunter Avallone, who rails against “social justice warriors”, he started watching increasingly extreme right-wing content.

As View reports, while Wolfer was “getting into fringe political stuff” he still wasn’t “in QAnon or explicit white nationalism territory.”

And then he discovered “Rebel Media, Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes, and English far right activist Tommy Robinson.”

View:

After this, Wolfe starts getting into the real hard stuff.

We’re into muslim gangs and shapeshifting lizards, anti-semitism and paranoid racism.

Nobody is suggesting that YouTube caused Wolfe to murder his brother. But as View says, “the trajectory of Buckey Wolfe’s likes is suggestive of someone who was gradually pulled down the rabbit hole into deranged conspiratorial thinking over time.”

YouTube is fuelling the far right in two key ways. It hosts what the Guardian calls an “alternative influence network” of pundits and propagandists pushing extreme-right rhetoric, and it acts as one of the most effective and frightening radicalisation engines imaginable.

It’s part of a wider problem, of course: if Hitler were around today, he’d be on Radio 4 or Question Time with his “controversial views”. But it’s a very big part of the problem. YouTube has become a monster – a monster that’s creating many more monsters.

Same boss, same bullshit

The Sunday Times isn’t the only supposedly respectable newspaper to mislead its readers in order to parrot the homophobic and transphobic views of its owner, Rupert Murdoch. The Wall Street Journal does it too.

The WSJ appears to have started the new year the way it means to continue, with an op-ed warning readers about the entirely invented syndrome of “rapid onset gender dysphoria”. Regular readers will recall that ROGD is a conservative, anti-trans invention and that the only supposedly scientific paper about it, a study based solely on interviews with parents who refused to believe their kids are trans, was torn to pieces by peers due to its shoddy premise and even shoddier methodology.

In short, ROGD is a right-wing attempt to rebrand conversion therapy, the same “pray the gay away” bullying that’s so awful it’s being made illegal in much of the world.

If you’d like more detail, the inimitable Julia Serano has an excellent round-up here.

I’m not going to link to the WSJ: outrage-clicks are the whole point of this bullshit. Instead, here’s Jennifer Finney Boylan in the New York Times.

An abundance of scientific research makes clear that gender variance is a fundamental truth of human biology, not some wacky dance craze.

Transgender people have not come up with the entirety of our existence solely to hurt Tucker Carlson’s feelings. We do not embark upon transition because it’s groovy. We are here because our hearts demand it.