Young woman, know your place

Greta Thunberg, the young woman at the centre of the current climate change protests, has been vilified by the usual suspects on social media.

Brendan O’Neill of Spiked, reliably wrong about everything all the time and editor of a magazine funded at least in part by the climate change-denying Koch brothers, mocked her voice (she has Aspergers and is speaking a second language).

Toby Young retweeted an article accusing her of privilege (he’s the son of a baron, a man whose academic career was saved by a phone call from his father and whose media career seems to be built entirely on connections because, God knows, it wasn’t built on writing talent).

Douglas Carswell, a political lightweight, attacked her as the “Child messiah” head of a cult.

What’s notable about the attacks is that the vast majority of them are not about what she said; they’re about who she is: a young, articulate woman.

Jane McCallion, writer and editor:

The reaction of the likes of Toby Young and others on the right in particular to Greta Thunberg reminds me of how the same general group of people reacted to Malala Yousafazi. Young politically active women whom they see as uppity and in need of being put in their place.

Through any attempt to take down a young woman or girl who is making herself heard on an important issue there runs a deep vein of misogyny that shouldn’t be underestimated or overlooked.

The reaction underlines something that’s a real problem in the UK media and political establishments: they’re dominated by the voices of mediocre, reactionary men. They’re not clutching their pearls because she says something they disagree with; they’re doing it because she has the temerity to say anything at all.

There’s something rotten in the SNP

Between 2017 and 2018, the Scottish Government consulted on proposed reforms to the gender recognition process to make life slightly less shitty for trans and non-binary people. The public response was overwhelmingly in favour of the proposed changes, with women’s groups dealing with some of the most vulnerable women in society offering very clear and public support.

For no good reason, without evidence and often with complete and utter lack of understanding of existing and proposed legislation, some SNP MSPs now claim that the changes will redefine the meaning of sex in law and harm women. It’s the culmination of an ongoing campaign of anti-trans scaremongering in the Scotsman, which publishes a letter from those MSPs today.

Stephen Paton on Twitter:

This morning, several SNP MSPs signed a letter calling for further debate on trans equality. Meanwhile, Holyrood held an event last night that gave MSPs the chance to speak candidly with trans people – and not a single one of the signatories came.

Rhiannon Spear of the TIE Campaign for inclusive education:

Great thread from @Cmacf76 here.

I note that not one of the MSPs in the letter attended an event in the ScotParl last night to hear from trans folk + to have their questions answered. 🤷 #ComeOutForTransEquality

Laura Waddell, writer and publisher:

Here are the public responses to the GRA consultation. I highly recommend having a browse, particularly of organisations who provide services and work with children and women. Anyone framing this as a ‘war on woman’ does everyone a disservice.

…Politicians who’ve waded into the GRA discussion in recent months have encouraged ‘debate’ to turn nastier than it was before by framing it disingenuously as a ‘war on women.’ But the completely *bizarre* timing suggests there are other things at play too.

The Equality Network:

To the 15 @theSNP politicians who signed that letter in the Scotsman today: Trans people don’t want to change the definitions of male and female; they simply want to be recognised, and treated with dignity, as the sex they are.

Duncan Hothersall, Labour activist:

I point out that those offering support for the changes include Engender, Scottish Women’s Aid, Close the Gap, Rape Crisis Scotland, Zero Tolerance and Equate Scotland, and those opposing include Christian Concern, the Free Church of Scotland and the Christian Institute.

Of all the pernicious lies told about this subject, among the worst is that “nobody knew this was happening”. Support for this reform of the GRA was explicitly declared in 2016 party manifestos from SNP, Labour, Greens and Lib Dems, and the 2018 consultation engaged very widely.

Come on in, the water’s lovely

Glasgow Life has issued a statement regarding the scaremongering articles about its changing rooms policy.

You will be shocked to discover that the articles weren’t true.

Glasgow Life’s staff guidance on accessing sports facilities and services by transgender people was produced and distributed in 2015. Since then, we have had more than 20 million attendances across our sport facilities and no reports of inappropriate behaviour in regard to trans customers. Trans men and trans women have been using our facilities for many years without incident.

About those women-only gym sessions:

Contrary to reports, Glasgow Life does not run any ‘women only gym sessions’ – our gym sessions and classes are open to all, regardless of gender.

And those women-only swimming pool changing rooms:

Our venues provide a mix of changing room facilities. A significant proportion of our changing facilities are unisex and open to all, with secure, private cubicles. Where facilities have male and female changing facilities, private cubicles are provided, where possible. Our staff are happy to assist with any requests in regard to provision of private changing facilities. If anyone, at any time, feels unsure or uncomfortable in using our services, they should immediately contact a member of staff for assistance.

The Herald, The Star, The Scotsman and The Sun all ran the original scaremongering, and yet I can’t see any sign of a correction, let alone one with equal prominence, today.

Singal minded

There’s an interesting piece in The New Republic by Josephine Livingstone, who analyses the idea that debate is always a good thing. She begins by looking at a US journalist called Jesse Singal, who’s notorious in LGBT circles for what appears to be an ongoing campaign of damaging misinformation about trans people and trans teenagers in particular.

When readers get angry with him, which happens often, he sees them as curtailing a productive conversation that he has prompted in the spirit of a free and vigorous exchange of ideas.

…Singal and others who are critical of the social justice left—a group that ranges across the ideological spectrum and includes Bari Weiss, Ben Shapiro, Daphne Merkin, and Katie Roiphe—accuse the left of being footstampingly insistent on their views, to the detriment of healthy debate. In fact, it is the “debate me, coward” crowd that has made it impossible to have arguments in good faith, because they demand, unwittingly or not, to set the terms.

Livingstone rather brilliantly describes this as “vacuous fight-picking” and “a howling canyon filled with misdirected energy”, using the familiar idea that we must hear both sides of any story in order to form our own opinions.

But these people are not interested in letting people hear both sides. They want you to hear their side and only their side, and if you disagree with them they’ll shout you down and accuse you of trying to silence them.

It is telling that critics of the social justice movement are obsessed with free speech and debate: It is the one inviolable principle they can fall back on when argument on the actual issues fails.

All too often, the argument being made is based on (deliberate or accidental) misunderstanding, or straightforward bad faith: so for example many so-called debates about trans people simply ignore decades of research or dig up long-debunked talking points. Again and again demonstrably false claims are presented as incontestable fact: the number of trans people who detransition, the medicine given (or not given) to young people, the content of existing and proposed legislation.

And it’s usually asymmetric. Journalists have power that other people do not; a journalist or public figure with tens of thousands of social media followers has a disproportionate amount of power compared to the people they may write about. For example, the supposed quality press in Scotland and elsewhere consistently regurgitates the claims of extreme anti-trans activists about legal or medical issues but never asks legal experts or medical experts whether those claims are true and certainly doesn’t give trans people the right of reply.

The truth is out there, but too many journalists prefer “truthiness”: what feels true to them, not what’s actually true.

People like Singal can bang on about free speech and debate endlessly without ever conceding a) that the deck may be stacked in their favor, and b) that certain ideas may be beyond their understanding.

And this is why marginalised people can become so angry. Singal’s work, and similarly distorted reporting, has often been comprehensively demolished by people with a greater understanding and a less blinkered view of the things being written about. But they aren’t the ones given the column inches to fill.


The exhaustion that comes of teaching something over and over again, only to witness people re-educated by poorly-read journalists, is profound. Exhaustion makes a person angry. Anger makes a person seem like a hyperzealot. You cannot believe that somebody is asking you to go around the same block—the very same block!—yet another time.

Trans people don’t swim

Today’s Glasgow Herald has an offensively framed, scaremongering article about trans people in council swimming pools causing an invasion of “cross-dressing males”. It’s labelled new and exclusive, but it’s neither. As Duncan Hothersall put it on Twitter:

Not exclusive. Not new. Simply the result of an active anti-trans campaigner seeking out the most scaremongering situation possible and pitching it to a newspaper desperate for clicks. We need to talk about these issues and resolve them; this sort of coverage doesn’t help.

I wrote about the reality last year: people like me don’t use public swimming pools because we’re scared of people like you.

I’m not scared of much any more, but I’m scared [of] public humiliation. Scared that someone will be scared of me. Scared that even in gender-neutral changing facilities where the only time I’m naked is in a locked, private cubicle, someone will loudly object to my being there and claim I’m somehow dangerous.

Dangerously clumsy, maybe. But dangerous? The only risk from my presence anywhere near a swimming pool is if I fall on you or belly flop nearby.

Two weeks ago, I swam in a hotel pool. It’s the first time I’ve been swimming in three years, and it was wonderful. Maybe next year I’ll go on holiday and be able to swim again.

Intolerance dressed up as concern

It’s not surprising to see yet another anti-trans op-ed in The Scotsman; once again it portrays all trans people as abusive internet trolls in killer heels, trampling on the anti-trans women who are just lovely people who care about all kinds of stuff.

But even by those low standards, it’s galling to see the horrific practice of female genital mutilation being used to demonise trans people.

[one woman’s] life was destroyed by female genital mutilation (FGM), an unspeakably cruel practice that regards female biology as “unclean” and “unworthy”. In far too many cultures, men still decide what is a “real” woman.

Leaving aside the sheer offensiveness of the argument (and the framing: “men still decide what is a ‘real’ woman” is a dog whistle: it’s meant to characterise trans women as men), it’s perfectly possible to support trans rights and fight against horrors such as FGM.

It’s also possible to campaign against trans rights and also campaign against FGM. So you’d expect the “protect women” crowd to be doing just that.

So let’s talk about the anti-trans crowd, the ones who only care about protecting women and girls and definitely aren’t motivated by transphobia when they hold meetings where speakers call us “bastards” and “parasites”.

Let’s focus on the examples of horrors detailed in the Scotsman article.

How much time and money do the anti-trans “feminist” organisations, the ones raising money with crowdfunding campaigns and t-shirt sales, spend campaigning against female genital mutilation?


How much time and money do they spend on fighting domestic violence and other forms of violence against women and girls that leaves 140 women murdered by men in the UK every year?


How much time and money do they spend on fighting against poverty wages for women, the gender wage gap and the underrepresentation of women in STEM subjects?


I’ll add a few the writer missed. How much time and money do they spend on campaigning to end the systemic, endemic abuse of women in prison by other inmates and even staff, or the system that sends a disproportionate number of women to prison for minor offences?


How much time and money do they spend on campaigning for equal marriage and women’s reproductive rights in Northern Ireland?


Can you see the pattern emerging here?

It’s almost as if this isn’t about protecting women at all.

The violence causes silence

I didn’t know Lyra McKee, the extraordinary young woman shot dead by terrorists in Derry this week, but some of my friends did. They’re devastated. The loss of a friend is always a tragedy, but to lose them in such circumstances is particularly horrific.

McKee’s death has been marked by some fine, angry, fearless writing. This, by Paraic O’Donnell, is one such tribute.

‘The violence causes silence’ – ‘Zombie’, by The Cranberries, gave us one of the most dreadful rhymes in rock music, and one of its starkest truths. When a journalist is murdered, as Lyra McKee was, we see the dark corollary of this truth, the viciousness of the circle. In the North, as she knew better than most, it was never a secret. The Provos used to put it on their trashy posters, next to a sniper in a gimp mask and baggy army surplus: ‘Whatever you say, say nothing.’

In the North, the silence isn’t even silent. It’s violence taking you aside, wanting a word with you. It’s violence saying the quiet part out loud.

…Lyra McKee was one of us. She was our people. She didn’t think she was, not at first – Belfast isn’t the easiest place in the world to grow up gay – but she found a way to belong here, a way to tell her story. She was our people because that includes a lot now, and it included her. It’s not like it used to be. But it doesn’t include them, not any more. Whatever you say, say that.

The problem isn’t us. It’s them

It’s interesting to compare the media’s treatment of extremely rich far-right ideologues who want to watch the whole world burn – reasonable people with legitimate concerns, as the papers might put it – with environmental protesters trying to raise awareness of the very real and present dangers of climate change. They’re loonies, terrorists, privileged middle-class sandal-wearers who ought to get a real job.

One of the familiar allegations repeatedly thrown at this week’s Extinction Rebellion protestors is that they’re hypocrites: some plastic water bottles have been spotted and Emma Thomson was in a plane, therefore their entire argument is bunk.

On Twitter, Rosie Swayne explores that argument.

[they] are NOT protesting about individual consumer behaviour, so however satisfying it feels to point out they prob drive cars/their superglue is prob not vegan/weed lamps are prob CO2 intense etc etc, it’s not actually relevant to their objective.

The whole point of the protests is to raise awareness of the way in which the media and successive governments have painted climate change as something only individual actions can fix – so there’s no need to regulate big business until every one of us rides a bike and drinks only from containers made from hemp.

Whereas the reality is that individual action is utterly meaningless for as long as giant corporations continue to trash the planet without fear of consequence. Just 100 companies are responsible for nearly three-quarters of global carbon emissions. Whether you or I drive cars or ride bikes is irrelevant in that context. It’s better if you cycle, of course, but the problem isn’t us. It’s them.

As Swayne says, the protests are about “GOVERNMENT inaction on climate change. Carping at personal habits has been the RW [right-wing] tactic against environmentalists for over 30 years.”

Enviro/ist: global warming will kill us
RW: ahh! but your Citroën 2CV runs on PETROL so your point is INVALID!

The newspapers picking on environmental protesters aren’t exposing hypocrisy. They’re defending corporations’ rights to put profits over human lives.

“Stop Pretending the Murdochs Are in the News Business”

Writing in The Nation, Eric Alterman isn’t pulling any punches.

one family has been able to use the power of the press to subvert democratic norms, misinform citizens, undermine governments, and fill our national debates with lies, misogyny, racism, and ethnocentrism while calling it news.

Nothing in the article is particularly new: Murdoch’s power over politicians in his native Australia and in the UK is well-known and well documented. But in the age of Brexit and Trump that power is becoming even more malign – and it is power aided by the actions of a group of people who rarely get named in articles about Murdoch’s malevolence.

…the greatest shame of this story goes to people who receive no mention at all. It belongs to the journalists who, against all evidence and to the detriment of their profession and their nations’ democracies, continue to participate in the charade that what the Murdochs do is journalism and that, therefore, their dishonesty, provocation, and propaganda deserve to be taken seriously as news.

Free speech snowflakes

There are two pieces in the Guardian about a growing trend: people arguing that criticism is “silencing”. First up, Jack Bernhardt on comedy.

we witnessed another great moment in comedy this week, when the BBC’s head of comedy asked the question we didn’t realise needed to be asked: is comedy dying because the internet is turning people into Victorians?

…[such comments perpetuate] a culture war based on ignorance, allowing rightwing newspapers to paint a dystopian caricature of social media, where white men are oppressed with terrifying phrases like “check your privilege” and “identity politics”, and opinionated children burn effigies of John Cleese.

Elsewhere in the paper, Dawn Foster takes historian Niall Ferguson to task for his persecution complex.

I would pause, for at least a few seconds, if I found myself arguing that my freedom of speech was in a state of extreme jeopardy in this, my column in a national newspaper.

Of all the tired tropes trotted out by the quick to whinge and slow to think, the “I’m being silenced” one in national, sometimes global media is one of the most tiresome. To hear handsomely paid, high profile media voices claim to be an oppressed minority would be laughable if it weren’t so serious.

As ever, the problem isn’t that anybody is being silenced. It’s that powerful people are being criticised.

You’d think academics such as Ferguson would know the difference between censorship and criticism.


the Venn diagram of men arguing that freedom of speech is the central, precious tenet of “western civilisation”, and those who scream bloody murder the second they are subject to any criticism, or are forced to bear any responsibility for their speech, is a single perfect circle.

Free speech does not occur without responsibility: to use the traditional metaphor, if you scream “Fire!” in a crowded theatre, you will be culpable when a stampede ensues. If your arguments are racist, sexist or homophobic, the people you attack will rightly point out your prejudice and query whether your professional position is compromised by holding such prejudices.

This isn’t difficult. Freedom of speech means the government can’t put you in prison for having an opinion. What freedom of speech does not guarantee is freedom from criticism.

Time for this cartoon again.

This isn’t about censorship. It’s about ego and status preservation. People who are used to having their words taken as gospel are suddenly hearing people disagree with them, and they don’t like it.

For years, privileged men have been able to frame themselves as agents provocateurs – often spouting the kind of opinions a roaring, angry drunk on the night bus might, but with a plummy accent, an Oxford degree, and an overreliance on antiquated vocabulary – in columns in national newspapers. Their fury is not that they have been silenced – they have not – but that their victims have argued back, and they have been forced to bear responsibility for their words.