“If people see no path to influencing the powerful, some will kick down”

Adam Ramsay in OpenDemocracy:

In the wake of the Andrew Wakefield scandal and two decades of disastrous climate change denial, newspapers surely have a social responsibility to be calm and cautious when contradicting scientific consensus, not turn serious questions of health communication into flesh for bare-toothed columnists to spar over.

Despite continuing to spread confusion about the virus, the Tory press has been more than happy to denounce people who are confused.

…When responsibility is cast onto an atomised population, it doesn’t land evenly. It is channelled down the social structures which already exist. Race, class, gender, sexuality: blame is always mobilised against the already marginalised.

Murdoch and Netflix won’t do this

Earlier this week the BBC explained what it’s going to do to help during the Coronavirus crisis. The short version: a lot.

Here’s just one part of it, the education section:

In the event that schools are shut down, and subject to further work and discussions with the Department for Education, devolved administrations and schools, we are exploring:

  1. A daily educational programme for different key stages or year groups – with a complementary self-learning programme for students to follow, broadcast on BBC Red Button and made available on demand on BBC iPlayer.

  2. Expanding BBC Bitesize content, with our social media running daily troubleshooting Q&As focusing on a different subject each day.

  3. Increasing our educational programming on BBC iPlayer, bringing together the best from BBC Bitesize, BBC Teach and the wider BBC portfolio where educationally appropriate.

  4. Creating two new daily educational podcasts for BBC Sounds, one for primary and one for secondary.

  5. BBC Four and BBC Red Button devoting a block of programming each weekday evening to show programmes that support the GCSE and A Level curriculum. In Scotland, the Scotland channel will support the Scottish NQs and Highers in daytime.

I’m not privy to the internal conversations or plans of any part of the BBC. But I do know as a contributor there’s a ton of work going on behind the scenes to ensure that the output is relevant, necessary and useful to people during this very difficult period.

Imagine a world where the right-wing press gets its wish and the BBC no longer exists in its present form. Can you imagine Netflix stepping up like that? Sky? In the US, Murdoch’s Fox network is going to have blood on its hands for its Coronavirus denial: while around 70% of US news consumers are rightly worried about the crisis, that falls below 40 for Fox News viewers.

Like the NHS, there’s a lot to criticise about the BBC. But like the NHS, it still remains a national treasure.

Bright SPARKs

I’ve become a little bit obsessed by the marketing for Positive Grid’s SPARK, a very clever guitar amplifier. In recent weeks I’ve been seeing a lot of videos like the one pictured below, in which really amazing women guitarists test the amp.

I’m not used to seeing women in marketing for musical stuff, which tends to be a boy’s club; musical marketing has often been appalling, with a particular low in the 1980s when Tokai’s “Tokai is coming” campaign placed full-page magazine ads showing a naked woman apparently masturbating with an electric guitar. We’re generally better than that now, but there’s a long legacy of sexism in the industry. Guitar.com has some other examples:

I volunteer and podcast for Scottish Women Inventing Music, an organisation dedicated to achieving gender equality across the music business, so I’m very interested in this stuff. The SPARK ads got me wondering: is this a deliberate strategy to boost the visibility of women musicians, thereby positioning Positive Grid as a forward-thinking firm, or is it just precision targeting on social media?

I’m not just wondering idly. Half of guitar buyers are women, and I recently spoke to guitar legends Fender about their marketing: this year will feature more signature models from women guitarists than ever before, and the marketing for the online Fender Play service has a good mix of people showing the variety of folks who play guitar.

Is Positive Grid doing the same? What are the boys seeing?

It turns out that the answer is boys.

I’m being shown women playing guitars but my male musician friends are seeing men in their ads. And that makes me wonder some more: is that because the firm has done testing and discovered that men won’t click on the link if the amp is being tested by a woman?

I fear that the answer is yes, because the frequency of the advertising indicates there’s a lot of money being spent on this campaign. You don’t make and target different ads for different genders if it doesn’t have a demonstrable effect on your sales.

I’m not picking on Positive Grid here. Seeing women in musical instrument marketing is still so rare that what they’re doing does feel like progress. As Guitar.com put it:

the guitar industry, and the music industry at large doesn’t accurately reflect the wealth of female talent out there. The fact that people have noticed this at last means that, hopefully at least, we’re finally starting to see some progress…

“Using minority rights to attack women’s services says it all”

Another thoughtful column: Laura Waddell on feminism, transphobia and GRA reform.

…often the cry of “listen to women” comes up. So let’s do that now. Here’s what women’s organisations across Scotland have actually said.

During the original consultation, Close the Gap, Engender, Equate Scotland, Rape Crisis Scotland, Scottish Women’s Aid, Women 50:50 and Zero Tolerance released a joint statement supporting self-ID. At odds with the inflammatory phrase ‘war on women’, they clearly state: “We do not regard trans equality and women’s equality to contradict or be in competition with each other.”

…They also stated: “The complexity, restrictions and expense of the current gender recognition process particularly discriminates against trans people who are disabled, migrant, minority ethnic, unemployed, homeless, fleeing domestic abuse, young or non-binary. Enabling trans people to smoothly change their birth certificates at the same time as they change their other identity documents is a much needed positive step forward for society.”

It’s a great shame that voices like Waddell’s – and of the women she writes about here – are not given the same prominence as pale, male and stale middle-aged newspaper columnists.

“Strength in numbers, solidarity and, ultimately, love”

Writing in The Guardian, Zoe Williams takes a very different stance from the majority of Guardian pieces on trans rights. As she points out, it isn’t the anti-trans feminists who are being silenced here.

All kinds of voices have been excluded. The experience of trans men, for instance, has been more or less erased, because the core issues have been whittled down to such a sharp, conflicted point – do cis women need protected status? – that the very existence of trans men has become too inconvenient to accommodate. The mainstream feminist view, which is trans-inclusive, has been sidelined to maintain the fiction that this is a generational battle between old and young feminists.

…Women-only space was a realm protected from our Harvey Weinsteins, where we could talk about our Harvey Weinsteins; it was not a hallowed place where we communicated through our ovaries. It was where we came together in unity against people who hated us. I can’t imagine the mindset that would exclude a trans sister from that.

I’m not going to say anything mean here: I’ve always liked Williams’ writing, and while it’s a drop in a very poisonous ocean of anti-trans pieces the paper has run in recent years it’s still a welcome drop.

Get Killt

My excellent pal and fellow radio blabber Louise Blain has launched a new podcast, Killt. As a glamorous radio celeb I was of course allowed to hear it before anybody else and trust me, it’s a wee treat.

Killt is a podcast about podcasts: specifically, true crime podcasts. If you’re a fan of the genre you’ll know how frustrating finding the good stuff can be. That’s where Louise comes in: she’s your guide to the good stuff, a digital detective helping you find the true killers in a genre often choked by filler.

It’s on Spotify here: https://spoti.fi/3aGwcBo
And Apple has it here: https://apple.co/2VYMwJE

The Guardian: don’t you dare criticise us

There’s been a lot of online upset over yet another anti-trans column in The Guardian, part of its overwhelmingly negative and one-sided coverage of trans-related issues – coverage that has led three trans staff to resign and notable trans writers to refuse to write for the paper.

This week over 200 notable feminists wrote to the paper in protest and to affirm their support of trans people. The Guardian treated their letter with contempt.

As Gal-Dem explains:

The Guardian published the letter, but perhaps the most disheartening part of this process was their decision to title it: “Differing perspectives on trans rights”, and summarise over 200 signatories to 14 plus “over 100 others”. On the same page, the paper also included a number of letters in support of the original piece; something they did not do for a letter in support of sex-based organising with 13 signatories last week.

It wasn’t for reasons of space; the online version didn’t list the signatories either. Here’s a summary from PinkNews.

British politicians including Sian Berry, co-leader of the Green Party; Christine Jardine, the Liberal Democrat equalities spokesperson; and Labour MPs Zarah Sultana and Nadia Whitome have all signed the letter.

…It is signed by leading women and non-binary people from a cross-section of British public life, including musician Beth Ditto; author Reni Eddo-Lodge; UK Black Pride founder Lady Phyll; editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine, Claire Hodgson; Jo Grady, the general secretary of the UCU; and Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK.

A further 2,000 people (and climbing; right now the list of signatories just cracked 2,500) then wrote to the paper to protest its anti-trans coverage.

We the undersigned write to protest the on-going and extensive series of articles you have published claiming that women are being ‘silenced’ and that men are being invited into women-only spaces.

In the past year, you have run many articles seeking to position trans women as a threat to cis women, and arguing that cis women object to – and should object to – trans women in women-only space.

The letter is unlikely to get a more favourable response than the last one: shortly before it was submitted, Guardian editor Katharine Viner wrote to her staff to inform them that the paper is committed to represent “a wide range of views on many topics”– unless those views are critical of Guardian columnists. Staff were warned:

“It is never acceptable to attack colleagues whose views you do not agree with, whether in meetings, on email, publicly or on social media.”

In response, over 300 Guardian employees – a fifth of its workforce across not just editorial but production, commercial and digital too – have written to express their disgust at the paper’s stance. The list of signatories hasn’t been published, but it apparently includes some of the paper’s star writers.

We are proud to work at a newspaper which supports human rights and gives voice to people underrepresented in the media. But the pattern of publishing transphobic content has interfered with our work and cemented our reputation as a publication hostile to trans rights and trans employees.

That’s an incredible number of people for any media organisation, but particularly for a paper that’s supposed to be speaking truth to power and defending minorities.

“A wholly unacceptable misrepresentation”

The Morning Star has published a remarkable apology for its publication not just of a vicious anti-trans cartoon, but of previous anti-trans scaremongering too.

The Morning Star recognises that it has a responsibility to oppose discrimination against the trans community and to tackle transphobic hate crime, as well as to promote positive action and reform of the Gender Recognition Act to ensure trans people are able to participate equally in our workplaces, our communities, and our movement.

…We do not accept that reform of the Gender Recognition Act should or would lead to an attack on women-only spaces and will ensure that we campaign against any attacks on the Equality Act.

We understand that trans women are often welcomed into all-women spaces in our communities, and to portray trans women as a violent threat to women is a wholly unacceptable misrepresentation.

Some accident

[Content note: slurs]

The Morning Star has decided to prove once again that you don’t have to be right-wing to be hateful towards trans people. This is from the print edition:

There’s a sour joke among trans people that anti-trans bigots have one joke, which is “I identify as / I’m transitioning to X”. But it isn’t usually portrayed in quite such a vicious manner as it is here.

NW Durham constituency Labour Party:

we can’t believe an allegedly socialist newspaper would publish something as vile as this.

LGBTQ Bristol Labour:

It heavily borrows from racist propaganda you see in a history book and hope never to see in real life. On a paper funded by unions. We condemn this completely.

Guardian writer Owen Jones:

This, in a supposedly leftwing newspaper, is absolutely twisted. The vicious, obsessive and unrelenting campaign against trans people is sadly far from confined to the right.

This particular publication has been publishing virulently anti-trans stuff for several years now, but what’s different this time is it has apologised. From the website:

The Morning Star apologises unreservedly for the publication last Tuesday of a cartoon which was offensive to trans people.

The cartoon had not been authorised for publication and its appearance in the print edition represents a failure to follow our own procedures for approving submissions.

Maybe it’s true and editorial standards at the Morning Star are so lax that cartoons can just leap into the pages without anybody knowing. But Occam’s razor suggests that what really happened here is that the publication simply didn’t expect a backlash from any cisgender people after several years of running articles saying pretty much the same thing as the cartoon.

The myth that being trans is a lifestyle choice, that basic rights for trans people put other people in danger, is entirely invented. Here in the real world, being trans makes you a target. This was published this week too:

BBC: A man has been jailed for setting fire to the home of a transgender woman after saying: “Anyone who is a tranny offends me”.

Lee Harrison, 43, set light to the front door of her flat after trying to pour petrol through the letterbox.

The woman’s flatmate, who was in at the time, said she “truly believed she was going to die”.

Harrison, of Hallowmoor Road, Sheffield, was jailed for more than five years.

Prosecutor Robert Sandford said the attack on 15 August was born out of a “hostility based around the fact [the victim] was in the process of transitioning from the male to female gender”.

He said Harrison would call the victim “Steve” in the street and previously told her, “Anyone who is a tranny offends me; it’s a lifestyle choice.”

The right to swing arms

There were two trans-related court verdicts yesterday, although only one of them has received significant coverage.

In the one you’ve probably read about, Harry Miller had a partial victory in his case against Humberside Police, who turned up at his work to quiz him about his anti-trans tweets.

The verdict chimes with what most people (cis and trans) I’ve seen discuss the case think: the police were too heavy-handed in dealing with someone who’s deeply unpleasant – as one learned commentator put it yesterday, “most people who test the limits of free speech are going to be wankers, but Harry Miller is really pushing it” – but who wasn’t committing a crime.

Fans of irony were amused by the post-verdict photo shoot where Miller was photographed with various odious supporters calling themselves free speech defenders. One of those supporters loves free speech so much that has spent the last week threatening to sue various people on Twitter for calling him names. A few days ago he threatened one legendary feminist with a defamation suit because she told him to “fuck off”.

What the verdict didn’t do was say it’s legal to abuse people on the internet, although that’s how many people have chosen to interpret it. What chance have we got when even the BBC can’t report it properly?

No they weren’t. The case wasn’t about the lawfulness of the “opaque, profane and unsophisticated” posts; it was about whether police correctly followed guidelines. 

Which leads us to the second case, which hasn’t attracted as much coverage (apart from a really nasty piece of victim-blaming by the Daily Mail; in one section, now removed, it accused the victim of “brandishing her GRC” as if a gender recognition certificate were some kind of weapon rather than a bit of official paperwork).

In the second case, Kate Scottow was found guilty of “persistently making use of a public communications network” by setting up multiple social media accounts to attack, defame and harass one person.

As her victim, Stephanie Hayden, said in a statement:

The media-led obsession and campaign of hate is encouraging people like Katherine Scottow to think they can target transgender people online with impunity.

And it continues to do so.

The law’s pretty clear on all of this. It’s perfectly legal to have racist, misogynist, homophobic, anti-semitic or transphobic views, but it’s not legal to harass, abuse or assault people because of those views.

Unfortunately a lot of the reporting hasn’t quite grasped that, and journalist Jane Fae was quick to notice. As she writes on Twitter in a thread that’s well worth your time:

two different cases, two verdicts. In the first, dealing with the process of recording a hate incident, a court took issue with how the police had done it. In the second, hateful harassment was treated as a crime.

…This was crying out for analysis that juxtaposed the two cases. But most coverage,starting with the @bbcnews focussed on the hate incident case and just ignored the scottow one

As Fae notes, press reports claiming that the judge in the Miller case said it was legal to be nasty to trans people simply aren’t true. The case was about police procedures, not the content of messages. And the Scottow case was about a deliberate and sustained campaign of harassment, not the beliefs behind it.

It’s perfectly legal to believe even the most horrible things. It’s not legal to act on those beliefs if doing so harms other people. That’s hardly a new concept. As US politician John B Finch said in 1882: “your right to swing your arm leaves off where my right not to have my nose struck begins.”