Swimming in poisoned water

This week is both anti-bullying week and transgender awareness week, so some newspapers have chosen to celebrate both by, er, bullying transgender people (see my previous post). I’m not going to get into the arguments or unpick the bullshit — Alex Sharpe does a superb job of that here.

I’m just going to share a trans person’s tweet I saw yesterday.

So I’m sat on the train and there are four people reading The Sun and two with the Daily Fail in my eyeline… I’ve moved seats! No wonder trans people feel bombarded. #caniliveonthemoon?

Imagine starting your day by seeing six people in the same carriage as you holding newspapers that are doing their damnedest to stir up prejudice against you.

LGB people, muslims and non-EU citizens will recognise the feeling.

And the supposedly grown-up papers aren’t any better: The Times appears to be obsessed with trans people of late, often taking the side of religious evangelicals, while the Telegraph gives space to people like Norman Tebbit, who claimed that gay marriage would lead to him marrying his son.

It’s disproportionate, it’s relentless and it’s causing a great deal of distress for no good reason. And it’s getting worse.

To be trans in the current media climate is to constantly swim in poisoned water. No wonder so many of us end up feeling sick.

It’s about time we all stood up to defend, er, bullying

There’s something very strange happening in the UK media. It’s defending the bullying of children.

Last month, Peter Hitchens claimed in the Mail that banning smacking would “come back and slap us in the face.” The state has too much power, he said, noting that “Fathers, once kings (or despots) in their own homes, have been declared officially unnecessary.” As he explained, mistaking correlation for causation:

In the days of smacking, police walked around alone in tunics with no visible weapons. Now they make their rare public appearances in pairs or squads, clad in stab vests, clubs, pepper sprays and handcuffs.

Because of course absolutely nothing else in the world has changed politically, socially, culturally or economically.

They also roped in Jan Moir to opine, after detailing the barbaric discipline that used to be commonplace in schools and telling the hilarious story of her mum using a kettle “to ding my brother on the bonce”:

we all lived through an age of crime and home-grown or class-based punishment. And it didn’t do us any harm.

Imagine! Some people think whacking a child with a kettle is bad!

Today, to mark anti-bullying week, the Church of England has updated its anti-bullying guidelines for nurseries and primary schools. If a three-year-old wants to play with toys or clothes associated with the other gender,the guidance says, they shouldn’t be told not to or mocked for it.

Here’s the key phrase:

‘A child may choose the tutu, princess’s tiara and heels and/or the fireman’s helmet, tool belt and superhero cloak without expectation or comment’

The Daily Mail’s front page headline? No, of course it isn’t “let girls wear hard hats”. It’s “Church: let little boys wear tiaras,” because while nobody’s bothered about girls playing with boy stuff a wee boy in a tiara is clearly Satan’s work.

The article notes with disdain that “Schools are also told they cannot use the Christian faith or Bible teachings to justify behaviour that is considered to amount to bullying – for example, identifying a transgender pupil by a sex other than the one they have chosen.”

“Behaviour that is considered to amount to bullying”. So, bullying.

In an interesting coincidence, over the weekend the Mail on Sunday described how a teacher was suspended over allegations about, ahem, behaviour that is considered to amount to bullying.

“I called a trans boy a girl by mistake… and it may cost me my job as a teacher: Maths tutor suspended after praising pupil using the wrong gender,” the headline says.

He’s an evangelical pastor and the complaint against him alleged ongoing inappropriate behaviour, such as trying to shoehorn his religious beliefs into his maths lessons, and concern that he was picking on a trans child by deliberately and frequently misgendering him as well as detaining him unnecessarily. He denies “inappropriately” talking about religion in maths lessons. The word “inappropriately” is doing a lot of work there.

From the article:

He added, however, that he did not feel that he should be made to use the pronouns ‘he’ or ‘him’ and that to force him to do so was a breach of his human rights.

Like many people who find themselves represented by the Christian Legal Centre, whose dread hand is behind this story, the tutor in this story appears to be an arsehole.

The Mail on Sunday – and today, the Sun – has also dragged up (pun fully intended) a story from back in June:

Drag queens are being brought into taxpayer-funded nursery schools so that children as young as two can learn about transgender issues.

The cross-dressers are reading nursery rhymes and singing specially adapted songs ‘to teach children about LGBT tolerance’.

The performances, which are being trialled in a grand total of one nursery, are so newsworthy that the Sun has made them its front page story.

There’s a really horrible final sentence to the Mail’s version, too. Noting that the nursery in question decided to trial the performances in response to increasing hate crimes, it says:

Reported hate crimes rose 29 per cent in the last year, Home Office figures show, although only one in six was considered serious enough for a suspect to be charged.

If you find yourself defending the beating of children and campaigning against anti-bullying initiatives, this video may resonate.

Shopping with dinosaurs

“People who push for this should be shot and burnt.” What do you think has made Daily Mail commenter Ben (now deleted) so angry? Yep, it’s the labels on John Lewis’s kids’ clothes. According to many tabloids’ commenters, by not labelling clothes as boys’ or girls’ John Lewis is pandering something something librul snowflake SJW muslins etc etc etc it’s political correctness gone mad.

One of the items that’s attracted a lot of comment is a cute wee dress with dinosaurs on it. And I just happen to have an opinion on both dresses and dinosaurs.

I’ve got two kids, a boy and a girl, and when my daughter was 5 she was told by her male classmates that she couldn’t be interested in dinosaurs because they were for boys. She’s also been told that girls aren’t allowed to play with dragons, because they’re for boys too. Girls have to play with unicorns.

You don’t need me to tell you that this gender bullshit starts very early and is reinforced by the unnecessary pinkification of so much girls’ stuff. Finding practical, comfortable shoes for my son is easy. It’s much harder for my daughter, whose trainers are hidden in shops behind a wall of high heels, glitter and sparkles. It’s the same with t-shirts and tops: it’s not unusual for us to leave a shop with an armful of stuff for my son and nothing for my daughter because she doesn’t like pink, sequins or slogans about being pretty.

This is a relatively recent development: children born in the 60s and 70s lived in a more gender neutral world, at least in terms of clothing. Here’s a Lego advert from 1981, before pinkification.

It’s not pink that’s the problem. It’s the constant reinforcement of exaggerated gender differences, to say that girls can’t do A, B and C and boys can’t do X, Y or Z.

John Lewis isn’t trying to change biology, as Facebook poster Susan Perkins suggests. It’s making a little change that tells my daughter that hey! Dinosaurs can be for girls too!

But that’s not what’s caused the “backlash” and “anger” the tabloids report. As ever with gender things, it’s the prospect of boys wearing dresses that’s got people upset, because it’s okay for girls to do boyish things but not the reverse. And discussing that opens up a great big box marked Pandora: it’s a very visible sign of a society that doesn’t value supposedly feminine traits, where what Grayson Perry calls Default Man dominates “the upper echelons of our society, imposing, unconsciously or otherwise, their values and preferences on the rest of the population.”

As Perry writes: “The most pervasive aspect of the Default Man identity is that it masquerades very efficiently as “normal” – and “normal”, along with “natural”, is a dangerous word, often at the root of hateful prejudice.”

Boys in dresses? We’ll be letting girls play with Lego next. Or as one Daily Express commenter puts it, it’s…

The ongoing Marxist plan to feminise boys, who wont have the desire to fight for their country when it all kicks off.

Hmmm.

Ultimately, though, it’s really very simple. John Lewis isn’t forcing anybody to be gender neutral. It’s just saying that maybe we shouldn’t force dinosaurs to pick a side.

If your son doesn’t want to wear a dress, don’t buy him one.

What’s your point, caller?

A passing thought: what exactly is the point of phone-in programmes? I’ve caught a few this week before turning off in disgust, one about vaccinations where ridiculous claims (knowing loads of people whose kids were harmed by MMR, knowing loads of people who went for homeopathy instead and their kids never contracted the Black Death) went unchallenged while people with evidence and expert knowledge were barracked, and several about political issues where every caller was either an idiot or a party activist. I know phone-in radio is cheap to make, but what’s in it for the listener?

The final Fred show

Tomorrow morning, BBC Radio Scotland will broadcast the last ever MacAulay & Co programme after nearly eighteen years on air. I’m going to miss it, and the people who make it.

I was a listener long before I became a contributor. In 1997 and 1998 I had a real job, and when I was late for work – which I often was, sometimes deliberately because I didn’t want to switch off something particularly funny – I’d listen to the show, laugh like a drain and think: it must be a right laugh to be on a show like that.

I’m not quite sure when I became a contributor – 2003 sounds about right – but I can honestly say that it’s been one of the best things in my life for a very long time. Without exception the people working on the programme – not just the voices you hear on the radio but the people who put the whole thing together and make it work more or less smoothly – are among the nicest, funniest, most talented people I’ve ever worked with, and it’s been a real joy to be part of the team. I’ve met pop stars and actors, comedians and authors, done some very silly things on air and been part of all kinds of tomfoolery, and the crazy buggers paid me to do it.

Fred’s moving on to bigger and brighter things and I’m sure the team will shine elsewhere too. As for me, I’m sure I’ll keep turning up here and there but I doubt I’ll ever be part of something quite like the Fred show ever again.

If you’ve ever listened to the show and thought “it must be a right laugh to be on that show,” man, it was. It really, really was.

All the small things: a little writing app that makes a big difference

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In the old days, writing for magazines was easy: you’d write a piece, send it as a Word doc or a text file, and that was it. Now, though, everything’s online and in a CMS. Creating content for that is often a pain in the backside, especially if you use apps designed for print rather than pixels.

Hurrah, then, for Ulysses. It’s a genuinely great app that’s already saving me stacks of time – not just in terms of creating copy I don’t then need to tweak, but in terms of the massive time savings that come from the way it does things. At £31.99 it’ll pay for itself in no time.

Here’s the obligatory video.

If you need to write words of any kind, it’s a great app. There’s a free demo too.

The best of both worlds: Spiceworld and Narnia

Today’s Sun says that for the very first time Alex Salmond has admitted that independence won’t be easy and that we won’t have magic taps running fresh water, whisky and oil.  “Was that really so difficult, First Minister?” the leader asks.

As Wings Over Scotland points out, it wasn’t difficult – and wasn’t difficult  when he said the same thing publicly in June 2013, in January 2014 and in June 2014.

It probably sounds like a minor thing, but it’s characteristic of something that’s really shaken my faith in journalism in general over the last couple of years: we’re being told stuff that simply isn’t true and that doesn’t stand up to the slightest bit of fact-checking. It’s not just the tabloids, either.

If the papers can’t be straight about very simple, well documented and easily verifiable pieces of information, how can you trust them on the more important issues?

It’s hard to quibble with Stuart Campbell when he says:

this stuff isn’t (just) cheap, snarky point-scoring about the stupefying incompetence of other journalists. It’s about the people of Scotland being fed a completely false narrative about a dishonest, shifty First Minister who promises the Earth and refuses to acknowledge any possible problems.

Obviously I’m coming to this from the perspective of a (converted) Yes voter, but it’s very clear from conversations I’m having online and off that many people will be voting in part based on outright lies and some very carefully worded claims (so for example the Better Together literature points out that Scotland benefits from transplant deals with English hospitals, implying that independence will mean the end of such deals. It won’t).

I’m not naive. I know that political campaigning means lying, distortion, dog whistle issues and other unpalatable things. But journalism is supposed to counterbalance that, to investigate the claims, expose the falsehoods and to hold campaigners (on both sides) to account. Its number one purpose is to ensure that the electorate are well informed – and from where I’m sitting, much of the media appears to be doing quite the opposite.

Journalism is supposed to be part of the solution, but here in Scotland* it’s part of the problem.

* With some honourable exceptions, of course. 

“The comments have failed us”

Margaret Eby argues that online comments on news pieces “are, most of the time, a disservice to both the writer and the reader.”

It’s true that putting your work out for public consumption requires some heartiness of spirit. But it is now not just tolerated but expected that journalists should suffer abuse at the hands of their audience. This is a relatively new occupational hazard. Newspapers always got their fair share of cranky letters, but no reporter was required to read–let alone publish–all of them. There is no other job, save comedian or bar band, where heckling is so routine.

The Magazine Diaries

I’ve contributed to The Magazine Diaries, “a little book publishing project designed to let magazine people tell the world how they feel about making magazines in the middle of the biggest disruption in publishing history and raise some money for a great charity.” The project is asking magazine people to submit 100-word articles about their jobs, and my one is here:

I worry about thinning walls between advertising and editorial, about writers who don’t need paid because someone else is picking up their tab, about slideshows and pop-ups and weird tricks for flat bellies.

But I still feel lucky.

You’ll find a full list of contributors here.