“Gender critical” philosophy doesn’t make sense

The culture wars over trans people have made their way to the philosophers’ community, with some high-profile anti-trans people wrapping their views in philosophical arguments. Unfortunately, Luke Roelofs writes, those arguments don’t make sense.

This is a long read, but it’s interesting if you’d like to understand why issues such as policing bathrooms are so complex and potentially bad for all women.

Here’s a quick extract.

So in practice, ‘gender-critical’ doctrines just provide rationales for policing gender nonconformity. And the big lie at the heart of it, that people are seeking transition to better fit gender stereotypes, justifies this by painting the nonconforming people being policed as the real gender police.

Just like with bathrooms, the whole GC discourse about gender roles ultimately functions to obscure the real stakes and the real options. You can police people’s gender expression, or you can dismantle the prison of gender, but you can’t do both. GCRF [Gender Critical Radical Feminism] is a feminist fig leaf waved in front of social conservatism.

The Times doesn’t care about people in care

Following on from my earlier post, The Times’ story about university places for care experienced people has grown worse.

Something I didn’t spot in the original was the way the piece drew a distinction between “disadvantaged” pupils and “bright” pupils, as if the latter couldn’t possibly include the former. Again, the word choice is significant.

Writing on Medium, Charlotte Armitage goes into more detail.

What this type of article does is fuel discrimination towards Care Experienced people. It creates separation between ‘star pupils’ and Care Experienced pupils and it can be understood to be implying that someone cannot be both. This has been demonstrated by comments underneath the article, outraged that pupils “who happen to have stable and functioning families are penalised”.

The Times’ editor has defended the piece as “balanced”. The comments have continued. Here are some that Armitage screenshotted:

“Slap in the face to all the hardworking parents who actually love and take care of their children.”

What matters isn’t the quality of the student, but the quality of their parents.

“University should be for the brightest and not a test tube for social engineering.”

People who’ve been in the care system are not the brightest.

“Bright children denied a university place, so a thicko can have it?”

People who’ve been in the care system are “thickos”.

There is of course no connection whatsoever between whether someone’s been in care and their ability. But there are lots of reasons why their opportunities are more limited than those of, say, a middle-class kid.

I was a middle-class kid. I didn’t suffer from disruption to my education from being moved from place to place, family to family, so I didn’t have to supplement my qualifications by doing further education classes to met any entrance requirements. Even if I’d wanted to do those classes, I would have had the luxury of a roof over my head, food in my belly and money in my pocket so I could concentrate fully on my studies.

In the end I didn’t go to college or university. But I didn’t go because I chose not to, not because the option wasn’t available to me. Had I gone, I’m sure my parents would have supported me there too.

As Armitage writes, that’s not how it usually works for care experienced people. The disruption in earlier life means you need to attend further education just to have the same qualifications as everyone else – and chances are you’ll be doing that while working multiple jobs to keep a roof over your head, trying to study when every bit of you aches with tiredness. All the while there is no plan B, no safety net, no helpful parent to bail you out if you lose your job or encounter an unexpected bill.

A guaranteed offer of a university place doesn’t change any of those things. It’s still going to be much, much harder for people coming out of the care system to get into university than it is for people from more stable family backgrounds. But as Armitage says:

The guaranteed offer is not about discouraging applicants who have had fortunate upbringings and were already likely to succeed. It is about giving the people who missed out on so much as result of childhood trauma and state intervention a chance, so that they too, can reach their full potential and go onto live prosperous and successful futures.

It won’t turn privilege into disadvantage. Those with straight A’s will still gain entry into university. It just means Scottish campuses will provided the opportunity to learn to a more diverse array of students.

Back to the article. The Times likes to write about groups of people without giving a voice to those people, and the coverage of care experienced people follows that model. Here’s one of the people they could have talked to: Kenneth Murray, writer and award-winning campaigner.

Here are some bits from his tweets to The Times’ Scottish editor.

@magnusllewellin I do quite a lot of work on the stigma that Care Experienced people face, particularly with the media.

In fact I’ve worked with some of the journalists in your employ on the importance of language around issues of Care Experienced people.

It makes me sad to see this shift.

Whilst I understand there are real issues around quotas & access to university for many groups – using Care Experienced people in this way is incendiary.

Care Experienced people like me have faced many struggles to get where we are. Through hard work, determination & some help.

We really don’t need a national newspaper, a journalist and an editor from that paper compounding the stigma that surrounds us & any support we receive to help rectify decades of institutional failure.

I find it really bizarre that such a quality newspaper, focused on providing great journalism would bypass anyone with experience of care.

Your paper has managed this succesfully in the past. I really don’t understand why they haven’t this time.

This is something various minorities have seen too: they give up their time to meet with and even deliver courses to journalists for publications that will later misrepresent and even demonise them.

All too often, The Times and its journalists are not coming from a place of ignorance. They know what they’re doing is wrong, and they do it anyway.

How you tell a story tells a story

This week, Scottish universities unveiled an important new initiative: people who’ve been in the care system will be guaranteed the offer of a university place if they meet new minimum entry requirements. It should double the number of care-experienced students to around 600 people.

It’s designed to address some of the issues that don’t affect those of us who haven’t been in the care system. As The BBC puts it:

For example, their education may have been disrupted as they moved between carers.

It’s clearly a positive, progressive move that’ll benefit some disadvantaged people – which is how most of the press has reported it. Most of the press apart from The Times.

People with straight As face losing out on a university place under a pledge to widen access for disadvantaged people.

That’s the opener. The next paragraph adds that the pupils will be “potentially displacing a better qualified candidate with a more fortunate background.” It also chooses to provide its readers with different figures: instead of telling them that the number of students from care backgrounds may increase from 300 to 600, it says that “there are 15,000 ‘looked after’ children in Scotland”.

Look at the word choice there. “Displacing”. Displacing means moving something from its proper or usual position. It’s often used to describe natural disasters forcing people to abandon their homes, and it’s a favourite of racists too. It’s a very loaded word, which should never be used lightly when talking about people.

It’s a good example of how you can twist a narrative to suit a particular agenda, in this case to make your readers frightened that horrible poor people might prevent Tarquin or Jocinda from getting that place at university. It won’t, of course, and The Times knows it. But the story The Times wants to tell its primarily white, affluent, middle class to upper class readers is that the other – in this case, children from disadvantaged backgrounds – are coming to take away what you have.

Possibly the worst, most telling example of this was a few weeks ago when a stowaway fell from an aeroplane in London. The man, from Kenya, died horribly. As one neighbour told the press, “there was blood all over the walls of the garden.”

The Times ran this headline.

Bloody foreigners coming over here, dying in our gardens, leaving us to clean up their shattered corpses.

Once you’re aware of it, you’ll see it everywhere. Telling readers that some group of others is coming for their children is a Times (and right-wing media generally)  staple, whether it’s Muslims, LGBT people, foreign people (especially European people or brown people), poor people or women people.

That’s because the Times is the house organ for privileged people, and what it’s serving them is “privileged distress.” Here’s Doug Muder to explain what that means.

As the culture evolves, people who benefitted from the old ways invariably see themselves as victims of change. The world used to fit them like a glove, but it no longer does. Increasingly, they find themselves in unfamiliar situations that feel unfair or even unsafe. Their concerns used to take center stage, but now they must compete with the formerly invisible concerns of others.

There’s another word for it.


Here’s activist and playwright Wayne Self.

I know that the word “supremacist” makes you think of “White Supremacists,” which makes you think of the KKK and cross-burning and lynching. We think of supremacist as a Southern thing, a rural thing, a racial thing, a militia thing, a hate thing.

…Supremacy is the habit of believing or acting as if your life, your love, your culture, your self has more intrinsic worth than those of people who differ from you.

…You don’t have to hate people to feel innately superior to them. After all, what kind of threat are your inferiors to you? You may be annoyed by them, from time to time, or you may even like them. You can even have so much affection for them that you might call that affection love.

When the school a witness went to is more important than the dead man in his garden, that’s supremacy. When your right to offend is more important than others’ right to life free from harassment, that’s supremacy. When the university places of the most privileged in society are considered more important than those of students who don’t come from the right families, that’s supremacy. When tax cuts for the rich matter more than funding services for the poor, that’s supremacy. When men’s right to behave how they damn well please is more important than women’s safety, that’s supremacy.

That’s not to say that Times readers are supremacists. Most of them, I’m sure, are decent and kind. But the thing about privilege is that you don’t notice it when you have it, so any attempt to improve equality can look like you’re being picked on, discriminated against. That’s why some people genuinely believe that cisgender, heterosexual, affluent white men face more discrimination than other minority groups. It isn’t remotely true, but to some it feels true.

Telling people that their inferiors are coming for what they have is one of the oldest, most malicious tricks in the book. But it works, and it provides an opportunity for bad actors to weaponise it. Bigots of every stripe, the far right, disaster capitalists, billionaire media moguls.

There’s a joke that I’ve seen circulate in various guises, but the basic point remains in each version.

A billionaire, a Times reader and a Polish cleaner are sitting at a table with a plate of twelve biscuits in front of them.

Slowly and deliberately, the billionaire eats eleven of the biscuits.

His mouth covered in crumbs, the billionaire turns to the Times reader.

“Watch out!” he says. “That cleaner’s going to steal your biscuit!”

Are we the gullible ones?

Yesterday I linked to a story about a man and a very strange sequence of events – please read it before reading this, or it’ll spoil the story for you.

The story asked, “Is this the most gullible man in America?” but some readers are wondering if perhaps we’re the gullible ones too.

The story, which is about a law professor who appears to be the victim of a bizarre fraud campaign involving harassment and fake paternity claims, is based entirely on his recollections and claims. It puts forward his account of events that are still under investigation and/or the subject of lawsuits, something that could be considered as an attempt to influence the outcome of those investigations and lawsuits. That’s mentioned in the piece:

Harvard has yet to decide Hay’s fate, but according to multiple off-the-record sources, Hay has already run afoul of investigators for reaching out to journalists (namely me), which they view as an act of retaliation. Harvard has also required Hay to undergo “coaching” for boundary issues.

There are also some odd details in the piece, such as this one:

“[My wife] says my women friends always have ulterior motives, and my response has been that my best friends have been women for my entire adult life,” he says.

The piece moves on from there, but I’m intrigued by that quote. Why doesn’t his ex-wife trust women to be friends with him?

The piece goes into a lot of detail about who said what and where, but misses at least one bizarre event:

One incident between the graduate student and Hay took place on 10th August 2017. At 8.35 PM, Cambridge police responded to a 911 call at her address and said they found the professor hiding outside.

“[Detectives] arrived on scene and located Bruce Hay hiding in the bushes two houses away from [the graduate student’s residence],” a police report says. The report adds that Hay was briefly detained outside the house, and was then served with a restraining order and warned not to contact the graduate student and stay 100 yards away from her at all times.

Douglas Brooks, Hay’s attorney, told babe the restraining order was dismissed a week later. He said that Hay owned the house the graduate student and her family were “illegally occupying,” and that he was hiding outside because he was trying to retrieve his children’s cat, which they were “effectively holding hostage.” These claims are disputed by the graduate student.

You’d think that’s the kind of event a journalist wouldn’t be able to resist, but presumably the professor didn’t provide that story.

That’s not to say the article isn’t true or the events described didn’t happen exactly as the story says. And of course, victims are victims whether they’re saints or sinners. But as some commenters on MetaFilter have pointed out, it does feel like there’s much more to this strange, deeply unpleasant story than made it to the page.

The most gullible man in America

I read this at the weekend in New York magazine, and I was open-mouthed for most of it. It’s a story that starts bad, gets worse and then goes rapidly downhill from there.

On March 7, 2015, Harvard Law professor Bruce Hay, then 52, was in Tags Hardware in Cambridge, Massachusetts, near his home, when a young woman with long reddish-brown hair approached him to ask where she could find batteries. It was still very much winter, and, once the woman got his attention, he saw that underneath her dark woolen coat and perfectly tied scarf she was wearing a dress and a chic pair of boots — hardly typical weekend-errand attire in the New England college town. When he directed her to another part of the store, she changed the subject. “By the way, you’re very attractive,” he remembers her saying.

I don’t want to give anything away. You’ll read it from behind your fingers.

The best of both worlds

I was having a bad day on Saturday so I went to the pub to cheer myself up. It wasn’t entirely successful.

First, a young woman who’d been standing next to me at the bar heard me speak, turned, and stared at me with open disgust.

A few minutes later a drunk thirtysomething man put his arm around me and demanded I talk to him.

That’s one of the great things about being trans. Why have your evenings ruined by people of just one gender when you can be made miserable by two?

As Cartman from South Park put it:

I’m hacked off with it too

I’ve written before about the toothless press regulator IPSO, which was set up by the press specifically for the purpose of not regulating the press. To take just one recent example, IPSO found that when The Times makes up quotes, doing so doesn’t breach the rules on accuracy.

The ruling was on a story about transgender people, who have been subjected to an astonishing hate campaign for some time now. Newspapers have become adept at sticking to the letter of the rules rather than the spirit: all the rules on discrimination and demonisation apply to individuals, not to groups. So if a paper were to publish a column claiming that trans person X is a predator, that’s against the rules (as well as defamatory). If the column claims that all trans people are predators, that’s fine.

In other words, it’s not okay to incite hatred against one person. But it’s fine if you want to do it against an entire minority group.

The Hacked Off campaign is attempting to highlight this in its latest report, “The denigration, abuse and misrepresentation of the movement for transgender equality in the press”. It focuses on two dozen high profile and often very abusive articles that appeared in the mainstream press in recent months. As Hacked Off put it on Twitter: “Some newspapers have resorted to distortions, inaccuracies and explicit transphobic abuse.” Over this period, UK hate crimes against trans people have increased by 81%.

The problem is specific to newspapers. We don’t have endless abuse of trans people on TV because Ofcom regulates broadcast media. There’s no such regulation for print.

Despite the 2013 Cameron Government legislating for an independent system of media regulation, the current Government have not brought it into
force. This has left one independent regulator operational – but membership is entirely optional. As a result, none of the major websites or newspapers have signed up.

Instead, most publishers are members of IPSO, which is a newspaper association and complaints-handler under the control of newspaper executives. I

In other words, the people being asked to decide whether content breaks the rules are the people who publish the content that breaks the rules.

I used to be against press regulation, because many journalists are fine people who do important work. But some of the biggest publishers in the country have turned their platforms into bully pulpits, repeatedly, mendaciously publishing malicious content designed to hurt the most vulnerable people in our society: not just trans people but minorities of all kinds. We’ve seen exactly the same maliciousness directed at muslim people, for example, and the same rubber-stamping by IPSO.

IPSO is not fit for purpose and sectors of the UK press are out of control. What they do is not journalism, and it does not deserve protection.

There’s a petition demanding change here. Please sign it. Every name helps.

“No tweet is too mundane to escape this phenomenon”

Jess Brammar writes about another curse of the internet: reply guys.

…alongside the straightforward abuse that is by now publicly acknowledged – and to the majority of the population, wholly unacceptable – there is something more complex, less offensive, but incredibly exhausting nonetheless. Sometimes it’s so subtle you barely notice it but it’s always there, always wearing, and just reserved for us women.

It is, broadly, the general sense that men have the right to weigh in on any statement made by a woman, because their opinion is as welcome, relevant and wanted as the original point, something Mashable has termed “the curse of the reply guy”. A non-stop unsolicited stream of pedantry and condescension.