Julie Burchill is a writer for the Observer, a sister publication to the Guardian. On Sunday, Burchill set out to defend a friend, Suzanne Moore, who while complaining about beauty ideals wrote a sentence that was tremendously unfortunate, saying women “are angry at ourselves for not being happier, not being loved properly, and not having the ideal body shape — that of a Brazilian transsexual.”
The sentence was bigoted, and that drew anger from the transgender community. Moore could have — and should have — responded by apologizing for using transphobic language, and that would have been the end of it. Instead, she doubled down, complaining that those who called her out were harming feminism. “Other people’s genital arrangements are less interesting to me than the breakdown of the social contract. I am asking for anger and for alliances. Less divide and rule. So call me a freak.”
Of course, demanding that trans people simply shut up and listen to the nice cis woman isn’t the best way to defuse a situation, and Moore eventually ended up departing from Twitter rather than apologize.
One of the worst human failings is our willingness to trample on others. Individuals do this, of course, but it never is more disappointing than when it’s done to a whole group of people. In these cases, it’s rarely the best-off who suffer. Instead, people who face oppression kneecap those who face different oppression, piling on with their own oppressors.
Modern feminist philosophy recognizes this problem as intersectionality, and while it’s done so imperfectly, it has tried to grapple with the idea that bashing other groups hurts an awful lot of women, and doesn’t advance the goal of ending oppression. If, for example, African American women have different ideas about feminism than white women, that’s not only to be expected, it’s to be acknowledged, accepted, and acted upon — because a feminism that does not recognize the way identities intersect is doomed to fail.
Unfortunately, this basic truth has not filtered out to all those who claim the mantle of feminism. And this brings us to Julie Burchill.
Moore’s pieces were insensitive and clueless, to be sure. Burchill’s was much, much worse.
I was incredulous to read that my friend was being monstered on Twitter, to the extent that she had quit it, for supposedly picking on a minority — transsexuals. Though I imagine it to be something akin to being savaged by a dead sheep, as Denis Healey had it of Geoffrey Howe, I nevertheless felt indignant that a woman of such style and substance should be driven from her chosen mode of time-wasting by a bunch of dicks in chick’s clothing.
To my mind — I have given cool-headed consideration to the matter — a gaggle of transsexuals telling Suzanne Moore how to write looks a lot like how I’d imagine the Black & White Minstrels telling Usain Bolt how to run would look. That rude and ridic.
Ignore the fact that this doesn’t make any sense — why wouldn’t a trans person be able to write? — and you see the pure bigotry seething beneath the surface. The Black and White Minstrels were, for those of you who like me are not British, exactly what it says on the tin — a minstrel show. White people dressing up and pretending to be black, just as trans people are dressing up and pretending to be women.
Burchill continues on, arguing that fighting against transphobia is foolish, because “their relationship with their phantom limb is the most pressing problem that women — real and imagined — are facing right now.” Never mind that this argument is the equivalent of arguing that we shouldn’t discuss access to birth control because women are dying in Afghanistan — it’s the hatred that startles. “Phantom limb?” Really?
Burchill continues on to show an utter lack of self-awareness:
The reaction of the trans lobby reminded me very much of those wretched inner-city kids who shoot another inner-city kid dead in a fast-food shop for not showing him enough ‘respect’. Ignore the real enemy — they’re strong and will need real effort and organization to fight. How much easier to lash out at those who are conveniently close to hand!
Indeed, this is true. So why is Burchill spilling so much bile against trans people, whose argument from the start has been, simply, “Hey, this is offensive language, could you not use it please?” If we’re choosing to fight the “real enemy,” isn’t the proper response a simple, “Okay?”
Image Credit: Women's eNews
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