On Saturday morning, I was woken up by my gentleman companion announcing the news that Suzanne Moore had been bullied off Twitter for "one misjudged word". He read out messages of support from Dorian Lynskey, Owen Jones, and others in the lefty journalist gang decrying the call-out culture which leads people to focus on one word to the exclusion of the rest of an article.
(Funny how it's always women who have to suck it up when the left has important business at hand - just get on board with the Democrats, even as they ignore women's issues, or the GOP will get in and they'll ignore women's issues! And it's always trans people who have to suck it up when feminism has a mission which apparently can't be completed without gratuitous side-swipes at them! Don't rock the boat, it's for the greater good, are you with us or against us?)
Turns out, that wasn't the story at all. It was actually a much simpler story, a sickeningly familiar story which apparently never gets old:
1. Writer uses problematic language
2. Someone politely points out the problematic nature of such language
3. Writer goes on knee-jerk fury, lashes out at anyone who isn't cheerleading their work in its entirety, ramps up the problematic shit to show that YOU CAN'T CONTROL ME, I AM A FREE SPIRIT
4. Entire online social justice universe lines up on one side or the other, form baying mobs
5. Julie Burchill globs onto the scene to resolve the issue by giving all sides something they can agree on: that Julie Burchill is awful.
Actually: I say 'baying mobs', plural, because that's what I've been told happened. All I know for sure is that this happened - and only one side of that qualifies as bullying. (Hint: it isn't the person suggestion that calling someone A Transexual is a bit fucking creepy.) I haven't been able to find the onslaught that's been described (though Twitter's being infuriatingly slow so if anyone has links/screengrabs I'd be very grateful.) - I'm not saying 'it's not there', I'm not saying 'prove it to me', I'm just explaining what sources I have been able to track down in a couple of hours' internet-trawling.
- and yet this has become a story about how Suzanne Moore is the victim of online bullying?
How in the name of the black heart of Julie Bindel have we allowed the story to be framed this way? So that instead of talking about Suzanne Moore's transphobia, we're talking about Suzanne Moore's feelings? I'm not trying to diminish the awful power of online bullying. I acknowledge that call-out culture is crappy. I just don't want Online Social Justice to get into a situation where trans folk and their allies are not allowed to express anger at transphobia.
Of course, we're already in this situation, as this little episode has so vividly demonstrated. Anger is the prerogative of the privileged: which, ironically, was part of what Moore's original piece was about. Women, trans people, people of colour or with disabilities or any other marginalised group you can think of, are incorrectly accused of being angry, no matter how moderately we frame our suggestions that maybe the world's a little bit fucked up. And when we are angry, we're chastised for it, dismissed, as if our anger diminishes our argument.
(*There is the issue that, if you're going to be writing about this stuff, you have an obligation to research the correct terminology first, but anyway.)
Framing matters. Call-out culture and online bullying are a pox on all our houses. Transphobia is still bad. It's pretty fucking exhausting to have to reiterate this shit every day.