TheTriggering. Or, how a bunch of online douchecanoes inspired me to use content notices.

CN: triggering, people being terrible on purpose. Also: I guarantee you that there is all sorts of awful in the links here.

Welcome to The Triggering.

Today, a bunch of self-identified shitlords have decided to strike a blow to defend freedom of speech.

Defend it against who, you ask? Attempts to censor scientists who publish research that conflicts with government policy, and to suppress workers’ right to protest? Banning student unions from engaging in boycotts the government doesn’t like? Throwing bloggers, journalists and human rights activists in prison?

Of course not.

Speaking out against those real threats takes courage. Do you know what doesn’t take any courage at all? Say, spending a day saying the most offensive things that you can think of, just because you can. Calling it ‘freedom of speech’ without having the smallest clue about what that actually is, or why it’s important.

Freedom of Speech: it’s not all about being a dickhead

Do you remember the first time you heard about ‘freedom of speech’? I was a kid. I’d gotten my hands on a copy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Since I was a kid, the first thing I did was try to find an article I could use to do what I wanted. Say what I wanted. Avoid cleaning my room, get out of homework. (I also pored though the Declaration on the Rights of the Child. There was nothing about chores. I was disgusted.)

I was insufferable for a while.  Of course I was. I was a kid. I had heard of human rights abuses, but I didn’t understand what they really meant. The distinction between fantasy and real life is blurry at that age. When, like me, you grew up with a gaggle of aunties, uncles and adopted mums keeping an eye on you when you were away from your parents? The idea that someone wouldn’t always be there to right wrongs never truly sunk in .

Then I grew up. I realised that people didn’t fight for freedom of speech so that I could shout rude words in the middle of the street any time I liked. Sure, I can do that. But the point of freedom of speech? Is that speech is powerful. Speech can determine the course of history. Speech is how we connect with each other and see each others humanity. It’s how we’re persuaded to follow one political direction over another. It’s how we inform one another of discoveries that change how we see the world.

Do you know why we don’t have to defend the freedom to say mean things to people who have no political power over us? Because we’ve always had that freedom. When Galileo was confined to house arrest by the Inquisition, I’ll bet there was someone outside calling someone else the 17th century equivalent of a douchecanoe. Continue reading “TheTriggering. Or, how a bunch of online douchecanoes inspired me to use content notices.”

TheTriggering. Or, how a bunch of online douchecanoes inspired me to use content notices.

Germaine Greer? The market has spoken. We don’t want the transphobia you’re selling.

Germaine Greer believes some transphobic things. This isn’t new. It’s not even the first time this year she’s been in the news saying something transmisogynistic. Back in January she told a room in Cambridge that she doesn’t believe in transphobia. She went on to say that trans women don’t know what it’s like to have a “big, hairy, smelly vagina”- implying, I guess, that the state of someone’s vag has an impact on whether they can be a woman or not. Of course, Greer has been openly spouting transmisogyny for years. Back in 2009 she described trans women as “some kind of ghastly parody” in the Guardian. As far back as 1997 she was campaigning against trans women’s inclusion in women’s colleges.

Greer is notorious, and she’s done some valuable work in her time. Her views on trans women don’t make her other critiques go away. However, the converse is also true: the fact that Greer has written interesting things about women, the family, liberal feminism and sexuality doesn’t mean that her transmisogyny deserves a platform.

Last week, a group of students petitioned for Greer to be barred from speaking at Cardiff University because of her history of transphobia. Now, it turns out that they probably won’t succeed- so far, the university is rejecting the petition. But let’s say that they did.

I’ve seen three reasons why Greer should have her university platforms. The first- that her views have merit- we can dismiss out of hand. Trans women are women, end of story. The other two, related to each other, do have merit (although I disagree with them both). These are the idea that denying Greer a platform is an attack on freedom of speech, and that even if her views are terrible, the best way to handle them is through giving them an airing- the ‘marketplace of ideas’ approach.

Both of these are wrong. Continue reading “Germaine Greer? The market has spoken. We don’t want the transphobia you’re selling.”

Germaine Greer? The market has spoken. We don’t want the transphobia you’re selling.

We should not kill people for speech. But I am not Charlie Hebdo.

Killing people is not okay. Okay? The Venn diagram of when people kill people and when it’s okay to kill people is two almost completely unattached circles, connected only at the point where the person being killed was trying to kill someone else first and the only way to stop it was to kill them right back. That’s basically it. And even then, if I’m being honest, it’s only okay in the sense that it’s the least bad of a bunch of terrible options.

I’ve just gotta get that out of the way, since it seems that any attempt to inject a bit of nuance into conversations surrounding people killing white westerners is interpreted as a defence of the people doing the killing.

To state another thing for the record: there was absolutely nothing okay or justified about the Charlie Habdo killings yesterday. Nothing. It was a vile act. My heart goes out to the people mourning their loved ones today. Nobody deserves that.

Clear? Okay.

Within that context, let’s talk about #iamcharlie.

The first thing to to understand here: we don’t live in a world of good guys and bad guys. The fact of people being murdered horribly exists on it’s own. It doesn’t imply that the victims are people who we should emulate. A person can be a victim of a heinous crime and still have done questionable things.

Here’s a problem with #jesuischarlie: Charlie Hebdo, from what I can gather, was a publication that produced and distributed vile, racist material in the guise of satire. Unlike any satire worth the name, it punched down at already-marginalised minorities in an environment that just encouraged an intensification of preexisting anti-Muslim sentiment.

Muslims in the West are disproportionally targeted for abuse and attacks, as are people perceived to be Muslim- normally due to their names and the colour of their skin. There’s an ugly strain of racism running through so much discourse that puts itself up as “just criticising Islam”, that you can’t ignore. There’s a lack of nuance to how we talk about Islam, as well. People talk about something called the “western world” juxtaposed against the “Islamic world”, as if these are two entirely separate and self-contained things, ignoring the fact that there is and has always been both massive diversity within, and massive mixing between, Islamic and Christian cultures the world over.

Also? I strongly believe that if you want to tackle extremism, the way to do it isn’t to further alienate people who your society has already been marginalising.

This is what Charlie Hebdo was doing.

We can condemn murdering people without valorising victims.

I don’t want a response to murder that punches down. In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, at least three (at the time I’m writing this) French mosques have been attacked in ‘retaliation’. That is not okay.

It is also not okay to respond to the murder of people who were doing problematic things by repeating the worst things that they did.

When you say “I am Charlie Hebdo” and repost their racist, islamophobic (and most importantly inaccurate) cartoons, you’re not standing up for freedom of speech. You’re valorising hate speech and bullying of oppressed groups.

We don’t have to be Charlie Hebdo, or to repost their work, to condemn utterly the actions of their murderers. We are not Tinkerbell, only able to feel one thing at a time. If our response is to mean anything other than self-congratulatory grandstanding, we have to take into account that terrible, undeserved things happen to people to who did fucked-up things. We have to hold that seeming-contradiction and understand that it is not so.

We don’t have a choice between being Charlie Hebdo or the people who killed there. We don’t have to respond to attacks on freedom of speech by saying that all speech is okay simply because it was said. We don’t have to ignore the context in which violence- be it physical or otherwise- happens in order to condemn it.

I am not Charlie Hebdo.

I deeply value my right to speak more or less as I please. I value the privilege of the platform I have to speak on. I am aware that that right and privilege comes with incredible responsibilities to be thoughtful and accurate, as far as I can to help more than I harm, and to be receptive- within reason, since this is the internet after all- to critique.

It is possible to value one’s rights and simultaneously to refuse to support the abuse of those rights. And it is possible to refuse to support the abuse of a right, while simultaneously condemning utterly, entirely and without reservation those who would respond to that abuse with murder.

It’s more than possible. If we’re to actually make anything better, it’s essential.

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We should not kill people for speech. But I am not Charlie Hebdo.

A Total Eclipse of the Linkspam

On #lobstergate, Suzanne Moore and Julie Burchill:

Targeting trans women, or the pathetic pastime of increasingly irrelevant wealthy people

We must remember it is crucial to critique the structures that keep enabling people like Suzanne Moore and Julie Burchill to get away with having trans misogynist, transphobic and racist hate speech published in a newspaper with a supposed commitment to social justice. The sheer cronyism in the journalistic world, the way in which mass-media journalism has mutated into the PR arm of corporations, and the way in which it can and often is used to uphold the status quo, are all equally relevant to the problem.

Today it’s trans* women, tomorrow it’s Palestinians, asylum seekers, immigrants in general, women in general, the unemployed, the poor, and anyone else that doesn’t walk through the offices of a major news organisation as anything but the cleaning staff (who are not invited to the champagne dinners).

We must keep counteracting these kind of hateful tirades at every corner, particularly from those who present themselves as our allies in the struggle for a more fair society. Solidarity needs to be expanded among people from all walks of life, and we need to keep examining the overlapping issues of privilege/oppression in terms of race, in terms of disability, trans status, sexuality, gender and migrant status. But it is crucial that we remember the underlying systems of power, which continue to work against us, and which will look for us even in the safest of places.

Suzanne Moore, Freedom of Speech and Uneven Platforms

 Those same people who died for Moore’s right to offend also died for our right to offend Suzanne Moore by holding demos. It was an attempt to address this inequality of platform. Far from being threatening, it was a public attempt at holding people and institutions accountable for the wrongs they have committed. They probably do find this somewhat threatening, many being used to not having to hear criticism, particularly not as instantaneously as in the digital age. Yet it is a different threat entirely to the mainstream media closing ranks against an oppressed minority: this is where the harm came from, and it will continue to do so until they change.

It’s mighty disingenous of Suzanne Moore to claim to believe in free speech, yet continue to play the victim when those she upset hold her accountable. This, too, is free speech, it’s just words she doesn’t want to hear. She has the platform and the power to obfuscate the truth, while those she has harmed cannot so readily make their voices heard.

Intersectionality, Solidarity and Sense

I also find it bizarre that intersectionality is supposed to be such a difficult concept to grasp. I’ve now seen several people argue that people are being asked to waste time trying to understand it when they could be devoting themselves directly to The Struggle. That’s like advising an army to go to war without wasting time on training. Anti-intellectualism is never pretty but in this case t borders on the ridiculous. The public is now largely familiar with the concept of people potentially being members of stigmatised groups. The average person understands that some people have a harder time in life because they’re female or because they have dark skin. Is it so tricky to grasp that a woman might be black or that a gay man might be disabled? Is it so hard to understand that we all have advantages and disadvantages, and that these might sometimes compound each other? The angst about privilege obscures the real point – that if you’re not a dick to people, and if you apologise when you upset someone by accident, you’ll get along just fine. Want to avoid causing accidental upset in the first place? Then, as journalists should know, there’s this thing called research.

Other Things:

Who would want an abortion?

I have no hope, I lost it a while ago and have found myself searching for it in strange places, in the FAS office, on the pages of Monster, in emigration visa forms, in my child’s face. Time and time again, letter after email thanking me for my interest or informing me that I failed to meet the criteria, another day of struggling to make ends meet and the small glimmer, that 13 will be a lucky number, that this year we will escape, that poverty is just a temporary state, that you are of worth, is scuppered by a few lines in windows on the cheapest pregnancy test I could get.

I’m pregnant, I’m in a long term relationship, I love him, and I know I would love this baby, but I can’t bring a child into this. I cannot have a baby and no job, no future, no escape. I know I should have been more careful, one mistake in 7 years, part of me is thankful, a small collection of cells reminding me that life continues outside of this daily stress, that those pills I take to make life bearable and save me from the suicidal mess I was in before are not the only thing that could bring joy. I find myself sobbing, the big loud body shaking sobs that rattle your soul, although I guess I don’t have one of those considering what I’m forced to consider.

Why I’m Changing My Name

“Don’t change too much, we like you the way you are.”

Maybe I’m snatching an insult out of the jaws of a compliment, here. I’m willing to admit that’s possible. But if I don’t like me the way I am, shouldn’t I be allowed to change as much as I deem appropriate? I don’t even want to ask how much is too much, because that implies that I care if I change “too much” for my parents’ tastes. Truth is, I don’t. They’re going to love me or not love me however much and in whatever way they decide. It’s taken me decades to realize that I don’t have control over whether or not they love and understand me. It’s not my responsibility.

I have a problem with “we like you the way you are.” The way I am is not the way I am – it’s the way they think I am. And that is a lie; that is a trap. The way they think I am is a prison cell, and I have been confined my whole life. It wasn’t until I moved away that I first breathed free air.

“Love Yourself”: A Beautiful But Flawed Idea

When we prescribe ways of thinking or feeling, failing to follow them becomes stigmatized. Not loving yourself and your body isn’t just unhealthy anymore, it’s uncool. It’s immature. I wrote once a long time ago about how a classmate told me that loving yourself is actually a prerequisite for being a good person–implying (accidentally, I hope) that not loving yourself means you’re not a good person.

Not loving yourself means you have Issues and Baggage and all of those other unsexy things. It means you just haven’t Tried Hard Enough to Love Who You Truly Are. Loving yourself and your body becomes the normative state, not an extra perk that some are able to achieve. For instance,someone wrote on Tumblr in response to an article I posted about makeup that “girls should learn to love themselves before fucking around with eyeliner.” Loving yourself is a requirement, according to this person, for something as basic as putting on makeup.

Maybe this would be fair, except for this: according to our society, we are not all equally worthy of love.

A Total Eclipse of the Linkspam