The Woman Without a Voice

July 24, 2020

I’ve stayed out of the Rowling row, pretty much, as it has unfolded over the past month or two, despite my long term commitment on this blog to championing free speech. For one thing, I’m not a Harry Potter fan. As a real Witch, I’ve been less than impressed with the series. If you like it, fine, I don’t ridicule fans, but it’s not for me. Another reason to stay out of the controversy is that I’ve posted so much on this issue of censorship that I’m tired of it. I’m really really tired of it.

But I decided to weigh in, to celebrate one media outlet’s decision to listen to JK Rowling’s lawyers (or maybe their own?) and print an apology for libel. That’s the place we’re at, where an unimaginably wealthy woman hitting back over false accusations designed to silence her is a milestone.

When I shared with a friend my interest in the backlash to Rowling’s essay clarifying her positions, my friend dismissed the backlash by saying, “Well, JR Rowling is rich. She can’t really be hurt much.” Rich people might beg to differ on that, but I understand my friend’s point: rich people don’t have to worry about basic economic survival, which is always a calculus in what ordinary people say or write.

The ”these people are rich and famous so they can’t really be cancelled” argument exploded after the Harper’s Letter (as it is now called) earlier this month. That letter argued, in a vague, general way, for more tolerance of honest discussion. Many were offended by this (rather mild) letter, saying instead of listening to these famous writers talking about something that isn’t happening (to them or anybody else) we should listen to MARGINALIZED people, who don’t have platforms, and highlight their struggles, which have nothing to do with the Harper’s Letter.

But here’s the thing. When a woman fights back against cancellation, she’s always too rich or too White or too educated or too straight or too socially/politically connected for her stand against injustice to be justified. The only legitimate woman to give pushback, say the detractors who watch bullying from sidelines, is the WOMAN WITHOUT A VOICE. The very poor, dark skinned, immigrant, non-English speaking woman with ten children, two them disabled – THAT woman is entitled to criticize an online culture limiting free discussion and debate. If only she could.

Because the point of pointing to the WOMAN WITHOUT A VOICE is that she has no voice and can’t speak. If she could speak, she would tell the woman with a voice speaking in a way disagreeable to somebody to SHUT UP. The woman without a voice is the ultimate straw woman. I follow Black women on social media who have been subjected to cancel culture – booted off the birdsite or threatened with violence or disciplined at their job for speaking up. Ditto for disabled women, working class women, lesbians, Latinas who don’t like the X. Where are these people saying cancel culture isn’t an issue for marginalized people, when women with multiple oppressions (sexism alone doesn’t seem to count) are subjected to its bullying tactics?

Little known fact: Rowling ran afoul of cancel culture originally for supporting a working class lesbian student struggling with a life threatening disability. A marginalized woman. This woman, Magdalen Berns, faced a brutal cancellation campaign. You always know when you’ve found your voice: there are people telling you to shut up. The cancelers will justify their attempts to censor women by bringing up the woman without a voice, a woman who might even be have been you, once upon a time. The woman without a voice is the beloved woman of the left-liberal patriarchy because she isn’t speaking. Listen to the voices of women who are speaking. Or at least, don’t join the mob to cancel them.

Censorship is Global*

November 25, 2016

One of the banned zines.
One of the banned zines.

I don’t know how many of my readers are aware of the banning of a feminist from New Zealand from the Wellington Zinefest for her political beliefs.** Renee Gerlich had her registration refunded and was asked not to participate in the festival after organizers became aware of her peaceful activities protesting the sex industry through art and an article on her blog criticizing the medical transitioning of children. She was told that “your presence at zinefest would jeopardise the safety of our queer and trans artists, people we have worked hard this year to protect and create a safe space for.” That the zines Gerlich planned to sell at her booth were themselves inoffensive to the organizers did not matter.

Banning somebody from purchasing a booth at a festival because you don’t like something they once wrote on their blog? Really?

This attitude recalls the disinvitation by the Norwegian government a few years ago of Janice Raymond, who was scheduled to present a paper on prostitution. She wrote a book over thirty years ago on a different topic that had become objectionable to trans activists. Granted, the New Zealand example is on a small scale, grassroots level, but this exemplifies how censorship of feminists is being waged across the liberal/left spectrum, perpetrated by both government officials and scruffy anarchists. It is a censorship project underway from the far north to the far south and everywhere in between.

The phrase “safe space” is fast becoming a code word for “censor and suppress free speech.” Donald Trump used the phrase, albeit loosely, a week ago in denouncing the cast of the play Hamilton for calling out Vice President-elect Michael Pence. “The theatre must always be a safe and special place,” Trump tweeted. It is only fitting that the so-called “safe” phraseology of censorship should be put to use by fascists since it embodies a fascist concept. The tools male supremacists on the left/liberal spectrum have in desperation pioneered to assert dominance over females within their movements will increasingly be put to extreme rightwing uses. Look for “inclusivity” to move beyond its current usage as a rationale for excluding radical feminists from the public discourse, and get ready for it to exclude those who threaten the “safe space” of white supremacists and Christian fundamentalists.

Since they monitor everybody’s blogs, I suppose I am never going to have a booth at the Wellington Zinefest. And as for the Norwegian government: don’t bother to invite me. I’m sure I also wrote something thirty years ago you wouldn’t like.

*Apologies to Robin Morgan; it just fit so well.

**Thanks to stop trans chauvinism for directing me to writing by renee.