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.