If you don’t know what this is about, don’t worry, I won’t hold it against you. Most of us have been following this news story in a state of utter bewilderment, trying to make sense of the general chaos. In case you’re wondering what the hullabaloo is all about, let me do a quick recap.
It all started with a tweet by beloved children’s author, J.K Rowling. An article with the title “Creating a more equal post-Covid19 world for people who menstruate” was retweeted. Rowling pointed out the apparent redundancy of using the phrase “People who menstruate” instead of saying, I don’t know, women? And it was like a lit match to gasoline.
The explosion after that caught us all off-guard. Admit it, no matter whose side you’re taking, you know you didn’t see this coming. It was like people were lobbing acid bombs at her, their tweets were so vitriolic. It took a long time for me to figure out what exactly had happened and I’m sure, silently, off social media, you are asking yourselves the same question.
What went wrong?
For this we need to look at the phrase “People who menstruate” as a gender-neutral, inclusive and diverse phrase. This means cisgender women who menstruate, lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual and asexual women who menstruate, non-binary folks who menstruate and trans women who menstruate. The article wanted to reach out to everyone. OK, we got that. Just out of interest, when the U.N launches a period campaign to make feminine hygiene products accessible to ‘girls’ and ‘women’ living in poverty, are you calling them out on it? Oh, but it’s just easier to get to J.K Rowling. She takes the time to respond to everyone doesn’t she, from children’s drawings of characters to grown-ups reading her books to their children. So let’s take her down a peg shall we?
When I started reading Op-Eds from leading newspapers across the globe, calling Rowling a transphobe, telling her to shut up, asking her to put the pen down- I tried to look at the context of the tweet. Had she specifically targeted someone? Maybe she was ‘shading’ a trans activist? Could she be using her public platform as a soapbox to tear somebody down? I couldn’t find anyone that she had tweeted at. Just this article she’d quoted with her characteristic dry humour. So why were hundreds upon hundreds raging at her?
What exactly did Rowling say? I really want to know. What was it that brought on the ire? She talked about using the word ‘Women’. Well, she’s a prolific writer. Writers often pick apart words and remake them. Is it bias if she does so? Was it her intent to deny the existence of the trans community or was it to assert the existence of women, who menstruate? If you’re a trans woman, I presume the word ‘woman’ would include you? Why are you so offended by the word ‘woman’ then?
Because you’re a trans woman and a human. You have the right to your opinion. You have the right to a safe space. You have a voice.
So does she. She is a woman and a human. She is also entitled to her opinion and has the right to a safe space. She can be right or wrong, but she deserves respect for everything she’s done: a franchise that shared the universal message of hope, love, tolerance, peace and above all, courage. For being a teacher. For being a survivor of domestic abuse and sexual assault. For fighting Depression all her life. For being a philanthropist who has her own charity organisation that protects orphaned children from institutionalisation and reunites them with their families or finds them loving homes. For someone who supports the Anne Rowling Regenerative Neurology Clinic for Multiple Sclerosis Patients. What she doesn’t deserve is a British tabloid with the headline “I slapped Joanne and I’m not sorry for it”.
And what did you do today, other than call her a c*nt, a b*tch and a c*cksucker?
There’s an Instagram post that’s going around that talks about why we need ‘Pride’ and while I fully back the movement, here is why I think that post is erroneous. One, yes, straight people are not murdered for being straight, but have you heard about the religious riots that rocked the capital this year? Muslims were murdered for being Muslim. Yes, straight people do not have to fight for the right to marry. But have you heard about Dalits being murdered in honour killings due to inter-caste relationships? Yes, you don’t hear kids say “That’s so straight” as an insult. But do you hear them participate in locker room talk about raping young girls? Yes, it’s never been illegal to be straight. But do you know about the immigrants in India that are denied their nationality?
As long as there is patriarchy, there will always be bigotry, sexism, racism, casteism…. we must not forget that we are on the same side. We are all fighting for equality and we can do this without blasting our way through the crowd.
During this pandemic, the UN has reported that women are even more at risk at home, outside and online than ever before. Domestic abuse, sexual assault and spousal homicide rates are skyrocketing while a significant increase has been noticed in online stalking, bullying and harassment. I don’t want to be a TERF right now (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist) because I know that this UN statistic impacts women and girls as much as it does members of the LGBTQIA community.
When Kevin Fallon of the Daily Beast reached out to Laverne Cox, the actress and activist, she had probably the sanest comment on the controversy:
“The ‘divide and conquer’ method of pitting women’s rights against the rights of trans people has been a very effective tool for dividing marginalised people. So then what we’re seeing in that moment…..is that we are pitting marginalised communities against each other. I think if we are smart as trans people, as people of colour, as women, we will see that these things do not get us closer to the justice that we need for everybody”
The trans community has been tyrannised, silenced, negated, bullied and ‘cancelled’. But how are they different from their oppressors? Is this how they show their pride, by cancelling Rowling? Is this how they proclaim their ‘love is love is love’ banner? By spewing bile, by spreading hate, by propagating misogyny? Have the abused become the abusers now?
Let me explain it to you through a simple story. I’m a gender equality and mental health activist. At my job, I often see cases of abuse and assault. More than anything, I see the cycle of abuse and it is something which is very hard to break. Let’s say, my client is an alcoholic man who often beats up his wife. His son grows up with a mental illness and is later arrested for killing his wife. His son, grows up to be a drug addict who eventually dies of an overdose. You see what I’m saying? Where does the abuse end?
At what point, does one person, because it only takes one, foray into this quagmire and offer to act as a mediator? When does this one person, choose to stand out from the crowd and instead of piling on, start a conversation where both feminists and trans activists can talk about uniting to fight for their rights and not each other? How long do we have to wait for the ‘woke’ messiah to arrive, who can facilitate a peaceful dialogue about cultivating empathy and compassion for one another and for becoming better allies?
Before you choose a cause, let me make a suggestion, lead with kindness. You cannot stand for love and stand for hate at the same time. You can speak up for yourself and still not be a bully.
Or, you can be like the cast of Harry Potter who fell like a line of dominoes; pandering to the public, stoking the fires of hate, using divisive politics for publicity and basically earning ‘woke’ cookies. I’m glad they’ve got their cookies, because they certainly don’t have their careers. That is some consolation, I suppose.
We have a brief window, you and I, to educate ourselves away from this media feud. To listen and to talk. To set an example for everyone that human rights are not like a pie- giving it to someone doesn’t take it away from others. This table is big enough for all of us to gather around and have an open conversation about our shared realities.
The question is, will you throw down your molotov cocktail of a tweet and come and sit next to me?