Trolling, Transphobia, and Second-Wave “Feminists”: A Roundup of Reactions to Julie Burchill

Oh, Julie Burchill.

Pink News has a good summary of what I’m talking about (trigger warning for quoted transphobic language). In bullet-point form:-

  • Established British columnist Suzanne Moore wrote an article about the power of female anger.This was posted on the New Statesman.
  • Commenters there and on Twitter rightly took issue with her flippant and pejorative use of the phrase “Brazilian transsexuals.”
  • Suzanne Moore, suffice to say, did not respond well to this, on Twitter or elsewhere.
  • Her friend and fellow columnist (and self-declared feminst) Julie Burchill wrote a column in Sunday’s Observer defending her – I won’t link to it and the Observer has now withdrawn it.  Be warned it’s a vile, hateful screed – an exercise in elite trolling and something I never expected to read from a “feminist.”

It’s been roundly condemned in the press and online as Moore’s original article never was, with responses ranging from calm defense to righteous anger to ridicule:

In the first place there’s the implied dichotomy between women on the one hand and Brazilian trans women on the other ““ as if Brazilian trans women are somehow not women. But far more important is the fact well over a hundred Brazilian trans women were murdered in the last year alone….In an ideal world, she [Moore] would have recognised the problem with what she had said, and we could all have moved on. – Roz Kaveney, The Guardian.

 

All Moore had to do was apologise for potential offence caused (the old “get out clause” for not actually correcting anything) [which she seems to have now done]. Instead she made a “robust” defence of herself that climaxed in a tweet that could easily have been written on a toilet wall: “People can just f*** off really. Cut their dicks off and be more feminist than me. Good for them.”

Burchill seems to think that transsexuals (or “bed wetters in bad wigs”) are engaged in a global conspiracy against “the minority of women of working-class origin to make it in what used to be called Fleet Street”, as if Rupert Murdoch spends his weekends in drag working out ways to destroy women with regional accents. – Tim Stanley, The Telegraph

 

Would the Observer have published similar slurs directed at black or gay people? No. Does Burchill’s point about the viciousness directed at Moore by certain individuals justify such language? No. On this, it seemed, most people could agree….Burchill’s column was a vivid illustration of what happens when you can’t be bothered with empathy anymore and you dehumanise the many in order to attack the abusive few.Dorian Lynskey

 

Sexism and classism, to Burchill, are Real Issues that we need to focus on. It doesn’t occur to her that poor people and women can be trans as well as cis. It doesn’t occur to her that the problem is not that trans activists are offended, but that they were used in the first place in a stereotyped, marginalising way to make someone else’s argument. You don’t fight racism or classism or ableism with misogyny, and if you do then you’d better expect some pissed off women. Similarly, you don’t fight classism or misogyny with racist transphobia, and if you do? You’re going to expect some pissed off trans people and POC. – Aoife O’Riordan, Feminist Ire.

 

…the purpose of a friend is not only to point out when you get something right, and congratulate you. It is also to point out when you get it spectacularly wrong. I think it may be time for Julie Burchill, Suzanne Moore, and Guardian Media Group to have a conversation in this regard. – Hannah, flyingontherainbow.com

Paris Lees, trans activist and writer, wrote a graceful and empathetic open letter to Moore:

I didn’t think your New Statesman article was so bad. I wouldn’t have outright called you a transphobe, that’s unhelpful, but your use of transsexual as a noun was problematic…. I don’t think it is difficult for you to understand the frustration trans people feel from living in a culture that relentlessly ridicules them, at every level of society. I know you must feel the injustice of this….I want you to be Suzanne Moore, my hero. You’re so much better than the article Julie Burchill wrote in your defence.

I’m not going to go into all the ways that Burchill’s horrendous piece was wrong: that’s been done by people much better placed to do so than me, and I urge you to read some of them as linked above (if you can stand it).

It just amazes me that these writers – passionate, smart, educated women with a national platform – who claim feminism as one of their driving forces have completely failed to keep up with the movement over the last twenty or more years. Have they never read Feministing or Feministe or Shakesville or Tiger Beatdown or The F Word or any of the wealth of intersectional feminist activism easily available online? (And that’s only a small sample of the English-language stuff.)  When Julie Burchill pretended to be insulted by the term “cissexual,” I rolled my eyes and thought – has she never bloody Googled it?

When did they decide that feminism was finished and that they could stop learning?

As Roz Kaveney so calmly pointed out:

Intersectionality is not hard to understand ““ it’s the simple observation that most people having a bad time in this society are getting it in the neck for several things at once, and the way we write about oppression needs to address that.

Or, more succinctly put two years ago by Flavia Dzodan:

MY FEMINISM WILL BE INTERSECTIONAL OR IT WILL BE BULLSHIT.

Trans activists are planning a protest at the Guardian and Observer offices on Thursday.

7 thoughts on “Trolling, Transphobia, and Second-Wave “Feminists”: A Roundup of Reactions to Julie Burchill”

  1. Urgh. 1. You’re never too old to learn and 2. There’s nothing wrong with admitting mistakes/not knowing stuff.

    Only recently did I learn about (no) colour blindness in feminism. Did I tell every WOC that they’re making a mess of things by changing feminism? No. I apologized for my (no doubt white) view and showed that I was ready to learn.

    Feminism is still necessary. It isn’t finished because of previous successes. It evolves and you have to keep up if you want to talk about it.

    1. Absolutely. The intersection between racism and sexism isn’t something I know a lot about personally (growing up in very monoracial Ireland), but I’ve been able to read writers who do, and learned something from them, because guess what? They’re there on the internet! And also in real life! Stop the presses!

  2. I find it also worrying that not only were these things written, but there were editors who allowed them to be published. Publications like The Guardian, I imagine, don’t let people post things under their masthead all willy-nilly. Someone okay-ed this, and that makes it a problem beyond just one or two writers being offensive.

    1. Yes, indeed. It was published in The Observer, but that is owned and run by the same company as The Guardian. I would guess it was a cynical ploy for pageviews, but I wouldn’t have thought that company would lower its standards to Gawker-esque levels to do so.

  3. “[S]hockingly Ms Burchill goes on to say that trans women should not claim rights as woman. She writes: “To have your cock cut off and then plead special privileges as women – above natural-born women, who don’t know the meaning of suffering, apparently – is a bit like the old definition of chutzpah: the boy who killed his parents and then asked the jury for clemency on the grounds he was an orphan.””

    I don’t think it’s fair for Burchill to say what she said at all. She really overlooks the fact that there’s a lot more going on with trans women than meets the eye. It’s not what could be labeled something that someone just chooses because they think it sounds cool. There’s a lot going on with thought process and psyche, and it also could be something like genetics or brain chemistry that someone really has no control over. So who’s to say that’s not “natural?” (I’m not a scientist or psychologist, I’m just throwing examples out there, so please don’t be mad at me).

    Further, Moore and Burchill are spitting on the feminism they supposedly embrace and hearkening back to what the patriarchy decides is traditionally feminine. Isn’t feminism about gaining equal rights for all women and putting away the ideas of the patriarchy? I think so!

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