For the full background on this story, you might like to read Suzanne Moore’s original piece about the importance of female anger in the New Statesman here, followed by @Stavvers’ breakdown of who subsequently said what, here (brace yourself, Moore gets rather colourful), and Paris Lees’ superb, gentle, open letter to Moore, here. I could have linked to Julie Burchill’s “defence” of Moore in Sunday’s Observer, but it is straightforward hate speech against trans women, and I don’t want to give it more traffic than it deserves.
I’m going to keep this short. I think it is important. There is an outcry on twitter about Suzanne Moore having left. She has left twitter after a row that was sparked after she used “Brazilian transexuals” (meaning trans women) as shorthand for “a body type all women aspire to but which none of us will attain because it is, by definition, not female.” (Latter quote my words, not hers.) Everyone who read those two words in the context of her otherwise excellent article about what is being done to women could not fail to understand her meaning. And on the surface of it, her meaning appeared to be without malice.
But the image those two words “Brazilian transexual” sum up, used in that context, is insulting. It’s basically saying “trans women! You don’t look like REAL women.”
That may not have been her intention – indeed I suspect it wasn’t. But if it was not her intention, it was the clumsy outcome nonetheless. People took her up on this. She responded horribly, which we are all wont to do sometimes, and made everything worse. It’s documented elsewhere, I have no intention of re-hashing it here. And the next day she left twitter.
Well, here’s the thing. I love a punchy feminist, and while there are lots about, Suzanne Moore has a unique voice and is high-profile. She’s important to feminism. We want to keep her, please. I respect her experience of decades of progressive liberation, of and from gender, of and from cis sexuality, and her experience of decades of women being second class citizens, clawing their way up, being stamped down again. (Though it must be said that that history is as much a handicap in some ways as it is an advantage, and this incident is a prime example of that.)
But if you’re going to write in a devil-may-care way, un-heedful of causing offence, you’re going to have to deal with the consequences. The rules of being a punchy fucker are short and sweet. They go:
1) Punch the right target.
2) Be aware they will punch you back.
I believe she fell down on 1). Because the target in this case is the people who are oppressing women – all women, cis and trans. And she ended up in a big ol’ bunfight with trans activists.
Somehow what has emerged from this is that the trans activists are in the wrong, that they were over-sensitive, wanted to be offended, and that they should have shut up and put up for the greater good.
Moore leaves. Suddenly on twitter we’ve got trans activists bullying a mainstream, successful feminist columnist off the site. And there are an awful lot of people saying how ghastly that is, how counter-productive for feminism. How people should set aside these petty offences in the name of the greater cause of all women – trans and cis and every sort – banding together against a greater evil. People are saying that intersectionality (you might want to google that if you don’t already know what it is), is diluting and undermining valid arguments against the crushing problems women (or any oppressed set of people) face.
And that is an absurd thing to say. ABSURD.
If the only way I, as a born-XX woman (that is a privilege), can achieve social equality for women is by telling another set of women to take their over-sensitivities and offence and choke them back, then the equality I achieve by definition is not equality. It is me first, you second.
If the left is about equality and if feminism is about women, then in the left, everyone should have an equal voice, and in feminism, all women should have an equal voice. Nobody – NOBODY – should be required to button their lip until we get to some unidentified benchmark in the great struggle for equality, whereafter their concerns will magically become valid.
If I am offended by someone remarking on my tits on a bus, that’s valid. If a trans woman is offended by a high profile journalist writing something insulting about her body, that’s every bit as valid.
I hope she comes back. I like her. Feminism needs her. I think this was basically a disconnect, a misunderstanding, and it blew up and people got hurt and things were said. But if the price of her return is that trans women have to shut up and put up, then no, I’m not paying it.