Beneath contempt

Jennifer O’Connell at the Irish Times joins the crowd throwing mud at JK Rowling.

When we are most certain is the point at which we should most question ourselves, remarks JK Rowling sensibly in a new podcast series, The Witch Trials of JK Rowling. For a moment, she seems to be experiencing a revelation about her own role in the events of the past few years. But no: she is referring only to those who challenge her. After four years of criticism, online fury, abuse, threats of violence, and even book burnings, her faith in her own position is undimmed. “I believe absolutely that there is something dangerous about this movement, and it must be challenged.”

Yes, and? Jennifer O’Connell seems to have plenty of faith in her own position here. Are we not allowed to have firm opinions now? Do we have to be “I just don’t know” on all subjects?

And when it comes to trans ideology…we have a mountain of evidence, that grows by the minute, of the frenzied emotionalism and stark absence of critical thinking that characterize it. Trans ideology is a hot mess, so why are we under pressure to go all self-doubting on the subject? Why not tell the ideologues to do some self-doubting? Why are the trans boosters allowed to be as dogmatic as Savonarola while we are told to be hesitant and racked with doubt?

The “movement” to which she is referring is one in support of equal rights for trans people. 

Like hell it is. It’s a movement demanding special rights for trans people, bizarre unworkable unjust pseudo-rights. It’s a movement that orders women to accept men as women in all circumstances on demand and without hesitation or protest. That’s not “equal rights”; that’s demolition of women’s rights.

In 2019 and again in 2020, Rowling launched herself confidently into this fractious, emotive debate with a series of tweets that precipitated the onslaught she sees as a witch-hunt.

Sneer sneer. How dare she utter her opinion on the subject? Same way Jennifer O’Connell does; same way men who call themselves women do, except that she is far more thoughtful and polite.

In the podcast series – thoughtfully hosted by Megan Phelps-Roper, a recovering member of the homophobic Westboro Baptist Church and granddaughter of its former leader, the late Fred Phelps – Rowling attempts to explain why she chose to make this battle over the rights of an oppressed minority her life’s work.

Her life’s work? I think her life’s work mostly involves writing, and raising her kids, and sundry charities. Also, at this point, in what sense are trans people an oppressed minority?

She is candid about her experience of being in an abusive relationship and the toll that speaking out has taken. She describes how frightening it was to have her address published online. She makes a convincing case that backlashes against individual women online are meant as a warning to all women.

But what distinguishes her from other victims of online witch-hunts is that Rowling waded into this intentionally.

Jeezus. “The slut asked for it.” How dare she have her own (feminist) opinion. How dare she go public with her opinion. How dare she “wade into” a public debate. “The dangerous godless slutty whore asked for the punishment.”

Listening to her explain her position offers an insight into the way that the online world has eroded our ability to tease out complex issues, to explore nuance and to disagree.

Yo, look in the mirror, chum. Look at yourself berating a feminist woman for going public with her opinion. Look at yourself protecting men against these hulking bullying women. Look in the fucking mirror.

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