Sunday 13 January 2013

for whom the belle trolls

Good old Julie Burchill has weighed in on the Suzanne Moore shitstorm, I see.

If you're out of the loop, this all started when the New Statesman published Suzanne's article Seeing red: the power of female anger. Quite a good piece, but containing the problematic line

we are angry with ourselves for not being happier, not being loved properly and not having the ideal body shape – that of a Brazilian transsexual. 

I winced slightly but saw her point. Others were less forgiving, and pointed out that it was an unfortunate comparison. Rather than engage with this idea, Suzanne got angry on Twitterfinally saying

People can just fuck off really. Cut their dicks off and be more feminist than me. Good for them.

....before quitting Twitter.

Julie Bindel tweeted  Can those of us who hate bullying PLEASE do something about the trans cabal running a witch hunt everytime they get offended? 

-which misses the point of how Twitter works, and how cabals work

Anyway, Julie Burchill's piece in today's Observer is little more than a potty-mouthed litany of 'tranny' jibes, and is presumably intended to provoke a reaction. Though when she says

I must say that my only experience of the trans lobby thus far was hearing about the vile way they have persecuted another of my friends, the veteran women's rights and anti-domestic violence activist Julie Bindel 
...she reminds me of the time that Beatrix Campbell also lectured us on the need to give Julie a respectful hearing. "Transgender activists who seek to ban her from speaking are wrong – we need to hear Julie Bindel on gender politics", she said.

Presumably Beatrix and Julie Burchill were unaware that Julie had already been given respectful hearings, both at the BBC and at Manchester Metropolitan University, in which her woeful lack of knowledge on transsexuality was made painfully apparent (description of the MMU debate from Sarah Brown here, and Christina here . My take on it here) . Which didn't stop her from continuing to air her opinions on the subject, and characterising the increasingly exasperated response from trans people as victimisation.

What the Julies, Beatrix and Suzanne share, apart from an admirable sense of solidarity, is an apparent disdain for trans identities; it's a shame, because I'd like to think we have more in common than they apparently believe. I also think that the new wave of feminism is far more embracing; intersectionality, slightingly referred to by Suzanne, is hopefully the way forward.

No doubt there'll be another shitstorm today in the wake of Julie Burchill's inflammatory piece. That's what it's there to provoke, after all.

I won't be joining in.


  1. One new note there (at least to me) was the class angle. I know that Julie Burchill never misses a chance to mention her working class roots whatever the subject, but I'd not seen this characterization of trans people as overeducated ivory tower dwellers. (Except of course when we're selling our bodies on the streets of Rio, but that's during the long vac.)

    The implication that trans people generally live lives of etiolated luxury on "family money" was no further off the mark than most of what she had to say, but it's an interesting variant.

  2. You know, the original comment didn't bother me. Saying that women should not have to try and be as perfect examples of the female form as Brazilian transsexuals I see as more against the idea that we should all be striving for the perfect form as anything against transsexuals.

    The twitter outburst should not have come from a professional writer. When you start sinking to that level it's really not good.

    Julie Birchill's piece on the other hand is out and out disgusting. Saying we should be thankful she is not using worse words (which she then uses - thanks!) and calling us imaginary women is not the way to try and engage in an adult way. No she, wanted only to insult as many people in that group as she possibly could.

    If you replaced transsexual and all of the derogatory words with almost any other group then that piece would not have been published and would be recognised as hate speech.

    And I thought the guardian was supposed to be better than that...


    Oh, and trying to work up her 'working class' credentials (for what reason I don't know) in a piece where she talks about lobster and champagne lunches is just laughable. I come from that background (though these days wouldn't like to say that I know how hard it is), and most of my family is still there. Oddly enough they don't often have champagne and lobster lunches... More trying to make ends meet week in and week out.

  3. Thanks for the New Statesman link, Dru. I read the article, and took two things out from it: the description of David Cameron as 'Fragrant Dave', which I thought amusing; and yet another instance of the word 'trope', which I'd seen used on radfem sites like GenderTrender, and in other places.

    I didn't really know what 'trope' meant, and I've always thought my vocabulary was pretty good. I'd assumed it meant an 'offensive line of argument that doesn't stand up to an unbiased study of the actual facts' or something like that. But it's not quite that. My Concise Oxford Dictionary of 1990 vintage defines it as simply 'a figurative (e.g. metaphorical or ironical) use of a word.' And 'tropology' as '1. the figurative use of words' or '2. figurative interpretation, esp. of the Scriptures.'

    So unless the language has changed since 1990, a 'trope' is a just a word. And not a phrase, nor an idea. But I suppose the language has changed.

    Enough of this pedantry!


    1. "Trope" in this context means a figure of speech or way of setting out an idea. Tropes are often used in storytelling, for example. The "Big Bad Wolf" is a trope, as is the reluctant rogue who doesn't want to get involved but arrives to save the day at the last minute. Tropes are ways of packing ideas into neat little bundles.

  4. your title says it all...why can't people just let others be themselves

  5. that was an interesting new take on it, wasn't it, Cathy? As much bollocks as the rest of her piece, but new and different bollocks. Er, as it were.

    I guess Suzanne isn't (wasn't)particularly adept at Twitter, Stace. I think the relationship between public figures like Suzanne, and the vast inchoate mass of loose cannons that is Twitter, is an interesting one and probably worth writing about in its own right- it's really quite annoying when that inchoate mass is characterised as a 'trans cabal'; whether that characterisation is down to ignorance or conscious mischief, who can say? (Ans: I can say. Mischief! Boo! Hiss!)

    Thanks, Zoe:'trope' is quite a buzzword now, isn't it? -I'm still uneasily getting to learn how to use it...

    I was really very pleased with the title, Gwynneth: I thought it was one of my best! -being, you know, keen on the puns. Thank you!

  6. on punning - spotted today on twitter so made me smile when I came to this post of yours!