Discourse

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie sides with JK Rowling's 'perfectly reasonable' take on women and trans

US-Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie spoke out in defense of freedom of speech and belief, against what she calls "the American Liberal Orthodoxy."
Erin Perse
Erin Perse London, UK

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US-Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie spoke out in defense of freedom of speech and belief, against what she calls "the American Liberal Orthodoxy."

This re-ignited criticisms of her defense of JK Rowling, earlier this year, for standing up for women's rights.

Adichie said, "I think in America the worst kind of censorship is self-censorship, and it is something America is exporting to every part of the world. We have to be so careful: you said the wrong word you must be crucified immediately."

In an interview with the BBC, she said:

"I feel very wary of [cancel culture]. In general, the response to bad speech is more speech. If someone says something we don't like the answer is to say why we don't like it. The problem with no-platforming people, cancelling people, sometimes for the smallest things, it becomes something we do to ourselves. I wonder how many people are not saying what they think because they are terrified. How much are we not learning? How much are we not growing? The assumption is that we are supposed to know it all. In the US even asking a question can get you cancelled. It's incredibly lacking in basic compassion."

Maya Forstater weighed in on Adichie's very reasonable take.

'Woke' left commentators condemned Adichie for refusing to conform to their belief system. They tried to present her views as marginal when, in fact, they reflect mainstream opinion. Writing in Jezebel, in a piece filed under "Dirtbag," trans-identifying male writer Harron Walker described Adichie's opinions as "disappointing."

"Three years ago, the author faced deserved criticism for saying that she finds the idea that trans women are women 'difficult' to accept, countering that 'transwomen are transwomen' and that 'gender is not biology.' Hemming and hawing over this for years on end is so mind-numbingly dull. Just call me a dude and let us both get on with our days!"

Well, if you say so, Harron.

Predictably, Adichie's critics accused her of being an oppressor, of doing "white feminism," and of pandering to white readers. The attitude of woke commentators is that they make the rules for others to follow, which nobody should dare to question. Anyone who objects is smeared as uneducated, and bullied into backing down. A graduate of Oxford University, Adichie's alma mater, wrote

The only possibility which did not occur was that Adichie simply holds different, legitimate, beliefs which reflect biological reality, and that there is no duty on us to fall in line with prevailing orthodoxy.

Adichie said she was interested in the extreme response to JK Rowling's essay about the conflict between women's sex-based rights and trans rights, describing it as "a perfectly reasonable piece."

She said "JK Rowling is a woman who is progressive, who clearly stands for and believes in diversity." She blamed social media for the extremity of the response, calling the witch hunt phenomenon "cruel and sad. And in terms of ideas, it is fundamentally uninteresting. The orthodoxy, the idea that you are supposed to mouth the words, it is so boring. In general, human beings are emotionally intelligent enough to know when something is coming from a bad place."

Rowling herself has not backed down from standing up for women's rights. On 27 August, she issued a statement that she was handing back the Robert F Kennedy Human Rights nonprofit's Ripple of Hope award after the foundation denounced her.

Kerry Kennedy made a statement on August 8 giving the foundation's reasons for giving the award to Rowling last year, a decision for which they came under fire after the author spoke out against the firing of Maya Forstater for saying that sex and gender are different.

Kennedy said "In 2005, [Rowling] founded Lumos, an international nonprofit NGO with a mission to move children worldwide out of orphanages and institutions and into loving family care by 2050. For her dedicated work on behalf of children, she received the Robert F Kennedy Human Rights Ripple of Hope Award in December 2019."

Kennedy went on to denounce Rowling in terms wearily familiar to any woman who has stuck her head over the parapet on this issue in the past decade. Rowling, she alleges, sinned in three ways. First, she made "deeply troubling transphobic tweets"; secondly, she wrote "glibly and dismissively about transgender identity"; and, third, she expressed thoughts which were "degrading trans people's lived experiences."

So, what did JK Rowling say which was so beyond the pale that an organization which gave her an award for services to human rights felt compelled to distance itself from her, all of a sudden? See if you can spot the sin:

In response, RFKHR tried to make their association with her disappear down the memory hole. On December 12, 2019, JK Rowling was honoured with the award. Then, on December 19, she first tweeted her support for the UK feminists fighting against legal reform to introduce self-identification of gender identity. Robert F Kennedy Human Rights stood by her, at that point.

When Rowling published her nuanced, compassionate essay on June 10, 2020, RFKHR didn't move to denounce her. Instead, on August 3 they began to erase any trace of their association with Rowling from their digital presence.

First, they airbrushed JK Rowling's name out of the list of past award recipients. The Twitter version of Rowling's acceptance speech can still be viewed—at the time of writing—cached on that platform, but if you click the link to the nonprofit's YouTube channel, the video has been made password access-only, presumably as a prelude to erasing it altogether, and thus re-writing recent history to remove evidence that they once honoured Rowling, before she stood on the trans landmine.

In that speech, Rowling spoke with gravitas about the importance of courage, as the bedrock upon which all human rights depend. Having made that observation, Rowling went on to show courage by taking a stand in support of women's rights and children's safeguarding, and against liberal orthodoxy. It is unfortunate that the awarding non-profit didn't hear Rowling's call to courage. On August 8 they publicly denounced her. Instead, they could simply have found their spines and defended her right to free speech, even if they found it somehow beyond the pale to agree with her that the human rights of women matter.

In this context, Kennedy's statement seems about as meaningful as a hostage note. When she writes "The science is clear and conclusive: Sex is not binary," we are in the upside down. Until science can show us that there is a third gamete—a "sperg," maybe? Or a "spegg"—in sexual reproduction, it will remain true that there are two sexes. A tiny proportion of disorders of sexual development doe not mean there are more than two sexes. Anything else is pure pseudoscience.

In 1978, Vaclav Havel wrote about a greengrocer putting up a "Workers of the World Unite" sign in his shop window during the totalitarian takeover in central Europe. The grocer didn't believe in that communist slogan. He was doing what he had to do to survive in the new regime. Kennedy's statement has the same whiff of despair and capitulation as the greengrocer's sign. It is the "boring" mouthing of empty orthodoxies to which Adichie objects.

The Kennedy family, of course, enjoys historic and ongoing links with the Democratic party. Although it is beyond the scope of this piece, it is reasonable to assume that it is under pressure to cleave to the Democrat party line, which includes cheerleading for pediatric transition and championing trans rights over women's rights.

The awful reality is that transed children represent a cash cow to segments of corporate America which will not see its profits undermined without a fight to access, and to damage, children's bodies. Part of that fight involves publicly pillorying women who speak out against the trans trend, and attendant practice of paediatric transitioning, the most high profile of whom is Rowling.

For a nonprofit with links to the Democratic party to be seen to publicly endorse Rowling's perfectly reasonable and compassionate view that we should be protecting children against irreversible harm, would be to anger the donors. And we know that, in an oligarchy like the US, that won't fly. The Democrats seem as beholden to the trans lobby as the Republicans are to the gun lobby. Both lobbies cause needless harm. If politics is a dirty business, neither side has clean hands.

How sterilising children, and making them lifelong medical patients, in the name of a sex-denialist ideology, fits with the nonprofit's lofty aim to "tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world" is something to ponder. Is it justice to commit a nine year old to a medical pathway which will result in infertility and permanent damage to brain development, bone density and heart health? Or is it the opposite—harm foisted onto innocent children by adults who should protect them?

If standing up for children's right to develop normally, until they are mature enough to make decisions about their sexual and family lives, is contrary to the human rights project of 2020, maybe it's the human rights project which needs to be recalibrated. We know that the Yogakarta Principles—of which gender identity ideology is the leading issue—have captured human rights policy, elevating gender identity above all other protected characteristics, with predictably unjust results.

Rowling, as a thinking woman of independent means, remains ideologically uncowed. In her statement explaining why she decided to return the Ripple of Hope award, she said:

"RFKHR has stated that there is no conflict between the current radical trans rights movement and the rights of women. The thousands of women who've got in touch with me disagree, and, like me, believe this clash of rights can only be resolved if more nuance is permitted in the debate."

Adichie, too, is uncowed by the admonishments of liberals who consider their views superior beyond question. As with Rowling, she seems to win more admirers for her refusal to bend the knee. Let's hope that 2021 will be the year in which genderists' radical reforms are fully debated and scrutinized in public.

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