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Social media used to silence the debate on women’s civil rights

For the left to redeem itself, we must advocate for freedom of conscience and for women’s ability to fight for their civil rights.
Julian Vigo Italy

This past December, Transgender Trend published the children’s book, My Body is Me!, written by Rachel Rooney. Since its release, Rooney has been the center of targeted attacks launched by transgender rights activists for having written a book which informs children to love their bodies. Social media gives the trans lobby power that would be impossible to maintain if it were merely operating in real life.

One would think such a book would be fitting in an era where wider society is becoming conscious of the dangers of big pharma’s hold over our lives. Through the construction of non-illnesses, big pharma creates the economic lifeline of an industry on the hunt for lifelong clients. Despite that, Rooney has been accused of peddling “terrorist propaganda” and has been the focus of a rather vicious social media attack since the book’s release last Autumn.

Rooney is only latest victim in what can only be described as string of orchestrated attacks by a political lobby that tenaciously embraces a tenor of regressive anti-democratic and misogynist politics. It is no exaggeration to state that any woman, journalist or children’s author who speaks to the importance of empirical scientific evidence in discussing the human body and the reality of sex in relation to sex-based oppression is reduced to a TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist) and likened to the KKK. This just keeps happening.

References to racism, membership to the KKK and other anti-racist tropes are regularly used by the transgender lobby, which is largely white and male. They have launched a full-out war on women, where recycled tropes linking a belief in biology to horrible racists of yore gain support. The recent string of no-platforming and protests against women who speak in opposition to gender ideology is a wide-spread practice rampant throughout the English-speaking world today.

Yet, to anyone who has spent five seconds looking at the snail-like progress of civil rights in the US, for instance, the transgender movement’s accumulation of funds and power from North America to the UK and Australia has happened at breakneck speed. Last week, Labour MPs in the UK came under fire for making anti-science claims. They asserted that babies are born without a sex and that male rapists should be moved to women’s prisons even as feminist activists are accused of bigotry for stating that sex is a physical reality with contiguous social and political repercussions.

While this debate goes back many years, it has had recent, remarkable shifts and turns within the medical, educational and legal fields. These have been hotly debated on social media since 2013, with the transgender lobby underscoring that anyone who undertakes feminist arguments on this issue is a “bigot” by definition. The political landscape in the UK, however, has shifted radically in recent months with more and more people speaking out about what very much resembles compelled speech and forced religious orthodoxy in the form of gender ideology.

Lynsey McCarthy-Calvert, a doula who left Doula UK last year over differences about what can be said about transgender identity, has eloquently explained why we cannot live in a democratic society while insisting that people hold certain beliefs that are contrary to science, to include the belief in gender. Doctors working in transgender healthcare are facing callouts being labelled “transphobic” and “bigots” while many more are fearful of speaking out about current healthcare practices notes Marcus Evans, a psychotherapist and ex-governor of the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust.

Over the past eight years, the battlefield of gender has largely played out on Twitter and Facebook with the public slowly becoming schooled in the art of flexing one’s misogyny. In fact, this battlefield has shifted the valences of left and right entirely: No more can we securely state that the left holds progressive ideals for women or that the right is regressive on women’s rights. Social media has demonstrated how much disdain the left has for women and how the neoliberal drum banging of the left’s identity politics simply mirrors Jesse Helms’ insistence in the 1980s that art can be considered “obscene” or “indecent” (because he said so).

Some thirty years after the culture wars in the US and the UK, many self-declared leftist voices on Twitter inform us that “sex is on a spectrum.” If you don’t agree, the lefty logic goes, then chances are you are told to “die in a fire,” or are reported to Twitter for account suspension. In fact, the general public has become educated the art of dissing women, by calling them names like TERF (trans exclusionary radical feminist).

Most of the people critiquing gender are not radical feminists, and don’t see how the very notion of exclusion is not alien to human cogitation (eg. we exclude when we decide what to eat, who to kiss, what to purchase). They dispense with rational discussion or dialogue and prefer to hurl epithets while harassing others online.

Social media has given us far more than a language of insults that closet misogynists can hurl at women. It has served as a vehicle for sexists and homophobes to contact women’s employers, besmirch members of the community, and even call the police for “wrong pronoun” usage. The harassment of women—especially of feminists—has been a social media norm for the past seven years, at least since I have been writing about the pervasive and regressive issues endemic to the concept of “gender identity.”

Yet, 2019 has ushered in a change where the masses are starting to understand that self-ID in the UK, Canada and the US has left a blackhole in legal protections for women and girls. Groups like Woman’s Place UK and Fair Play For Women have been working to address this in public forums about politics, sports, privacy and safety. Feminist stalwarts like Julia Long addressed this issue long before the social media debates which erupted in 2013.

Stephanie Davies-Arai, Founder and Director of Transgender Trend, has worked tirelessly since 2015 to “encourage the widest possible public debate and engagement on the ethical issues of medical transition of children and the teaching of unscientific ‘innate gender identity’ ideology to children.” Davies-Arai has much to add on the impact that social media has had on her organization and Rooney’s book which it published, stating:

Rachel Rooney is a very well-respected children’s poet and teacher and she has written the most joyful and inspiring book for children. The fact that a book that challenges sex stereotypes while encouraging children to feel comfortable in their own skin has been characterized as “terrorist propaganda” is revealing of the aims of a movement that has specifically targeted children. Why would you not want a child to feel good about their own body? Transgender Trend has been subject to a high level of this kind of harassment and defamation over the years but we will continue to centre the welfare of children and young people in our work. To recognize and respond to children as children is not bigotry.

“Harassment has had a big impact on free speech on social media,” Davies-Arai says. “When even icons such as Martina Navratilova are accused of transphobia for speaking out on women’s sport, it sends a clear message to others to keep quiet.”

Nonetheless, it would be an understatement to say that 2019 has been a turning point on the medicalization of gender in children and the voters have spoken back. Before last December’s election in the UK, it was confirmed that the Liberal Democrats accepted donations from a puberty-blocker drug company. This calls into question the way that transgender ideology has been trafficked as a lobby into contemporary politics.

Last fall, the British Medical Journal confirmed that there are ethical concerns about children’s ability to make medical decisions that will have a lifelong effect on their bodies and reproductive ability.

“Gender dysphoric children and teens are experiencing a crisis of identity,” wrote Deborah Cohen and Hannah Barnes. “Young people generally struggle to think about the long term consequences of life choices.” They conclude that “unsurprisingly, questions are asked about the ability of these young people to make decisions with informed consent.”

Central to this discussion is how big pharma, service providers and health services are responding to what many refer to as a social contagion. The study affirms “the greater issue [is] how commissioners, service providers, and research institutions have failed this vulnerable group of people who deserve equitable standards of research.”

Where research and medical institutions are buttressing a neoliberal  approach to medicine, this throws a wrench into the works forcing us to  question which sorts of research ought to be funded and why. Where  hormone treatments for adults are already highly debated, it seems that  the support for the medicalization of children for what is widely  understood as a social contagion, it is imperative that debate around this issue be allowed and not hijacked by those on social media, to include the gatekeepers  to membership in these social media forums. Or that everything related  to medical access is defined in either having access to a credit card or having enough woke points to access purity politics.

Despite the scores of women and men banned on Twitter in recent months or the left-wing publications printing epithets directed specifically at women, there seems to be a disconnect between the free speech that social media was ostensibly set up to nurture and the reality of how social media today is serving to  shut down debate over issues which disproportionately affect women and children.

The women and men of the UK were recently handed two bizarre and quite contradictory readings of the law pertaining to gender identity—one criminal and one civil. What these decisions reveal about the way social media has not only emboldened the transgender lobby in the UK is bone chilling and the measured difference of who was told what speaks volumes to the imprint that sexism still maintains within the criminal and civil legal system of the UK where women are facing some of the greatest challenges since the Suffragettes.

Behind Door Number One is Kate Scottow, a 39 mother who is training as a forensic psychologist. She was put on criminal trial at St Albans Magistrates’ Court for allegedly posting offensive tweets to Stephanie Hayden, a man who identifies as transgender. Hayden has a history of convictions for violence and fraud and has targeted people on social media, putting them at the crosshairs of his legal actions.

Among those he sued or has threatened to sue is Helena Wojtczak, Father Ted writer Graham Linehan, CitizenGO’s Campaign Director for the UK and Ireland Caroline Farrow, and philosopher Louise Moody. These are turning out to be vexatious civil suits in Hayden’s attempt to limit the freedom of speech and conscience which are guaranteed under Article 10 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Right, the UK’s own Human Rights Act, Article 9 (HRA) and Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

It all started when British academic, Kathleen Stock, tweeted on 18 September about an article in The Times to which Hayden called Stock “transphobic,” and the discussion went on until Hayden called a black man a “gross hypocrite,” reminding him that “not so long ago people like you had no civil rights!” Many others joined in, Hayden boasted about calling the West Yorkshire Police to report alleged harassment by “#transgender hostile #feminists” to which Scottow, writing as ?@bustedwench, responded “Lets hope they take a serious stance on your racism.”

Hayden went after Scottow such that February 2019 she was arrested at her home in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, in front of her children and then locked in a cell for seven hours, all for having called Hayden “a man” on Twitter.  Aside from the appalling treatment received in jail (eg. she was denied sanitary products and access to her infant whom she was breastfeeding), Scottow’s actions were assumed criminal from the start without any regard for EU or UK law jurisprudence.

More disturbing was the decision from a female judge who told Scottow: “We teach our children to be kind.” Scottow’s barrister, Diane Wilson, argued before the court that Scottow tweeted about the Freedom of Speech. Yet the judge ruled that Scottow’s tweets were not about freedom of speech and that they were “unkind,” noting that Scottow had called Hayden “he” during the police interview and on Twitter.

The judge even referred to Scottow’s actions as “misgendering” which is chilling given that Hayden is male and misgendering is as much of a fiction as is gender. Additionally, Scottow was reprimanded for using the Twitter handle “Mandy McGirlDick.” Scottow must pay a victim surcharge of £21 plus £1000 costs and she was given a conditional discharge for two years which will effect her ability to gain future employment as a forensic psychologist. Scottow appealed the ruling.

The second case which was decided the same day was the civil suit of Harry Miller v. The College of Policing and the Chief Constable of Humberside. Miller pursued this cause after he was contacted by Humberside Police in January 2019 following a complaint about his having allegedly posted “transphobic tweets.” Harry Miller, a 55-year-old former police officer, was told that he had not committed a crime but that his tweets were being recorded as a “hate incident.”

Previous to this police visit, Miller was involved in some of the discussions around the reform of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 on Twitter, where he posted a number of tweets between November 2018 and January 2019 about the transgender issues at the heart of this debate. The tweet for which Miller was accused of transphobia was: “I was assigned mammal at birth, but my orientation is fish. Don’t mis-species me.”

Aware of the dangerous precedent established by the police coming to his workplace alerting him that he should “check his thinking,” Miller decided to bring a court case against the College of Policing, whose Hate Crime Operational Guidance (HCOG), first issued in 2014, forms the basis of current practice. During the trial before the High Court last November, Miller told the court that “the idea that a law-abiding citizen can have their name recorded against a hate incident on a crime report when there was neither hate nor crime undermines principles of justice, free expression, democracy and common sense.”

The High Court handed down a judgement over Miller’s legal challenge ruling that the tweets which the police treated as a “hate crime” were lawful, and that the force’s actions were a “disproportionate interference” on Miller’s right to freedom of expression. In a 65-page judgment, Justice Julian Knowles referred to the police policy on recording hate crimes as lawful. However, he noted that the manner in which Harry was treated and how the police dealt with this case was unlawful. The judgement, in fact, is led by Knowles’ quoting George Orwell: “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” Knowles writes:

There was not a shred of evidence that the Claimant was at risk of committing a criminal offence. The effect of the police turning up at his place of work because of his political opinions must not be underestimated. To do so would be to undervalue a cardinal democratic freedom. In this country we have never had a Cheka, a Gestapo or a Stasi. We have never lived in an Orwellian society.

Where one judge ruled that the police had interfered with Harry Miller’s civil right to freedom of speech and conscience which need include all that is “contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome and the provocative,” another judge ruled that Kate Scottow was effectively found guilty for a fabricated crime—for not having been “kind. This “misgendering” of a male will likely leave this woman with a criminal record. Scottow will be locked out of employment in her field because she referred to a man as “he.” She was judged for effectively being “unkind,” a valence which is hard proscribed in British law.

If the left has any hope of redeeming itself, we must stand firmly on the side of freedom of conscience and for the freedom of women to speak to the reality of sex-based oppression and to fight for their civil rights. Given that being “unkind” simply means speaking back “to the man,” we must band together across the lines of race- and sex-based discrimination to understand that it is not how we identify that renders one class of humans as oppressed and the other class as oppressors—it is the historical material reality that gives rise to oppression.

It is time that we stand with Kate Scottow and Harry Miller and all other sentient beings out there who appreciate that the “Freedom only to speak inoffensively is not worth having” and who recognize that structural and material reality is the only plateau upon which civil rights can thoughtfully be discussed and won.

Julian Vigo
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