The recent media furore over an article by Julie Burchill has brought to light prejudice against transgender individuals among people who should know better. But this tendency to demonise the victims of unfair treatment is a well established phenomenon
Posted by Dean Burnett
Tuesday 15 January 2013
There was a bit of outrage flying around online recently. You may not know about it, and I wasn’t involved, but if you have any interest in online media it was impossible to miss, in the same way that any ships travelling near Bikini Atoll would struggle to not notice when the military were running a few little tests there. It culminated in a Julie Burchill piece for the Observer (which is a different publication to the Guardian … I’ve been blogging for them for months and I only found that out this weekend). Burchill’s article was supposedly a defence of her friend Suzanne Moore and her recent dealings with trans people, but seems to be an all-out attack on trans people in general (which I won’t be linking to here because the online version has been withdrawn and, even if it hadn’t been, it has already had enough traffic thank-you very much).
I wouldn’t dare to assume that I was qualified to comment on the issues and hardships facing trans people, or feminists for that matter. It is such a sensitive subject that odds are I’ve accidentally said a number of offensive things in that last paragraph alone and will continue to do so in the remainder of this piece. Sorry about that in advance, I promise it’s not intentional, and feel free to point out my mistakes to me.
But leaving the political, sociological and ideological factors aside, I was amazed to discover the degree of hostility there is to trans people, particularly from those who are supposedly opposed to oppression and prejudice. Why would members of society who are persistently victimised in the worst possible ways still be vilified so?
Could it be the Just World Hypothesis? This dates back to research by Melvin Lerner which showed that subjects asked to evaluate someone undergoing painful electric shocks (they were fake, don’t worry) tended to rate the victim far less favourably if they were told their suffering would continue. If they were told they’d be rewarded in the end, people rated the victim far more favourably. The worse the victim apparently suffered, the worse the subject’s opinion of them was.
What’s going on there? The Just World Hypothesis states that people have an inherent belief that the world is fair and just and that people’s actions and behaviour is eventually met with the appropriate consequences, i.e. “you get what you deserve.” When faced with evidence that suggests that this is bollocks, most people’s first response is to rationalise it in a way that allows the illusion to continue. The most obvious example of this is victim blaming.