Two ‘feminist’ writers, Julie Burchill and Suzanne Moore, urgently need to update their thinking about what it is to be a woman and realise that trans women fighting back is not ‘bullying’, writes Dr Brooke Magnanti.
By Dr Brooke Magnanti, formerly known as Belle de Jour
14 Jan 2013
People can say whatever they damn well please. But they shouldn’t be surprised that someone, somewhere, may object. That’s been my takeaway this week, as a piece by well-known British columnist Suzanne Moore in the New Statesman containing an unfortunate slur against trans women was followed by a Twitter tirade, a very public flouncing off of social media as Moore objected to her “bullies” and “trolls”, and a subsequent Guardian column by the infamous Julie Burchill that not so much poured oil on troubled waters, as crouched down with a flamethrower and set it alight.
As I see it, there are two issues at stake: the first is trolling, and the second is transphobia. Both are not good, and also widely misunderstood.
Let me explain trolling properly
Perhaps in the world of columnists who came up in the largely pre-mainstream internet age of the 80s and 90s, there’s been a certain amount of being sheltered from criticism. Without an outlet – such as social media or the comment box – most of those who disagree either shook their heads and turned the page. A few might have written letters.
There is the widespread misconception that only anonymous commenters can be “trolls”. This usually stems from a misunderstanding of what trolling is. It’s not anonymous criticism. That’s just the thing we call life, and it has existed in some form from ancient graffiti at Pompeii to the internet today. Interacting with other humans means that, inevitably, you will do or say something others disagree with. Do it from a media platform with a national audience that reaches beyond the myopic confines of Twitter, and even more people will criticise.
Similarly, some people have equated “trolling” to making vile threats. It’s not that either; that’s just called making vile threats and has a similarly long pedigree to criticism. Sometimes the two overlap; often, they don’t.