I wish Suzanne Moore would stop digging

The other day, columnist Suzanne Moore wrote a reasonably decent article about anger. I say “reasonably decent”, because it contained a honkingly 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.

This line, when viewed in the context of the sheer number of trans Brazilian women who are murdered, is not a good thing to write, as this blog by Edinburgh Eye–which I recommend you read fully–explains really well. At that point, when this was drawn to Moore’s attention, she could have apologised for a thoughtless, flippant line, apologised, learned something and we could all go on to appreciating her reasonably decent article about anger.

If you’ve read the title of this post, you’ll know this wasn’t the case. Instead, she responded with open, vitriolic transphobia about “cutting dicks off”, and complaints that we were not focusing on the real issues. Fairly standard shit, including whinging about intersectionality, and listing all the books she’s read which somehow shows she definitely can’t possibly be transphobic. I storifyed the first 24 hours of it. You don’t have to take my word for it and can view the whole thing in context.  Particularly notable was when she shared a flippant joke with Caitlin Moran about the whole thing.

I’d hoped that was the end of that, and we could all go back to our lives, but apparently I was wrong, and Moore’s still digging, deeper and deeper.

She wrote an article in the Guardian, complaining about the whole thing. It’s largely a rehashing of the tweets. She starts off with the “some of my best friends are trans” argument in record time, moving swiftly into once again listing some books she’s read that (possibly) show she’s right. Then she dips her toes into how the big mean intersectionals are shutting down discussion, claiming she’s read bell hooks. Then comes Suzanne Moore’s point: that we shouldn’t care about tiny little things like the oppression of trans people and her contribution to it, but we should instead focus on the cuts, literally saying this:

 So to be told that I hate transgender people feels a little … irrelevant. Other people’s genital arrangements are less interesting to me than the breakdown of the social contract. I am asking for anger and for alliances. Less divide and rule. So call me a freak.

For all her having read bell hooks, it looks like Suzanne Moore missed a vital bit:

“The vision of Sisterhood evoked by women’s liberationists was based on the idea of common oppression. Needless to say, it was primarily bourgeois white women, both liberal and radical in perspective, who professed belief in the notion of common oppression. The idea of “common oppression” was a false and corrupt platform disguising and mystifying the true nature of women’s complex and varied social reality…

The emphasis on Sisterhood was often seen as the emotional appeal masking the opportunism of bourgeois white women. It was seen as a cover-up hiding the fact that many women exploit and oppress other women.” -bell hooks, Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center

And yes. In her call to unite around the thing she wants us to unite around while sweeping her own contribution to the oppression of other women under the carpet, Moore has been part of the problem hooks highlighted.

Once again, Moore said some shitty things on Twitter:

Not one trans activist has engaged with economic argument or attack on welfare. Why not?

At this point, the utterly fabulous trans activist Roz Kaveney pointed out that she had, amongst participating in her other interests (which included writing the Rhapsody of Blood novels, of which volume 1, Rituals, is now out and you should read it, because it’s excellent. A truly queer, feminist fantasy novel. Sorry for the digression, but it’s brilliant). Roz then gently explained why there was a level of anger about Moore’s initial comments, to which Moore embarked on a bizarre rant about “Latin culture”, and culminated in a rather dismissive “I get that . I must not say the penis thing.

It’s abundantly clear that Moore doesn’t want to learn from this issue, to the point where she just flat-out tweeted this:

I am not going to apologise. Get it?

This sort of reaction is horribly unhelpful and stands in the way of ever being able to unite against other forms of oppression, such as the brutal government attacks on anyone vulnerable. Moore fucked up. It was a minor fuck-up at first, but with her reaction, it escalated into something far uglier and far harder to heal. Moore feels like we can never move ahead if we worry about such trivialities as the oppression of trans people, but the reality is that this oppression is far from trivial. It might seem tiny to Suzanne Moore, but that’s only because it’s something that she doesn’t have to worry about herself. In order to build a movement that can actually unify, though, she should care about it, and should monitor her own contribution to oppression of other people–a lot of whom are women. An apology would be a nice place to start.

Suzanne Moore has shown she holds some nasty views. Some defend her actions as a response to the vociferous criticism she received, yet the level of bigotry in her tweets shows that if these tweets were in anger, they were always there, lurking under the surface. Likewise, if she is being flippant and sarcastic, it denotes a lack of empathy and interest in the struggle of a fellow group of humans.

It’s quite sad, really, because Moore’s article on anger was reasonably decent, and did make some points about gigantic problems in society. It’s a shame, then, that as well as addressing some, she also contributes to others herself. No one oppression is so important that all other oppressions must be neglected and ignored. There is no “let’s do this tomorrow, after we’ve fixed the real stuff.”

This is all real. It’s all important. You can be good on one thing and absolutely terrible on another. And isn’t it better to try not to be terrible on anything?

15 thoughts on “I wish Suzanne Moore would stop digging”

  1. Her assertion, that trans bloggers or writers haven’t spoken on certain issues, is bizarre. I’d love to know how she claims to divine who is/isn’t writing as a woman who was AMAB, or a man who was AFAB.

    Does she have magical powers or, rather more likely, is her cis privilege leading her to believe that everyone who’s written about welfare issues is cis, and that trans writers only write about trans issues?

    Does she think that trans people disclose their medical history instantly (and repeatedly) when writing, so that cis people can keep count of who’s out there?

    What a weird accusation to make. Should writers start with “I’m X. I’m [race, gender ID, assigned sex at birth, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, occupation, physical/mental status, nationality, religious affiliation, body type, marital status]” so she can keep tags on who’s writing what?

  2. This is one of the more depressing bun fights that I’ve seen lately, because it’s so trivial.

    If a person is walking along and they happen to step on somebody else’s toes as they go along, the polite, grown up thing to do is to apologise. You don’t claim that you don’t believe in toes and then bang on about how important the place you were walking to is.

    You say, “I’m sorry, I was unaware I had stepped on your toes. In retrospect I should have watched my step a little more carefully. I was inconsiderate. I’ll keep a better look out in future.” and you walk on.

    1. Thing is, it’s not trivial. Whatever it is, she’s hurt a lot of people. Rather than trivial, this really didn’t need to happen.

      1. Sorry I could have worded that better. I don’t believe that what she has done is trivial, rather I believe what she needs to do now is trivial. It’s not asking a lot of a person to apologise when they’ve said something wrong.

  3. All she had to do was say “I’m sorry, it was a throw-away remark, it was not appropriate and i won’t do it again.” The problem, as everyone has said, is that she compounded it by escalating it with further and nastier transphobic comments.

    I made a transphobic remark once in 1995 (though fortunately I didn’t do it online, and said it privately to a cis male friend), which haunts me to this day, but I grew up, and learnt my lesson, and will never do it again. And if my crappy attitude actually hurt any trans people in any way, I apologise wholeheartedly.

  4. This whole thing about intersectionality is really infuriating too. If she really thinks it’s a distraction to have people broadly on the same side fighting with each other, the obvious course of action is to suck it up, apologise, and move on. Not to keep fighting about it. It’s like when Tories claim equal marriage is a distraction from the economy, and then spend all their time talking about equal marriage.

  5. Thanks for the link and the Storify – I missed all of this at the time. Like many other people, I am utterly baffled about how Moore just can’t say she’s sorry. She could have used other less offensive words to make that point, so why not just apologise? She tweets about “30 years of writing on gay rights, sexuality, feminism and class” and she’s really happy to throw that all away rather than just admit she was wrong?

    I have read books by Foucault and Butler as part of my MA last term, and I am utterly baffled as to how she thinks she can use them as justification for comments like “People can just fuck off really. Cut their dicks off and be more feminist than me.”

  6. I actually disagree that her article was reasonably decent. The line everyone has focused on was the worst, but it was full of loaded language, such as using “mute” in a disparaging way. She was striking out at everyone who isn’t her. What followed was not merely an emotional reaction revealing her underlying privilege and prejudice, it was a natural continuation.

  7. She’s already set out her stall as regards her attitude to sex workers, so her attitude about trans women surprises me not one bit. The venn diagram of anti-sex work and anti-trans has a massive, massive area of overlap.

  8. So seriously disappointing. She has written some great stuff before and is one of the few genuinely pro-working class voices in the Guardian.

    Reminds me of the Vagenda post against intersectionality, claiming it was some kind of intellectually elitist derailing tactic, rather than about making discussion more genuinely accessible, and that what we’re fighting for will work for everyone. Can she not see it is no different to male Marxists who say feminists are derailing the discussion and destroying the unity of the working class?

    It’s a shame, it often seems to be people who pride themselves on being progressive that react in such ugly ways to a call out. Privilege is an accident of birth, thus in itself not shameful, and areas where we have it, we will make fuck ups because we were socialised in a fundamentally unequal society. What matters is that you do your utmost to learn, challenge yourself and make repairs.

  9. I agree with the commenter above that Moore’s original article in the NewStatesman wasn’t really all that great (certainly there have been better pieces on similar themes). For one thing, she gives Caitlin Moran a nod without even attempting to acknowledge Moran’s blatant insensitivity on issues around race (and let’s recall, Moore denied the existence of transphobia and Islamophobia in the same tweet).

    Also, Moore actually has a history of transphobia, as an article from 1997 contains pretty much the same language on twitter (talking about trans people’s “freshly mutilated bodies” and such).

  10. Sadly, the more I learn about Moore, the more she reminds me of my mom Self absorbed, self assured, and certain that everything she says is right just because she says it. It wouldn’t cost her anything to apologize, but it will never occur to her and any suggestion that she should will be met with blatant incredulity.

    I wish the world had less people like this.

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