Moore, Burchill and Those Opposed (aka Taking Offense)

Offended1For anyone not yet acquainted with MooreBurchillTransGate (it’s catchy!), a summary of the offense taken so far reads as follows:

Throughout life, culminating in Nov 2012: Susanne Moore takes offense at the fact that women continue to be patronized, under-represented, reproductively-controlled, hyper-sexualized, sexually assaulted, and are then criticized for being angry about it.

Jan 8th 2013: Moore tweets that the article about the offense she’s taken has been republished in the New Statesman. @Jonanamary tweets in reply that she “was loving” the article until she took offense to it.

Later on Jan 8th 2013: @Jonanamary and Moore tweet increasingly fiercely about the specificities of the offense taken, whilst continuing to offend each other.

Jan 13th 2013: Julie Burchill (friend of Susanne Moore and “Bernard Manning of feminism” – Dr Tim Stanley) takes offense at the offense taken by @Jonanamary and others, and also takes offense to “trannies” (“who are lucky [she’s] not calling them shemales”) offending her friend in response to offense that was taken.

Later on Jan 13th 2013: Everyone takes offense from Burchill.

Jan 14th 2013: I take offense from everyone.

Lordy. Throughout the collision of wills, egos and hurt feelings, relevant and fascinating concerns around free speech; the volatility of politically correct semantics; intersectional feminism; and the apparent futility of trying to conduct and sustain reasonable debate around important issues of equality were served up and backhanded away into obscurity. Livid and appalled as I naturally was at this prejudiced attack on my species’ collective progression, I loaded a random working-class militant journalist’s Twitter feed and filled dialog box upon dialog box with hundreds of characters of blindly reactive hatred, before sheepishly taking a breath, having a sit down and reordering the characters in a word document. I was writing all the right characters, just not necessarily in the right order.

The particular offense I took from the ‘Twitter Storm’ concerned Everybody Involved’s failure to capitalize on the opportunity to attempt to understand their opponents, to ask any pressing questions, to actually discuss anything. Nobody typed more than 280 characters without giving up on what could have been an enlightening, worthy debate. The result was a Pong match of snide implications/explicit statements that the offense-causer could fuck right off, convinced that each instance of talk-to-the-hand one-upmanship had won them the moral high ground.

Unfortunately, at no point did Moore think it appropriate to apologise for making the original un-PC gaffe. Moore’s comment about the “transsexual” body referred (I assume) to the expectation on ‘cis’-women to attain, and retain, standards of surgically enhanced bodily ‘perfection’; a standard reflected, incidentally, by some trans women’s bodies in their oft-surgically-altered appearance. Explicitly transphobic, no (although her latter comments were hugely questionable). Misjudged and semantically incorrect, yes sir (or lady….or….*sweats*).

For the offended, a recognition of this was necessary, and, I reckon, an apology was warranted. No need to lose face, or to lose the intended meaning of the comment, or indeed the article as a whole (a hugely worthwhile read). Just a simple apology to some hurt people, for dropping the semantic ball. After publishing, this is all she could have done to amend, and it’s not asking much. Unfortunately, once Moore had taken counter-offense to @Jonanamary, her ‘give a fuck’ attitude (a la Caitlin Moran’s knee-jerk reaction to questions of racial representation in programming) shut down any potentially rewarding discourse on the complex politics of gender normativity, inclusion/exclusion, solidarity re: equality, etc etc….

Whether or not an apology would have been accepted, we’ll never know. But it likely wouldn’t have mattered anyway: Burchill marched in with an unnecessary input, titled ‘Transsexuals should cut it out’ (as though each and every “trannie” had chosen to be involved in the sulkfest). What followed was the opposite of Moore’s article; perhaps one good point hidden within several yawningly provocative paragraphs of name-calling. I’m not sure it’s worth going into the minutiae of Burchill’s tirade, and subsequent free-for-all; there may yet be more to follow.

Lynne Featherstone MP made the offense taken a government issue, and John Mulholland, editor of the Observer, withdrew Burchill’s article the following day. That was yesterday. And still, no one had said anything remotely intellectually stimulating, except Moore in the first instance. Since yesterday, however, I have found a few considered responses, such as Paris Lees’ open letter to Moore, which developed the discussion with the vigour and candour originally displayed in Moore’s piece. Lees writes a kind, enlightening and exemplary plea to Moore to simply understand the frustration she and others have felt in the face of chronic discrimination…. sound familiar, Suze?

Of course, Twitter’s very public and very limited format led to the unraveling of what should have been quickly amended. Moore was understandably defensive about an emotionally charged, hugely personal piece of work, and people were understandably hurt by her ignorance to pain and anger they know far too well (like yours, Suzanne! See? Let’s all be friends and live in uninterrupted harmony! We’re all the saaaaaaaaame. Kinda.)

I fear that too much has been lost in the unnecessary negativity, but again I hope that considerate responses will be formed…read Moore’s article (I wouldn’t bother with Burchill’s, even if it was still freely available), Lees’ response, and any other articles written in between that focus on the complexity of the issues at hand. In future takings of offense, take a breath, and seek to understand exactly what’s going on. Why wouldn’t you want to form a dignified, genuine response?

To paraphrase* Jay Smooth of the each-and-every-time-worthwhile Ill Doctrine, the fact that we have made such progress towards equality is not a reason to care less about what we say to each other, and how that makes them feel. It’s the reason we should care more.

(*I’m paraphrasing because I can’t find the video in which he says this. A great excuse to go watch some Ill Doctrine right now; let me know if you find it?)

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2 thoughts on “Moore, Burchill and Those Opposed (aka Taking Offense)

  1. Liz you’ve managed to make this god-awful debate very amusing! I particularly liked “Transgate” (it IS catchy!) and the “dropping of the semantic ball”. Comedy gold. I think you also made a very good point when you said no one used the time to understand one another – it was like they were taking sides in a playground and trying to compete at who was the more pushed aside in society, and what really bugs me (and I know it doesn’t necessarily work as an argument, but it still annoys me), is that if one is going to say that one is a feminist, I would have thought one would be open-minded enough to understand that there ARE other groups within society that ALSO feel slighted (I used “one” a lot here because I originally typed it as “you”, and although the meaning would have been fairly obvious, I didn’t want anyone to think I was accusing you of “bad feminism”, if there is such thing). But maybe this doesn’t apply to a “militant feminist”. I don’t know. Either way, very topical and I’m about to go and read your link to the original article, because I, like most others, haven’t actually read that. Good work 🙂

  2. Having heard all the hooha only via the radio (I hadn’t read the papers) and only after the event, I found your intellectual grasp of the issues concerned (and of the issues missed) helpful in understanding better what the hell was going on. Most of all I liked your reasoned plea for dignified, caring, grown-up communication and for not taking oneself too seriously in an age when difference and diversity are (allegedly) part of the fabric of our culture.

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