Skirmishes and Semantics: Burchill’s Folly

cant we all just get along

This is a blog post about arguing over semantics. And about being unnecessarily pedantic on internet platforms…the irony.

Today I read about the calamity that is Julie Burchill’s Guardian piece about transsexuals aimed at supporting fellow writer Suzanna Moore. Moore wrote a piece in the New Statesman including the phrase ‘[Women] are angry with ourselves for not being happier, not being loved properly and not having the ideal body shape – that of a Brazilian transsexual’ (for the full piece click here). This received myriad complaints and caused a social media storm. Julie Burchill, in what appears to be a potentially misguided and prejudiced sounding outburst, wrote a retaliation piece against what she terms the ‘trans lobby’ variously calling them ‘bed wetters in bad wigs’ and a ‘bunch of dicks in chicks’ clothing’ among other insulting, stereotyped or just down right bizarre accusations. This piece has since been taken down from the Guardian website after a veritable hurricane of complaints to the paper and on social media. (You can read it in full here)

Now before I continue I’d just like to make it clear that I think that, whilst I do agree with certain elements of Burchill’s article (particularly the section on arguing over semantics) I think she went to far in the manner in which she expressed her outrage. Particularly given that Moore’s article, which Burchill was supposedly supporting, was in fact all about the need to push for female equality and against blind prejudice…exactly the kind of prejudice Burchill went on to illustrate against the trans-community. What I would like to do, however is offer a plea to society:

Please can we stop arguing over words on the internet?

Words are incredibly important. They have the power both to convey and shape meaning, especially when given a mainstream platform. But arguing over the little things just wastes them. Take Moore’s original article for example. Having read it I can find no evidence that she is trans-phobic. Angry? Yes. Occasionally a little long winded and (if you happen to interpret it as such) misguided in her use of language? Yes. But bigoted or prejudiced? I really don’t think so. I think a polite expression of ‘just my opinion, but I don’t much like you choice of example’ would have sufficed.

Instead we have a situation where outpourings of irrational anger have led to more outpourings of irrational anger and two MPs calling for Burchill to be sacked.

How about instead of having politicians calling for the resignation of a freelance Guardian columnist we used our combined voices to demand quicker progress on introducing shared parental leave? (a relevant issue for parents of all genders and sexual orientations) Or against a culture that leaves victims of rape and sexual assault feeling crippling guilt? (Again, an issue that effects everyone regardless of sexuality or gender) (For two thought provoking opinion pieces on this matter that I’ve encountered this week click here and here )

Yes we must fight prejudice wherever we find it but there are still so many battles to be won in the fight for equality for all I’ve got to ask whether diverting so many resources to these pitifully small scale skirmishes is really advancing the campaign at all?

Sometimes I feel like we get so caught up in the little pictures that we forget what the big picture really is. So please, stop arguing about semantics and remember, if we all focused our passion and energy on the very real problems faced by society (and not just on internet forums) we could make one hell of a change.

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