The title of this piece is a deliberate side swipe at the kind of headlines that one might find in the UK gutter press. As a blogger who painstakingly researches and references my articles, I take it personally that sections of our mainstream media are granted an enormous platform which they use to spit at poor and marginalised people from a safe distance. Today’s blog looks at some recent examples of this dangerous hatemongering, some devastating outcomes and asks: how do we make it stop?
Transphobia from the Left
There have been a rash of article of late across the mainstream media which have specifically targeted the Trans* community with harassment, ridicule and hate.
In January of this year, a thoughtless comment in a Suzanne Moore article led to the mother of all twitter spats. Moore’s refusal to accept she had caused offense in an article led to a vigorous response from the Trans* community.
Unfortunately, Julie Birchill decided that what this powder keg really needed was a naked flame, and promptly hurled herself into the fray in the form of a bilious article. The piece is nothing short of hate speech and spawned a series of equally disgusting clones by the likes of Tom Peck, Terence Blacker and Toby Young. The following are quotes from the Birchill rant:
“I nevertheless felt indignant that a woman of such style and substance should be driven from her chosen mode of time-wasting by a bunch of dicks in chick’s clothing.”
“To have your cock cut off and then plead special privileges as women – above natural-born women, who don’t know the meaning of suffering, apparently – is a bit like the old definition of chutzpah: the boy who killed his parents and then asked the jury for clemency on the grounds he was an orphan.
Shims, shemales, whatever you’re calling yourselves these days – don’t threaten or bully we lowly natural-born women, I warn you. We may not have as many lovely big swinging Phds as you, but we’ve experienced a lifetime of PMT and sexual harassment, and many of us are now staring HRT and the menopause straight in the face – and still not flinching. Trust me, you ain’t seen nothing yet. You really won’t like us when we’re angry.”
Perhaps most upsetting was that these articles were not appearing in the Daily Mail or the Sun, but the Guardian and The Independent, who really should know better. Given our politicians are all leaning to the right to gather more votes; are our newspapers now following suit in the name of readership?
Transphobia from the Right
Richard Littlejohn used his platform in the Daily Mail to launch a visceral attack on a Trans* teacher which set off months of press harassment, ending with the teacher taking her own life to escape the media storm.
Lucy Meadows was three months into living her life as a woman when she decided she could live no longer. The 32 year old teacher had undergone gender transition and had been well supported by her school. The school sent information on her name and gender change in their newsletter and stated their full support. A few disgruntled parents and a bigoted columnist later, and a hate genie was out of the bottle.
In an article entitled ‘He’s Not Only in the Wrong Body, He’s in the Wrong Job’ Littlejohn railed against what he viewed as an utter obscenity.
“But has anyone stopped for a moment to think of the devastating effect all this is having on those who really matter? Children as young as seven aren’t equipped to compute this kind of information.” He writes.
The article goes on to quote a parent of a student who says: ‘My middle boy thinks that he might wake up with a girl’s brain because he was told that Mr Upton, as he got older, got a girl’s brains.’
My three year old niece thinks ninkynonks live at the bottom of the garden, but I’m not launching a hate campaign against In the Night Garden. These adults are using their children’s natural curiosity as a cover for their own hatred. A simple conversation, honesty without judgement; this is all a child needs to make sense of the world. What these bigots also assume is that their children are not already having conversations with themselves about sexuality and gender (which believe me, they are). A clear statement that they will be loved and accepted for whoever and whatever they are is the biggest gift a parent can give their child.
Instead, those children will now have to process the death of their teacher by suicide after months of press harassment. This example of a person they knew and cared for being hounded literally to death simply because she didn’t ‘fit in’ will no doubt have blown those children’s world apart.
Immigration, Immigration, Immigration
The Daily Mail really does specialise in the kind of flagrant, innate bigotry that is generally ignored or snorted at when dispensed by a drunken uncle. But the Daily Mail is not a drunken uncle. It is one of the most widely read newspapers in the country and should not be granted some kind of exception to print what the hell it likes because people continue to buy it. That said, if people would only stop buying the poisonous rag then it would be forced to adapt or die.
The picture above is just one example of the kind of anti immigrant propaganda one can find among its pages. I wrote an article recently busting some myths around immigration, but when the mainstream media machine is pumping out bile like this on a daily basis, rational voices are drowned out.
According to the Daily Mail, immigrants are taking our jobs, raping our women, launching crime waves, swamping the country, and generally ruining our country and way of life. No facts required, no perspective provided, just straight out lies and propaganda.
The Welfare State is Responsible for Murder? What?!
This morning the Daily Mail further disgraced itself with the above front page. The paper is now exploiting the death of six children, to take a swipe at the welfare state. Blaming the welfare state for the Philpott killings is like blaming the Rambling Association for the Moors Murderers.
I understand the argument for simply turning the other cheek and ensuring our personal news consumption comes from other sources, but it actually bothers me that this paper exists. It would bother me if it was a pamphlet handed out by the BNP, let alone one of the UK’s most widely read papers. It bothers me that people are being so horribly misinformed, and having their basest fears and prejudices stoked by billionaire press barons. It bothers me that these misinformed people will misinform their children, friends and family. It bothers me that these lies, repeated often enough, will become truth by popular opinion. So for me, it is not enough to create our alternative media and write decent, well researched pieces. We need to challenge this indefensible hatemongering head on, because it is not a victimless crime.
The truth is that such hate speech has an impact, it hardens opinions and it results in injury and death. There were 43,748 hate crimes recorded by the police in 2011/12. 35,816 (82%) were race hate crimes; 1,621 (4%) were religion hate crimes; 4,252 (10%) were sexual orientation hate crimes; 1,744 (4%) were disability hate crimes; and 315 (1%) were transgender hate crimes. Last year also saw a record breaking 12,711 prosecutions for racially motivated hate crimes; that is 35 crimes every day. Hate crime against disabled people has shot up by 25%, thanks in part to the constant scaremongering about ‘scroungers’.
This is why hate speech needs to be countered, not simply ignored. Those who listen take actions and generating this level of anger, fear and hatred boils over into real pain for real people. The post Leveson world is no different from the pre Leveson world. Gutter press merchants are still printing sexist, homophobic, racist, transphobic, disablist rhetoric and masses of people are still buying it.
So what do we do?
Firstly, we can support independent media which honours humanity. Refuse to buy from media which fails your honour test, and pay for the media that does even if it is free to use (there is a PayPal button on my ‘About’ page!).
Secondly, don’t stand for it. If you see something which you believe counts as hate speech, do not shrug it off as ‘just what the Daily Mail/Sun/Daily Express does’. Complain to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), start a petition, take to the comments section with your view and invite your friends to join in. Give them hell.
Finally, be good people. The recipe for world peace is world peace. By this I mean: all it takes for us to live in peace with each other is to just…live in peace with each other. Have the courage to counter opinions which challenge that speech, with love and understanding. Hug your friends, forgive your enemies, be a force for wonderful things in the world. That’s not just some soppy rubbish, this is how we make our world a better place; we be better.
Campaigns & Things of Interest
Hacked Off – campaign group against intrusive press
How to Make a Complaint page of the PCC
Please leave your thoughts on all of the above in the comments section, along with further campaigns, petitions and other cool stuff readers of this post might like to see.