5 min read
I have mentioned previously that I have been listening to The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling this week. It is a podcast hosted by Megan Phelps-Roper in which she speaks to J.K. Rowling about her views on sex and gender issues and the backlash she experienced when she voiced those publicly.
In the seven episodes of the podcast the listener gets to know some of Rowlings story. She talks about some dark times in her life – she experienced loss, domestic violence and poverty.
Megan Phelps-Roper also takes a look at internet culture and how it contributed to the public debate surrounding gender issues. And how that debate became extremely heated.
Further, various researchers as well as trans-gender people are interviewed and Phelps-Roper also shares some of her own background and how she became interested in this issue.
The infamous tweet
In 2020 Rowling published a tweet in reaction to an article that used the phrase “people who menstruate”.
She wrote: “‘People who menstruate”. I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?”
She continued: “If sex isn’t real, there’s no same-sex attraction. If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased. I know and love trans people, but erasing the concept of sex removes the ability of many to meaningfully discuss their lives. It isn’t hate to speak the truth.”
This was followed by an unbelievable backlash. Negative headlines around the globe, Harry Potter Fans publicly burning her books, a torrent of abuse and former friends and colleagues distanced themselves from Rowling. Many called for her to be ‘cancelled’, she received death threats and was labelled a bigot, with whom it is pointless to have a debate.
What happened to free speech?
Regardless of how problematic her statements might have been and whether one agrees or disagrees with Rowling, in a healthy democracy a statement like hers shouldn’t receive the backlash that it has. (That’s my opinion.)
Allowing and making space for free speech is uncomfortable. We will hear and read things that upset, hurt and anger us.
But silencing ideas that are different from our own is not a good solution.
One – it removes the opportunity to challenge, debate and learn.
Two – who decides on what is true? Which ideas are allowed and which ones will be silent? I believe people who are so sure to be right about their views that they feel beyond listening to anything else are dangerous.
Let’s have our views challenged
I would highly recommend listening to the podcast – no matter where you stand on the issue. I think people on either side will have their views challenged.
Megan Phelps-Roper explains that growing up, she was extremely sure that the beliefs of Westboro Baptist church were correct and that they were doing the right thing.
After leaving the church, she wondered: how can I ever trust my own mind again? How will I not make the same mistake again and again?
Questions for self-reflection
She came up with a series of questions to challenge her own views with, which I find extremely useful:
- Are you capable of entertaining real doubts about your beliefs or are you operating from a position of certainty?
- Can you articulate the evidence you would need to see in order to change your position or is your perspective unfalsifiable?
- Can you articulate your opponents’ perspective in a way they recognise or are you straw-manning?
- Are you attacking ideas or attacking the people who hold them?
- Are you willing to cut off close relationships with people who disagree with you particularly over relatively small points of contention?
- Are you willing to use extraordinary means against people who disagree with you? I.e. forcing people out of their jobs, or homes, violence or threats of violence or celebrating misfortune and tragedy?
I’d love to discuss this more
There is much more in the podcast I would love to discuss. If you have listened please send me a message with your thoughts.
Also – the other thing I realised when listen was that I need to use my brain more. It was such a pleasure to think deeply about an issue, look at it from various points of view and learn new perspectives and facts. So if you have any other recommendations for non-fiction podcasts or books, do let me know!
This is Day 67 of my 100 Day Project. You can learn more about my 100 day project by reading this post. If you want to do your own 100 day Project, I would recommend checking out the 100 Day Project website.
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