The Sun Throws All Women Under the Bus, At Once!
Today’s front page condemns both trans women and cis women in a single headline.
The Sun made an opportunistic wade-in to an already raging Twitterstorm today, hijacking a two-day wave of online discussion surrounding J. K. Rowling’s views on trans women. While numerous blue-checked commentators, MPs, journalists and traumatised women citizens have spent June 12 discussing the rag’s gross flagrancy on domestic abuse, less high-profile space is dedicated to noting this Sneak Level 100 attack for what it is: an opportunity to undermine both trans women and cis women at once.
On June 10, Rowling wrote a statement on her views regarding trans people, in response to criticism over a transphobic tweet. Rowling has a history of engaging online with vocal transphobes, noted by many in the trans community before now. The debate blew up when Rowling responded terf-ly to a campaign advocating for ‘people who menstruate’, and in response to her response, trans women had to yet again state their daily reminders that their existence does not pose a threat*.
Rowling made a statement defending and attempting to outline her views in full, which included details of abuse perpetrated by her first husband. The situation then went even more viral due to a public retort by Harry Potter himself. Daniel Radcliffe has long been a patron of LGBTQ+ charity The Trevor Project, whose webpage hosted his response:
“Transgender women are women. Any statement to the contrary erases the identity and dignity of transgender people and goes against all advice given by professional health care associations who have far more expertise on this subject matter than either Jo or I.” — Daniel Radcliffe
Radcliffe’s response was thoughtful; he didn’t personally attack Rowling, nor did he speak on behalf of trans people. Radcliffe highlighted research done by medical professionals and the charity itself to demonstrate the discrimination exacerbated by ‘well-meaning’ feminists who see themselves as ‘protecting’ cis women. He also encouraged people to educate themselves in allyship.
So, while trans women and LGBTQ+ advocates were leading a thoughtful and powerful response to the repeated promotion of statements that marginalise them, what better time for The Sun to do what they do best and crash in on the conversation with a stage whisper so loud it drowns out everything else, dredging up personal trauma as an aside, in as sensational a manner as possible.
In a week in which J.K. Rowling has been trending like never before they, curiously, decided to track down her former husband and print an abusive, re-traumatising statement that he “isn’t sorry” he assaulted her.
The way that The Sun has managed to weaponise this is a textbook tabloid self-reacharound. In one headline, they’ve managed to achieve:
- A ‘fuck you’ to trans women specifically, by diverting the issue. It also stokes the flames of the gaps of solidarity between communities, now forcing trans communities to divert their time to speak on the issue of domestic violence — as though they hadn’t considered it before and it was part of the ‘opposing’ side of the initial issue
- A ‘fuck you’ to Rowling specifically, whose personal life is splashed across the front page of a national tabloid, without her consent and in the grotesque, flippant, violent words of her abuser
- A ‘fuck you’ to all abuse victims generally, platforming an ambiguous, attention-grabbing headline that is both re-traumatising and suggestive of an ‘explanation’ by the abuser
- A veil of ‘virtue’ via the claim that they’re simply ‘drawing attention’ to the true horrors of domestic abuse
- The generation of cash.
What they’ve done here, though flippant, is actually incredibly layered and complex. Headlines are supposed to summarise and clarify; to grab people’s attention with quick facts. By saturating this headline with vicious emotive wording, and foregrounding that Rowling’s former partner feels no remorse for attacking her, in a week when people are actively angry with (arguably ‘attacking’, however complex and problematic that word is in this context) her online, there is more than one type of ambiguous dog-whistle prejudice. Firstly, this idea:
People are angry with her. Because she’s done something wrong. She has inflicted pain. Those who are angry with her might want her to feel pain, inflict pain on her and, afterwards, they might not be sorry.
The article twists the ‘story’ (or ‘stories’) and re-presents through another lens: the voice and emotions of an abuser. ‘People who are angry with Rowling’ become a category of ‘bad people’ who are abusive, and seek to defend themselves after the ‘fact’. This places trans people in that category, regarding a historical event and ‘new story’ that has nothing to do with them.
And then there is another level of dog-whistle at which that immediate sentence ending in “…and I’m not sorry” lives:
Maybe she is a terrible woman. Maybe…she did something to deser-”
This revictimises her. This is awful in itself. And — it also places her in a completely different position, transforming the original cultural heat on her to an entirely different one. Anyone ‘attacking’ Rowling now is not attacking a white millionaire in culturally good standing, but an abuse victim. Anyone who disagrees with what she has to say about men’s violence against women is wrong (and this presupposes that any statements she makes about ‘men’ and ‘women’ are to be accepted.)
Here, The Sun throws us its only bone. Here’s a new debate, one that has no nuance, and hit-everyone-over-the-head anguish and bewilderment. Now, who do you support? Choose.
Choose between the domestic abuse survivor who never asked for her story — from the abuser's perspective, no less — to be splashed about the country, or the continually misunderstood, discriminated-against community who need allyship. Choose. (In fact— ignore the latter, what do you think about domestic violence? For or against?)
Instead of participating in the debate on The Sun’s terms, take the tack of those awakening to the Black Lives Matter and ongoing anti-racism movement. Educate yourself. Read the words of those who are in the arena.
If you want to understand issues affecting trans people, read trans writers. Lots of trans writers.
If you want to understand the issues affecting survivors of domestic abuse, read their words. Lots of them.
Whatever you do, never read The Sun.