The world plays dumb with J.K. Rowling

On Saturday, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling shared an article on Twitter, titled, “Creating a more equal post-COVID-19 world for people who menstruate,” adding, “‘People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?” For those of us who have been following as the word “woman” is erased from all womanly things — everything from periods to pregnancy to vaginas — we are well aware of what this code-phrase implies.

Referring to women as “people who menstruate” is no accident: it is to signal “inclusivity.” Who, you might wonder, needs to be “included” in the category of “people who menstruate” beyond, well, those who menstruate? That is to say, those once known as “females.”

Today, of course, words like “women” or “female” are taboo. Some women would prefer to be men and some men are women. There are “female penises” and “men who have babies.” It is a new time, and human narcissism has evolved beyond nature. What is biology, after all, in the face of a “she/her” Twitter bio?

In some ways, it is depressing to witness the level of celebration (sane) women relayed online in response to Rowling’s tweet. It is sad that phrases like “people who menstruate” have been so normalized that to question them seems revolutionary.

There was immediate backlash. Rowling was called a “TERF,” “evil,” a bitch, “scum,” and much more.

Model and trans activist Munroe Bergdorf accused the author of being “transphobic” and said Rowling and other reality-believers constituted “another branch of white supremacy.”

Ben O’Keefe, former senior aide to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, responded, “Shut the fuck up you transphobic fuck.”

Rowling defended herself, explaining:

“The idea that women like me, who’ve been empathetic to trans people for decades, feeling kinship because they’re vulnerable in the same way as women — i.e. to male violence — ‘hate’ trans people because they think sex is real and has lived consequences — is a nonsense.”

She added:

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.

It’s odd to feel one has to add a caveat to explain that understanding only women menstruate does not equate to “hate.” It’s almost more odd to have to say this at all, to grown adults who surely understand, at this point, how babies are made, and who have been through puberty themselves. Those of us who have been attempting to make basic statements of fact in public like, “Men are not women” and “It isn’t hate to speak the truth” know all too well the hysteria we can expect in response, though becoming accustomed to this doesn’t make it any less confounding.

I have never understood how anyone could stand by quietly and watch the existence of women be eroded, or say nothing while our friends and colleagues insist those who understand the dictionary definition of “woman” are bigoted. And it seems Rowling has finally gotten to the end of her rope.

The extreme backlash, hate, and misogyny has become the norm. The response to someone like Rowling demonstrates the extent to which trans activists and their allies are so accustomed to having the power to bully celebrities, politicians, friends, and family into submission, that they simply cannot accept a famous woman stepping out of line. It is shocking for them to lose their almost total grip on women and liberals who are meant to care more about being liked than stating the obvious. The religious doctrine sometimes referred to as “cancel culture” demands the confessing of sins and begging for forgiveness from our social media lords. It demands women have a “middle aged moment” rather than stand up for the truth and the other women under attack for doing so.

Even Harry Potter himself felt “compelled” to speak out, and publicly declare his faith, writing:

“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. According to The Trevor Project, 78 per cent of transgender and non-binary youth reported being the subject of discrimination due to their gender identity. It’s clear that we need to do more to support transgender and non-binary people, not invalidate their identities, and not cause further harm.”

It is unclear how understanding only females menstruate harms “transgender and non-binary people,” but that’s not the point. The point is that Harry Potter is safe, having disassociated himself from the witch. He has dutifully thrown a log on the fire.

It has felt like we are all living a kind of bizarro world for some time now, wherein women who dare speak the truth are banished, and virtually burned at the stake. And while I’m no more interested in what celebrities say than intellectuals or the non-famous, I wonder if the response to Rowling will wake people up, and lead more to stand up and announce that the emperor has no clothes, and that those who say so are not evil or hateful, but sane. I wonder if this experience will lead Rowling to stand with the women fighting this fight in public or render her silent in an attempt to avoid further flogging. It should be all too clear that there is no winning with this crowd — no level of politeness, kowtowing, or rationalizing can ward off the virulence and misogyny levelled at women who push back against gender identity ideology. You either go full tilt or you surrender to twisting yourself into knots trying to adopt ever changing, evermore nonsensical demands, contorting your language in ways that should feel sacrilegious to a writer. The way forward seems obvious to me.

Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist from Vancouver, BC. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including The Spectator, UnHerd, Quillette, the CBC, New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and is now exiled in Mexico with her very photogenic dog.