My latest blog post, written for a new series on Shebooks.net, about break-ups and make-ups in women’s friendships:
As we recoil in horror from yesterday’s appalling attacks against journalists and cartoonists at the offices of Paris’s Charlie Hebdo, let’s be very clear: these acts of terrorist violence are different in degree, not in kind, from many other attempts to shut down speech and human expression in all forms.
We’ve seen the rise in recent years of aggressive campaigns for the suppression of the written and spoken word from all over the political spectrum, from those who would consider themselves progressives and advocates for human rights to those who view themselves as holy warriors divinely charged with wiping out democracy, freedom and equality, among other modernist evils. What they all have in common is intolerance for any views but their own.
If you commit yourself to silencing the forms of expression you don’t like, you stand with the murderers at Charlie Hebdo. This is the ultimate, extreme, and perhaps inevitable end of suppression.
My short story, “The Italian Girl,” appears in this week’s Printers Row, the literary supplement of The Chicago Tribune. It is a separate insert, a little chapbook, inside that section of the paper. It does not appear to be available online except to those who subscribe to the Tribune.
“The Italian Girl” is an excerpt from a novel in progress.
A New York Times Magazine article this week describes the shifting of admissions policies at some women’s colleges – Wellesley, Mills, and Mount Holyoke among them – to allow for the inclusion of students from different points along the gender spectrum, from female-to-male trans students, to students identifying as neither female nor male, to those questioning their identities, to male-bodied students who identify as female.
The story raises a number of issues, questions and concerns – things reasonable people could discuss, agree or disagree about. I want to note just one, one the piece raises inadvertently and apparently unconsciously.
Without comment, the article quotes three separate students – two women and one who identifies as a trans man – who voice hesitation about new policies but who do so anonymously, afraid to go on record with their opinions. In the case of the trans man, the Wellesley student is described as having posted an anonymous blog expressing the view that trans men did not belong at a women’s institution, to the consternation of other trans men on campus. According to one such student, a danger of this blog is that it may give other, female, students the sense that ‘it’s O.K. for me to think the same thing, too.’
In other words, it is not okay for young women at Wellesley to think whatever trans men who are their fellow students do not wish them to think. Maybe it’s just not okay for them to think. If the other two students’ anxious anonymity is any indication, it is not okay to speak- female students at Wellesley already get that. On this supposedly liberal arts campus devoted to women’s empowerment – where, ironically, the students started the year in T shirts proclaiming themselves “Free to Explore” – is anyone concerned about that?
Sexual violence against women on American college campuses is also in the news, finally gaining a measure of desperately needed attention both in the media and in Washington. In response to the heightened scrutiny, a number of schools, Harvard University among them, have introduced new guidelines intended to curb sexual assaults. This week several news outlets are reporting that some Harvard University law professors are expressing dismay that the new policies may be unfair to alleged rapists. These professors are concerned about the harm suffered by young men accused of rape.
Statements by the professors beg the question: do they actually believe that the problem with campus rape culture is not that too many young women are being assaulted, but that too many young men are being falsely accused?
Throughout all of history, women and girls have kept silent about violation, or suffered terrible consequences for their refusal to keep silent. The situation on American campuses is evidently no different, where it is widely believed that rape is significantly under-reported, and dealt with callously and casually – if at all – by college administrations. In college rape culture today, young women who are sexually assaulted risk the further abuse of social media blitzes in which young men proudly publicize their acts of violence. College women withdraw from school, their lives in ruins, while their assailants flourish and graduate, never called to account for their actions. It is this rape-fostering environment that these new procedures are meant to challenge.
Instead of supporting their women students, the law professors are asking them – all of us – to consider the damage to young men accused of rape. Their response is only the latest in the long and illustrious campaign to keep women silent. Now, as ever, those who seek to stifle women’s voices remain intransigent and powerful. Now, as ever, their message to victims of sexual violence is: You won’t be taken seriously, you won’t be believed. Internalize your suffering. Think about the repercussions of speaking. Keep your mouths shut.
What’s changed is that young women no longer have to listen. It is a testament to their strength and bravery that they are, in increasing numbers, refusing to be intimidated by attitudes such as these. They are telling their stories, in voices stronger than the efforts to silence them.
The Good Men Project invited writers to reflect on why we tell our stories. Here’s my answer.
I was interviewed this morning by Nick Ferrari on LBC Radio in London.
Nick struck a sensitive, balanced, and nuanced tone, and I appreciate the consideration being given for the family members, above all the children, of a person who chooses to live as the opposite gender – really, in this case, of a man who begins living as a woman, as those were the only issues discussed.
I don’t know if the interview is accessible in the States.
I did not write the piece published as an open letter from me to “Mrs. Maloney” – she doesn’t even appear to have a first name – in today’s UK Mirror, a tabloid. I was interviewed yesterday by one of the paper’s reporters with the understanding that he was writing a piece on the effects of a public gender transition on the wife and children of the trans person. He apparently spliced together some of my remarks with excerpts from my book previously published in the UK Guardian. As anyone who has read those excerpts, or my book, will recognize, the sentiments are more or less mine; the rather lame writing is not.
What is more important to clarify is that I would never presume to know what a woman I have never met was feeling or thinking or to intrude on her experience in this public manner. Her experience is hers. Not mine, not her husband’s, not anyone else’s.
That, actually, is what the reporter got right: “Mrs. Maloney” and anyone else in her or my situation has the right to our experience, and the right to be true to ourselves.