Words like bigot, Nazi, fascist are being bandied about at rapid speed these days with little understanding of the real meaning of the words or their sorry history. Nor does there seem to be a recognition that the person accusing others of bigotry might actually be as much, if not more, of a bigot than the people to whom they are addressing their accusation.
Bigot means a person who is intolerant towards those holding different opinions and today it is used by those who often want to prevent others expressing their opinions. This may be student unions who no-platform lecturers or academics who do not hold their views. It may be those who express an opinion on race, immigration or culture who are not allowed to have concerns that may well be legitimate. It may be either Remainers or Brexiteers who are unwilling to listen to the arguments of those whose opinions differ to their own. It may be those who express concern about the stance of the transgender lobby. It may be Trump-haters or supporters, Tory-haters or supporters, and so on.
We are not living under a communist regime. We do not have the Stasi or other secret police patrolling our streets for dissidents… yet! The word Nazi has an altogether more sinister meaning, with all its inherent anti-semitism and fascist authoritarianism. Surely these are inaccurate descriptions of someone who happens to holds differing views to someone else on the topics raised above. But using them raises the emotional atmosphere, conjuring up death camps and dictatorship. It’s a shaming exercise.
And it can well be the supposedly ‘liberal’ person who is throwing these criticisms in other people’s direction. It seems to me that we are living in a very illiberal, but supposedly liberal, society where unless you hold the ‘woke’ view you are labelled a bigot, Nazi or fascist. This is loose language. And who, really, is the bigot in such cases? Surely someone with views on immigration, Brexit, gender or other topics has the right to be heard? Surely the person who dismisses other people’s views out of hand is equally a bigot? Surely a more constructive way to pull other people’s views into one’s own direction is to hear their concerns, their rationale and try to understand their point of view? Silencing people only stimulates anger, resentment and division.
Recently Julie Bindel, founder of Justice for Women, was attacked and called a Nazi after she gave a talk at Edinburgh University on women’s sex-based rights. She lectures on her concerns about gender identity being accepted on the basis of self-definition alone. This policy is resulting in male-bodied ‘women’ having the right to enter women’s changing rooms, women’s prisons and toilets. For these views she is labelled a bigot, Nazi and transphobe for her legitimate questions about how female a male with a penis identifying as a woman really is and how much of a threat they might pose.
Who is the bigot here? Julie Bindel for expressing her disquiet that these policies are becoming practice despite no national debate or legal basis? Or the person who tries to get her no-platformed? Who is the bigot when someone living in an area of high immigration expresses their concern at feeling a stranger in their own country, at the cultural and social implications to themselves and their families, but is told flatly that they are a racist, fascist, Nazi? Bigotry is silencing those with whom someone disagrees. And we are witnessing far too much of it at the moment.
No doubt I would be labelled a bigot for having concerns myself when I went to the theatre last night and the sign on the Ladies welcomed people of any gender-identity entering the area. I confess to being disturbed about men with penises who decide they want to identify as a woman entering my changing room or toilets. We know that male on female violence and sexual harassment is statistically far higher than vice-versa and so these areas that were safe spaces for women no longer feel so safe.
There is a time in every child’s life when a parent allows them to go to the lavatory or into a changing room on their own. It is a part of their journey to independence. But I confess that as a mother or grandmother, I would feel far more hesitant to allow a young girl to go into these areas alone if I knew a man might be there changing or doing his business.
There are intimate things a young girl has to learn – managing periods, how to insert a tampax or lillet. I remember this wasn’t as easy as it sounded when I was 13! These are sensitive issues for women, issues that men identifying as women do not have to deal with. And call me old-fashioned but men tend not to worry so much about care and hygiene as they don’t always have to sit on a seat. I remember for myself, and know with my granddaughters, that many girls do care about these things. How can it be that girls and women are just supposed to put up with this change to their private spaces without any proper debate or discussion? Instead, anyone who raises the matter is labelled a transphobe or bigot despite the fact that those people are often compassionate and tolerant of those who have gender issues. Can there not be a third way?
People are denigrated for being binary thinkers about gender and yet those with whom I have discussed the transgender issues end up equally binary – a man wanting to be a woman or a woman wanting to be a man. So who is the confused one? If there is a third or other category that people wish to be known as then so be it but I am sorry, for me otherwise biology wins. A woman with womb and ovaries is not a man, a man with a penis is not a woman. They can wear what they like and consider themselves as whichever sex they prefer, but please don’t just call yourself a woman and enter a young girl’s private space without agreement. I worry that the trans lobby is actually turning the clocks back on the rights women have won in the last fifty years.
I worry (a lot of worries here I notice!) also about how Mermaids and Stonewall are lobbying for sex change treatment in children far too young to know what their future will be like, whether they are a man, woman or trans. A young child can have no real knowledge of gender, sex or relationships
What I don’t understand is that millenials are demanding safe spaces everywhere – in universities, to be warned that they are about to read a disturbing fact in a history book, or even in Shakespeare, for others not to appropriate their experience or culture, etc. And yet when it comes to transgender they go along with the current thinking that girls and women don’t have to have safe spaces. I don’t get it. Women are once again being silenced and then being called a fascist, Nazi or bigot if they protest. Again, who is the bigot?
In sport men who have had all the benefits of testosterone, the bone and muscle formation of a man, quite apart from all the cultural messages men receive, decide they are a woman and want to compete against women whose bodies are formed in a completely different way. To me this doesn’t seem fair but anyone who complains is called a transphobe. I have just been reading Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez which covers the historic legacy of how women have been written out of a multitude of situations. I don’t wish to witness women’s needs once again being eradicated in the name of a supposedly liberal movement that is far from liberal.
I worry greatly at this intolerance of language and debate. You learn far more from standing in other people’s shoes, seeking to understand their issues and evidence. The Socratic and Aristotelian method was to argue from the opposite perspective. This broadens your mind, sharpens your thinking and has a greater likelihood of taking all opinions into account in final decision-making. This would apply as much to Brexit, Trump, Corbyn, far-right or far-left policies, gender, immigration and more. It is a debating process that would be beneficial to introduce into schools so that people stop making their minds up from very little information, stop shouting abuse at others before they have understood where they are coming from, and genuinely try to understand one another.
Again, call me old-fashioned… and is that such a bad thing? … but respect for others and their opinions, polite and calm discussion, can help us all understand one another better. As Jonathan Haidt argues in his excellent book The Righteous Mind, good people have different opinions to our own but we should not label them evil, Nazi, fascist or bigot unless we are very sure of our facts and very sure that it is not us who is being the bigot.