How the hell did this happen?

Feb 18


7 Responses


Helen Whitten

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How the hell did this happen?

The writer and provocateur, P.J.O’Rourke, has just died this week.  He wrote a book called How the Hell did this Happen? and I wake up every day and wonder the same thing.

How is it that, after a century where women’s rights progressed beyond all expectations, in the West anyway, our rights are now being depleted day by day?  That women’s spaces are being infringed, women pushed aside in their own sports competitions, the words that describe women are being deleted, porn sites are encouraging sadistic practices that endanger a woman’s life, misogynistic practices still exist in police and government circles? 

How is it that in an ante-natal class questionnaire the options given were “Pregnant Person, Father, Other Parent, Support Person, Other…”  yet the person who is actually giving birth, eg the Mother, gets no word to tick in that questionnaire?  How the hell did this happen?

How is it that Professors and academics in universities worldwide are being subjected to horrific harassment for stating facts?  That they are being surrounded by chanting students, dressed in black balaclavas, and hounded out of their jobs by young people who seemingly have nothing to lose, as there is no redress against them for what is outrageous, violent, and unacceptable behaviour?  In previous times I am sure they would have been ‘sent down’ as the phrase went.  Wouldn’t they?  And why not now?  I heard a teacher of twelve-year olds comment that ‘the boys are out of control’.  Again, are professional lecturers and qualified teachers to be bullied by children who know little of the world?

How the hell is it that J K Rowling, who has lit up the minds of children across the world and got them reading books of several hundred pages, is now cancelled because she spoke facts about womanhood?  That Professor Kathleen Stock is hounded out of her job for a similar reason, that the poet and writer Kate Clanchy is cancelled because she dared to describe a pupil of hers as having ‘almond-shaped eyes’ yet Monica Ali in her latest book Love Marriage describes a character as having ‘almond-shaped eyes’ and yet I haven’t heard a movement to get Monica Ali cancelled?

How is it that when someone makes a simple statement, as Adele did recently, that she loves being a woman, she is suddenly accused of being transphobic?  Surely, we have been endeavouring for some time to get young girls to celebrate being women in order to feel empowered?  Enjoying being a woman, or enjoying being a man, does not mean that you are anti those who do not identify in this way.

How is it that students of books by Shakespeare, Jane Austen and many others are being given trigger warnings in case they read something that they might find offensive?  Surely that is the point of books – to draw attention to the many different facets of humanity.  We cannot whitewash history or whitewash the reality of human behaviour and the human condition, without failing in our efforts to educate young people about the history of the world.  Depending on your nationality, sex, creed and colour, the past may have been misrepresented, and it is right to correct this, but we cannot change the past or wipe it out, or we learn nothing.

Yet how is it that young children today, who are blameless of the specific crime, are being harangued in their classrooms, and blamed for slavery, racism, colonialism, and imperialism that occurred over a hundred years ago?  How can this be anything other than divisive?

There is little logic in these arguments we are ‘waking up’ to.  There is endless contradiction.

For how is it that if only Jewish actors should play Jews in theatre or film productions then surely only people of colour should play people of colour, and therefore, with that logic, only white people should play white people?  Which is where this all began … because our history in this country consists of mainly white inhabitants, but this left actors of other ethnic origins without parts (just as were there to be plays put on in Africa there would be few parts for white actors).  So theatre directors started to open up the possibilities, where male parts were acted by females, where English kings or queens were played by people of colour, even though this is not accurate to history.  Surely any actor should be able to play any part because that is what acting is all about?  Isn’t that diversity, rather than narrowing down the pool of actors to Jews or Catholics or anything else?  Where is the logic here?

How is it that writers are told they can only write characters similar to their own ethnicity and lifestyle for fear of being accused of ‘cultural misappropriation’?  This removes all fiction from our shelves, basically, as each book would only be able to have one character.  Inevitably writers of fiction have to inhabit the characters of people of different genders, race, age, backgrounds and more.  These dictats make no logical sense in the creative process.  Nor does the fact that a white model can be berated for cultural misappropriation if she braids her hair but when a person of colour dyes their hair blonde, or straightens it, they are not accused of cultural misappropriation.

How is it that if women are to be referred to as “people who menstruate” there is no call so far to refer to men as “people who ejaculate”?

How is it that we are not judging works of art by the artwork itself but by the artist’s perceived flaws?  Why can works of art be removed, plays discarded, books banned from library shelves, words deleted, by some anonymous, often junior, board of judges with little life experience?  They make these decisions like an invisible mob, but, again, often with many contradictory arguments as their so-called ‘evidence’.  Yet that evidence is not seriously questioned by frightened academics or wary politicians who do not want to lose voters; the often flimsy and ill-considered ‘evidence’ is not put through any just legal process or investigation.

How is it that the statues to slave traders are removed but there is very little protest on the streets about the modern-day slave trading, or today’s appalling treatment of citizens in various parts of the world by people of their own race or creed?  Why this endless harking back to previous centuries, instead of honestly facing the problems we see today in various parts of the world?

We only have to see what ISIS or Al-Shabab are doing in Africa, Mali or Mozambique, where it is not about race but about terrorism/religion, to wonder why there is not more coverage and protest at the barbarous brutality that is being meted out in these parts of the world?  There was almost no coverage of the barbaric murder by ISIS of mothers and babies in the maternity unit of an Afghan hospital last year.

How is it that those concerned for the climate can blockade the M25 and mess up the day of thousands of ordinary people but don’t take the trouble and expense to go to Moscow and blockade Putin’s roads in protest at his pollution of the climate through his military manoeuvres?

Are we seeing trigger warnings for The Kite Runner, or A Thousand Splendid Suns?  I haven’t noticed that we are, yet, despite being well-written and informative, they are deeply upsetting books.  But not written by writers who can be accused of white privilege.

The depressing, undemocratic fact is that these protesters are trying to disrupt our society and they seem to have enough spare time to try to destroy the institutions of law, the police, and government by focusing on history, on the past, and by undermining trust in the way things are run.  Of course, there are bad things that go on but there always have been bad things going on and we continue, as human beings, to endeavour to address them and improve matters.  Surely, we can find ways to live together that do not divide or cancel?

We should not be frightened into silence or agreement, we should not shrug our shoulders and disregard these infringements of our rights and liberties for that would be going back to the 1930s, to Nazis, or the Stasi, or to the incarceration in gulags of poets and writers during the Cold War, and we all know what atrocities happened after those early book burning mobs were not stopped.

We absolutely cannot let that happen again, for those periods of history were, indeed, utter hell.


7 Responses

  1. Well said Helen. I absolutely agree .. in our book group recently we read an enthralling, harrowing educational and realistic novel about the experience of Mexicans forced to flee their country because they find themselves in acute danger of being killed by the drug cartels. The author Jeanine Cummins researched her book extensively and interviewed many people in Mexico and Central and South America , yet was heavily criticised for writing it because she is a White North American…

    1. Yes, thanks Julia, David and I read American Dirt too and thought it exciting, frightening and excellent. There is plenty of evidence that there are people fleeing Mexico from these cartels.

  2. Brilliant piece Helen. I strongly encourage you to share this widely. It touches on such important and strongly relevant issues burning to get in the open. Is it in FB? May I share?

    1. Thanks Lora.It’s so good to hear from you and please do share – I am not very good at this tech/social media stuff so am not sure how best to spread it but suspect you know better than I do! Hope all is well with you. Hx

  3. I totally agree with you Helen the media is rife with jaw-dropping assaults on truthful common sense. One example of how this has been allowed to spread insidiously through our society is because lobby groups are influencing BBC policies unchallenged. So before any debate can take place one side has already decided it’s course. Our government shouldn’t be allowing these various groups to assume power ‘by creep’ to tell us how ‘woke?’ we should be on various social issues without open public discussion on them.

  4. You have excellent observations and you have written this excellently. I totally agree with you. Something very unusual is happening in today’s world and that is what connects us all – no matter where we are from or where we live. Thank you! Receive a big greeting from Croatia!

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