hypocrisy, thy name is rowling

30 Aug

It may be a bit late to discuss this; Loten brought it to my attention a week or so ago.

The article is titled “JK Rowling Goes Off on Homophobic Haters and Shares Theories on Stopping Internet Trolls.” Here is what she is quoted as saying on Twitter:

“Can’t decide which is more offensive in this tweet, the stupidity or the spite.”

“It’s an arguable point, but I think this focus on how the bigot/troll/bully feels is odd, I’m afraid. Not all ‘trolls’ air their views purely for attention. They want to hurt. They want to intimidate. And the victims get driven out of what should be safe spaces by their venom. If we all challenged hate, social media might feel a much nicer place for minorities, and women and gay people.”

Part of me wants to applaud her for saying this. This is a genuinely nice sentiment, and a needed one, and I don’t actually think there’s much if anything I disagree with in there. I’ve been observing the phenomenon of hateful trolling and harassment on the internet for a while (it’s hard not to if you’re involved in atheism, for instance, or anything remotely to do with feminism and gender; I haven’t personally gotten a lot of it aimed at me, but that’s because I’m a small-time blogger and don’t write much), and this is more or less accurate. Even if not entirely conscious (because the people doing this aren’t generally paragons of self-awareness), that does seem to be the motivation and certainly is the effect; if you’re not aware of how bad things get, go read We Hunted the Mammoth or one of countless other blogs that documents the worst of the internet. Anyone who can push back against harassers and bullies should do so, because the alternative is ceding our spaces to them.

That said, Rowling is saying this?

The same Rowling whose gay characters are closeted until she decides to out them years later (outside the text) for attention? (And which, taken in context, seems to imply that “love” makes you evil unless it’s heterosexual or parental love, in which case it’s powerful deus-ex-machina magic?) Or endorses a play which baits a homosexual relationship between its leads and decides to force them into heterosexuality (via sexual harassment apologism, no less) at the last possible moment?

The same Rowling who claims to be feminist but struggles to depict women outside of the roles of love interests, wives and mothers? Who, again, endorses a play which uses sexual assault for laughs? [And who depicted rape and its aftermath in The Casual Vacancy in such a disgusting way I literally threw the book across the room and have never forgiven her for it?]

The same Rowling who has no problem with bullying as long as the bullies were placed in the proper arbitrary categories, and repeated this pattern so often that an acronym (IOIAGDI, “it’s okay if a Gryffindor does it”) needed to be coined?

The same Rowling who essentially says that unless bigotry looks like Voldemort, it isn’t bigotry? (I present for your consideration Arthur Weasley, who considers muggles curiosities to gawk at and appropriate material culture from, or Ronald Weasley, who doesn’t hesitate to renege on his word and try to cheat goblins, who considers himself above muggle law and uses magic to cheat a driving test, amongst other things. And the “Harry Potter Prequel“, in which the loathsome James Potter and Sirius Black are shown abusing muggle police for fun.). Paternalistic racism is still racism, unintentional racism is still racism; not all racism looks like the Klan or the Nazis. Rowling’s universe desperately needs a Muggle Lives Matter movement.

[The Cormoran Strike books are also full of racism. And sexism. And ableism. And… It’s also worth pointing out the lack of anyone who isn’t white in most of her work. HP has, to my recollection, one explicitly black character and three explicitly Asian characters, and a couple more were later revealed offscreen to also be people of colour. The Casual Vacancy had one family of Indian stereotypes. And the less said about the Strike books, the better, particularly since they’re set somewhere as diverse as London. Not to mention the extremely poor handling of Native cultures more recently with all the Ilvermornay nonsense.]

The same person who wrote all of those things, and many more besides, expects to be taken seriously when spreading an anti-bullying, anti-bigotry message? Truthfully, I find it hard to believe the same person wrote her oeuvre and the quoted tweets. I suppose one could try to argue she could have learned since writing the Harry Potter books… except that, as we’ve learned from examining the Cursed Child play and the Cormoran Strike books, she’s still writing things that are problematic and insensitive at best. Loten speculated to me that Rowling could have outsourced her Twitter account to somebody else; I’m willing to be slightly more charitable, and say that maybe she’s a skilled parrot who repeats arguments without understanding them.

I’m going to make a horrible comparison here; I honestly think this might be like the respondents in Lisak and Miller, and similar studies. Plenty of men will admit to rape as long as you describe it using other words (“no I’ve never committed rape, but yes I have had sex with a woman by force when she didn’t want to”). Perhaps this is a similar case of not connecting a word to its definition – Rowling may know “bullying” and “hate” and “homophobia” are wrong but not necessarily what those words actually signify?

Plenty of us have internalised biases and bigotries, that’s inevitable when living in kyriarchy; it’s difficult to fight against those forces unless we’re able to identify and try to correct it in ourselves wherever possible. There’s an old saying (ironically, from an ancient book full of bigotry) that says to tend to the plank in your own eye before the speck in another’s. It’s good advice, and maybe Rowling should follow it.

I don’t necessarily want her to stop saying these things, because they’re good things and people do need to say them. But it might be nice to see a bit of self-awareness and reflection.


Posted by on August 30, 2016 in mitchell


Tags: , , , ,

9 responses to “hypocrisy, thy name is rowling

  1. maryj59

    August 30, 2016 at 4:59 pm

    Oh, and – Snapewife. Bigot. Racist. Anti-Semite. I’ve been called all those things by “Harry Potter” fans, for one reason only: I’m a Snape fan. This is also bullying. It’s only recently that Rowling has told the self-styled Gryffindors to back off and stop slamming a character she loves. Initially, back in the days when the Harry/Hermione fans were aligned against the Harry/Ginny fans, Rowling herself took sides. Far from speaking out against the bullying taking place in the fandom–on both sides–Rowling encouraged it. I’m glad she’s finally speaking up, especially on such serious matters. I think she does mean well. But it almost seems like too little, too late.

    • mcbender

      August 30, 2016 at 6:09 pm

      Anti-Semite? Seriously? I think I’m Jewish enough I’m allowed to be seriously offended by that. What the fuck, that doesn’t even make any sense.

      (Didn’t anyone tell these people they didn’t have to believe Shakespeare telling them Shylock was the villain?)

      I’d forgotten about those awful shipping wars and “Snapewives” and so on (never mind Rowling’s own bizarre remarks about “women liking bad boys”). I largely avoided it myself because I’m something of a latecomer to fandom, but I remember reading about it back in the day, that stuff got seriously brutal. DIdn’t she call Harry/Hermione shippers delusional, among other things? (although honestly, I’ve seen some pretty nutty stuff from them over the years, the shoe may fit some of them… then again, they honestly may have been driven to it).

      I’m willing to believe she means well. But as so many people have said over the years, intentions are not magic. Too little too late is exactly right. Except it’s not even that, because she says these things at the same time as promoting various forms of bigotry (by, e.g., signing off on Cursed Child, ignoring Native Americans’ criticisms, and so on and so forth), which is honestly what I was trying to get at here.

  2. mary

    August 30, 2016 at 9:08 pm

    Well, that happened only once, and in a slightly different context. But it *was* someone I met in the “Potter” fandom who said it. Apparently, if you like Snape, or even see the Slytherins as human, you are a Nazi sympathizer. Yes, it’s ridiculous. The shipping wars were ridiculous, too, and I do think it made it worse that Rowling chimed, seeming to take sides with some fans over others. She did say Harry/Hermione fans were delusional. It didn’t help.

    And then there is the anti-Slytherin and anti-Goblin bias in the books, chattel slavery as perfectly okay, all sorts of stereotyping (French people, Irish people, and so on), the anti-Muggle bias that’s never seriously questioned, and on and on. The lack of thought and lack of depth is so clear that I wasn’t surprised by how badly Rowling dealt with Native American history and spirituality. Saddened, but not surprised.

    • mcbender

      August 30, 2016 at 10:49 pm

      Eurgh. Sounds like the problem I keep coming across in Potter fandom (and plenty of other fandoms besides, truthfully) where people are unable to distinguish between what they’re told and what they’re shown in a text. (Of course, this is moot in the case of good writing, because they shouldn’t be inconsistent, but we’re not dealing with good writing here.) So then Rowling/narrator claims Slytherins = Nazis and because she says it, it must be true! Therefore you’re evil for liking them. I suppose there’s a sort of logic there, if you read on autopilot and your brain is turned off.

      It does kind of amaze me that these books continue to get worse and worse the more we look at them (we’re still uncovering new things to hate after all these years!). As you say, with all of those things in the books, the Native American thing shouldn’t have been a surprise.

  3. sellmaeth

    August 31, 2016 at 5:59 pm

    I think Rowling genuinely means well. As a woman, she does not herself profit from sexism, so I am willing to believe that her homophobia and racism are also not intentional. Yes, she only stated that Dumbledore is gay after all the books had been published already, and it was never written down, but there are enough books that have no homosexual characters at all. And yes, there is a lot of racism, but it is easy to not see the implication of Arthur Weasley’s obsession with all things muggle – after all, she invented this “race”, and is a “muggle” herself.

    Writing is a bit like taking one of those tests for sexism or racism that measures subsonscious bias. It shows messages you absorbed without even thinking about it.

    I am pretty sure that, if confronted with a question like “Do you think it is okay to treat people differently because of their sex, sexual orientation or skin colour?”, she’d reply “no”, even if no word with “-ism” was used. So,not like those rapists that gleefully admitted they raped women when the word rape was avoided.

    More like all those men, who, when another male is accused of rape, instinctively defend him, because they subconsciously identify with the man and have absorbed the message that “women lie about rape”. Still bad, but not as bad.

    • mcbender

      September 2, 2016 at 3:19 am

      I’m sure she would say that. I guess I may have worded it badly, and the rapists comparison was definitely an uncharitable one. We’re definitely dealing with internalised prejudices here (or, more kindly, internalised cultural narratives, which you were getting at; likewise, internalised misogyny is depressingly common). And we all have them, too. I just think that in many of these cases, especially when the contrast is so glaring, it’s important to point it out.

      Talking the talk is all well and good, but it isn’t enough, and it’s important to be able to recognise when we’re failing to live up to the ideals we claim. I think writers have a responsibility to think about the unconscious messages that end up in their work, because, just as unconsciously as the writer put them there, many readers will absorb them and perpetuate the cycle.

  4. Derived Absurdity

    September 1, 2016 at 6:40 am

    Well, there was also that one time a while ago I vaguely remember, where she said something about how girls need to be body positive and that we shouldn’t shame people for their weight… and I was like, um, Rowling, your books are some of the most blatantly fat-shaming books I’ve ever read. Shut up and get some self-awareness. So she’s been a hypocrite for a while.

    She also clearly has no problem with bullying (as long as you don’t actually call it bullying, of course). Harry Potter has always to me had a pretty clear pro-bullying message. As long as it’s done by the right people.

    They’re also sexist in ways beyond just not having good roles for women. Pretty much without fail anything remotely feminine is depicted as bad (whether they’re done by men or women). Anything masculine is usually depicted as good. The women she does put in a positive light (Hermione, Ginny) are good because they explicitly eschew stereotypically feminine traits (Hermione is contemptuous of other girls, Ginny refuses to cry, etc). And yet she calls herself a feminist. Obviously.

    If I recall correctly the books had at least three black characters, Angelina Johnson, Kingsley Shacklebolt, and Blaise Zabini. Not that that really means much, but still. I agree that the books are full of stereotypes about ethnicities and foreign nationalities.

    I’m sorry for not posting anything recently. It’s just that I personally have a very hard time giving a shit about anything this woman (Rowling) writes or says that isn’t the original Harry Potter series. Everything she writes is worthless crap. I realized I honestly can’t bring myself to care at all about her “adult” stories or this new dumb play or whatever. I just find them really boring. Even when they’re being criticized. So I haven’t said much about them.

    • mcbender

      September 2, 2016 at 3:34 am

      Thank you for providing so many more examples. I wrote this post pretty quickly and just went with the first ones to come to mind, I certainly didn’t mean it to be anything near exhaustive.

      I think I remember the fat-shaming/body-positivity thing too; at the very least, I remember how angry it made Loten (and me on her behalf), if not the actual remarks themselves. I could well have written this post then, and seriously considered doing so, I don’t remember why I didn’t. Maybe I thought it would come across as petty (which, truthfully, I still think to some degree, I just can’t bring myself to care any more).

      There is actually an interesting discussion to be had about things like femmephobia in the context of feminism (I remember a lot of conflict around that in the transition from second to third/fourth wave feminism; a lot of people initially seemed to want to agree that things considered feminine were bad and to abandon them to gain respectability, and only later did others come around to thinking maybe the prejudice against those things, and people being pressured into them, was the problem rather than the things themselves). That said, I don’t even think the books reach what I’d consider the second-wave view; I honestly don’t think Rowling has done enough thinking to form a coherent ideology.

      I think Dean Thomas is supposed to have been black also, though IIRC that’s interview canon (and possibly movie canon? I don’t remember) and there wasn’t any indication of that in the books. And there are other characters of colour (the Patil sisters, Cho Chang) though that opens its own can of worms, there are definitely harmful stereotypes there. I think the real issue I have with Rowling is less actual racism in the books, and more that they model the same kind of thought processes that feed racism and similar forms of structured bigotry in the real world. They might not teach you anti-black racism specifically, but they’ll certainly teach you to ignore and rationalise and make excuses for it.

      I don’t blame you not wanting to comment; truthfully, I wish we could have ignored e.g. the Cursed Child play too, I’d probably be better off for it. I’m hoping we’ll be able to get back to the actual Potter books soon, we’re having some logistical/scheduling issues that keep us from working on them but if all goes well that should improve in the near future. Regardless, we appreciate your input when you do have something to say.

      • Derived Absurdity

        September 3, 2016 at 10:53 pm

        Thanks. I wasn’t scolding you for missing other things, lol. I was just providing some of my own thoughts.

        I also wouldn’t really call the books racist. But they are full of stereotypes and stuff. Did you see that study that came out a short while that supposedly showed that being a fan of Harry Potter was directly correlated to disliking Donald Trump? lol. It was apparently an even tighter correlation than age, race, income, gender, and so on. Apparently the most reliable sign of disliking Trump is being a fan of Harry Potter. I thought that was funny.

        So I can’t really dislike these books too much. 🙂


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