Does male privilege really exist? I did not used to think so. But in recent years, I’ve come to realise that not only might it exist, but that, at least in one respect, I may also benefit from it. That is, I have the privilege of being able to write about certain contentious issues without being singled out and demonised for doing so.
In no area has this become more apparent than in our perpetual “gender wars”. My own views on the issue are fairly well-known: I believe human beings have chromosomes. I believe gametes exist. I don’t think homo sapiens are a hermaphroditic species. And I don’t think that the existence of creatures like the clownfish mean that humans are hermaphroditic.
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My belief is that something exists called “gender dysphoria”, but we know almost nothing about what causes it, know almost as little about how to respond to it and know infinitely too little to be assertive about it — let alone enough to medically experiment on children.
Why do I mention this? Only because, as I first expressed publicly to Lionel Shriver some years ago, it has become clear that men and women are treated differently in this debate.
Perhaps I am wrong and I have merely been able to express my views on trans issues either because nobody has noticed what I have written or because everybody knows I am a lost cause and highly unlikely to be bullied into silence. But then it may simply be the fact that I am a man.
After all, countless female authors have written articles expressing scepticism towards the transgender movement — many of them more moderate than my own. Yet almost every time, I have watched in horror as online and offline mobs are stirred up against them and not me. Julie Bindel, Kathleen Stock, Selina Todd, JK Rowling, Abigail Shrier, Helen Joyce — some of these women have been subjected to physical assault; the rest threatened with it.
Joyce, whose excellent book Trans came out last month, is just the latest to be hounded. For her troubles — a deeply researched, humane and thoughtful piece of work — she was subjected to entirely baseless and libellous claims of, among much else, anti-Semitism. Because there is nothing a trans extremist won’t say to try to intimidate their opponents. Libel laws appear not to bother them.
Another of the things that all these attempted witch-hunts have in common is that they are orchestrated by a small number of highly motivated activists who behave as they do precisely because they are so deliriously certain that they are on the right side. And no one is more certain in this regard than the YouTuber Owen Jones.
Like me, Jones happens to be a gay man. But unlike me he seems to think that transgender activism is simply the latest, logical progression in the gay rights movement. I think that transgender people are as deserving of dignity and respect as anyone else in society. I never have, nor ever would, treat them with anything other than courtesy and respect.
But I remain deeply uncomfortable about the idea of a young effeminate boy being told he is actually a girl or a young tomboyish girl being told that she is a boy — and then being medically transitioned to approximate the opposite sex. Rather than being seen as an advance for gay rights, I see it as the opposite. In fact, knowingly or otherwise, it absorbs one of the most homophobic tropes of the past: that men and women should fit a particular stereotype.
But so high on certainty is Jones that he consistently uses his considerable social media platform to denounce “transphobes”, who invariably end up being women.
That isn’t to say that Jones has never targeted a man. He has, for example, on a number of occasions libelled me, and on one occasion I suspect tried to have me sacked. So much for his concern that gay people are underrepresented in journalism.
But none of this bothers me. What does bother me is that he was one of the people — along with the very weird gays at a pseudo-publication Pink News — who has repeatedly tried to destroy JK Rowling’s reputation after the country’s most successful author had the temerity to say that women exist. Jones, Pink News and others consistently suggested that Rowling had said things she had not said, deploying one of the nastiest tactics of this inquisition. They pretended that rather than expressing a view they disagreed with — and that Rowling had every right to hold — she was, in fact, attacking trans people.
This is, of course, a deranged claim. But it is not an uncommon one. Last year, for instance, Jones was one of the more prominent figures in the witch-hunt against the then Guardian journalist Suzanne Moore. Moore happens to be someone I often disagree with. She is Left-wing; I am not. But by any standards, as a columnist she is one of the standout talents of her generation.
She is also one of the rare examples of a working-class woman who has made her way up the ranks of Britain’s commentariat solely through her own talent. But for Jones, any professed solidarity stopped the moment that a working-class woman dared to disagree with him on the issue of transgenderism. Eventually Moore was indeed pushed out of her position at The Guardian.
There is now a pattern. This week, Jones targeted another exceptionally talented female writer, Sarah Ditum, for the same reason: she disagreed with him about trans issues.
But this time, people started to notice the trend. As the Left-wing journalist Helen Lewis — formerly of the New Statesman — observed, it is becoming increasingly clear that Jones only seems to go for female journalists. She pointed out that a male journalist recently wrote something similar to Ditum, and did so in the low-circulation New Statesman to boot, yet Jones did not organise a pile-on against him.
And so I wonder if it’s time to start treating Jones in the same unforgiving way he treats everybody else. In a discussion with the campaigner Nimco Ali, which Jones enjoys circulating online, he obsesses over a single stupid phrase (“bum boy”) used by Boris Johnson in a Telegraph column a quarter of a century ago. He then asks Ali, who is godmother to Johnson’s child, whether she believes he is a homophobe.
But let us apply the same endlessly uncharitable interpretation to him. Owen Jones’s problem is that he hates women. He is a misogynist. Using his skewed logic, we might even say that because he treated Nimco Ali with such visible disdain he also has a particular problem with women of colour.
This is how Jones and his supporters treat their opponents. They distort their opponents’ language and demonise them. So why not treat him in a similar manner? The answer, of course, is because it would be terrible to live in a world where the rules were set by such awful people.
According to Helen Lewis, a number of her mutual friends with Jones no longer speak to him because they believe he has become a bully. She also observed that Jones has spoken publicly about feeling like an outsider, and about the times he’s been the victim of abuse in the past.
If that’s true, one might expect Jones to act with more compassion. But self-reflection has never been his forte — as countless women are starting to discover.