Why are left-wing women writing in right-wing newspapers?


 I asked this on Twitter and I ask it of myself.  

The thing that people never realise is just quite how much I consider these things, quite how much I have had to. For many years I have single-handedly supported a family. My job is writing. Before journalism, there were many other jobs. I expect neither a round of applause nor a medal for working.  

What I do expect in these crazed times is that it might be understood that we do what we do to get by. If you have always managed somehow to escape some hyper-capitalist work situation and grow your own and have a private income, well bully for you. I had never met people like that till I worked in the media and now I have.

And no, the sins of the fathers should not be inherited by the children, even though their property and their connections are alongside their sense of being able to speak for the proletariat.

So already, without even trying, I have ventured into the realm of identity politics: the unfashionable bit. The class bit that says people have to earn a living even if they are scum of the earth journalists.

Can I just say here I love journalists, even though we may come lower in the public trustometer than estate agents but sod it? Nosey, cynical awkward bastards of all persuasions are recognisably my tribe.   

This notion of a tribe may be rather quaint because the fragmented nature of current politics means that the tribe itself is fractured. We have those who set themselves up as journalists/activists somehow above the rest of the media. This idea is a little strange because good journalism is always activism and there are many different types of journalism.  The value of a brilliant film critic is to me as high as that of the most clickbaity columnist or even fabulous reporters and I never, ever forget that reporting is the basis of what we do. Without reporting, there can be no opinion.  

Again I think there are different kinds of reporting, and a good column can be reportage of a mood or a sensibility that brings the reader into a debate in a way that illuminates complex issues.

All these types of journalism are available at a website near you or even in an actual newspaper. For all its current difficulties print media still sets the agenda, which other media (TV, radio, social) follow. Some people clearly identify themselves by what paper they read as signalling something important about themselves.  

I have worked for several papers: The Independent, The Mail on Sunday, The Guardian and The Telegraph and although everyone imagines them to be very different, my overwhelming experience is that while the ideological tone comes from the top, most of the people that I have worked with on a day-to-day basis are similar. This is not what many want to hear.   

They want to hear that the Mail is staffed by evil, small-minded idiots while The Guardian is staffed by living saints. In fact, in many ways these two papers have been the most similar places to work for as they both know who their readers are and reflect them back to themselves.   

No one has to tell me what is wrong with the way it all works, a handful of rich men who own our press, an incredibly outdated model of “objectivity”, the absurd closeness between politicians and journalists on both the left and right, the corruption of the lobby system, the mad hierarchy within the press over what is and isn’t important. The sexism, the racism, the nepotism, the fact that very few people in the industry are working class. And on it goes.

Nonetheless, some of us have navigated our way through and I find the idea that there is only one place to write, and one thing to read, nonsensical. It’s a great time for magazines at the moment and I am delighted to see The New Statesman and The Spectator doing well. I can enjoy a discussion on Tortoise or Novara. Intellectual promiscuity to me is a glorious thing. Who would want to be stuck in a monogamous relationship with just one paper, one way of thinking, one “truth”?

Well, it turns out quite a lot of people: that censorious part of the left for whom The Guardian is never good enough but are still loyal to it.

There are some brilliant writers there of course there and just because I left  – after being put in an untenable situation – that does not mean I don’t want to read them. On a purely journalistic level, I am deeply sad at what the paper has become. A paper which should be at the vanguard of fighting for women’s rights has twisted its ideology so far to attract American readers/younger readers that it can no longer report basic stories.  

Why is Julie Bindel, a life-long campaigner against violence against women, writing in the Mail? Why is Nina Power, author of One Dimensional Woman, writing for The Telegraph? Why is Janice Turner continuing to turn out brilliant columns for The Times? Why am I happy in my new berth at The Telegraph? I can’t speak for them, only myself.

Quite simply because I am allowed to say what I want.  

Why did a powerful rebuke of the level of threat against JK Rowling come from Alex Massie? Why does James Kirkup continue to mount a strong defence of the rights of girls and women in the in-house magazine of the Tory party, The Spectator?  Whatever your views on the whole trans issue, is it not incredibly mean and petty-minded to leave JK Rowling off their birthday list as The Guardian  just did?

When I was there and still bothering to talk to them, I always would say that if we don’t have the arguments, they would be had anyway, and we would be gifting the right a moral superiority in being able to say it was more open and somehow more feminist than the left. That is exactly what has happened.  

Their answer to me at the time was that The Guardian were not going to address the whole trans issue via comment, they would simply somehow neutrally report on it.  The Observer, before anyone asks, has a different editorial team and one that is prepared to have an actual discussion.

The result of all this is not just The Guardian disappearing up its own wazoo in a purity spiral but the loss of many women readers. You could say such women are a bunch of middle-aged Terfs who shouldn’t be allowed to read newspapers anyway.  You could say good riddance as the Labour Party appears to be doing to lifetime supporters who simply want to protect single-sex spaces. 

All of this is politically and commercially suicidal and reminds me of the haute Remain position, that all Leave voters were thick racists so they did not need speak to them.  

My crime, and the reason I left the paper, was to say that biology is real – this is what most people actually think -  and it is not transphobic to say so. Sorry, no repentance from me. It is no coincidence that the last piece I wrote for the paper was about my experience of miscarriage at 20 weeks and an ectopic pregnancy that nearly killed me. Sure, I thought to myself, I won’t venture into the whole trans argument again but I refuse to shut up about the embodied experience of being female.   

Since then, and my only regret is that I did not leave sooner, it has become ever more clear that anyone who does not toe the line will find other places to write, especially if they are excellent journalists with stories to tell.  This is no longer about a “both sides” argument on the trans stuff; there is now, where there would have been a beating heart at the centre of a left-wing newspaper, simply a void. A silence.  

The paper does not report stories because the actual reporting is skewed. There could be no more liberal/left community than the Tavistock and indeed the whole world of therapy and yet who is breaking the stories that the whistle-blowers bring? Not The Guardian.  

The Wispa story, where a video went viral when a woman complained about seeing male genitalia, is one I would like to know the truth about.  The Guardian is continuing to report it as a set up or a hoax and I don’t know if it is. It is NOT reporting that five women have filed reports with the Los Angeles Police Department about the incident on 23rd June in which one saw “the suspect” get out of the jacuzzi nude in the women’s section, and when seeing male genitalia became scared and upset. Is this even a story about “trans rights”? Again, I don’t know because there is really never such a thing as objective reporting, and let's stop pretending there is.  

There are stories that suit an agenda and stories that don’t and there is silence and much burble about “white feminism”. Let’s not mention Keira Bell or Alison Bailey or Chiminanda Ngozi Adiche then? Let’s just reduce everything to another questionable binary. All I am still asking for here is discussion and that cannot happen at the moment on the so-called left, which didn’t need a spa to expose its deep-seated misogyny.  

The big intellectual arguments over sex and gender matter because somehow an inherently conservative ideology has managed to sell itself as radical and then deliberately, as a tactic, refuse to debate it: the Stonewall position. Most of us feel surely that trans people should be treated fairly, not discriminated against, but cannot understand why such a small percentage of the population should now be the only way in which feminism can be discussed.  

Today, we will see Laurel Hubbard lift weights and many will question the fairness of this. Sports writers have quietly been some of the best defenders of women, I think because they have to tackle the question of basic fairness and how we measure what bodies can do. No one seriously thinks that measuring testosterone is all there is to it and even the IOC is now backing down on this.

To discuss this though one will have to read The Mail, The Times or The Telegraph. Even the great Martina Navratilova is persona non grata, openly gay with a trans coach; her questions about fairness cannot be answered in the pages of The Guardian. They are inconvenient.

I was inconvenient. The questioning of ideologies of all kinds is what writers do. It is what journalism can be. To stop such questioning is the shutting down of speech and it is cowardly.

That is why left-wing women end up writing in right-wing newspapers. Our “home”, you see, was not a safe space. Home, as too many women know, is where the hatred is.  We know too well the experience of leaving “home” to speak our truths. So it’s no great surprise to me. feminism luckily is portable; the ability to speak up about the rights of women and girls cannot be destroyed by hectoring men rewriting history, and young women with extremely limited life experience.  

When given the chance, people genuinely want to understand what is going on: look at the success of Trans by Helen Joyce or Material Girls by Kathleen Stock. Thank god for publications like A Radical Notion by Dr Jane Clare Jones. At certain times in history, heretics would have had to go underground.  

No longer.

 We simply find places that still allow free speech and when “the left” has one of its spasms of wondering why it no longer connects to ordinary people, we log out of Twitter with its witch finder generals and smile to ourselves.

Left? Right? I do not need to answer that, surely? I am strictly non-binary.  

**Illustrations by Ruby Cydney