Friday, 19 July 2013

Misrepresentation

I want to temporarily leave my fabulous Scottish holiday, and comment on a personal attack that irks me because it's so unjustified.

Bloggers (or anyone who publishes) need to have a thick skin. It's so easy to offend or provoke someone out there. That's human nature, of course. There are many who say 'live and let live' and mean it, but also many who have a sharp eye for reasons to feel provoked. Then you may get an unexpected reaction, and you feel a bit hurt. All injustice seems unfair, and it hurts acutely because it's so unmerited. 'I honestly didn't mean to say that,' you think. 'In fact my post really doesn't say that.' But the comment stings all the same, and so you want to set the record straight. Not to bite back, just to explain and defend yourself. After all, you have let the hurtful comment stand, in the hallowed spirit of Free Speech. The same principle surely allows you to publish a rebuttal.

But so often it only fans the flames.

You eventually learn that self-defence is not always the best response. The kind of person who is looking for fault (or something to mock) is not going to be reasonable and back down, let alone apologise!

Back in December 2012, and on into January 2013, I had a tussle with GenderTrender, who became aware of my existence when I commented on a post about a transvestite who took part as a model in the photo shoot for a whiskey advertisement. I thought I made some good points about that person's professionalism, and how in a different context (such as a painting exhibited by a modern artist) the photograph used in the ad, which apparently showed a male person in women's attire having a stand-up pee in a men's urinal, would have been seen as a valid and interesting social comment.

But I shouldn't have risked becoming a blip on the GenderTrender radar. I was going through a phase of seeking different things to write about, and was beginning to cover some oddball subjects, and to write in a slightly more edgy way. GT eventually pounced on me as someone to lampoon. I survived the shock, but decided to take down the posts that had got me into such unexpectedly deep water; and then avoid any post titles or post subjects that would draw a repeat experience. At the end of the day, the world of GT and its author is alien to my world, and these two worlds do not have to intersect. Would you study a real shark by swimming with it, or through plate glass in an aquarium? Through glass, I think. So where an internet shark is concerned, through glass again, and not by prodding the creature with an electric spear to see what happens, unless I were part of an official Internet Shark Policing Authority. Nor am I saying who is the shark. That depends on one's point of view.

I will now remind you of a post I published on 29 January 2013 entitled Newspaper cartoons: are we too hard to draw? Here's the link, and I invite you to read it in full: http://lucymelford.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/newspaper-cartoons-are-we-too-hard-to.html.

It is about how newspaper cartoonists have (surprisingly) seemed unable to lampoon trans people, despite papers doing so very successfully in print and photographs. It was a serious piece related to occasional posts of mine on the excesses and insensitivities of the British Press where trans people are concerned - a valid subject for me to tackle, I hope you will agree. But this time from the aspect of cartoons.

I postulated that cartoonists need to have long-established visual sterotypes that they can depict. There is no traditional visual stereotype for a trans person, and so that makes them difficult to draw. This is unlike traditional characterisations like 'John Bull' for 'England' (completely outmoded, but still ingrained in the nation's subconsciousness, and therefore fodder for the cartoonist). As you will see, if you have read my post, I was incautious enough to mention historic depictions of Jewish people.

This brought forth a reaction from another blogger in America. The exchange that followed is a great example of how not to respond when wrong-footed. I should simply have said 'I know that Jewish people do not necessarily have the traditional appearance that a political cartoonist likes to use, and just because I touch on that subject it does not mean I embrace it as a fact. I am not anti-Semitic, full stop.' But the person who attacked my words was not reassured. 

I say that because in a post of hers dated 8 July 2013, entitled Nothing like promoting anti-Semitism, she has opened with:

T-Central is promoting the blog of the anti-Semitic Lucy Melford. What a surprise...

Then there is a reference to the video film my friend Alice had just made, which was chiefly about her life, her family and her poetry. Then:

(In case you've forgotten, Lucy is the one who supposes that there must be enough hooked-nosed Jews around for the stereotype to be true...)

To be fair, the post is not all about me, nor even all about T-Central (who seem to be criticised for featuring my posts), but about examples of sterotypic misrepresentation in general. I wouldn't have anything to say if the mention of me was fair and unprejudicial, but it is not. Or at least I maintain it is not. If you have read my post about trans cartoons, you may have formed a different view. In which case, I can only hang my head in contrition and develop ways to be more careful and sensitive in future. But for now the position is that I have been wrongfully attacked. So this exchange next took place.

I said:

Sigh.You seem to have it in your head that I dislike Jews, consciously or not. You are wrong. If you want a rational discussion on this, then email me - the address is in my Blogger profile - otherwise leave me out of any discussion about who hates Jews. Frankly, I have (for very obvious reasons) a great sympathy with ANY part of the world's population that is oppressed or misrepresented, and that includes Jews. Take that literally.

Lucy

These were the two consecutive replies from the blog's author, Carolyn Ann Grant:

1. You are the one who presumes that the stereotype of hook-nosed Jews exists for a reason. If that's not anti-Semitic, then I don't know what is.

2. And, by the way, I don't think you dislike Jews; I simply know you stereotype them. You made it clear you've only ever met one or two. (I guess the rest didn't wear their yellow stars the day they met you?) So how could you know if you like Jews? No, I'm not going to email you. If you need a discussion about why your views about Jews is reprehensible, then you need far more than an email discussion I have neither the time nor inclination for. If you're not able to understand why your views are odious, then I am not going to take the time to educate you.

I didn't see these replies until, curious as to why my invitation to explore the matter privately by email hadn't led to anything, I went back to her blog. Then I was faced with the question of whether to say anything more.

I decided I would say one more thing, on the basis that (a) despite some of the language - the comment about yellow stars, for example - I thought this blogger was fundamentally open to fair discussion; and (b) I didn't want a remark that I was anti-Semitic left on the Internet unchallenged, because it exposed me to possible retribution and victimisation. So I wrote a further reply, making these points:

(a) My original post was about trans people, and the problems of cartoonists who wish to portray them.
(b) The passing mention of Jewish people is confined to one paragraph.
(c) Mention of something does not mean one believes in it oneself.
(d) It's unfair to pounce on one paragraph as evidence of anything, and I challenged her to find similar words that denigrated Jews in any of the other 900-odd posts I've put out.

She wouldn't have to read all those posts. There's a search box on my blog. Trying 'Jew', 'Semitic' or whatever would reveal that I rarely mention anything to do with Jews, and really have no interest whatever in Middle-eastern affairs.

I'll do it for you. A search using the word 'Jew' brings forth just one post, on 13 January 2013, about UK charities. In it I refer with approval to the Biblical Good Samaritan who, although he was 'meant' to despise Jews, nevertheless was a life-saving friend to a Jew left lying injured in the roadside. The Samaritan saw to it that the poor man's hurts were treated; he paid for his convalescence; and he came back later to rejoice in his recovery. A search on 'Semitic' brings forth only my post on the lack of trans cartoons, in which I made that passing reference to the historical perception of Jewish appearance by most of Europe from medieval times onward.

When I last looked, my reply hadn't been published. Anything could be read into that. It could simply be that the blogger concerned has drawn a line. A point comes when it's time to stop an exchange going on and on without end. That's OK with me. I've now made my point here, in my own space.

If you want to examine the blog post in question, it's at http://carolyn-ann.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/nothing-like-promoting-anti-semitism.html.

The position on the following day
My reply still hasn't been approved and published by Ms Grant. Just as well then that I did so here, in case those searching for people who are 'anti-Semitic' turn up references to me, stalk me, and try to do me harm. I'm sure that Ms Grant wouldn't want a lighted petrol rag put through my front door, or the brake hydraulics on Fiona tampered with, or for me to be knifed in the street, but these things can happen. One must be so very careful when flinging accusations at other people, because they can get picked up by fanatics.

4 comments:

  1. I know that you're very hurt by these remarks, that were blown up out of all proportion. And dragging Alice into it is utterly unfair.

    There is an aggressive form of writing that turns would-be friends into enemies and, in doing so, loses the argument. It is CA Grant who has lost... which is a pity as much of her stuff is quite interesting.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks, Angie. Yes, I am indeed hurt. As I would be if accused of some other things, such as meanness or dishonesty, although I accept the point that one can be completely blind to one's defects, and of course one person's objective insight can be another person's repulsive prejudice.

    I don't expect my attacker to admit she over-reacted and has since been stoutly unpleasant. But a straightforward apology would be nice!

    Lucy

    ReplyDelete
  3. Apologies? I wish! I live with someone who doesn't know she is mean to me

    Shirley Anne x

    ReplyDelete
  4. Oh I'm sorry, Shirley Anne! I didn't realise the parallel in your own situation at home. Please excuse me.

    Lucy

    ReplyDelete

You must be registered with a proper blogging platform if you wish to make a comment. I have had to deny access to completely anonymous commentators.

This blog is public, and I expect comments from many sources and points of view. They will be welcome if sincere, well-expressed and add something worthwhile to the post. If not, they face removal.

Ideally I want to hear from bloggers, who, like myself, are knowable as real people and can be contacted. Anyone whose identity is questionable or impossible to verify may have their comments removed. Commercially-inspired comments will certainly be deleted - I do not allow free advertising.

Whoever you are, if you wish to make a private comment, rather than a public one, then do consider emailing me - see my Blogger Profile for the address.

Lucy Melford