This British columnist, feminist and accustomed to controversy, is the latest journalist to resign from a prestigious English left-wing newspaper, against a backdrop of tensions with her “woke” colleagues. She explained it in a long and fascinating testimony.
On November 25 the UK site Unherd published a long essay – nearly 40,000 characters long – titled “Why I Had to Leave The Guardian”. This testimony is disturbing but not devoid of black humor (like its author Suzanne Moore), and has an air of déjà vu: it recalls the text of Bari Weiss, another “controversial” journalist who resigned from a major English-speaking left-wing media, and who slammed the door of The New York Times this summer. In both cases, the journalists say they have been the target of attacks from their “woke” colleagues, outraged by their positions deemed unacceptable in the columns of their respective newspapers. Moore had announced her departure from the newspaper ten days earlier, via a tweet referring to the Mad Men series, before specifying that this departure was a choice on her part, and not a constraint.
Moore, 62, is of a different generation than Weiss, 36. As a feminist, she followed, for example, both as a journalist and as an activist, the fight against a homophobic law proposed in the UK under Thatcher at the end of the 80’s. An editor that worked with several British newspapers (Daily Mail, The Independent, etc.), this 2019 winner of the Orwell Prize for several of her political columns published in the Guardian was at the center of a controversy last March. It was not her first scandal – she had already resorted to police protection due to threats made against her – but it is the cause of her recent departure from the newspaper. Her column “Women have the right to organise. We will not be silenced” was the spark which ignited the fire.
Cancellation and accusations of transphobia
A little background: a few days before its publication, the English historian Selina Todd was excluded from an event planned at the University of Oxford during which she was to give a short speech. This cancellation was motivated by Todd’s links with the feminist organization Woman’s Place UK, deemed “transphobic” by various LGBTQ + activists for having notably called for the maintenance of single-sex places reserved for women in public spaces. An a priori harmless complaint, but not that much given that a bill in the UK on gender identity was conceived to allow any man to self-identify as a woman, without prior justification (subject already mentioned on our site in the article which recounted the torments of another British journalist accused of transphobia – Helen Lewis).
Written in support of Selina Todd, the text by Suzanne Moore published on March 2, 2020, argued that “sex is not a feeling” and that “female is a biological classification that applies to all living species”. And to clarify that:
“Female oppression is innately connected to our ability to reproduce. Women have made progress by talking about biology, menstruation, childbirth and menopause. We won’t now have our bodies or voices written out of the script”.
Further on, Moore – who does not declare any animosity towards transgender people – adds:
“It is not feminists who murder trans people, although this might be the impression you would be left with if you relied solely on Twitter for your information”.
The letter from indignant colleagues
What she wrote once again earned her a flood of insults on Twitter, and also accusations of being a TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist), but it is within her own newspaper that Moore triggered the most hostile reactions.
As Buzzfeed later revealed shortly after the publication of her column, an open letter signed by more than 300 collaborators of the venerable British media, addressed to its editor-in-chief, alarmed that “the repeated publication of transphobic content is an obstacle to our work and augments our reputation as a media hostile to trans rights and transgender employees”. Even though Suzanne Moore’s name is not explicitly cited, the letter is a reaction to her essay, accused of having resulted in the resignation of a trans employee (who had, according to Moore, already resigned a few weeks earlier).
The sending of this letter followed a stormy meeting within the newspaper – in the absence of Moore who, due to her freelance status, never went to the London editorial office – during which employees would have declared themselves “unsafe” following the publication of such comments in their newspaper. It will be noted that this notion of “danger” following the publication of remarks in a media was also put forward by ex-colleagues of Bari Weiss in the New York Times after the controversy of a tribune deemed racist during the full return of the Black Lives Matter movement following the death of Georges Floyd in the summer of 2020.
In a video interview accompanying the posting of her long testimony this week, and visible below, Moore returns to this notion of “feeling unsafe”: “We must listen to people when they say they feel unsafe, we must not put that aside, but when I hear that, I think more of behaviours than written words. As far as I’m concerned, culturally, whether in music, literature or cinema, my favorite works may have aspects that put me in danger as a woman, but I don’t want a sanitised culture”.
And she continues :
“If unsafe means making uncomfortable, one can make this word say anything (…) If my writings really had this power, it would make me a witch capable of casting spells. I mean, it would be bloody brilliant! ”.“If I could actually write something that causes this, I would be happy, I’d do it tomorrow. But I don’t think words themselves are unsafe”.
The journalist also emphasises that, in the past, such reasoning was at the origin of the burning of books deemed too dangerous.
The left targeted, the right benefits
In her testimony, Moore denounces the “sectarian” aspect of a certain British left – in particular the pro-Corbyn, the former Labor leader recently suspended from the Labor Party after allegations of anti-Semitism – and laments the lack of support from his hierarchy after the letter fiasco:
“This to me was utter cowardice. Shouldn’t you stand by your writers? But on this issue, the Guardian has run scared. I suspect this is partly because of Guardian US sensitivities, and partly because the paper receives sponsorship from the Open Society Foundation, which promotes trans rights”.
Suzanne Moore’s essay (she has just announced her upcoming departure from Twitter) was widely relayed on social networks, in particular by the Reuters Institute research center and the influential pro-freedom of expression NGO Index On Censorship :
On the French side, even though the feminist and member of Charlie Hebdo, Inna Shevchenko, shared the text and congratulated its author, we only notice – for now – one review in the media: in the very right-wing Valeurs Actuelles, the same day that two deputies from the Les Républicains party asked the President of the National Assembly to create a mission of information around the cancel culture in university circles.
This preemption of the subject by the right and the far-right – often out of opportunism to tackle ideological opponents – seems to echo the criticisms from the left that dot Suzanne Moore’s essay: “lately it has been hard to define what the left consists of beyond smug affirmation ”, “I have been censored more by the left than the right and it gives me no pleasure to say that”.
However, it would be wrong to paint her as a neo-conservative, reading this passage towards the end of her testimony:
“Sure I understand the clichéd trajectory that as one grows older, one moves from Left to Right. Actually, I would say in my case this is not so: class politics becomes ever more pertinent to me, not less. In these fearful reactionary times, I will not be fearful and I will not be reactionary, but I will centre women and children and the possibility of freedom, as I always have, at the heart of my work”.