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There is a Certain Shrillness...

by Holly Acton

We are 4 days into the latest shit-storm.

As any of us know who’ve been following this issue closely, there’s been plenty of  squalls round these parts the last three or so years – some vicious, some just absurd - but this one feels a little different. There’s been more white-water, bigger waves, one of the highest profile women in contemporary UK culture, philanthropist, role model, and all round much loved decent human being JK Rowling – this week lashed herself to the mast of the good ship ‘A-Women’s-Right-to-Speak Without-being-Killed-For-It ’ and must now, surrounded by baying hounds and a media feeding frenzy, weather the beast of all  pile-ons.


On Wednesday, when her explanation of her position on protecting women’s spaces first began to ripple across social media, there were whoops and cheers from feminists  all over the country. Followed immediately by the rising sense of dread as we realized how brutally she was bound to be punished for it...  And indeed she was, and continues to be, viciously attacked across every platform, by as broad a variety of misogynists and handmaidens as ever did turn out for a good lynching. Everyone from posh-boy actors and Jammina jameel to The sun Newspaper, via The BodyShop has turned up for their bit of the action, the noise of nashing teeth has been deafening. And yet something quieter and more interesting is also happening here. While the wokerati plus opportunist virtue -signalling luvvies and various psychopaths  have been foaming at the mouth, another set of voices can also be heard.  A steadily increasing march of  mostly women, but also a few men, who in contrast have remained calm, have kept a steady hand on the tiller, and are releasing a stream of lucid, intelligent, and often shrewd analysis and support for Rowling into the media-sphere. There,  low and behold, it seems that a lot of regular folks may even be starting to listen…

 Meanwhile Rowling herself appears to have done the only sensible thing and having said her piece has now gone for a spell  below deck.


Within the screaming din of twitter-world its possible to forget sometimes that there is actually another, more substantial world outside. A world in which emotional self-regulation is both appreciated and necessary, and from which the hystrionics of the TRAs and their language Gustapo appear at best a bit suspect, and to many - quite entirely mad.


There is ‘a certain shrillness’ to their voices that is rather telling, as Jonathan Van Maren pointed out on Thursday in an excellent piece in The Stream. He goes on to look at how this particular mob are reliant on their manufactured fear. They’ve patrolled every place where dissenters appeared, and policed almost entirely by fear. Fear of being fired, no-platforming, dragging women to court, doxxing, stalking, threatening violence, backed up by the occasional but highly public physical assaults and the regular attacks on women’s meetings.  And for the most part this abusers tactic has been successful. There are certainly thousands of women who would speak out if only they hadn’t been made to be afraid of the consequences. But what if one morning all the women woke up and were no longer frightened? Then what happens?


That shrillness that van Maren talks about is the escalation in vitriol that comes just before the panic….It’s become evident that JKR is not the ready to become the head on a pike they’d been hoping for. This isnt the first time they’ve attacked her, its happened before, she didn’t back down last time, and it looks like she might not again. So what will happen to the power of the mob if they cannot actually topple her? What if right in front of the whole world she just carries on with her life and is neither swallowed up by a hole in the ground nor reduced to a good public grovelling?


 Bullies rely on the illusion of control. An illusion held in place by the fear they instil in those they wish to subjugate. An illusion which falls apart pretty quick when we stop fearing them. And it seems that by this particular act of bravery, by putting herself out there in her honesty and vulnerability, knowing full well the attack she would get for it, JKR has set in motion the breaking of the spell of fear.


As I write this it’s gone midnight and i’ve just seen a leaked screen shot of Tomorrows mornings Sunday Times front page. Although it was only possible to read the headlines , and not any of the actual text. It seems that the leading story is Boris announcing the tories will be shelving  the contentious proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act.

We can be happy, this is a good thing, but it’s a battle and not the war. The TRA lobby will double down on their rhetoric and double up on their threats of violence and suicide. Women who speak out will still be publicly savaged in an attempt to keep all of us in line. But now is the time to hold steady. JKR has lent her voice, and in doing so the fear spell has already begun to unravel. Its our job now to keep up the momentum, to keep up the courage, to keep on speaking.  

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