This week we’ve read that transgender people are mentally ill (again), that negative assumptions about women in technology are rooted in sound science, and that liberals in general are hateful people and liars. Yep, it’s another week in right-wing media land.
Donald Trump’s announcement two weeks ago that he’s reinstating the ban on transgender people in the military — an announcement that took military leaders by surprise, even though he claimed to have consulted with them — has kept trans issues a hot topic on far-right sites, which we read so you don’t have to.
The reliably anti-LGBT Linda Harvey, who heads a religious right group called Mission: America, contends trans people are “gender make-believers,” and that’s actually one of the milder statements she made in her most recent column on BarbWire.
Because of the Trump policy, Harvey said, members of the military “will be unable to take advantage of the generous benefit of taxpayer-funded cosmetic and deconstructive treatment (aka, surgical mutilation) as ordained by the Obama administration.” Of course, many trans people will tell you that transition procedures were lifesaving for them, far from being “cosmetic” or “mutilation.”
Even worse, she was pretty callous about trans people’s high risk of suicide. “Social engineers claim that unless we legitimize cross-gender delusions, we are sending these tortured people to sure self-destruction,” she wrote. “Well, once again, that would be their choice — a very tragic one, but the benign existence of one’s anatomy should not cause a psychic emergency. When it does, it’s not reality’s fault.”
“Imminent self-destruction is a wild exaggeration,” she added. “The opposite is true. Long-term mental stability is much more likely to arrive once the gender-confused shed their unrealistic perceptions.” So, in her mind, the cause of trans people’s problems is not societal hostility and discrimination, it’s transgender identity itself.
Breitbart contributor Susan Berry made a similar argument in a column on a summer camp for transgender children. “The reported high rates of suicide among transgender individuals could be related to the underlying mental illness of gender dysphoria — recognized by the American Psychological Association — that remains masked due to the rush to affirm the confusion, even by professional medical organizations,” she wrote.
Actually, the APA doesn’t consider gender dysphoria a mental illness, and it endorses affirming care for trans people. “A psychological state is considered a mental disorder only if it causes significant distress or disability,” its website states. “Many transgender people do not experience their gender as distressing or disabling, which implies that identifying as transgender does not constitute a mental disorder. For these individuals, the significant problem is finding affordable resources, such as counseling, hormone therapy, medical procedures and the social support necessary to freely express their gender identity and minimize discrimination.”
Back on the military issue, Tami Jackson had this to say at BarbWire: “The Left and the LGBT activists wailed and gnashed their collective teeth over President Trump’s transgender ban for the military. Those same moaners and groaners have not an inkling of what it takes to build a mighty and lethal fighting force. Introducing sexually confused members into the units does nothing to help the cohesiveness imperative to do battle victoriously.” News flash: Many trans people are already serving in the military, even though they had to be closeted before the lifting of the ban last year, and doing so quite well.
Then there’s Alex Jones. Oh, Alex Jones. The man behind Infowars and The Alex Jones Show always takes things up by several notches. The watchdog group Media Matters has unearthed some choice nuggets from him; just this week he said that acceptance of transgender people in the military and society in general is a precursor to implanting computer chips in humans.
“What do you think the tranny stuff’s about?” he said on his show’s Monday episode, excerpted by Media Matters. “First it’s, ‘Oh, be nice to gay people in the military. Don’t be mean to them.’ Sounds reasonable. Now, boom! It’s trannies! And let’s teach sex changes, and give it to anybody you want in the military, and turn it into a giant factory of confusion that will sabotage human operations in the military — ahead of the robots replacing everybody, which is all admitted. And then when you accept the trannies and the sex changes, well, you’ll accept the brain chips and everything else, which they're now admitting. They simply set a new goal post that sounds incredibly radical so that you'll accept everything else they were already pushing behind that. And then they can persecute the military and persecute one of the only human cultures left — the male culture of war and defense — and so they can go in and social engineer and take control of that. While they steal from the public all of our basic rights, they give you the right to be transmutantagenic, to end your humanity, because that's the biological revolution.”
He has previously said scientists are creating pig-human and gorilla-human hybrids. Alex, we loved The X-Files, but we didn’t mistake it for a documentary. We also love Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novels, but we know they’re the work of her splendid imagination.
Much in the news this week has been a Google engineer’s memo, originally posted on an internal forum, asserting that underrepresentation of women in technology is due in part to innate, biological differences between men and women. Among other things, he contended that women, on average, are more prone to “neuroticism” than men and less willing to work the “long, stressful hours” that business success requires. He also claimed that Google is unwelcoming of conservative opinions.
After the memo went public (and viral), its author was identified as James Damore, and he was fired. Google CEO Sundar Pichai said the company wants to foster an environment where minority viewpoints can be expressed, but under the Google’s code of conduct, “advancing harmful gender stereotypes” is not acceptable, that “to suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK.” Damore apparently crossed that line.
Right-wing media types were quick to paint Damore as a victim of political correctness gone amok. We won’t get into arguing over his firing — suffice it to say he has a right to his opinion, others have a right to disagree with him, and Google has a right to choose its employees, within reason. But some have defended his memo by saying it’s based in sound science.
Breitbart, for instance, approvingly quoted an article from a site called Quillette. “I think it’s really important to discuss this topic scientifically, keeping an open mind and using informed skepticism when evaluating claims about evidence,” psychologist and researcher David P. Schmitt told Quillette. “In the case of personality traits, evidence that men and women may have different average levels of certain traits is rather strong.” Geoffrey Miller of the University of New Mexico said Damore’s “key claims about sex differences are especially well-supported by large volumes of research across species, cultures, and history.” And science writer Debra W. Soh said, “I found it to be a well thought out document, asking for greater tolerance for differences in opinion, and treating people as individuals instead of based on group membership.”
However, it actually seems that Damore’s statements about women would lead colleagues and supervisors to be less open-minded toward them and, indeed, make assumptions about them as a group rather than treat them as individuals. And science journalist Angela Saini had a piece in The Guardian countering the idea that there’s widespread scientific support for Damore’s statements about innate gender differences.
“Psychological studies show that there are only the tiniest gaps, if any, between the sexes, including areas such as mathematical ability and verbal fluency,” she wrote. “Navigating this complicated field for my latest book, Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong, I was told by a prominent American researcher into sex difference that he no longer refers to brains as sexually dimorphic, because the science simply doesn’t support this. There isn’t a neuroscientist alive who can say with confidence which sex any given brain belongs to. The science cited in the Google engineer’s memo is flawed.”
She added, “There are published scientific papers out there to support every possible opinion, even that black people are intellectually inferior to white people. Getting published doesn’t make an idea true, it only means that someone has managed to get it into print. In evolutionary psychology, theories are sometimes little more than speculation strung together with scant evidence.” Her whole article is well worth a read.
Speaking of untrue ideas, the far-right sites are spreading plenty of them, such as that there is no basis for investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia in the presidential election; that Trump’s presidency is boosting the economy; and that liberals are haters.
On the last point, here's a choice example from John Hawkins at Townhall:
“Most liberals are hateful people. As hateful as Nazis. As hateful as KKK members. As hateful as Fred Phelps and his God hates f@gs wackos, who are, come to think of it, Democrats. Liberals are as much defined by whom they hate as what they believe in.
“They hate straight, white males and non-liberal white people in general. They hate Christians. They hate Republicans in general and conservatives in particular. They hate women who don’t toe the feminist line. They hate the wealthy, business owners, bankers and stockbrokers. They hate southerners, gun owners, soldiers and cops. They hate gay Americans and minorities who don’t want liberal help.”
Well, of course he's wrong on all those counts, but let's take up one point, about Fred Phelps. The late Westboro Baptist Church hatemonger was a registered Democrat and was once a party activist; he maintained his registration, "refusing to change just because his party has," according to a 1999 Mother Jones profile. The magazine also noted, "Phelps’ campaign against homosexuality actually began in earnest just before the 1992 [presidential] campaign, when politicians, especially Democrats, began to openly court gay voters."
And while some other Phelps family members are registered Democrats, we seriously doubt they're supporting any Democratic politicians. During last year's campaign, they said this in a press release: “Unless you are loudly, boldly and unequivocally proclaiming that ‘God Hates Fags,’ that ‘Fags Doom Nations,’ and that America is therefore doomed, you are not a legitimate candidate to lead this nation in these last, dark days AND you are ashamed of Christ.”
So, while Hawkins's statement may be technically true, in spirit it's "pants on fire."
We'll be back next week, still reading the far right so you don't have to.