Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Piers Morgan and the genderization of protest

Today on Good Morning Britain Owen Jones and Piers Morgan debated the recent petition to cancel Donald Trump’s state visit to the UK. The Huff Post transcribed the exchanged here.

The gist of the argument is that Piers Morgan, like Trump and the rest of the right wing press, thinks that protestors are being hysterical. Everywhere you look at the moment the word is being evoked, 'hysterical protestors', 'hysterical reaction to the Trump administration', 'hysterical rhetoric' etc. etc. etc.

The intention behind the use of this word is curiously gendered. After all, it’s manly not to care. Too much emotion is distasteful, and worse, it makes you ‘hysterical’ - a term which literally stems from the Greek for uterus. Hysteria has a long, dark history of being used against women - in the 16th, 17th and 18th century women were thrown into asylums en masse, 'hysteria' was the catch all term for women who exhibited pretty much any behaviour that was considered threatening to normal order. 

Today, branding a person or a movement as hysterical is a way to pathologize emotion. What's more, by applying ‘hysteria’ to Owen Jones and other male protestors, Piers is attempting an attack on their masculinity. He’s the bully in the playground who’s just called the other guy a pussy.

Of course, feminising someone or something you don’t like as an insult is not exactly new, but what’s interesting about this particular example is the insidiousness of it. My old French teacher once joked that when it came to gendering nouns “the bad things are usually feminine” and like gendered nouns, the sexism at play here is of the unembodied, 'read between the lines' variety. Accusing protestors of hysteria is a way of devaluing righteous anger along gendered lines.

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