Imagine the headline “Divorcing US parents make their children Republican”. You don’t have to, actually – because it’s the headline to this piece. Care to challenge it? Because I’ve got proof. Kellyanne Conway, currently President Trump’s counsellor and the manager for his election campaign, is (a) Republican, (b) the child of divorced US parents.
Let’s go one stage further. According to a report in the Daily Mail in 2013, divorce messes up the children. So, by extension, if US parents divorce, their children not only become Republican, they become messed-up Republicans. So much for the Republican stance on the family. In order to make lots more Republicans, even messed-up ones, they should be encouraging divorce, not opposing it.
Now, I don’t know any children of divorced US parents – so it’s easy for me to claim this. I have no personal investment in that claim. It’s a simple observation, from a very limited sample.
Which all goes to show it’s pretty easy, when discussing a group where you don’t know anybody, to think that the person you’ve talked to (or researched) is representative of that group. You may even strike lucky and find a second or third member of that group who says much the same thing.
But a sample of 3 is rarely representative of the whole group, unless the group numbers 5 or fewer. It’s basic statistics.
Jenni Murray (of BBC Woman’s Hour fame) has hit the news in a small way today by insisting that trans women are not women. Her case is supported by interviews with two trans women who seemed more obsessed by appearance than anything else. The Sunday Mail helpfully found a third trans woman to support her view.
If you look at what India Willoughby actually said, she was asking for people who worked in particular professions to look the part. Because poor appearance may have an impact on the perception of the business, she understood why some employers, the Dorchester Hotel in this particular instance, may choose to implement certain dress codes.
Whether or not you agree with this, there is no doubt that businesses do implement dress codes. There is a certain societal pressure on people to “look the part”. Where this becomes problematic is when it imposes discomfort, cost or voyeurism onto one particular group of people, usually women. Forcing women to shave their legs and wear skirts, high heels or makeup is, in my view, a step too far. In my view, and from what I understand as reported at the time, the Dorchester Hotel’s policy regarding women’s dress codes is wrong.
Does that make me a “real woman” – because I pass the Murray feminism test? If it does, then her bland statement fails. If it doesn’t, even though I agree with her on dress codes (and other feminist issues as well), then there is something else underpinning her viewpoint. Some people who watched the interaction between Murray and Willoughby in December last year reported Murray’s questioning as “hostile”.
In the early days of my transition, I was careful to always make sure that I was displaying enough “clues” to make sure that my femininity wasn’t challenged on the street. Sometimes I failed. But this meant that skirts and makeup tended to be the order of the day. As I grew in confidence, my need for these external prompts (for other people) declined. It took at least a couple of years.
But that’s a far cry from insisting that all women (or even all trans women) do what I did. It also highlights the problem of the media’s standard approach – which insists that newly transitioned trans women speak for all trans women. How you perceive and understand yourself and, to some extent, the world around you changes over time.
What Murray’s statements really show is one of the problems underpinning the way our media understands and reports things.
The “Milo affair” a couple of weeks ago demonstrated clearly that the “free speech” argument does, indeed, have limits. So it’s no longer an argument about the purity of the concept. Instead, it’s a discussion about where those limits are drawn. This happens to be what I’ve been saying publicly for a couple of years now.
The insistence on certain parts of the media for “balance”, presented in a 50-50 “debate”, is also problematic. If taken to its logical endpoint, then every BBC documentary presented by Prof Brian Cox should also have an equal amount of time given to a member of the Flat Earth Society. So, again, it’s not really “balance” that the media is looking for, but “debate”. I’ve also been saying this for a number of years.
And now we have “sampling” or “jumping to conclusions”. In some ways this is the flip-side to the balance debate. Because you have found someone in a community that says X, that entitles you to draw the conclusion that everyone in the community also thinks X, which leads on to other conclusions. The old PCC supported the right of a newspaper to justify a headline expressing outrage over something as long as they could find one person, just one, to express outrage. This is exactly what Murray has done, and is plainly flawed (as I’ve hopefully demonstrated at the start of this piece). The previously assumed responsibility of the journalist or reporter to understand more than the bare basics of an issue, or fairly present an issue, is no longer there.
Just for the record, I suppose I ought to clarify that I don’t think that children of divorced parents are necessarily messed up. Nor do I think that children from divorced American families are necessarily going to end up Republican.