Cancel Culture

Laura Marcus: Why I “cancelled” myself

Cancel culture is bad enough. But many of us are getting ahead of the game and prematurely censoring ourselves, says Laura Marcus.

Have I betrayed fellow women by cancelling myself?

When Labour MP Rosie Duffield issued an apology for saying “only women have a cervix”, it created quite a stir on her Facebook page. The thing about social media is that it’s open to the public to comment if they wish.

So I decided to comment.

Like many women, I felt betrayed by what many of us saw as Duffield’s capitulation to bullies. Earlier that same day Labour’s affiliated LGBT+ group had demanded an apology from the MP as well as “reparations”. What these reparations might be, was never stated. But Duffield agreed to “work with” Labour’s LGBT+ group and the group welcomed this. Perhaps faced with a lack of public support from leader Keir Starmer, Duffield felt obliged to say “sorry” for causing offence by pointing out biological reality.

One comment on Rose’s page said simply: “You caved!” Others welcomed her back into the fold, but insisted sternly that she still had work to do. An apology to bullies is never enough.

Appeasement never works. They always come back for more.

Commenting on Facebook, I kept my posts calm and not remotely abusive. Paraphrasing from memory, I said: “Not everyone has English as a first language,” and: “Not all women know what a cervix is.” Then I added: “I’m a journalist and I’ve worked for the NHS on health campaigns. You need to target your audience clearly.” As a compromise, I suggested: “How about women and trans-men?” But someone said: “No. We must add non-binary and gender non-conforming.”

Even though my comments had been “liked” numerous times and much of the following debate was courteous and interesting, I felt I had no choice but to delete them all.

This is because I was castigated for saying cancer campaigns to prevent cervical cancer should be aimed at women. To which someone said the idea only women had a cervix had been debunked years ago and surely as a journalist I was aware of that? I wasn’t aware biology had changed since I left school. Well, that’s because it hasn’t.

Another poster said it was vital to mention trans men, people who identify as non-binary and those who are gender non-conforming in health campaigns for cervical smear tests.

As any spin doctor, publicist or campaigner will tell you: to get messages across you have to be clear; use as few words as possible. Get Brexit Done! Take Back Control! Stay Home. Save the NHS. If we’re no longer allowed to say the word “women” in a health campaign about women’s cancers but are forced to ensure it’s inclusive of everyone who “identifies” as a woman – or doesn’t “identify” as male or female – that won’t give a clear message. It won’t help save lives. Which, surely, is the whole point of a cancer campaign.

Anyone who’s gone to the trouble of identifying as non binary or gender non-conforming is well aware if they have or don’t have a cervix. The point of the campaign is to reach women who may not know what a cervix is. It felt as if some people on Duffield’s Facebook page were saying women’s health was less important than inclusive language.

Funnily enough, such demands are never made of campaigns about men’s cancers.

I made these points. But then, I deleted them because I knew from some of the hostile responses I risked being reported and banned. I’ve already been banned once from Twitter where crowing of Corbyn supporters made it clear I’d been targeted and mass reported. (I made an obviously jokey reference to the Twitter meme from the film Taken: I will look for you, I will find you…And I will kill you (HD).

Twitter took this seriously as a threat of violence.

A campaign on Twitter led by a fellow hack to whom I am forever grateful – also backed by a number of verified blue tick accounts – mercifully got me reinstated. But it’s left me with a fear of being mass reported again. I know I am watched on social media. I know I am targeted.

These days you need a Facebook account for a lot more than keeping in touch with friends and family. Especially as a writer. That scared me. I didn’t want to lose contact with my friends, people I’d known from long ago and “met” up with again on Facebook. Family I hardly see now. Work contacts. Chat. Support. My local community groups. I need Facebook.

So to save myself stress and anxiety, I deleted the comments. I backed down. I cancelled myself before they could cancel me. And I feel just awful about it. I feel I’ve betrayed fellow women who need women to stay strong and stand up for our rights. I feel I’ve betrayed my journalist credentials by deleting what I know to be the truth.

But I had to “cancel” myself because women don’t get a fair hearing from huge tech companies. It’s positively Soviet. Stasi. McCarthyism. They believe the sneaks and the playground bullies. Telling tales works. Okay so no one will cart you off to jail. We won’t get shot at dawn.

But expulsion from social media is today’s equivalent of expulsion from your village or local tribe. You become an outcast. And that taps into our greatest fear – shunned by our fellow human beings.

That’s probably why Duffield gave in. That’s why I cancelled myself. That’s how women are silenced. We silence ourselves.

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Laura Marcus

Laura Marcus is a freelance journalist and broadcaster.

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One Comment

  1. Indeed Delia. Women cancel themselves all the time. In so many tiny ways, we’re often not even aware we’re doing it.

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