Cancel Culture II: Electric Boogaloo
Yet again, as I stare past my various WIPs and ignore looming deadlines, I find myself writing about cancel culture in the literary world.
My previous piece was admittedly tongue-in-cheek, a warning that cancel-ers may become the cancelled after being none too careful about their past exploits. That words and their acceptability change, and that the old adage about sinning and throwing stones still stood. This will not be like that.
I am deeply saddened to learn of the firing of Sasha White (@sashasemyonovna) by Tobias Literary Agency, for views that she expressed on her alt (non-professional) account (@iamGrushenka), and a tweet of support on her professional account. The terrible views in question were dubbing JK Rowling's TERF wars essay 'nuanced and insightful', questioning the progressiveness of they/them pronouns and musings on where trans rights and women's rights intersect.
These tweets were found, her agency alerted, and Sasha was fired within hours:
Draconian US employment laws aside, it is appalling that a literary agent can be fired for views that 'go against the grain.' It used to be that the literary world, along with the world of art, fashion, and anything else that welcomes the strange and opinionated, were the first to strike out with so-called counterculture views. It was a badge of honour. How can we express our disdain with the status quo? How can we lift the forgotten, the odd, the weirdly wonderful? Unfortunately, being woke is now corporate. It is embedded within workplaces, within meetings where straight, white and (gasp) cis men debate how best to protect their bottom line. It is beautifully ironic that the Tobias Literary Agency makes use of the US's terrible at-will employment laws (laws they no doubt railed against in college, at the bar, or in many an essay), to silence a woman with an opinion.
Now that it is popular, now that gay marriage is legal across much of the West, now that it is socially acceptable to support the LGBT movement, companies are suddenly digging out their rainbow-print boxers from the back of the cupboard. Do you think they really care? Where were they when being gay got you ostracised (or worse), when being trans was laughed off? When hospitals barred you from seeing a dying partner because you weren't classed as 'next of kin?' Do you, with your background of Critical Theory, really believe that businesses support this out of the goodness of their hearts? If so, I have an ornate, expensive bridge ready to sell.
Now, because everyone is suddenly a policy expert, I have spent my morning coming up with some ideas on how this madness can be tackled:
1) Businesses need to have a contingency plan for when employees are outed in such a way - ESPECIALLY if there are no links to their professional life on social media. Granted, posing with a Swastika flag in your McDonald's uniform probably won't instigate any sympathy, but simply stating a belief without malice on private social media should not, in any instance, be grounds for a dismissal. I will go against the grain a little here, and believe that all opinions are worthy of statement and should be debated, even ones that I myself find abhorrent. I was once told in all seriousness that pre-menopausal women cannot be leaders because of some vague notion regarding hormones. Naturally I disagreed with this, and whilst I didn't change the gentleman's mind, we left with a greater understanding of our positions. It's a ridiculous stance - but Mr. Gentleman has every right to believe and express it on his social media. Sasha White deserves the same. This is something that businesses, and HR departments, need to take note of.
2) Rather than reflexively firing on the spot, businesses need to communicate more clearly the reasons behind their decisions. 'Keeping our business and clients safe' should be used only if you are discussing mid-90's workplace safety videos, not when an employee expresses an opinion on social media. Be it a holding statement whilst things are 'looked into,' or a firm notion that, no, nothing will happen, these incidents need to be nipped in the bud before those drunk on self-righteousness rock up and demand penance.
3) This one may be unpopular and may run against what the whole message is about, but if you are in a position to be 'cancelled' put the eponymous 'all views my own' in your bio/info/summary. This is apparently the move that the Tobias Literary Agency used when questioned about their decision by commentator Jesse Singal (see below). If it even causes a company to pause mid-tweet, it's worth it.
4) Businesses need to accept that standing up for their employees is, at this point, more likely to garner trust among the public. Even among my very left, very woke, very progressive friends, there are inklings that being fired for simply believing the wrong thing isn't good. The tide is beginning to turn.
5) This is less of an idea and more of a plea to the aforementioned friends and those who identify as very left, very woke, very progressive: you are ruining your movement. You are turning people against ideas of equality and fairness. People are going to agree with you because they are scared. They'll nod and say all the deliciously right-on buzzwords. But in the polling booth, in private, in messages and texts, or huddled away with their families, they'll rebel. More than you'd like. I fear for the backlash. When things don't make sense - when people are fired for speaking biological facts - people will cling to tradition, to rhetoric, to religion. They will crave the structure you cannot provide. And the structure of tradition and religion is uncompromising towards those of us who do not fit the mold.
I do not for one second believe that those with the power to fire will happen upon the above and change their views. The chances of it are infinitely small. However, I believe that the above are good starting points for businesses as they become 'post-woke.' Because it will happen. Businesses follow the money; it doesn't matter how many plastic cups they recycle or how many rainbows adorn their offices. Once the tide turns, these same businesses will drop wokeness faster than you can say postcolonial heteronormativity. Look forward to businesses spinning adverts centered around truth, integrity and common sense, with a white man in a suit sitting down with his family in front of the fire.
Sasha White deserves better, and I hope beyond hope that this becomes a springboard for her career. From what I have read she is a sharp commentator with nuanced views and commitment to uncovering the truth. Whether you agree with her views or not, the desire to speak out when it is dangerous to do so should be admired. The world needs more like her.