If you are looking for a programme that demonstrates how completely the scourge of identity politics has infiltrated the BBC, you could do no better than listen to last Friday’s Woman’s Hour, in particular an innocuous-sounding item entitled Standing Up For Your Mate.
Part of the programme’s How To series, which promises "practical conversations" about modern life, the item was intended to be a discussion of the concept of "allyship". But any listener tuning in for a guide to making alliances in the traditional sense of the word - between political parties, maybe, or rival groups, or even alliances between female business leaders - would have been disappointed. Because, in the "progressive" culture of Britain today, the word "ally" has been re-defined.
Now, it describes the obligation of "privileged" citizens to fight on behalf of the "oppressed" - be they victims of racism, sexism, homophobia or transphobia - as if, to quote American activist, writer and academic Roxane Gay, "problems borne of oppression [are your] own, without remove or distance".
The tsunami of politically correct terms that emanated from the item’s three contributors - Chloe Laws, a social media editor at Glamour magazine, Richie Brave, a freelance presenter, and Daniellé Dash, a freelance cultural writer - would have left anyone over the age of 35 reeling: ‘systemic oppression’, ‘intersecting identities’, ‘recognising your privilege’, ‘having a seat at the table’, ‘decolonising your mind’.
I had to laugh out loud when Brave, who had earlier talked about his life-long mission to ‘"patriarchy", told presenter Jane Garvey that he didn’t think it was a good idea to "get caught up in using buzz words".
As one listener on Twitter said, it was "full on woke overload".
Full on woke overload with this lot, plus a smattering of vocal fry....truly awful.— Lizi #KBF (@Whatztado) August 7, 2020
It goes without saying, of course, that we all have a duty to oppose prejudice in society, wherever it may be, and the idea of sticking up for someone who is being abused because of their sex, or the colour of their skin, is a noble one. It would also make the world a better place if everyone paused for a moment and reflected on what prejudices they themselves had, prejudices that they may not realise they have.
But this is where today’s woke warriors have become unstuck because rules are being laid down that, at best, need some thorough examination, and, at worst, seem barking mad. And the vicious way in which transgressors of these rules are being treated is shocking.
The most high-profile victim of this, of course, is JK Rowling. In a now-famous tweet back in June, the Harry Potter author posted a link to an article headlined “Creating a more equal post-Covid-19 world for people who menstruate”, with her own comment: “‘People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?”
A bit later, following a tidal wave of tweets labelling her ‘transphobic’, she sent a second tweet saying: “I know and love trans people, but erasing the concept of sex removes the ability of many to meaningfully discuss their lives. It isn’t hate to speak the truth.”
Despite this, and a lengthy, very personal essay published a few days later, in which she explained her case in clear, factual terms, she has still not been forgiven by the woke brigade. And she is not the only victim of this new ‘cancel culture’, not by a long way.
Everyone from the social psychologist and linguist Steven Pinker to the Killing Eve actress Jodie Comer ("cancelled" for apparently dating a man who voted Republican in America) has felt the ire of a Twitter mob who won’t rest until their target’s life and career has been comprehensively ruined.
Why did Garvey not raise any of these concerns? Instead, she nodded along with every woke word her guests said. Garvey forgot how to be a journalist and came off like a Loose Women host, throwing her guests inane lowballs.
These included gems such as: "Chloe, you are bisexual. Where do you think you have needed an ally in your life?"; "Daniellé, do you ever get tired of feeling an obligation to speak out?" (Dash said she may be black, a woman and queer, but she recognised that there were people even more marginalised than her and she never got tired of speaking out on their behalf); "Daniellé, do you feel that, far from improving, things might actually be getting worse?" (to which Dash replied, inevitably, "yes", especially in terms of trans people); and, finally, "Chloe, doing nothing is not going to get us anywhere is it?" Chloe confirmed and recommended everyone start with upbraiding their friends and family.
Why didn’t Garvey interrogate her subjects? I would have liked Garvey to ask Laws if she’d been an ally to Rowling when the author was burnt on the Twitter stake. Or asked Brave – who claims he has a “zero tolerance rule” for misogyny - how he squares that with the pictures he tweets of half-naked women, twerking or being called ‘Thotet’ (slang for slut?).
By questioning her subjects Garvey could have highlighted how subjective and problematic identity politics really is, and the substantial reasons people reject some of its conclusions. Garvey could also have noted that being a true ally means reaching out to people you don’t agree with.