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Why the press and gender critical campaigners attacked Joanne Harris

Why the press and gender critical campaigners attacked Joanne Harris

Jamie Wareham
Jamie Wareham
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TL;DR: The Chair of the Society of Authors put out a misjudged tweet in the wake of J.K. Rowling getting a death threat. Gender-critical campaigners and the media used this to attack the Chocolat author who has a trans child. It paints a bigger picture of the hypocrisy of some who purport to be free speech campaigners.

Joanne Harris is the Chair of the Society of Authors. She also happens to be a parent with a trans child.

This week, she has faced a barrage of press and social media criticism and harassment after a Tweet in the wake of Salman Rushdie being stabbed.  

Two open letters signed by more than 600 authors defended her, after another letter that attracted 200+ author signatures called for her to step down from the role.

The Background

The saga began after gender-critical author J.K. Rowling replied to a news story of international significance: author Salman Rushdie being stabbed at an event in New York.

Salman Rushdie is an author who faced a ‘fatwa’ - a religious decree that called upon “all brave Muslims of the world” to “kill” the author “without delay”. It was decreed by the fundamentalist leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran after Rushdie’s 1988 book The Satanic Verses was released.

When he was stabbed in a violent attack last week, it sent international shockwaves because of the significance of Rushdie's career and what it has meant for free speech worldwide.

J.K. Rowling replied to a news story about it on Twitter, and a further reply to Rowling’s tweet said she "would be next". This death threat was reported to the police, and Twitter eventually took this down. - Sky News

Rowling then took to her Twitter account to share about free speech, cancel culture and the broader threats she receives.

In reaction, many reflected on how the author’s tweets also create 'pile ons,' which often contain these kinds of threats.

These 'pile ons' exacerbate the stark levels of power difference and ability to manage such high levels of attention between Rowling and those who disagree with her gender-critical views.

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What's Joanne Harris got to do with it?

Harris, the Chair of the Society of Authors, also put out a tweet reflecting on Rowling. She has since said was misjudged and deleted, but it included a poll to authors asking if they'd received any "death threats (credible or otherwise)."

The responses were 'Yes', 'Hell, yes', 'No, never' and 'Show me, dammit' - that last option was supposed to suggest scepticism about how serious the threats were - Daily Mail

She's since faced a daily barrage of headlines about her role, with gender-critical academic Kathleen Stock suggesting that it was right for her to 'declare' her bias because her child is transgender.

As Aiden Comerford pointed out, imagine how chilling it would be to hear those words about race or sexual orientation - the need to ‘declare’ them?

Harris later explained that she only shared this because of the 'whispering' on Twitter creating mounting pressure. - Trans Writes

This attention has seen online abuse related to beliefs, race and gender directed at Harris and several other authors. Several false allegations about Harris have also spread, which the Society of Authors have investigated and found untrue.


A conversation started with unity around the fact that no one should face violence for their beliefs, barrelled out of control - and inspired a violent war of words, the kind that inspires real word harm.  

It highlighted the hypocrisy of many gender-critical campaigners whose messages, even when purporting to be against a form of hate, only inspire more hate.

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