Politics of J. K. Rowling

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Author J.K. Rowling reads from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone at the 2010 Easter Egg Roll at the White House.

The British author J. K. Rowling, writer of Harry Potter and other Wizarding World works, has shared a variety of political views. Rowling stated in 2000 that she is left-wing and said "there is a certain amount of political stuff in [Harry Potter]. But I also feel that every reader will bring his own agenda to the book. People who send their children to boarding schools seem to feel that I'm on their side. I'm not. Practicing Wiccans think I'm also a witch. I'm not."[1] In 2002, she said her biggest literary influence was muckraker Jessica Mitford, whom she described as a "self-taught socialist".[2]

Rowling has garnered attention for her support of the Labour Party under Gordon Brown and criticism under Jeremy Corbyn, as well as her opposition to the Conservative Party and the Republican Party under Donald Trump. She opposed Scottish independence in a 2014 referendum and Brexit during the 2016 referendum to leave the European Union.

Since late 2019, Rowling has publicly voiced her opinions on transgender people and related civil rights. These views have been met with controversy.

UK politics[edit]

J. K. Rowling has been a long-time friend of former Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his wife Sarah Brown. In September 2008, Rowling donated £1 million to the Labour Party, saying:

I believe that poor and vulnerable families will fare much better under the Labour Party than they would under a Cameron-led Conservative Party. Gordon Brown has consistently prioritised and introduced measures that will save as many children as possible from a life lacking in opportunity or choice. The Labour government has reversed the long-term trend in child poverty, and is one of the leading EU countries in combating child poverty. David Cameron's promise of tax perks for the married, on the other hand, is reminiscent of the Conservative government I experienced as a lone parent. It sends the message that the Conservatives still believe a childless, dual-income, but married couple is more deserving of a financial pat on the head than those struggling, as I once was, to keep their families afloat in difficult times.[3]

Rowling praised Brown in a 2009 Time magazine essay saying she "still wanted him in charge".[4] Rowling wrote about what it meant to be British saying, "It means a welfare state of which we should be fiercely proud and a tradition of tolerance and free speech we should defend to our last collective breath." Rowling also praised the National Health Service (NHS).[5] Rowling was critical of Jeremy Corbyn's leadership of the Labour Party.[6][7]

Scottish politics[edit]

Scottish independence campaign[edit]

As a resident of Scotland, Rowling was eligible to vote in the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence, and intended to vote "No".[8] She donated £1 million (US$1,694,000) to the Better Together anti-independence campaign,[9] led by former neighbour and friend Alistair Darling, and used the "Death Eaters" characters from her Harry Potter series—who reject wizards unless they have pure blood—as a reference in her explanation of her donation: "However, when people try to make this debate about the purity of your lineage, things start getting a little Death Eaterish for my taste."[10] In Rowling's post-donation blog post in mid-June 2014, she explained that she is "friendly" with members of both campaigns and stated a belief that "there are intelligent, thoughtful people on both sides of this question".[11]

While Rowling concluded that "If the majority of people in Scotland want independence I truly hope that it is a resounding success" and that her "love" for Scotland is why she wants it to "thrive", she explains in the body of her piece that she is concerned about "serious risks", with Scottish medical research of particular interest to her—Rowling has donated a large sum of money to multiple sclerosis research after her mother's death from the disease. Rowling's fear was triggered by an open letter co-signed by all five of Scotland's medical schools, in which "grave concerns" are expressed about the impact of independence upon Scotland's highly regarded medical work. The letter, which says that First Minister Alex Salmond's plans for a common research funding area are "fraught with difficulty" and "unlikely to come to fruition", is supported by 14 professors, who all agree that "it is highly unlikely that the remaining UK would tolerate a situation in which an independent 'competitor' country won more money than it contributed."[11]

Scottish nationalism[edit]

In 2018, Rowling tweeted that she was tired of "blood and soil ethno-nationalists marching with" civic campaigners. She also said that Scottish nationalism "contains traces of bigotry".[12]

Brexit[edit]

In June 2016, Rowling opposed Brexit and campaigned for the United Kingdom to stay in the European Union, in the run up to the referendum to leave the European Union, stating on her website that, "I'm the mongrel product of this European continent and I'm an internationalist. I was raised by a Francophile mother whose family was proud of their part-French heritage .... My values are not contained or proscribed by borders. The absence of a visa when I cross the channel has symbolic value to me. I might not be in my house, but I'm still in my hometown."[13] Rowling expressed concern that "racists and bigots" were directing parts of the Leave campaign. In a blog post, she added: "How can a retreat into selfish and insecure individualism be the right response when Europe faces genuine threats, when the bonds that tie us are so powerful, when we have come so far together? How can we hope to conquer the enormous challenges of terrorism and climate change without cooperation and collaboration?"[14]

US politics[edit]

Rowling told a Spanish newspaper in February 2008 that "the international political stance of the United States has been wrong in previous years, for its own and for my country... I want a Democrat in the White House. It's sad Obama and Clinton are rivals because they are both great."[15] In 2009, Obama returned the compliment when he met Rowling at a G20 dinner telling her that he had read all her books himself and to his children Sasha and Malia.[16]

Rowling advised the 2008 graduating class of Harvard, "the great majority of you belong to the world's only remaining superpower. The way you vote, the way you live, the way you protest, the pressure you bring to bear on your government, has an impact way beyond your borders. That is your privilege, and your burden."[17]

The Presidential Medal of Freedom was allegedly refused to be awarded to Rowling under George W. Bush, because her writing "encouraged witchcraft". This was claimed by Matt Latimer, a former speechwriter for Bush, who went on to write a memoir about his time in the administration,[18] although then First Lady Laura Bush had declared a fondness for the books.[19]

Rowling made analogies between Donald Trump and Voldemort after the Republican presidential candidate called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States on 7 December 2015.[20]

Amnesty International[edit]

Rowling's employment at Amnesty International made her realise that "imagination is what allows us to empathise with people who have suffered horribly and to act on their behalf." The danger of inaction, Rowling said, comes from people who "prefer not to exercise their imaginations at all."[17]

Green values[edit]

Rowling was recognised with the Order of the Forest for demanding that 16 publishers around the world print her books using "eco-friendly" papers. The last book in the Potter series is considered within the industry to be the most environmentally friendly in publishing history.[21]

In 2008, Rowling blocked the Finnish publication of her latest Harry Potter novel on paper from Finland because it lacked the ecologically friendly certification she favours.[22]

Eating disorders[edit]

In 2006, Rowling criticised models on her website, describing that their "only function in the world appears to be supporting the trade in overpriced handbags and rat-sized dogs."[23][24] In response to criticism over the connotations of weight within Harry Potter, Rowling responded that Harry Potter characters who are "on the plumper side" include "several of my most important, admirable and loveable characters". She linked to a fan website – MuggleNet – that lists seven characters who are "fat and good", three who are "fat and bad" and claims there are none who are "fat and evil". However, there were skinny and evil characters in the series.[25]

Age branding of children's books[edit]

Rowling has publicly opposed the labelling of children's books as "age appropriate".[26]

Israel[edit]

On 22 October 2015, a letter was published in The Guardian signed by Rowling (along with over 150 other figures from arts and politics) opposing the cultural boycott of Israel, and announcing the creation of a network for dialogue, called Culture for Coexistence.[27] Rowling later explained her position in more detail, saying that although she opposed most of Benjamin Netanyahu's actions she did not think the cultural boycott would bring about the removal of Israel's leader or help improve the situation in Israel and Palestine.[28]

European migrant crisis[edit]

In 2015, Rowling expressed support for refugees.[29][30] By 2017, a petition asking her to shelter immigrants on her property acquired over 60,000 signatures.[31]

Abortion[edit]

Rowling expressed her opposition to the Mexico City Policy, when it was reinstated by Donald Trump, and said that she supported abortion rights, especially in Third World countries.[32]

Transgender people[edit]

On 19 December 2019, Rowling tweeted her support for Maya Forstater, who lost her employment tribunal against her former employer, the Center for Global Development in Maya Forstater v Centre for Global Development (2019).[33] Forstater's contract was not renewed after she tweeted "men cannot change into women", and at the tribunal she asserted that her "gender critical" beliefs should be protected under the Equality Act 2010.[34] However, the tribunal judge ruled against her, describing her views as "absolutist" and "not worthy of respect in a democratic society".[33]

On 6 June 2020, Rowling criticised a Devex article's[35] use of the phrase "people who menstruate" instead of the word "women".[36] She went on to tweet, "If sex isn't real, there's no same-sex attraction. If sex isn't real, the lived reality of women globally is erased", while also saying she was "empathetic to trans people".[36] The media advocacy group GLAAD called the tweets "anti-trans" and "cruel", and wrote, "JK Rowling continues to align herself with an ideology which willfully distorts facts about gender identity and people who are trans. In 2020, there is no excuse for targeting trans people."[37][38] Several actors known for portraying Rowling's characters criticised her views or spoke out in support of trans rights, including Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Eddie Redmayne, Evanna Lynch, Bonnie Wright and Katie Leung, as did the fansites MuggleNet and The Leaky Cauldron.[39][40][41][42] Actress Noma Dumezweni initially expressed support for Rowling but rescinded her stance following backlash.[43] Radcliffe responded with an essay for The Trevor Project, stating, "Transgender women are women. Any statement to the contrary erases the identity and dignity of transgender people and goes against all advice given by professional health care associations who have far more expertise on this subject matter than either Jo or I."[44]

Rowling later published an essay on her website in response to the criticism.[45] Rowling again wrote that many women consider terms like "people who menstruate" to be demeaning.[46] She said she was a survivor of domestic abuse and sexual assault, and stated that "When you throw open the doors of bathrooms and changing rooms to any man who believes or feels he's a woman – and, as I've said, gender confirmation certificates may now be granted without any need for surgery or hormones – then you open the door to any and all men who wish to come inside", while stating that most trans people were vulnerable and deserved protection.[46] Following up into who is at risk in women's toilets, Reuters stated that it was trans women who were more vulnerable, and that 200 municipalities which allowed trans people to use women's shelters reported no rise in any violence as a result.[47][48] Among those who disputed the claims in Rowling's essay were Mermaids, a charity organisation for gender non-conforming children, who refuted the notion that trans people are predatory,[49][50] and CEO of GLAAD Sarah Kate Ellis who said it could create a dangerous environment for the trans community.[51] Feminist gender theorist Judith Butler considered Rowling's claims as "a rich fantasy" that did not describe social reality.[52][53] However, she has received support from actors Robbie Coltrane[54] and Brian Cox,[55] and some feminists[56] such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali.[57] The radical feminist Julie Bindel stated that Rowling has always been a feminist and has inspired people "to look into issues of sex-based discrimination".[56] The essay was nominated by Amal Rajan of the BBC for the annual Russell prize for best writing. The broadcaster said it appreciated Rowling's "bravery" for writing the blog despite the reaction it caused, and added that the nomination didn't mean the BBC supported Rowling's argument.[58][59]

On 19 June 2020, the Equality Act was blocked in the US Senate after Republican senator James Lankford opposed it, citing Rowling's essay as part of his reasoning.[60]

Also in June 2020, four authors, including Owl Fisher, resigned in protest from the Blair Partnership, Rowling's literary agency, after the company refused to issue a public statement of support for transgender rights, saying that "freedom of speech can only be upheld if the structural inequalities that hinder equal opportunities for underrepresented groups are challenged and changed."[61]

Following the threat of legal action, British children's news website The Day publicly apologised to Rowling after publishing an article that suggested her comments caused harm to and attacked trans people, made comparisons between Rowling's views and those of Wagner on race and Picasso on women, and called for her work to be boycotted. The publication also agreed to pay an undisclosed sum to a charity of Rowling's choice.[62]

In August 2020, Rowling returned her Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights (RFKHR) Award, after RFKHR president Kerry Kennedy called her statements "deeply troubling" and "transphobic". She further argued that Rowling's words "had the effect of degrading trans people’s lived experiences".[63][64][65] Rowling stated that she was "deeply saddened" to be returning the award, reiterating her admiration for Robert Kennedy, but said that no award "means so much to me that I would forfeit the right to follow the dictates of my own conscience."[63]

On 15 September 2020, her novel Troubled Blood was released, and received criticism for its portrayal of a murderous man who dresses as a woman when killing.[66][67] A spokesperson for the charity Mermaids condemned the novel for "tired tropes" that demonize trans people by presenting them as a threat.[68] A review in The Guardian stated that that character "is just one of many suspects" and that he isn't "portrayed as trans or even called a 'transvestite' by Rowling."[69]

On 22 September 2020, Rowling encouraged her Twitter followers to purchase from the Wild Womyn Workshop,[70][71][72] an online store run by a co-founder of the lesbian separatist group Get the L Out.[70] A section of the store sells merchandise that is regarded as transphobic.[71][70][72][73]

On 27 September 2020, a letter in support of Rowling, signed by 58 entertainers and authors, including the author Ian McEwan, actress Frances Barber, playwright Tom Stoppard and actor and writer Griff Rhys Jones, was published in The Sunday Times. The letter condemned the "onslaught of abuse" directed at Rowling on social media, describing such behaviour as an "insidious, authoritarian and misogynistic trend".[74][75] Actor Eddie Redmayne similarly condemned the abuse targeted at Rowling, whilst also condemning the "hideous torrent of abuse towards trans people online and out in the world".[76] In an interview with New Statesman, philosopher and gender theorist Judith Butler agreed that Rowling should not be subject to online abuse, but urged people to also oppose abuse, online and in person, against trans people.[53]

Open letter on justice and open debate[edit]

In July 2020, Rowling signed an open letter published in Harper's Magazine titled "A Letter on Justice and Open Debate",[77] with 150 other public figures, largely writers and academics. The letter states in part, "The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted", criticises "a vogue for public shaming and ostracism" and "a blinding moral certainty", warns of fear spreading in the arts and media, and denounces President Donald Trump as "a real threat to democracy".[78] The letter sparked much debate about cancel culture (public criticism calling for censure of prominent people over their controversial actions or opinions).[79][80][81] Rowling stated she was proud to sign the letter to defend "open debate and freedom of thought and speech".[82]

Objections to the letter included accusations that Rowling and the other signatories had powerful means to publish their opinions, and that it was disingenuous to attempt to silence others who might offer criticism of their views.[82][83][84][85] Some thought that Rowling was trying to specifically suppress criticism about her statements concerning transgender topics.[82] After learning who also signed the letter, Jennifer Finney Boylan expressed regret over her support, and stated she would not have signed had she known who the other signatories were.[81] Rowling then sarcastically tweeted that Boylan should incur public penance for her association with her.[86]

Stanford Law professor Richard Thompson Ford, a signatory to the letter, stated it should not matter who has signed because it did not mean they all endorsed the entire gamut of viewpoints and deeds of their co-signatories.[87] Writer Bari Weiss said she was proud to stand with Rowling and the other signatories. Several of the signers also defended their letter, saying there is a very diverse group of people supporting their stand against excessive retribution by what they called the "forces of illiberalism".[87]

References[edit]

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