‘Spread happiness, peace and calm.’ That’s the slogan on a T-shirt you can buy at M&S. It’s pink, has frilly sleeves and is decorated with flowers and a unicorn. It is, of course, listed under ‘girls’ clothing’.

There’s nothing unusual about that T-shirt. You can buy similar items for girls in most fashion retailers. ‘Be kind’ is practically society’s mantra for a generation of girls.

Pretty much everyone else in the country is currently sucking up to Keir Starmer because he’s about to have power. Not JKR though

Another staple of childhood for those girls is Harry Potter. On the same page of the M&S site you can find a Hogwarts T-shirt, for girls between six and 16.

That children born in the late 2010s wear Potter-branded kit is testament to the cultural power of the Harry Potter stories, the first of which was published in 1997. It’s stating the obvious to say that J.K. Rowling created a significant part of the world for millions of people; her creation looks like being part of our mental landscape for years to come too.

In other words, J.K. Rowling is important. What she says and does matter, and matter to millions of people.

I’ve written a bit about Rowling and her importance in the past, as she entered the conversation about sex and gender to speak about the way trans rights policies threaten the rights and standing of women. In that writing, I made no secret of my admiration for her.

Since then, Rowling’s writing on sex and gender – largely on Twitter/X – has changed. She’s speaking more often and with increasing force. She swears. She criticises. She refuses to forgive those she believes have done wrong, including some actors in Harry Potter films.

And now she’s excoriated Keir Starmer for his failure, once again, to defend the gender-critical Labour MP Rosie Duffield who has – like Rowling – faced credible threats of violence over her views.

When I used to write a lot about sex and gender issues, I would frequently call for moderate and temperate debate, based on evidence rather than emotion. I haven’t changed my views on that.

I have, however, changed my view of J.K. Rowling. I used to think she was great, an admirable figure doing some good in a debate that badly needed strong, clear voices.

I no longer think that about her.

I now think she’s even better than that.

This isn’t a column about Rowling’s views on sex and gender. It’s about her anger and her refusal, her unflinching, unapologetic and utterly glorious refusal to be kind.

That deficiency has wonderful consequences. A woman of great intelligence and eloquence, equipped with all the insight and power that comes with being a near-billionaire and global celebrity, is saying what she thinks without regard to whether other people like it, or her. Even if those people include a future Prime Minister. Pretty much everyone else in the country is currently sucking up to Keir Starmer because he’s about to have power. Not JKR though.

In a world where social media and exquisitely-tuned sensitivity to offence mean that most people are at least a bit wary of expressing themselves entirely freely, such unrestrained speech is a thing of beauty.

All the more so because Rowling is female.

I suppose some might see sexism in that view, but sex really matters here.

J.K. Rowling, like pretty much every other woman alive, grew up in a culture that told her that part of being female was to be kind, gracious and accepting. And not to be aggressive, or shouty or rude. As that pink T-shirt and a million unicorns show, girls today are still given similar messages. They’re also told that they have ‘girl power’ and can be scientists and footballers and prime ministers if they want to, of course – just as long as they’re kind scientists and footballers and prime ministers.

This socialisation, a culture-wide pressure on half of humanity to accommodate other people – mainly the other half of the species – is at the heart of sex and gender debate. Time and time again, advocates of trans-rights policies that impact on the sex-based rights of women make a point that boils down to: why can’t you just be nice, and share your rights and status and places with people born male who want to be considered female?

It’s also visible in much of the criticism levelled at Rowling for her sharp-edged approach. Surely as a famous woman known to millions she should embody the womanly virtues of warmth and generosity? What sort of example is she setting to little girls in unicorn T-shirts by telling men who disagree with her to shove off? Why can’t she just be kind instead?

‘It makes me really sad, ultimately, because I do look at the person that I met, the times that we met, and the books that she wrote, and the world that she created, and all of that is to me so deeply empathic,’ actor Daniel Radcliffe said recently of Rowling. ‘Empathic’ (able to understand and share the feelings of others) being a posh way of saying ‘kind,’ of course.

There is powerful voodoo around ‘be kind’ because, frankly, who wants to be seen as unkind? As a man, I’m not subject to that cultural norm of niceness, but I still thought long and hard about writing this column, because it risks casting me as someone who defends nastiness and praises anger. But in the end, some things are more important than being nice. Telling the truth is one of them.

And the truth is that J.K. Rowling, in her unapologetic, sometimes sweary glory, deserves even more praise and admiration than the world has already shown her. She’s not just taking on bad arguments for bad policies, she’s fighting even bigger and badder things – the cultural and social expectations that put girls into stupid pink T-shirts and the mental shackles of being ‘kind’.

I’m not, to be clear, suggesting that Rowling is setting an example or showing women and girls how to behave. The last thing the world needs is a man writing about how women and girls should act.

Nor am I offering my approval to J.K. Rowling for her actions and words. She doesn’t need it and I have no place offering it.

I am merely observing that the way that Rowling speaks – unrepentantly, unflinchingly – is just as important as what she says. One of the most prominent women in the world today isn’t being sweet or nice or gentle. She offers no pink, no sequins, no unicorns and no flowers. J.K. Rowling is not being kind. Long may it continue.

1 thought on “J.K. Rowling’s glorious refusal to be kind 

  1. Have you ever noticed how the scared the Left are of people like J.K. Rowling, Elon Musk, Ricky Gervais and Donald Trump to the point they will do all they can to denigrate, diminish, censor what they have to say and portray anybody who identifies with what they’re saying as morally wrong?

    What is it in particular about these people that terrifies the Left? First of all, they haven’t been captured by the Left and although never having to worry personally about their Marxist policies that want the masses dependent upon governments for everything, are still principled enough to recognise they would never have succeeded like they have in a socialist environment and moreover, no socialist government has ever been successful.

    Second of all, and this is what really frustrates them the most, is knowing what influence they have but not being able to eradicate that influence in the ways they normally do. They can’t pressure networks, organisations, publishers, websites etc to ban them because they’re just too big and will get their message out in some way. They don’t care if it costs them billions of dollars not to toe the company line because they’re so rich it’s almost irrelevant. They never have to work again, their families never have to work again and that’s why the cancel culture doesn’t affect or bother them.

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