Helen Lewis (journalist)

British journalist

Helen Lewis (born 30 September 1983) is a British journalist and a staff writer at The Atlantic. She is a former deputy editor of the New Statesman, and has also written for The Guardian, The Times and The Sunday Times.

Helen Lewis in 2017

Quotes edit

2016–2017 edit

  • [The Women and Equalities Select Committee 2016 report on transgender rights.] The report contains many sensible recommendations that any progressive should support. NHS waiting times for surgery are too long and should be reduced; GPs would benefit from further training; and specialist provision, which is patchy outside London and overstretched within it, could be vastly improved. Police officers should also be given training and encouragement to record hate crimes and to pursue action against perpetrators; schools should institute strong anti-bullying measures.
  • [On the issues concerning the jailing of transgendered people.] The second case was that of Joanne Latham, found hanging at HMP Woodhill, also in November. Latham, then Edward, was jailed in 2001 for the attempted poisoning of a woman; he received additional life sentences for attacking another inmate in 2007, then trying to stab a fellow patient at a secure hospital in 2011. He had a history of mental illness and was so dangerous that a court ruled he could be handcuffed to two nurses even when seeing his lawyer. Latham had only recently changed her name and had not requested a transfer; a prison officer told the inquest that it was hard to tell if her plans for transition were serious, as "he went through phases". Despite this, the two cases have been smudged together as examples of the same thing – transphobic prison authorities denying someone the right to define their own gender.
    It’s not bigoted to ask if putting Latham in the women’s estate (which is ill-equipped for violent offenders) would have been the ideal outcome for her or for any potential cellmate. Yet that is the logical endpoint of Miller's system: prison officials would lose the discretion that they have. (In January, a trans woman who raped a 15-year-old girl was sent to a men’s prison; there was less outcry about her case. Saying that it is obviously transphobic to question housing a sex offender with a penis in a women’s prison would require serious chutzpah.)
  • This debate needs fewer rainbow sprinkles, fewer accusations of feminist bigotry, and more recognition that sometimes there are no perfect solutions.
  • Transgender people face discrimination at work, casual abuse in the street and long waits for NHS care. None of those problems will be addressed by the government’s plan to change gender reassignment to a matter of simple declaration.
  • The way I see it is this: everyone has a biological sex, and for most of us it’s unambiguously male or female.
  • What the government proposes is a radical rewriting of our understanding of identity: now it’s a question of an internal essence — a soul, if you will. Being a woman or a man is now entirely in your head. In this climate, who would challenge someone with a beard exposing their penis in a women’s changing room?
  • But you can’t identify your way out of the gender pay gap. Biological females are a class of people who face discrimination too, and there has been little attempt during this process to listen to their concerns.

2018–2020 edit

  • [N]othing about that Senate circus was fair on Kavanaugh or Blasey Ford. It was pure theatre. The FBI "investigation" which followed it was a sham. It could not have been clearer that the Republicans wanted to keep the allegations unresolved, and use them as a wedge issue: hasn’t the pendulum swung too far? Where’s the evidence? It’s his word against hers! Perhaps they suspect that a proper investigation would produce evidence that would have disqualified Kavanaugh, or perhaps they believe him to be innocent, but preferred a quick confirmation to a slow exoneration.
    Either way, their cynicism is demoralising. The vagueness of #MeToo has helped victims come out (it’s easier to say "me too" than the more stark "I was raped" or "this man harassed me"). The phrase has helped the public discussion to stay "polite", avoiding too much talk of brutality and bodily fluids. But that vagueness is also a drawback, smudging together mere thoughtless entitlement with violence and coercion.
  • It is still shocking to me that Miller could be so little versed in feminism that she could sign off a report advising a change to the Equality Act, replacing “gender reassignment” with “gender identity” as a protected characteristic, without realising the profound public policy implications of that change. At a stroke, she advised changing our concept of gender from something that is partially socially constructed – how you are treated – to entirely a matter of internal essence. She entered the realm of metaphysics, asserting that everyone has a gender identity, something which no instrument can measure. That isn’t the kind of thing you can casually toss out in paragraph 4.108 and expect everyone to nod through, unless you have no idea what you’re proposing.
  • This is a tragic story, from start to finish. The imperial over-reach of a handful of trans activists, in trying to rewrite widely accepted ideas about gender by stealth, has done nothing to improve the lives of trans people. The time wasted by Stonewall and other organisations, which have spent more than a year chasing a legal change that wasn’t even a priority for those interviewed by the inquiry.
  • Those two words—values and competence—are key to Starmer's plan to remake Labour. Britain's Jewish community is small—0.5 percent of the population—but the issue of anti-Semitism cut through more broadly in the general election. To many Jewish voters, the party’s failure to expel anti-Semitic conspiracists and cranks has been personally painful, even frightening. To the wider electorate, it sent out the message that Corbyn was either complicit or incompetent. Neither is an attractive proposition when choosing a prime minister.

2021–2022 edit

  • Another adjective often attached to Sturgeon is feminist. When the Conservative prime minister Theresa May visited Scotland in 2016, Sturgeon tweeted a photograph of the two women shaking hands, with the words "Politics aside—I hope girls everywhere look at this photograph and believe nothing should be off limits for them." The majority of Sturgeon’s cabinet is female, as is her chief of staff. She is adored by a generation of young female activists: the SNP store once sold EAT, SLEEP, NICOLA, REPEAT T-shirts.
  • Sturgeon's second challenge comes from debates over the rights of transgender women—an issue that is also causing disquiet and dissent among progressives across the world, including in the United States. In 2019, she received an open letter from women in her own party who claimed they were unable to discuss their rights without being called transphobic bigots. The other side accuses her of not doing enough to crack down on all those transphobic bigots. (In January, Sturgeon posted an unscripted video on Twitter, begging young activists who "consider at this stage the SNP not to be a safe, tolerant, or welcoming place for trans people" to stick with her party.)
  • Given all the effort feminists have invested in making language more equitable, you might expect that they would welcome use of the term pregnant people. But some, including me, are concerned that it obscures the social dynamics at work in laws surrounding contraception, abortion, and maternal health. The argument for the second wave’s language changes was that women fought fires in the exact same way as men, so one word should cover both sexes. That’s a different decision from whether we should keep gendered language to reflect heavily gendered experiences.
  • Perhaps a comparison will help. The same progressives who push for pregnant people have no problem saying “Black Lives Matter”—and in fact decry the right-wing rejoinder that "all lives matter." Yet, hopefully, all lives do matter—and about half of the people shot by U.S. police are white. So why insist on Black? Because the phrase is designed to highlight police racism, as well as the disproportionate killing of Black men in particular. Making the slogan more "inclusive" also makes it useless for political campaigning.
    Pregnant people does the same. The famous slogan commonly attributed to the second-wave activist Florynce Kennedy—"If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament"—would be totally defanged if it were made gender-neutral. And if we cannot talk about, say, the Texas abortion law in the context of patriarchal control of women's bodies, then framing the feminist case against such laws becomes harder. No more "men making laws about women." Instead we get: "Some people who are in charge of policy want to restrict the rights of some other people. We oppose that because people’s rights are human rights!"
  • That this play is at the Globe, the home of Shakespeare, only underscores that it is not in the Shakespearean tradition. The great English playwright is still revered today because he drove the possibilities of drama forward, creating characters with psychological depth and ambiguity. I, Joan is part of an older tradition, the medieval morality play. These pitted virtues and vices against one another for the soul of the protagonist: Greed and Sloth raged against Chastity and Patience. In I, Joan, that conflict has given way to one between Cisnormativity and Authenticity. I, Joan‍'‍s supporting characters exist not as people but as conduits for the moral lesson being delivered to the audience.
  • [Concerning Harry & Meghan, the 2022 Netflix series about the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.] Unless you have a gaping void where your soul should be, you will notice that the couple do seem to be genuinely smitten with each other. Yet—and this is where it gets tricky—they also appear to be in love with the idea of being "Harry and Meghan" (or, as they might put it, "H and M"). There's an uncomfortable Bonnie-and-Clyde, John-and-Yoko, folie-à-deux undercurrent throughout, as if taking on the Royal Family’s racism and the British press's lack of scruples has become their mission. Us against the world. That is a noble intention, but it has the side effect of centering their entire lives on two institutions that they despise. Do they really want to spend the next 40 years as small, angry planets trapped in the gravitational pull of the Windsors? And have they not heard of diminishing returns? This plotline might sustain Harry's book sales and one or two forgettable Netflix projects after that, but it ends with them delivering $150 birthday messages on Cameo by 2030.
  • [I]n the Netflix documentary the historian David Olusoga makes the important point that Britain tends to celebrate its role in abolishing the slave trade, with rather less focus on its participation in the slave trade. And I recognize a knee-jerk defensiveness in many of the British reactions to Harry and Meghan, including my own. Culture wars flourish best when two things are simultaneously true, and people must choose which one to emphasize. Does the British press sometimes treat the Royal Family appallingly, and do its white-dominated institutions perpetuate racism? Yes and yes. Do Harry and Meghan love rehashing their grievances, and seem unaware that they are wealthy far beyond anything their personal talents would normally merit? Also yes and yes.

2023–present edit

  • After being raised Catholic, I became interested in New Atheism in the 2000s, because it was a countercultural phenomenon. Like pretty much everyone else, I would argue that my political beliefs are all carefully derived from first principles. But the ones that I choose to write about publicly are clearly influenced by my own self-image as an outsider and a contrarian. Being self-aware about that helps me remember that my fear of normiedom has to be kept in check, because the conventional wisdom is often right.
  • When I think back over the most memorable parts of Dahl's work, it's always the nastiness that lingers. ... The awful married couple at the center of The Twits subject each other to a campaign of relentless psychological harassment. The message of George’s Marvelous Medicine is "Why not brew up all the chemicals you can find in your house and feed the resulting concoction to your grandmother?" This is not an easy fit for an era when peanut packets carry a warning that they contain nuts.
  • Dahl's novels share many of their flaws with the books of Ian Fleming, born eight years earlier and a survivor of the same vicious public-school system. The writers knew each other, from their mutual involvement in wartime espionage, and their estates pose the same problem: They are money machines, but the original works embarrass their current owners. Fleming's James Bond was a suave misogynist prone to slapping women and making disparaging remarks about "Chinamen." Today's audiences would recoil from that version of 007.
    • "Roald Dahl Can Never Be Made Nice" The Atlantic (21 February 2023)
    • The publishers of Roald Dahl's children's books in the UK issued editions of his works in 2022 making 100s of changes in the process.
  • With the pistols, my shots pulled down from the recoil or the weight. But the AR‑15 nestled into my shoulder pad, and the shots skipped out of it and into the center of the target. I felt like I was in Call of Duty, with the same confidence that there would be no consequences for my actions; that if anything went wrong, I could just respawn.
    Later, a friend texted to ask how firing the rifle had been. I loved it, I said. No one should be allowed to have one. This is not a sentiment to be expressed openly in DeSantis’s Florida.

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