Amanda Craig has been dropped as a competition judge by women’s writing magazine Mslexia over her signing of a letter to the Times in defence of J K Rowling.
Myslexia's decision has provoked controversy on social media; the publication issued a statement to say, while supportive of any woman's right to free speech, "if a Mslexia judge expresses views that threaten to undermine Mslexia’s climate of welcome and inclusivity, we will always ask her to step down from that role". Craig has said she is "very disappointed" by the decision taken after her involvement protesting "relentless bullying and death threats to a fellow author". She also called on professional bodies, including the Society of Authors and English PEN, to defend authors from such bullying.
The letter Craig signed, reported on earlier this week, was supported by writers including Ian McEwan, Aminatta Forna, Philip Hensher and Rachel Rooney, as well as by journalists, musicians and actors. It has since gained traction as an online petition garnering in excess of 4,600 signatures. It objects to "hate speech" directed towards Rowling online and refers to the writer–lately a contentious figure for her views on issues affecting the transgender community–as someone who "has consistently shown herself to be an honourable and compassionate person".
Sharing the news on Twitter that Craig would no longer be a judge for the Mslexia Fiction & Memoir Competition 2020, writer Jane Harris, herself a signatory to the Times letter, wrote: "You're not going to believe this. After a complaint, @Mslexia, a magazine for women who write, has dropped @AmandaPCraig as a judge in a competition simply because she signed the Times letter in support of @jk_rowling - a letter which was about the bullying & silencing of women." A number of Twitter users expressed dismay over Craig's exclusion from the panel, criticising Mslexia's decision for inhibiting free speech.
Debbie Taylor, founder and editorial director of not-for-profit Mslexia, said in a statement: "Mslexia exists to support all writers who identify as women, regardless of their prior background or current circumstances, including issues relating to their age, race, class, income, disability, sexual preference, location, health status, fertility, caring responsibilities and gender assignment. We stand against all forms of abuse and harassment.
"Mslexia aims to foster a welcoming and inclusive environment that encourages women to express themselves across a wide range of literary genres in the knowledge that they, and their writing, will always be treated with respect.
"Therefore, we absolutely respect any woman’s right to freedom of speech, within the law. However, if a Mslexia judge expresses views that threaten to undermine Mslexia’s climate of welcome and inclusivity, we will always ask her to step down from that role."
Craig had been appointed a judge for the Mslexia Fiction & Memoir Competition 2020 alongside novelist Kiran Millwood Hargrave and literary agent Joanna Moult. Hargrave said on Twitter that she "wasn't comfortable to sit on a panel of judges alongside Amanda because of the letter". She said she had offered to step down herself in order to let Craig remain on the panel.
Craig said: "I was going to judge this prize as a favour to a magazine I've supported virtually since it began. I'm very sad, because I love finding new talent," said Craig. "But I am just very disappointed in them [Mslexia] because it seems quite clear to me what I am protesting against, like the other signatories, is the relentless bullying and death threats to a fellow author. It's clear that is what that letter was about. It wasn't about views on trans matters, which I know there is a broad spectrum of opinion about; it was to show someone I very much admire as a writer support. So it's disappointing and ironic that a magazine, founded to support and champion women writers, should have fallen in this ridiculous way. I'm afraid it's pretty damaging for them."
She added: "At some point this [the vitriol against J K Rowling] is going to need to be addressed, because it is undermining the fourth estate. I think it's a perfect storm brought about by lots of anxieties that have nothing to do with gender or sexuality. It's almost a distraction. Except it's not, because these people who have been attacking [J K Rowling] have been breaking the law. What horrifies me is that the professional bodies–the Society of Authors, English PEN, the RSL–have not stepped in to defend an author... and authors are suffering and being intimidated."
Hargrave–who was to be Craig's co-judge on the panel and has since been attacked on social media over her stance on the issue–said from her point of view she was glad Mslexia had "taken a stand in support of a persecuted minority".
One of the organisers behind an open letter on Wednesday (30th September) in solidarity with the non-binary and trans community, she said: "Following Amanda's signing of the Times letter, I spoke with Mslexia and offered to step down as my views are antithetical with the signees. I've seen a lot of talk about how it was a letter opposing bullying, but where was the support for the trans community Rowling put in harm's way with her views? I do not support hate speech, towards anyone. I never condone or participate in it. And when you look at the people who signed –Graham Linehan, Lionel Shriver–it's clear there is alignment with transphobia. That is unacceptable to me, and to Mslexia, who are after all a magazine for women who write. You can't exclude trans women from that definition and truly represent all women. As a bisexual women, a survivor of rape, a proud feminist - I recongise trans people are not the enemy here. It's those who allow their fear to swallow reason that are truly dangerous.
"If they had asked me to step down, I would have without fanfare or public statement. I'm disappointed the same courtesy wasn't afforded me, and that I have been subject to character attacks by people with a track record of spreading hatred. The debate has become a binary of 'supporting' Amanda, or 'supporting' me and Mslexia. Really, it's about trans people's right to exist and have their existence enshrined in law. I did not set out to 'cancel' Amanda, and the very people who say I have now seek to 'cancel' me. Those who claim to hate bullying share my name and invite others to ridicule me and the work I do - the hypocrisy is astonishing. Judging a prize is an honour, not a right, and I am glad Mslexia have taken a stand in support of a persecuted minority."
It is not the first time Mslexia has taken such a decision. In 2018 the publication dropped Lionel Shriver as a competition judge for statements she made on diversity in publishing in the Spectator. At the time it explained its "raison d’être has been to provide a safe space for all women writers" and Shriver's comments "alienate the very women we are trying to support".