Today is the first day on which I’ve been grateful that the Sun has far more readers than the Independent.
I was looking at the front pages of the newspapers in WH Smith’s and my heart began to sink as I saw the front of the Sun. At first glance, it seemed to involve a story about a mother’s whose child’s gender was disputed. I braced myself for an offensive story peddling prejudices against transgender people.
What I found was quite the opposite. The story concerned six-year-old George, who was brought up as a girl (called Georgia). At an early age, George had said “I’m a boy” and asked to be called George. His mother is respecting his decision and treating him as a boy. His twin sister remains a girl.
The Sun‘s report focused on the prejudice faced by George and his mother, Hayley, who has been accused of encouraging her child’s maleness for her own ends. She insists she neither encouraged nor discouraged it, but accepted George’s choice. The Sun is clearly in her favour, giving over a high percentage of the word count to her quotes and portraying the school authorities that disputed George’s gender in a poor light.
The article is not perfect. It could be a lot more helpful and clear about gender fluidity and there are some questionable statistics. But it’s great to see a paper with a history of prejudice, and with a massively high readership, making clear that gender is not obvious and can change.
Uplifted by the Sun‘s coverage, I moved along to look at the other front pages. I saw the Independent, the paper I buy most often and usually admire. This time, my heart really did sink.
“Scientists discover the difference between male and female brains” declared the paper’s headline. The standfirst that followed read, “Study reveals variation in hardwiring which may explain skills gap between women and men”.
This is the latest scientific study to “reveal” that men and women have different brains. Some of these studies have more credibility than others, although quite a few have been systematically discredited. However objective or nuanced the researchers’ intentions may (or may not) be, these studies all get picked up and celebrated by people who want an excuse for treating men and women differently and pretending that society is not to blame for stereotyping and sexism.
At the very least, the Independent should be acknowledging that this is an issue on which scientists are divided. A balanced article should surely quote someone who disagrees with the study and make clear why this is such a controversial issue. I am genuinely surprised that a paper of the Independent‘s quality and open-mindedness did not do this.
Today’s Sun gives us reason to celebrate how far we have come in challenging narrow and restrictive notions of gender. Today’s Independent is a reminder that we still have a great deal more to fight against.