Change the article, or else…

Change the article, or else…

We clearly disagree, which is fine. But using aggressive language and threats to make your point is unacceptable

01-12-2021

I wasn’t sure whether I should write about this. The world, big and small, is complicated enough right now. But I would still like to tell you about an email I received last Monday from Feminists of Maastricht (FOM). They objected to our reporting about the free tampons and pads that can now be found in almost all faculty buildings. This is a one-year trial, funded by FOM – a group of UM students – with the Diversity and Inclusivity Grant they won this year. It’s a great initiative.

We wrote that the products are intended for women who lack the financial resources to purchase them (menstruation poverty) or unexpectedly get their period. The problem is the word “women”. FOM wants us to change it into “people”, because, they explain, “women aren’t the only ones who menstruate”.

This is a fairly new discussion in the gender field that has not yet crystallised into generally accepted conclusions. Until then, we have decided to stick to conventional terms and notions: women menstruate. FOM does not agree with this, and said so in no uncertain terms. To quote from their email, “You have published a transphobic article and FOM expects that you change this immediately or we will mobilise our community against this. We would also suggest that you contact the D&I office to, perhaps, have a workshop regarding inclusion, because for now you are greatly failing at this.”

We clearly disagree, which is fine. But using aggressive language and threats to make your point is unacceptable. Observant is an independent newspaper that independently makes its editorial decisions. FOM wants to dictate which words we can and cannot use. And if we don’t…

This attitude, especially at a university, is troubling. We have invited FOM to write down their objections in a letter, which we will publish. They have not (yet) responded to our invitation.

Jewish student

And then there’s something else: last week, a Jewish UM student criticised Maastricht University on the website www.israelnieuws.nl. The interview links UM to anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment and alleges that Jewish students feel unsafe here.

This has already caused parliamentary questions to be asked by the political parties PVV and VVD, ChristenUnie and SGP. The article does not substantiate the accusations in the slightest, nor does it contain a response from UM itself.

Last Monday, we asked the editors of israelnieuws.nl for the factual substantiation of the accusations and for UM’s response. After all, any self-respecting journalist knows that the subject of an accusation must always be afforded a right of reply before publication. We have since learnt that UM was not asked for a comment – a journalistic sin.

We have not yet received a reply.

 

Letter to the Editor Feminists of Maastricht (FOM)

In April 2021 Feminists of Maastricht (FOM) received a Diversity & Inclusivity (D&I) Grant to provide free menstrual products to all faculties at UM. The project aimed to be consciously inclusive of women, transgender men, and non-binary people by not specifying the gender of the product user; we sought to ensure that all people who menstruate at UM would have access to these.

We were pleased that the Observant devoted an article to this project. However, we were unpleasantly surprised to see that neither this article nor the Observant’s editors follow FoM’s gender-inclusive approach, but instead state that menstrual products are for women only. Along with the Centre for Gender and Diversity at FASoS (CGD) and D&I Office, we object to how this non-inclusive language erases the experiences of those who are not women and menstruate, such as non-binary, trans, and intersex people.

We were also surprised to see a passage from a private email published in an editorial one week later without our consent. This passage was taken out of the context of a long email exchange, and it came to the simplistic conclusion that we are supporters of censorship. This is ethically dubious at best: we imagine that this falls into that category of “journalistic sins” that no “self-respecting journalist” should commit.

The editorial mentioned a presumed “discussion in the gender field that has not yet crystallised into generally accepted conclusions”. We want to assure all readers that neither FOM, nor the D&I or CGD will ever engage in a “discussion” that takes the denial of anyone’s gender identity as its starting point. We advocate an inclusive understanding of gender that does not discriminate against those who do not adhere to cis-normative and patriarchal standards of gender.

It all boils down to whether the editors of the Observant are willing to use inclusive language to steer free from sexism, racism, classism, ageism, ableism, homo- and transphobia to the best of their ability. We assume that such efforts would be beneficial, given that the Observant’s mandate is to be the independent press for the whole UM community.

FOM

Author: Riki Janssen

Illustration: Simone Golob

Tags: threats,aggressive language,transphobic,jewish,anti-semitism,anti-Israel,accusation,editorial

Responses

Puck Barton

I would like to rectify my earlier comment on this article, more particularly the part where I wrote "Although I fully agree with you that threatening language is never the right way to go and Feminists of Maastricht has chosen a very wrong approach in their attempt to express their stance". It has since been brought to my attention that Feminists of Maastricht has in fact sent two emails, politely asking the author of their interview, to change it, but The Observant refused. Apparently, Riki Janssen conveniently "forgot" to mention that in her column above (speaking of censorship??). It was only when the Observant refused twice, that FoM took a fiercer stance in their third email. Considering that we're now no longer speaking of a mistake but rather a deliberate misquote, which is an absolute sin in journalism, I can very much understand FoM's stance and approach and I fully agree with them.

Dan

This incident shows exactly how dangerous the woke movement is. No longer can your opinions about matters be different, no longer does science matter, there is only one correct opinion and anyone that does not conform to it will be threatened, intimidated, and cancelled into submission.

Frightening parallels can be drawn here with fascism, but ironically not only does the woke movement not realize this, they consistently stigmatize anyone who disagrees with them by labeling them as fascist, racist, transphobe. By using such terms from the outset, any chances of a civilized discussion are immediately thwarted. The other party is demonized with the sole purpose of shutting them up.

The examples of what this leads to are reported on in the media on a daily basis. People losing their jobs for having a certain opinion, barred from attending meetings or conference, receiving death threats. One relatively recent example being J.K. Rowling, who for simply disagreeing on the exact same issue we're dealing with here (and providing an elaborate argumentation why she has that opinion), has been threatened, intimidated, and cancelled from public appearances. An absolute outrage, that should be causing much more of an uproar in society.

The silence of the vast majority of the population is not because they agree with this behaviour, it's because they have all been intimidated sufficiently already to keep their mouths shut. Who wants to risk losing their job, receive bad publicity or be shunned from society for expressing their opinion? It's often not worth it, so people just roll with it. In the meantime, reports about students feeling like they have to watch what they say pop up more and more frequently. Is that we want? Especially in universities where freedom of speech is of the utmost importance and facts and research are used to support arguments?

It's both surprising and terrifying that the woke movement, who represents only a minority in society, is able to have such a destructive effect on fundamental rights. It takes brave people to stand up against tyranny and Riki has my deepest respect for not bending to FOM's intimidation.

Zaki Hagins

I am a former student of Conservatorium Maastricht, and while this is a faculty of Zuyd Hogeschool, I was an active member of the Maastricht University community, as both a board member of Student Radio Maastricht and a friend to many students in various faculties of UM. I saw your article titled "Change the article or else..." regarding your decision to keep the wording in a previous article regarding free menstruation supplies in UM buildings as referring to "women" instead of "people who menstruate."

As a child of journalists, I understand your desire to keep with social convention, however, I disagree with this decision. For one, the supplies are for people who menstruate, and while "women" does fit this description, they are not direct synonyms. As Youtuber Sarah Z said regarding a similar article, "Women in their fifties and older are women, but they mostly don't menstruate, so the article wasn't talking about them. Pre-teen and teenage girls are not women, but they often menstruate, so the article was talking about them." In addition, trans men often menstruate, and they are not women, so using only "women" in the article directly excludes them. Using the term "people who menstruate," while being more clinical, would increase the clarity of the article while being inclusive of everyone to whom it applies.

Furthermore, your article in response to Feminists of Maastricht's email attacks them for using "aggressive language and threats," which I would interpret as a plea for civility. I implore you, what is civil about excluding a marginalized group from reporting that applies to them? Historically, pleas for civility have served to preserve the status quo, in this case, a society where marginalized groups are excluded. Appealing to convention in a situation where marginalized people are being excluded implicitly says that this exclusion is okay. As a media organization, you have the power to frame discussions in a way that is inclusive of everyone, while also challenging the systems within society that lead to this exclusion. Changing the wording in your article would be an excellent first step in this direction.

Zaki Hagins, former student Conservatorium Maastricht

Puck Barton (co-founder of CryptiQ, the LGBTQIA+ organisation in Maastricht)

Although I fully agree with you that threatening language is never the right way to go and Feminists of Maastricht has chosen a very wrong approach in their attempt to express their stance, I disagree with you that this "discussion" is "fairly new", that "has not yet crystallised into generally accepted conclusions". To break this down: this isn't really a discussion, unless you want to discuss whether or not trans men are in fact men. It has definitely crystallised into generally accepted conclusions that trans men in fact are men. Look up any article in any mainstream Dutch media about transgender men and you will always see them referred to as he and him. And trans men, at least in the early stages of their transition, menstruate. Hence, not only women menstruate. And then I'm not even talking about non-binary people yet.

Second, this isn't "fairly new". Transgender men have been around ever since genderstudies exist. Intersex people, who also possibly menstruate, have been around forever. Calling this "fairly new" (and even more so, [not] generally accepted) is, in my humble opinion, pseudoscience, denying history and a university (and thereby a university newspaper) unworthy.

By choosing non-inclusive language, you knew you would offend people. Or at least you could have known if you had paid attention over the past decade and a half. Being offensive and denying facts is not what a university newspaper should want to do. Especially a newspaper primarily read by students, should have a progressive and studious stance.

Santiago

You did not understand anything, its not about freedom of press, is about basic human rights and human dignity.

Being a man and having my period, being a man and having to read this article.
Embarrassing.

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