NOOSA – Last night I received a contribution for publication from a person I respect who is a prodigiously talented Papua New Guinean writer.
The opening paragraph of the piece offered an ostensible quote which provided a foundation for the ensuing polemic.
The quote purported to have originated from the United States’ CNN news network which was claimed to have reported that "there is no consensus criteria for assigning sex at birth".
The writer associated this citation as being a belief of people of “the Progressive Religion” who were “a new deity [which] arose in the filth of our own decaying civilisation [which] has reached its period of lunacy.”
Fair enough, I enjoy a bit of passion. But I also seek fair play and integrity of argument.
A ‘straw man’ in writing (or speech) occurs when another person's argument is misrepresented, distorted or exaggerated in an extreme form and the misrepresentation attacked as if it were the original argument.
In short, the ‘straw man’ is a lazy deceit to enable a false argument to be made or conclusion to be reached.
When I read the contributed essay, I sought to track down the CNN quote. I like to check my contributors’ facts because readers are our precious gift.
My search for the quote took some time as “assigning sex at birth” received scores of citations from far right United States media outlets but not CNN. Of course this further aroused my suspicions.
When eventually I did locate the relevant CNN citation (link to it here), I found the straw man.
The original CNN line in a much longer story was: “It's not possible to know a person's gender identity [my emphasis] at birth, and for some people, the sex listed on their original birth certificate is a misleading way of describing the body they have”.
So this original article was referring to gender identity, not gender.
Cynically translated as "no consensus criteria for assigning sex at birth", the fix was in and the attacks on so-called ‘Progressive Religion’ could begin.
‘Gender’ and ‘gender identity’ are not the same.
I won’t move further with this distinction as you can explore it for yourself on the internet and this piece is already too long.
I have taken the time to write it because I expect better from contributors.
Writers should be aware that deceit in the presentation of facts may not only diminish their reputation but adversely affect their readers, who may be moved to believe, or be hurt by, such misrepresentations.