A couple weeks back, my mom informed me that an old family friend would be sending me a book in the mail. The book had just come out in the UK (where the family friend lives), and wouldn’t be coming out in the US until the fall. I was skeptical, as this family friend and I didn’t always see eye-to-eye. The book was ‘Woke’ by Titania McGrath.
It turns out, I had every right to be skeptical.
Who is Titania McGrath?
I received the book, which featured the term WOKE in big red letters on the cover. It was by someone named Titania McGrath, who I had never heard of before. I began to read it, and was a few pages in before I had to stop.
Was this a joke?
I Googled Titania McGrath. Turns out, McGrath is fake person created by Andrew Doyle, a 40-year-old writer with unique opinions like ‘PC Culture is bad’ and ‘Identity Politics are bad‘. He even penned a lengthy piece about why he created the character of McGrath.
Doyle began speaking as McGrath to mock ‘social justice warriors’ in April of 2018. McGrath’s Twitter account currently has almost 300,000 followers.
Though I routinely had to take a break from all the ridiculousness in Doyle’s book, I did get through the 150 pages of it. Below are my thoughts.
Note: I will be referring to the author as Doyle instead of McGrath throughout this review.
What I agree with
So, as much as I hate to admit it, I do agree with some of the things Doyle gets at in this book. For instance, there is a tendency in the world of social justice for some figures (especially ones with strong social media followings) to develop a cult-of-personality. These figures use the framework of social justice in a self-righteous and holier-than-thou way.
With that said, it is clear Doyle views ALL social justice activism in this light. He lumps scholars, historians, psychologists, and sociologists in with the aforementioned social media activists. He may think he’s mocking just ‘internet snowflakes’ and ‘Tumblrinas’ (who are still real people, at the end of the day), but a lot of this book comes off as an insult to the people who have been on the frontlines working to uplift historically marginalized groups.
This can be seen in his misrepresentation of scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw’s theory of intersectionality.
‘According to the theory of intersectionality,’ Doyle writes in the book, ‘Muslims occupy the very pinnacle of the victim hierarchy. This is largely a consequence of the fact that they have been scapegoated continuously ever since 9/11.’
What is intersectionality?
To be clear: Crenshaw published the theory of intersectionality in 1989 — more than a decade before the 9/11 attacks. Additionally, the theory itself does not imply a ‘victim hierarchy,’ as Doyle and other right-wing critics seem to believe. All Crenshaw was observing were the ways gender, class, and race intersect to form each person’s lived experiences. For instance, a black woman like Crenshaw navigates the world differently than a white woman. This is due to the burden of both racism and sexism.
‘This is what happens when an idea travels beyond the context and the content,’ Crenshaw said in May about this right-wing backlash to her theory.
Doyle is not the only one who views intersectionality in this caste system-esque way. Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro once tweeted ‘intersectionality is so stupid’. Shapiro believes himself to be at the bottom when it comes to the theory because he’s a straight white male.
He described the theory in a similar way as Doyle. In his words, intersectionality is a ‘form of identity politics in which the value of your opinion depends on how many victim groups you belong to. At the bottom of the totem pole is the person everybody loves to hate: the straight white male.’
‘When you’re going to sign on to a particular critique by rolling out your identity, exactly how was your identity politics different from what you’re trying to critique?’ Crenshaw told Vox of Shapiro’s view of intersectionality. ‘It’s just a matter of who it is. That’s what you seem to be most concerned about.’
‘There have always been people, from the very beginning of the civil rights movement, who had denounced the creation of equality rights on the grounds that it takes something away from them,’ Crenshaw continued.
Contrary to these critics’ objections, Crenshaw does not see intersectionality as ‘an effort to create the world in an inverted image of what it is now’. Rather, she believes that intersectionality is simply a framework to make room for ‘more advocacy and remedial practices’. The purpose being to create a more egalitarian society.
The concept of being trans
Doyle also doesn’t properly grasp what being transgender is. Nor does he see how it’s different from being so-called ‘transracial,’ à la Rachel Dolezal. He believes that since both race and gender are social constructs (albeit very different ones), anyone can claim to be anything as long as it’s how they truly ‘feel.’
‘Earlier this year I decided to spend a month identifying as BAME (Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic). And there’s no denying that I experienced some terrible prejudice,’ Doyle writes. ‘You wouldn’t believe the looks of disapproval that people gave me when I told them I was an ethnic minority.
‘In fact, the day after I transitioned to BAME, my personal trainer phoned me up to cancel one of our appointments. This never happened when I was white.’
In order for Doyle to ‘become’ Titania McGrath, he must have read up about these theories and their histories. It’s sad they so clearly went over his head.
Other cringe-worthy moments
There were other strange misrepresentations in the book. Some assumptions, some just blatant erasure of facts. For example, there’s a super cringy chapter called ‘Ecosexuality’. In this chapter, Doyle jokes about having sex with plants. He also seems to believe that liberals and leftists are okay with bestiality. Again, this is a simplistic yet exaggerated and mocking view of the idea that sexuality exists on a spectrum.
Doyle bizarrely writes: ‘Virtually all of us at some point in our lives have dabbled in bestiality. Whether that be a long-term monogamous relationship with a favorite whippet or simply the occasional digit drunkenly inserted into a vole on a night out.
‘Why, then, is this kind of sexual experimentation considered socially acceptable, when a fling with a climbing hydrangea would be universally condemned?’
This is no different than the reactionary people who are very triggered by all the different terms for gender and sexual orientation. They respond with eye-roll worthy questions like, ‘Well why can’t I identify as a dragon?’
In the chapter titled ‘Pussy Power,’ Doyle writes that ‘53 percent of American women had voted for Donald Trump’. It should be noted that in reality it was 53% of white women. Not women in general. No idea if this misrepresentation was intentional, because it seems like any editor worth their stripes would have fact-checked. But, perhaps this was just another one of Doyle’s failures when it comes to grasping concepts like intersectionality.
Tired and stale comedy
Doyle also happens to be a comedian. Through the voice of McGrath, it seems he believes offensive humor to be the only true humor.
‘Light-hearted jokes, if not properly regulated, can very quickly spiral out of control,’ Doyle writes. ‘Let’s not forget that Al-Qaeda started off as an improvisational sketch group.’
As Doyle’s opinions are all very reactionary, he probably doesn’t care for the idea of punching up and not down when it comes to comedy and satire. Or, considering he made a whole Twitter account and wrote a whole book for the sole purpose of mocking women, the LGBTI community, and people of color, perhaps he believes he is, in fact, punching up since he views himself as a white guy at the bottom of the totem pole in his misunderstanding of intersectionality.
But let’s be real: not being able to make offensive anti-trans jokes anymore without backlash is not equivalent to centuries of systemic oppression at every societal level. The fact Doyle believes them to be one in the same is telling.
At the end of the day, this book reads exactly like what it is: reactionary and stale satire by a disgruntled white man. He’s not saying anything interesting or special. No commentary I haven’t seen reiterated thousands of times by trolls on Twitter and Facebook. I guess the one difference is that Little, Brown Book Group gave him money to publish his drivel in hardcover form, instead of having it confined to the realm of the internet.
It definitely sounds like conservatives are the true snowflakes, but okay.