J.K. Rowling and the Cancel Culture Myth

In his own cultural battle with the United States, Russian president Vladimir Putin complained of Western “cancel culture” by unexpectedly namechecking J.K. Rowling, British author of the beloved Harry Potter series: “J.K. Rowling has recently been canceled because she… did not please the fans of the so-called gender freedoms,” said Putin in a televised video conference, likening the backlash against Russia’s conservative values to Rowling’s public stance on the gender versus sex debate, which was perceived by many to be transphobic.

Though Rowling has condemned Putin’s remarks, this is not the first time her name has come up in a conversation about cancel culture. In June of 2020, Rowling came under fire for lashing out at an article that used the phrase “people who menstruate” instead of “women,” thus expressing an anti-trans sentiment towards the publication’s attempt at using more inclusive language.

“I spoke up about the importance of sex and have been paying the price ever since. I was transphobic… I deserved cancelling, punching and death,” said Rowling in a personal blog post published days after.

After Rowling conveyed her transphobic remarks in 2020 and was subsequently labeled a ‘TERF’ — trans-exclusionary radical feminist — by activists online, fans of Harry Potter scrambled with a moral dilemma. Was it possible to separate the art from the artist? Is it ethically sound to continue supporting the series that Rowling still makes millions off of?

Over the years, we have seen Rowling’s views come up a sizable amount in the discourse surrounding transgender rights. One GOP Senator quoted her in his defense of voting against the Equality Act. On Mar. 8, she openly expressed her disdain over the Gender Recognition Reform Bill in Scotland. Like it or not, her views have become talking points in a global conversation.

Rowling is no average tweeter. With a billion-dollar franchise to her name and over 14 million Twitter followers, Rowling’s immense reach is undeniable. Despite the mass cancelation campaign against Rowling that occurs every time she tweets, her career has carried on unharmed. Following the publication of her blog post in 2020 — termed by many as a “transphobic manifesto” — her book sales increased tremendously in the United Kingdom. She is still making money off of the Harry Potter franchise and its spin-off series Fantastic Beasts, including its latest installment, The Secrets of Dumbledore, which was released on Apr. 6.

Ultimately, “cancel culture” is a blanket phrase for the people’s right to attempt to deplatform those who spout harmful perspectives that have the potential of gaining traction in the political landscape. Rowling may feel silenced, but too many are unwilling to compromise her role in the cultural zeitgeist for that to happen. Her argument for free speech is valid, but public figures should be held accountable for their views, especially when “free speech” disproportionately encourages hate towards marginalized communities.

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Kanita T.

Kanita T.

a pakistani-american lover of words, pop culture, and macchiatos | student at new york university