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Helen Lewis controversy explained: Why was she removed from Watch Dogs: Legion?

Olivia Olphin November 9, 2020
helen lewis controversy
Photo by KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP via Getty Images

Today, let’s look into the Helen Lewis controversy. Why was the journalist removed from two in-game podcasts set to appear in Watch Dogs: Legion?

The move was apparently due to comments Lewis has made in the past about gender and the transgender community. So what exactly happened? Why did Helen Lewis have to leave the video game?

Who is Helen Lewis?

Helen Lewis is a 37-year-old journalist and writer who regularly contributes to publications such as The Atlantic as a staff writer.

She was previously deputy editor of the New Statesman and also regularly hosts BBC4’s Week in Westminster.

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She has written for many of the largest nationals such as the New York Times and the Guardian as well as Vogue magazine.

Lewis is passionate about feminism and has recently published her first book Difficult Women: A History Of Feminism In 11 Fights. However, she has been labelled a TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist) by some users on Twitter.

Helen Lewis controversy explained

Lewis was part of two in-game podcasts for the fictional radio in the Ubisoft game Watch Dogs: Legion. However, the company has recently removed Lewis from all game content, citing her previous statements as “controversial””and inflammatory. The producers have stated they weren’t aware of these comments while the game was being made.

Photo by KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP via Getty Images

The company stated: “Neither Ubisoft nor the game reflect this journalist’s viewpoints. The development team worked with an external producer to select speaker profiles for these podcasts and were not aware of the controversy at the time of booking or recording.”

So what are these comments? Although no specific comments have been highlighted by the company, many feel Lewis’s comments about gender, the LGBTQ+ community and trans exclusion are to blame.

Lewis has previously raised her fears of self-identification of gender, of the potential for men to come into female toilets under the guise of being a transgender woman.

She wrote in her 2017 opinion piece in the Times: “Being a woman or a man is now entirely in your head. In this climate, who would challenge someone with a beard exposing their penis in a women’s changing room?”

Ubisoft also addressed users who felt betrayed by the company employing Lewis, stating: “We understand this collaboration itself may be seen as offensive and we deeply regret any hurt this has caused.”

However, Lewis has also previously said: “I’ve had two tedious years of being abused online as a transphobe and a ‘TERF’ or ‘trans-exclusionary radical feminist’ – despite my belief trans women are women, and trans men are men – because I have expressed concerns about self-ID and its impact on single-sex spaces.”

Twitter reacts

This controversy has sparked many opinions from both sides of the argument. Many have questioned whether this was the right decision by Ubisoft.

Helen’s husband, Johnathan Haynes, took to Twitter to defend his wife and condemn the actions of Ubisoft:

However, some Twitter users believe Lewis should be responsible for the consequences of her own writing. Many believe trans existence shouldn’t be a topic of debate.

Journalist Ian Dunt has expressed frustration with Ubisoft’s decision, as he believes this exclusion is an infringement of free speech and everyone should have a right to argue an opinion.

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Olivia Olphin is an English Literature graduate and a film and literature fanatic. She has many years of reviewing experience, recently working as accredited press for the London Film Festival. She has also written widely about culture and sex education, as well as LGBTQ+ and women's issues.