In terms of both attacking the whole of womankind and of making individual women feel utterly worthless, the Daily Mail has, to put it mildly, got some serious form. I first became aware of this in 1993, upon arrival at university. I was eighteen years old, shy, a self-identified feminist but with no self-esteem to speak of. Our Junior Common Room received every newspaper going, but I’d always gravitate towards the Mail, if only for two reasons: 1) it didn’t feature topless women (or at least, not as a daily feature), and b) it wasn’t a massive broadsheet (back then, you couldn’t get the Guardian or the Independent in a half-way readable format and I was too self-conscious to sit alongside other students struggling beneath a newspaper the size of Helvellyn).
In the early nineties the Daily Mail was obsessed with the new “trend” of “date rape”, or, rather, the new “trend” of young women “crying rape” just for the sheer hell of it. Of course, it’s not a new trend at all; we women have always been “crying rape”, often when people have forced us to have sex against our wills. Anyhow, twenty years ago the main victims of this rape-crying epidemic appeared to be poor male students. I remember two cases in particular. One involved a female student who’d claimed she’d been raped despite the fact that someone had pinned a sign saying “slag of the year” on her door. To read the Mail, you’d think this was all the proof anyone needed that she was a liar. The “slag of the year” sign! Must be true! The other case involved a young man who was acquitted of rape, then posed for a multi-page feature with two “female companions” kissing him on either cheek as he explained how he was great with the ladies and that raping them was so not his style.* I don’t know the truth about these cases. I only know how reading these stories made me feel, in a place far from home, a place dominated, both numerically and socially, by male students (one of whom drunkenly broke into my room in the first week).** It didn’t make me feel outraged; it made me feel really bloody terrified.
These days I’m not scared of the Mail. What’s the worst that can happen? So I get raped, beaten, old, ugly, discriminated against, told I’m useless. World, do your worst. The Daily Mail itself is a mere backdrop to this, the muzak in the lift that moves between levels of genuine hate. To a large extent, I don’t believe in the Mail any more.
What has happened between then and now? Why could it frighten me then, but now leave me unmoved? Part of the reason is that I’m older, and no longer live in a dodgy hall of residence with doors that don’t lock properly, surrounded by men whose hormonal impulses could be used to justify anything and everything. But that’s not all. The other reason is that I think the Mail is not what it used to be. It’s gone beyond itself, beyond parody. The logical response to it is not to feel fear; it is, quite simply, to laugh.
Let us now examine the features in today’s Femail, right now, on Friday 25th May 2012:
- piece on why women today are too fat because they don’t do enough housework (illustrated by 1950s women doing the hoovering vs 2012 woman lying on sofa eating chocolate – yay! go 2012 woman!)
- Olympic volleyball team strike a pose in bikini and briefs (although if you ask me it does look a bit nippy out – I’d recommend a nice cardi)
- ‘What went wrong when I let my boyfriend cheat three nights a week’ (Really? I can’t possibly think what could go wrong with that. After all, you did get that article published)
- Toe curling tootsies: Jennifer Aniston’s feet are veiny, Kate Moss’s have a serious deformity and Penelope Cruz’s need surgery! (still, let’s hope having crap feet keeps Jen’s mind off being a barren failure of a woman)
- Can corsets ever be comfy? (no)
- ‘It is not my job to create something comfortable’ (i.e. Christian Louboutin basically admits he’s shit at designing shoes)
- What pregnancy did to our bodies: Six brave women reveal the toll having a baby has taken on their figures (interesting definition of ‘brave’, eh? Reveal your perfectly acceptable self in the one place it’ll be deemed ugly as hell. I think the word we’re looking for is ‘fuckwitted’)
- Amanda Platell on why women over 40 shouldn’t be offered IVF because they’ve just been pissing about having careers and stuff, and it’s about time they realised life’s not all fun and games (for some reason this piece is illustrated by a photo of Amanda posing seductively in a red dress. Is there a message regarding Special K somewhere in there? How come I’ve missed it?)
- Dating at 38? Men will run a mile vs How women over 30 are more likely to have sex on a first date (so what is it? Is life for us over 30s shag-central or not? Or are we all shagging fellow women while the men continue running that mile? Anyhow, all sounds cool to me)
- How almost 70% of women would sacrifice sex for the perfect bikini body (i.e. shocking indictment of men’s sex skills / tremendous endorsement of women’s wanking skills. Gotta be one of these, because let’s face it, who can be all that arsed about wearing a bikini?)
I could go on. Let’s face it, all of this is hateful, but it’s also laughable. Is it possible to get upset by this any longer? Don’t we all suspect, deep down, that the Daily Mail has been infiltrated by a feminist network, headed up by the amazing Samantha Brick, and utterly intent on causing the whole thing to implode, leaving only rubble, bile and desperate mocking laughter? I’ve long wondered whether this could be the case, but the Samantha Brick affair has convinced me of it. Samantha is not a person; she is a figurehead, a focal point upon which everything converges. All she has to do is say the word, and the whole edifice will come crumbling down. If she didn’t exist we’d have to invent her. But she does and we don’t!
There was no Samantha Brick in 1993. Only the “slag of the year”, whose face you never, ever saw. Ladies, the time has come to say that perhaps we’re moving forwards. Perhaps it’s not all bad, and perhaps some small victory is within our grasp. Samantha, we’re counting on you.
* You often hear it being claimed that merely being accused of rape is the worst thing that can happen to a man. Good job they’re able to get over it. Strangely, I’ve never seen a rape victim posing triumphantly with her “male companions” following the conviction of her attacker. Isn’t it about time these victims lightened up a bit?
** The room break-in was not the start of an attack, at least not on me. The student was midway through a row with his girlfriend and had got the wrong room. Perhaps looking for something to say he asked me for a piece of paper and a pen. I don’t know what he did with them – maybe he wrote “slag of the year” on her door, shortly before kicking it in.