Last week the Telegraph had a white, male journalist telling “pro-choice feminists” that they should be “more appalled than anyone by the sex-selection abortion story”. This week there’s a different one letting us know that “It is not necessary to be a militant feminist to understand that the niqab is deeply demeaning of women”. Thanks guys! Any other Rules of Feminism you’d like to pass on? I’m hoping this will become a weekly feature, leading up to the formal appointment of Boris Johnson and Toby Young as the UK’s Lead Feminists, always on hand to advise women what to wear, what to do with their bodies, what does and doesn’t constitute misogyny etc. Otherwise, how will we know?
As a movement, feminism might be flawed, but there’s nothing I hate more than Telegraph pseudo-feminism. At least when feminists are self-critical – or engaging in cat fights, as our male feminist superiors no doubt see it – the goal in sight remains a better feminism. With Telegraph or Tory feminism (I’m not sure what to really call it, as it’s restricted to neither one newspaper nor one political party) what we’re getting is feminist rhetoric as a means to anti-feminists ends. It’s manipulative, reactionary crap and no one who believes in equality should feel pressured into buying it.
It’s not that, the moment these issues arise, actual feminists don’t see the supposed chink in the armour. We know sex-selective abortion can be motivated by misogyny. Whatever our personal preferences, we know that women should have the right to show their faces in public (or not) if they wish to. These things are a matter of context, motivation and choice. You don’t stop women being told what to do by telling them what to do. Nor do you get to use “but I’m being feminist!” as a fig leaf next time you want to indulge in a little anti-choice or racist rhetoric.
Writing on the niqab, Theodore Dalrymple pretends to be highlighting sexual double standards:
No man covers himself up in this way; and not infrequently a young woman covered in this form of dress is to be seen accompanied by a young man in full international slum costume, which is not exactly a sign of a commitment to a puritanical way of life. Indeed, such young Muslim men are often to be seen fully participating in the Sodom and Gomorrah that is Saturday night in the centre of Birmingham, with not a Muslim woman in sight.
So Muslim men are hypocrites “in international slum costume” who hang out with non-Muslim women who (by the Sodom and Gomorrah reference) fully deserve a bit of slut-shaming. Unfortunately, Dalrymple doesn’t tell us what Muslim men and both Muslim and non-Muslim women should wear. Perhaps another male non-Muslim journalist will enlighten us further on in the series.
Of course, it’s not just men who play at feminism in this way. Writing in the Guardian last year, Conservative MPs Amber Rudd and Andrea Leadsom came up with the novel proposal that “Conservatives make better feminists”:
Give a woman a Labour prime minister and she can live on welfare – just. Give a woman a Conservative prime minister and we will increase opportunities for her to get jobs, for children to get a good education, for hardworking families to improve their lives, for young women to get apprenticeships and for entrepreneurial women to start businesses. Conservative feminism is about boosting women to their full potential. We are optimistic and ambitious for women. Labour’s policy towards women is still about the state protecting them. They don’t believe women can achieve for themselves. What patronising rubbish.
So, in essence, not supporting women who are anything other than Apprentice “career woman” stereotypes is what feminism should be about. It doesn’t matter that race, culture, class, family structure etc. all interact with the discrimination that women face because they’re women. It’s pseudo-feminism in the name of striver vs skiver bullying. If anything’s patronising, it’s the expectation that other feminists will buy this.
We’ve seen this all before. Remember when invading Iraq was all about feminism? Why should it surprise us when certain people only mention feminism in an effort to promote their own racist, classist, anti-feminist agenda? The truth is, it shouldn’t, but it should really piss us off. So thank you, the Telegraph, for reminding us yet again just why we should be angry. I’ll expect more rage-inducing “feminism” next week.
POSTSCRIPT Since writing this I’ve started to worry that the phrase “pseudo-feminism” sounds terribly like saying actual feminism is never racist, classist, anti-choice etc. – which I don’t think is true. I think we all bring our prejudices to the table, whatever our intentions. But I do think the dynamic is different with what the Telegraph does (not necessarily less bad, but different). Anyhow, they are sods. And I’m sorry I forgot to mention Dan Hodges in all this, too.