This morning I was awakened to the sound of my sons engaged in serious debate regarding the relative merits of Minecraft and Match Attax. In the red corner was 5yo, putting forth the view that defeating zombie pigmen was the finest that twenty-first century childhood play had to offer. In the blue corner, 6yo was staunchly defending the superiority of the football trading card game beloved of all boys in Year 2. Various subtle argumentative techniques were used: shouting, hitting, making up a song about one’s brother’s smelly poo-poo pants and recording it on the iPad. Eventually, the two of them reached a reasonable compromise, one which involved wishing death on one another and thenceforth playing in separate rooms, on Mummy’s orders. They are nothing if not rational, sensible chaps.
It’s on days like this that I’m eternally grateful not to be the mother of girls, who’d no doubt be having some prissy, trivial scrap about Barbie versus Loom Bands or some similar nonsense. As Lucy Mangan sagely notes in her Guardian column today (as sagely as it is possible for anyone lumbered with a prissy female brain to note) girls twat about fighting while boys engage with proper issues. It starts in childhood and continues right through to adulthood, to the extent that women even mess up their own attempts at liberating themselves by being too bloody girly:

My heart fills with despair when feminists and feminism convulse in another self-induced set of agonies. This is women’s besetting sin and reminds me of years of frustration in the school playground trying to play games with other girls, forever arguing about the rules and never starting a bloody game at all. Meanwhile, the boys got together, got on in both senses, and returned to the classroom fitter, stronger, ready for the rest of the day.

Poor, poor Lucy. What a burden it must be to be the only non-crap girl in the village. It’s such a shame she couldn’t have been a boy, really, what with all her serious thoughts and proper opinions.
It’s not as though one of feminism’s main challenges has been countering the view that women’s experiences are trivial, insignificant, not the “real” game. It’s not as though female socialisation constantly teaches women not to fight, not to fuss, not to question the rules, just to play the bloody game even if it’s someone else’s game and you’re already destined to lose. It’s not as though men’s more “serious” battles – war, violence, grossly inequitable political bargaining – aren’t the neat, rational pursuits we’d like them to be. It’s not as though women are told, time after time, that their voices are too shrill, their argumentative techniques too hysterical, their conflicts too unbecoming. It’s not as though “your battles do not matter” is what little girls are taught from the day they are born. It’s not as though pushing back against this – saying “I am real, I define myself and my voice matters” – might, you know, be important. Come on. It’s hardly the World Cup.
As Lucy – poor, too-clever-to-be-female Lucy – says, silly feminists are always “behaving – as the dinner ladies so correctly in all but the politically prefixed sense used to shout at the knotted, tear-stained cliques fibrillating with pointless fury around the edges of their domain – like utter, utter girls”. What a shame we’re not men, wonderful, superior men, fighting over religion and trading cards rather than violence, human dignity and safety for all. If only we could all be men then there’d be no need for feminism at all.

In The Beauth Myth Naomi Wolf describes how sickness and health “are often subjective judgments that society makes for its own purposes”:

Women have long been defined as sick as a means of subjecting them to social control […] The Surgical Age took over from the institutionalization of female “mental illness,” which had in turn overtaken the institutionalization of nineteenth-century hysteria, each phase of medical coercion consistently finding new ways to determine that what is female is sick.

Wolf was writing about the cosmetic surgery industry at the end of the 1980s. This pressure is still with us, greater than ever before, but still we are finding new, more complex ways of diagnosing women as ill and unfit for activism or debate. I see this happening within feminism itself. It’s not just that women are told they are sick as a means of silencing dissent; dissent itself has been pathologised. You can be well, but only if you keep your mouth shut.

Terms such as bigot, TERF, whorephobe and SWERF are hurled at women whenever they do not toe the line regarding essentialist definitions of femininity and sexual passivity. It’s a means of discrediting arguments by suggesting that the subject is diseased, unable to think clearly due to multiple phobias. I think there’s a direct line to this from the cults that Wolf describes. Women who threaten the misogynist status quo by being active and demanding have to be put out of service one way or another. (more…)

Misogyny is not particularly nuanced. It has a long history and manifests itself in different ways across different cultures, but essentially it’s always the same: hating women, viewing them as less than human, denying them their subjectivity. None of these things is very refined; indeed, when you are on the receiving end of misogyny, you know that it is gut-wrenchingly blunt.

Responses to killer Elliot Rodger’s misogynist manifesto have not been nuanced. This is because there are no subtle shades in lines such as these:

Women are like a plague. They don’t deserve to have any rights. Their wickedness must be contained in order prevent future generations from falling to degeneracy. Women are vicious, evil, barbaric animals, and they need to be treated as such. […]I would take great pleasure and satisfaction in condemning every single woman on earth to starve to death. I would have an enormous tower built just for myself, where I can oversee the entire concentration camp and gleefully watch them all die. If I can’t have them, no one will, I’d imagine thinking to myself as I oversee this. Women represent everything that is unfair with this world, and in order to make the world a fair place, they must all be eradicated.

There is no reason for us to pore over these words, looking for the complexities, the justifications, the finely balanced decisions. This is someone who despised women for being women. And yet the language he uses – If I can’t have them, no one will – will be familiar to many of us. It’s there in descriptions of women as sluts, whores, prick teases, temptresses. It’s there in the way men treat women who reject them or try to leave them. It’s there in the belief that all men are entitled to penetrate women’s bodies. Such a view of women is all around us and if that sounds monstrous and extreme, that’s because it is. (more…)

This post is brought to you by sex. Lots and lots of sex, which I may or may not have had in the past and/or be having right now. The precise nature of said sex shall remain undefined. Suffice it to say that it’s as rude – or not rude – as you want it to be. The point is, I’ve fucked my way to credibility – or have I?

It has come to my attention that in most discussions of porn, sex work and objectification, there’s immense pressure placed on feminists to demonstrate they have the lived experience required to take part. It’s not enough that to have grown up in a patriarchal culture, nor to have felt the daily impact of being reduced to passive flesh. You’re obliged to show your bits. After all, if you don’t do that, how can anyone tell whether you’re not just some sex-fearing neurotic? Disliking sex is not the same as, say, not liking sugar in your tea; it’s become a form of bigotry and thus, as a bigot, you’re not allowed an abstract opinion on how objectification affects womankind. Indeed, even if you’re fond of most things sex-wise, it’s probably best to express unbridled enthusiasm for anything at all that you find problematic, otherwise you may not be permitted to find it problematic in the first place. Does that make sense? (more…)

After taking part in a debate on feminism, the Great British Bake Off’s Ruby Tandoh has found herself accused of elitism. According to the Daily Mail, Tandoh “has admitted she thinks The Great British Bake Off is ‘crap TV’ and that the women who watch it are ‘silly’”. Of course, that isn’t anything like the message she was trying to convey while taking part in the Elle debate on whether feminism needs a rebrand. While I’m still not sure I agree with her point, I think this distinction is important. Feminists should be able to state their beliefs without everything being sent through the anti-feminist distortion machine, in which certain key words (in this case “crap TV” and “silly”) are matched to the most appropriate off-the-peg parody of feminist belief and then thrown back in the speaker’s face. (more…)

Dear Victoria Coren,

I’m writing in response to your Observer piece on Roman Polanski and the sin of simplification. I might as well say straight off that I don’t agree with it. But wait, don’t leave just yet! For I have a PhD! From Cambridge! Therefore I’m assuming I’m allowed opinions, too (this may be presumptuous of me; I didn’t get a first and I’m useless at Only Connect, but do bear with me).

You’re aware that your piece has angered many people. Indeed just recently you tweeted:

Ah, those silly, silly people, with their knee-jerk reactions and idiotic binary thinking. As you yourself write, “our modern world does not invite us to treat anyone as nuanced. People are heroes or villains, victims or victimisers; sometimes neither, but never both”. It takes a special kind of visionary to see through all this, doesn’t it? Most people, well, they’re just too busy getting mindlessly self-righteous to sit down, brow a-furrowed, and ponder the ways in which Roman Polanski’s work being “filled with beauty and humanity” sits uneasily beside the fact that he’s also a child rapist (because hey, that’s way too confusing for our little heads! How can he do bad things AND good things? How can anyone, other than an utter intellectual giant, cope with such thoughts without a total brain meltdown?). (more…)

For all its flaws, the internet has been great at giving a voice to people who wouldn’t otherwise be heard. Indeed, in recent times there’s been one group who, silent for far too long, have finally been finding their voice. I’m referring, of course, to those who don’t give a shit about things.

In the old days if there was something about which you didn’t give a shit – sexist language, size zero models, the Sun’s page three, images on banknotes – you’d have to just suffer in silence. Obviously you could get on with other things in the meantime, albeit in a purely abstract, imaginary way (the economic downturn and female genital mutilation are, hypothetically, no longer problems due to all of this not-shit-giving). In real life and in public, however, there weren’t that many outlets for ostentatiously demonstrating just how totally not arsed you were about minor, usually feminism-related tussles. Thank god, therefore, for the Guardian’s Comment is Free site. From now on silently feeling furious that other people are feeling furious about things about which you wouldn’t be furious except you are now but only in a meta way in response to these other furious people – anyhow, that thing is a thing no more. (more…)

I am trying to negotiate the rules are on free speech. Obviously that’s assuming that there are rules (you’d really think there shouldn’t be, what with said speech being “free”, but I don’t think that’s how it works). Because I am morally immature (liberal, feminist, atheist) I can’t do this on my own, so I’m using Cristina Odone’s response to Nick Clegg’s same-sex marriage “bigot” gaffe to help me.

This is what I’ve been able to work out so far (if you are similarly immature in terms of moral development, please pay attention – it’s perhaps more complicated than you’d think): (more…)

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