Misogyny, left and right: Why we shouldn’t have to choose

Right now there’s a battle going on between the two sides of the political spectrum: who is best at controlling women? On the Right there are those who still vouch for the “women as purchasable property of husbands” model, while on the Left there’s a preference for “women as purchasable property of all men, everywhere.” Should a woman be on her knees for one man or for several? What’s best for the common good?

Of course, this is not a real fight, more a performance. As long as women remain objects who exist to satisfy male needs, either way will do.  As Dworkin observed in 1987, “this public fight they’re always having, from our point of view and for our purposes, is a diversion. They each do their part to keep us down.” It’s nothing more than ostentatious dick swinging. They each say they’re the best at managing this resource called “woman” but they both know that they’re in it together.

Hence it should not surprise us that the Greens are every bit as virulently misogynistic as the Conservatives or UKIP. Their politics are pro the rampant commoditisation of female bodies, anti the rampant commoditisation of everything else. Because, of course, the commoditisation of female bodies isn’t anything to do with capitalism; it is “natural.” The fear of both sides, argues Dworkin, is “that male supremacy wasn’t just this giant, monolithic thing that had, in fact, been given to them by God or nature. God is the right; nature is the left.” Can’t argue with nature, can you? The idea that the Left is more pro-woman because it claims to be on the side of the people is absurd. All you need do is exclude women from your understanding of “people” – because “woman as people” is just some sinister construct – and you never have to listen to them ever again.

Somehow feminists are supposed to be implicated in all this fake fighting, as though we actually care which particular arguments are used to screw us over in the exactly same way as before. Take, for instance, this article in the current edition of The Spectator, ostensibly on “the march of the new political correctness.” Written by a self-styled Voice of Male Reason looking down on the foibles of a feminised Left, it associates feminism with the very things feminism seeks to challenge – the very ideas pushed not just by left-wing men, but by their right-wing  counterparts. For some reason, we’re meant not to notice:

In the first wave of political correctness, the word ‘inappropriate’ was enough to shame a speaker into silence. The new, digitally remastered PC draws on an ever-expanding lexicon of victimhood. Terf stands for trans-exclusionary radical feminism — i.e. ‘transphobic’ feminists. Swerfs are sex worker-exclusionary radical feminists who think prostitution oppresses women. For right-wing pundits, these antics are a gift — fresh ammunition for the culture war.

The really obvious point to make here is that terms such as TERF and SWERF – plus cis, mentioned at the start of the piece – might be “fresh ammunition for a [phoney] culture war” but their main purpose is to offer a way of putting old-style conservative misogyny in left-wing clothing (otherwise it would be all too obvious that both sides agree on what women are for).  TERF = I hate you for not being my submissive wife, SWERF = I hate you for not being my submissive whore, cis = your subordinate status is naturally ordained. The meanings are hardly hidden to anyone with a basic understanding of the English language.

And yet the author of this piece thinks feminists really need to give a shit about the brave new wording while the social realities remain the same. His reasoning seems to be that being called a TERF isn’t really old-style misogyny, but part of the same cultural trend – the same, I tell you! – which might make you say something genuinely important, such as “rape is bad”:

To quote a young woman friend of mine, ‘Part of the way they do this is to stretch concepts like rape and sexual assault to encompass things we all once thought were minor aggravations — like being winked at or something.’

One hopes that the British sense of the ridiculous, our relish in piss-taking, will keep terms such as swerf out of our vocabulary. But the mindset that created them is slowly becoming more entrenched.

I’m sorry, but the mindset that created the term SWERF is not the same mindset that identified and named rape culture. You don’t get to pull that one. They are diametric opposites.

As Dworkin points out, misogynists on both sides of the political spectrum have always been trying to undermine feminists by playing this baby with the bathwater card. “I can’t possibly support you in saying SWERF is wrong if you don’t agree to dispense with ‘rape culture’ and ‘patriarchy’ while we’re at it!” The particular example Dworkin uses is with left-wing men and abortion:

“Well, what we’ll do is that we will allow you to have an abortion right as long as you remain sexually accessible to us. And if you withdraw that accessibility and start talking this crap about an autonomous women’s movement, we will collapse any support that we have ever given you: monetary, political, social, anything we have ever given you for the right to abortion. Because if your abortion right is not going to mean sexual accessibility for us, girls, you can’t have it.” And that’s what they’ve been doing to us for the last fifteen years.

And let’s add on another twenty-eight to that.

I think Dworkin’s example is particularly pertinent to current left-wing attempts to deny that female biology – that thing misogynists have been torn between erasing and despising for millennia – exists at all. It seems that if we dare to admit that for women as a class, reproductive difference is relevant to the manifold ways in which we’ve been oppressed, then we’re no longer the passive surface-only liberated sex dolls left-wing men wants us to be. Sex dolls don’t bleed or get pregnant or age or stretch or sag or go through menopause. So mention any of this, says the left-wing man, and I will take it as you agreeing that biology is your destiny, not as you saying you have a body of your own that matters. I can only liberate a disembodied male idea of “woman.” Do anything to shatter the passive sex doll fantasy and I won’t be on your side any more (as if such men ever were).

It’s easy to find other examples of this bargaining and bullying. For instance, the Times Higher Educational Supplement is running a piece on how within higher education “the lines on free speech are becoming blurred.” As you may have guessed from the title, one example of censorship mentioned is Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines not being played on campuses across the country (oh no! the humanity!) while another is The Sun not being sold at over 30 universities because of Page Three (think of the poor wank-deprived!).  The piece then goes on to ask,

But should we consider the banning of a newspaper or a song to be in the same league as restricting a speaker who condemns people on account of their religion, ethnicity or sexuality?

There is a very clear avoidance of more obvious questions regarding on-campus free speech – the disproportionate targeting of feminists as supposed “offensive” speakers, or the ways in which female students have neither freedom of speech nor freedom of movement due to real threats to their personal safety  – in order to create the impression that this is about knee-jerk censorship and not  power. There is an implicit play-off between liberalism (“accept your fate as a sex object for male students and perhaps we won’t ban all speakers who challenge the status quo ever!”) and prudishness (“don’t like bare tits? No, neither do I, and I don’t like women speaking, either, so let’s ban that as well”). Ultimately it’s the same game: shut up, woman. Don’t express your feelings.  It’s another fake battle in which neither side is shooting at each other, just at the women in the middle.

I think it is important that women say no to all this. We are not taken in by the misogynists of the left any more than those of the right. We are not here to be taken out of the frying pan of reproductive exploitation only to be thrown into the fire of fetishistic objectification. We will not be liberated from biological determinism only to be imprisoned in the confines of the male imagination. We might want some of the same things you want but we don’t want to hear you play-fighting over what we are. We know what you think of us. Whatever you say we know that when it comes to dehumanising and exploiting women you are on the same side.