OK You Cocks
I’m supposed to be sorting out invoices today, so I was rather glad to log into Twitter and see a storm in a teacup brewing, and in it an opportunity for me to procrastinate. So what follows is a missive on the argument between Rufus Hound and Louise Mensch which is currently unfolding.
In short: Hound asked Mensch how salty Rupert Murdoch’s cock is. It’s going to take a significant amount of therapy to scrub out THAT mental image, let me tell you. In response, Mensch accused Hound of misogyny and he replied with a rather long tweet, the summary of which was basically that he was calling her a “corporate cocksucker,” which seems to mean ‘arse-licking, mercenary shill;’ and that – because of the context in which he meant it – it wasn’t gendered, and anyway having a vagina doesn’t make you immune to insults that have a bit of sex stuff in them.
My apologies to Louise Mensch, but I’m not going to argue with Rufus Hound about her being a corporate cocksucker (by his definition), but I must take issue with the rest of his argument.
We live in a society where women are judged primarily – often solely – by their bodies. Look at the Daily Mail’s obsession with weight, the fact that women usually feature in films and TV dramas as plot points to advance the male lead’s story along or to get naked, the idea that a woman can’t be sexy if she is to be taken seriously (which is applied to Louise Mensch a lot actually), and the fact that any woman who has the temerity to be seen in public life, particularly scantily clad, basically becomes public property which can be judged, picked apart and insulted as others choose.
So when someone asks a woman if she’s sucking her boss’s cock, the obvious conclusion isn’t that he’s making some oblique point about corporate obsequiousness; it’s that she cannot possibly have been successful by being talented, or even just by being ruthless, but that her success is down to the fact that she’s a whore, and the only thing she has to offer of any value is her body.
I remember a 15 year old girl writing on the fabulous Everyday Sexism project that she felt like no matter what she did or how successful she became, she would never be valued unless she was thin and pretty. I’m gutted for that girl that this message was beamed into her brain aged 15, because society will unrelentingly remind her of that every day until she’s 80.
I remember when I went on Newsnight with twentysomething self- made millionaire Poppy Dinsey, and Newsnight received a complaint that I’d only been invited on because I’m a woman (long story). The media used that complaint to focus entirely on Poppy, not because of her remarkable business acumen, but because she had once dressed as a bunny girl for Halloween. The message there was ‘it doesn’t matter that you’ve achieved remarkable things, because we’re going to make a whore out of you.’
I’m sure Rufus Hound wasn’t being intentionally sexist when he asked Louise Mensch that question, but he should have remembered that his comments don’t exist in a vacuum. They are being made in a profoundly sexist society, where women are judged in profoundly sexist terms. So whether intentionally sexist or not, asking a woman about sucking her boss’s cock feeds into all sorts of narratives that ensure women are always judged against a set of nasty stereotypes and not as human beings.
From the little I know about Rufus Hound, he seems like a decent guy. It’s easy to be sexist without actually being A Sexist when you live in a sexist society, because it’s so normalised. But I hope, given that he seems pretty willing to engage, he might consider the other side to this whole cocksucker of an argument – and maybe choose different words to describe Louise Mensch’s relationship with Murdoch next time. I can think of a few.
Twitter, feminism and me
This isn’t one of those dull pontifications that emerges every few weeks about feminism and privilege-checking and so on. This is just something I want to say.
I admit there was a time when I’d slate other women because their views of feminism didn’t match my own. I don’t think I was ever directly rude or cruel to other women whose views on feminism I disagreed with, but I certainly judged other women. I certainly bitched about other women indirectly (or ‘subtweeted’ if you prefer Twitter parlance).
Some months ago I stopped doing those things. I stopped because I realised those actions were hurtful, but also because they were totally counterproductive. They weren’t advancing the cause of feminism - in fact they were hindering it.
I didn’t announce I’d come to this decision because I wanted to avoid the arguments that would ensue. That was lazy at best, cowardly at worst.
After recent events, I want to make my position clear.
I will continue to voice disagreements with other feminists, but I will do so in a spirit of solidarity and respect, which recognises that ultimately our aims are shared.
I will not be rude. I will not be condescending. I will not turn debates into a kind of theatre by ensuring they are as public as possible.
I will be civil. I will be kind. I will approach debates remembering that all feminists want independence and equality, even if we disagree on how to get there. I will recognise that I don’t have all the answers myself.
I particularly want to offer an apology to Caitlin Moran. Recently I wrote a CiF piece on feminism where I critiqued the sort of feminism she represents. I didn’t intend it to be personal, but it was remiss of me not to anticipate that it would become personal anyway because Caitlin Moran was subject to so much personal criticism from others at the time. I regret not anticipating that, because it may have caused her hurt. It may have made her feel alienated. I don’t want to do that to another feminist, and I regret that I might have.
I have always believed that feminism should be a challenge, because ultimately it is trying to change assumptions most people have accepted as normal. I believe the struggle for women’s equality is necessarily a difficult, sometimes uncomfortable one. I believe intersectionality is an important tool to understand how oppression works.
But I also believe oppressed groups should know who they’re fighting. I’m fighting patriarchy. I’m not going to fight feminists anymore.
Some thoughts on reactions to press regulation
Press regulation is a funny one for me, because I often feel that when it comes to the media, I am in the centre of that great Venn diagram of ‘employee of newspaper,’ ‘reader’ and ‘subject of story.’ Like most people writing for national publications, I have spent ages on the phone negotiating words with lawyers, or feeling annoyed that I can’t say what everyone is obviously thinking, or slag off someone powerful because they also happen to be litigious as well. I have often thought the press is already regulated enough.
But through my involvement with activism, I’ve been the subject of stories as well. I’ve personally had reporters from the Daily Mail attempt to write hatchet jobs on me; I’ve been present at events that I know to be misreported by the press later, often to such an extent that lying can be the only explanation for it. I remember a certain scurrilous rag accusing a friend of mine of being involved in alleged criminal activity, and photoshopping a picture of him standing at the scene where it was all apparently taking place. They took it down after he made a PCC complaint, but not before his boss read it. I also remember how certain publications behaved after the anti-cuts march on March 26 2011. I know they lied about what happened at Fortnum & Mason. I know that because I read their articles and I was there.
So when you have these angsty hacks arguing that it’s impossible for journalists to lie because every word they say is verified by seventybillion conscientious editors, I know that’s not true. It simply can’t be – because half the stuff written about protests over the last two years just wouldn’t have been written if that were the case. I also know it’s not true because everyone who has a critical mass of friends in the MEEDJA has heard the stories of editors pressurising journalists into taking certain angles on things. And then there is the empirical evidence: Hillsborough being the most glaringly obvious here, but have a scroll through the blog Tabloid Watch, and you’ll find dozens more almost run-of-the-mill examples of newspapers apparently disregarding fact altogether.
I don’t write this to make any particular comment upon the press regulations that we’re likely to end up with following Leveson. I just want to address this idea that certain journalists are putting about now: that the British press is some kind of crusader for truth, that we have a free press in this country, and that any form of regulation will strangle democracy.
Our press is not free; it is highly regulated. It’s just not regulated by media law. It’s regulated by profit, like any other corporate industry would be. An unregulated press whose primary motivation is to make as much money as possible can be as damaging as any other unregulated capitalist institution, like banks or energy companies. Newspapers will and have destroyed democracy, lied, and ruined innocent lives in order to get their own way in the past - just like banks or oil companies have. It’s the nature of big business.
Anyone who even takes a cursory glance at the media can see that for a long time now, the British papers have been locked into a sort of arms race to get the most sensational, exclusive story they possibly can. And that often the stories within those papers represent the political interests of their owners. Who would ever think that a massive industry owned by a few billionaires looking for ever more money and influence could really exist for the good of the people? All that stuff about ‘if journalists can’t ask questions of the powerful, neither can you’ is just nonsense. Most journalists are employed by the powerful.
I suppose what I’m saying to those hacks who are suddenly feeling very defensive of their industry is that you’ve got to be a bit more honest about what the reality of your industry actually is. Journalism has achieved brilliant things – it’s changed the world – but it’s also destroyed the lives of many blameless people simply to sell papers. That’s why all of this is happening in the first place, remember? Pretending now that all along it’s been Clark Kent and Lois Lane just won’t cut it. And the public agree: only 21% of them trust you. More than half want regulation with legal backing.
I don’t think the proposals put forward today are perfect. The fact that so much of the media is owned by so few is the main issue for me, and that wasn’t touched upon at all. But it’s obvious to anyone capable of processing basic information that there is something very wrong with our media that needs to be fixed. And maybe if those working in it admitted that to themselves and to the public, they might find more people leaping to their defence the next time around.
In honour of St David’s Day, here are some photos of my home in Wales
A response to a response to a response or something. I lose count.
Yesterday I wrote a piece entitled: Feminists can be funny and sexy – but it’s anger that changes the world.
Today, it elicited two criticisms. Here and here.
It’s always nice when people take notice of you, but in this instance it’s actually rather annoying as I didn’t really want to talk about feminism and humour today. Also, isn’t it tedious when a small number of bloggers start nitpicking between themselves about some esoteric subject most people don’t give a fuck about?
But I did want to write something, if only to break in my new tumblr. And if I’m going to do that I should probably respond to these two blogs, as it seems remiss not to.
So in short:
No of course I wasn’t saying feminists can only be angry, and not sexy or funny. I mean, if I was saying that, I’d basically be saying that only unattractive miserable women can be feminists. And how weird would that be? Can you imagine me turning Tina Fey away from a feminist meet up: “NO! ONLY DOUR UGLIES ALLOWED.”
And as it happens I’m a fucking hoot.
I was, of course, arguing that we should not be so concerned about mass appeal that we sacrifice the integrity of our feminist message. I identified humour and sexiness as two methods prominent feminists are choosing to appeal to the masses. I wasn’t saying ‘IF I CAN’T BE AN UNSIGHTLY MISANTHROPE, I DON’T WANT TO BE PART OF YOUR REVOLUTION.”
See the fact is, you can’t change the status quo (or patriarchy, if you like) AND be totally accepted by it. It just won’t work. That’s not me dictating what sort of feminism is right – them’s just the facts.
For example, when the civil rights movement kicked off, all those rich men in power didn’t say ‘FINALLY black people are rising up. Well done guys. Seriously, we’re fully behind you.’ Civil rights campaigners were vilified, arrested, threatened and feared because they were trying challenging structures of power that were oppressing African Americans. Of COURSE they were demonised. That’s what power does to people who take it on.
Feminism that works will be demonised in the same way. The Suffragettes were, weren’t they? They were lied about in the media, force fed in jail and beaten by the police. I’m not saying ‘you can’t be a feminist unless you’re willing to go to jail,’ but I am saying that a certain level of unpopularity is required if you’re going to challenge power structures. Because the people in power have a monopoly over what is popular.
Unfortunately pissing people off is the only way to change shit. And yes, I know that inspires a few laments along the lines of “but HOW will my feminism appeal to teenage girls who only want boys to love them?” But perhaps we shouldn’t be saying to these girls “stick with us, and you’ll get to keep your lipstick,” but rather “stick with us, and together we can change the fucking world.”
I suppose my only regret with regards to that piece is the way I presented my comments on Caitlin Moran. I think I was fairly even-handed, but I should have been more aware of the fact that Moran seems to provoke this great divide in the feminist movement, where on one hand she’s seen as the worst thing to happen to feminism since the Republican party, and on the other she’s seen as the best thing to happen to feminism since the universal suffrage. Thus, my piece has been recast as a take-down of Caitlin Moran, which is really not what I intended. In fact, I think if I’d have written that about anyone else, it probably wouldn’t have even been commented upon. But I probably should have anticipated that reaction and spelled out my position ever so carefully, as apparently we must in these times of insta-comment and angry mobs. I feel that my piece was derailed somewhat by people trying to suss out where I stand on Caitlin Moran (and incidentally it’s neither of the two options I mention above), and that’s a shame.
So there you go. First tumblr piece and I waste it on this. But I suppose I did say it was for the stuff that was too shit for the Guardian, so at least it’s fulfilling its remit.
Welcome to my tumblr………….
For musings too trivial for the Guardian, and other chicanery.
It’s going to be FETCH.