Saturday, 16 June 2012

A traitor to ... something or other

A few days ago, it was brought to my attention that I am a ‘traitor’. No, seriously. The Other Half pointed this out to me.

The news came in an article in the usually rather decent Huffington Post, by one Julie Bindel, whose fulminations on sexual politics also appear in the Guardian.

It seems that, earlier this week, she was railing against bisexual women – we’re the traitors, doncha know.

Now, normally, I’d ignore such things – why give the perpetrators of nonsense any more publicity? – but unfortunately, Bindel and her ilk get to spend an extraordinary amount of time on supposedly high-quality platforms spouting their nonsense.

Indeed, in some cases – and Bindel is herself particularly guilty of this – what they spout is straightforward hatred. Bindel is a misandrist, yet the dear old Guardian continues to give her space to pour out her bile.

One can only imagine that editor Alan Rusbridger is convinced that this is … well, what? Some sort of penance for the ‘crimes’ of men against women? Evidence that he’s ‘right on’ when it comes to sexual politics? Proof of the Guardian's liberality?

I look forward to Rusbridger testing this out with a comparable piece that, for instance, suggests that all Muslims are terrorists – or even potential terrorists.

Bindel and her ilk don’t limit their hatred to men. They’re far more generous, applying a matronising attitude to any woman who dares to disagree with them.

Yet what makes this even more irritating is that so much of what they state as fact lacks anything even remotely approaching intellectual rigour.

Not only do these people have absolutely no democratic mandate – and therefore no accountability – they make the most extraordinary assertions.

You could end up thinking, to read or listen to them, that feminism was something that had a specific set of agreed truths; a central, core philosophy.

It doesn’t. It never has had. There is no ‘set text’, no ‘holy book’ of feminism.

That, of course, is why Bindel and co have to be so damning of any other woman, in particular, who has different views to theirs.

And, of course, their need to continue earning a crust.

But it seems that some people are enormously ready to believe things that have no basis in historical fact.

For instance, both Angela Carter and Susan Sontag (for whom I have a great deal of time, as it happens) talk of the “subversion” of male-female relations as though this were an undisputed, proven fact.

But look at the word. To subvert something is a quite deliberate and specific act.

Now I’m no expert, but I can find no evidence anywhere of this happening in the history of male-female relations and, when I have asked other women, none of them have ever been able to come up with such evidence.

So when were such relations subverted? By whom? How? What were the said relations like before this specific act?

Nobody is saying that women do not face particular problems as a result of their sex. Indeed, at present, far more women in the UK are suffering from the government’s austerity policies than are men (and far more young people in general are also suffering unemployment than older people – and so forth).

In the West in general – and certainly in the UK at present – I would suggest that the biggest issues that women face are economic or are directly related to economic questions and policies.

Of course, tackling such things requires real, grass roots political activity. And somehow, I very much doubt that the likes of Bindel would want to get their hands dirty in such a way. Besides, grass roots politics is frequently boring and depressing and almost always downright hard work.

It’s far easier to sit and pen a few rants. And besides, it helps avoid the possibility that, if you actually met more women outside of the ivory tower, they wouldn’t all agree with your somewhat prescriptive approach to how they should behave.

The Huff Post piece is, by the author’s standards, mild in its condemnation of this particular set of people that she doesn’t approve of. But it also highlights another point.

The Bindels of this world love to tell others what they can and cannot do; who they can and cannot have sex with, for instance: I have even seen hectoring posts (on Guardian online) from women telling other women what specific acts they should and should not engage in when having sex.

Conservatives might claim to be in favour of a small state – but many still want the state to be big enough that is has a say in what consenting adults can and cannot do in the privacy of their own homes.

Now if I tell some right-wing fundamentalist to fuck right off out of my sex life – why should some feminist think that they can do the same, without precisely the same riposte?

The reality is that there are a number of fundamentalisms – and far too many fundamentalists. And however different their fundamentalisms might appear to be, they’re cut from remarkably similar cloth.

Indeed, only a few weeks ago, organisers of something called ‘RadFem2012’ announced that members could only be “women born women and living as women”, in a move that barred transgender women.

At least one of the speakers at the conference – Sheila Jeffreys – has previously written about how trans surgery should be banned, and called for transsexualism itself to be called a ‘human rights violation’. (More here).

The likes of the Vatican and US Christian fundamentalists would just lap this up, wouldn’t they?

And if that is the case, then shouldn’t anyone who claims to be a progressive or a liberal find a bloody big alarm going off in their heads?

In the US, Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon were so utterly determined that Porn Is The Most Bad Thing In The Whole Wide World, that they ended up in metaphorical bed with the Christian right, who probably cheered when they managed to get a porn ban in Canada – a ban that included lesbian magazines and literature.

Now there are a wide, wide variety of opinions on the subject. And there is no dividing line between women’s opinions on the subject and those of men. And there is no gospel.

Yet you still see utterly crass comments published claiming that ‘all porn is misogynist’. What – even the gay or the lesbian porn?

But surely the people spouting this sort of thing are a tiny minority?

Well yes – but given the space they get in the likes of the Guardian and now the Huff Post, their views are being given credibility and prominence that is out of proportion to their numbers.

And it’s also worth reiterating that they have no democratic mandate – and no accountability.

Yet you could make a case that such extremism has influences in some quite high places – in government policy, for instance. There were certainly signs of it in some of the rhetoric of the last government.

And listening to some of the hyperbolic rhetoric coming from those opposed to gay marriage, it’s difficult not to see the parallels with these ‘radical feminists’ again.

So, why am I a ‘traitor’? Well, apparently, it’s because I am what I am – but because I don’t then choose to use my sexuality to make a political statement by pretending to be something that I am not.

God, this is as passé as berating women for wearing lippy and claiming they only do it because men make them (which effectively also says that women are just downright stupid and gullible and don't have minds of their own – except when they're you).

And these people want to be treated as some sort of philosophical/intellectual giants, their every word followed to the letter? They expect respect?

My own philosophy on the matter in general is really quite simple. Consenting adults should be left alone to do as they please.

Everyone should be equal before the law and in terms of education and health care and – well, you get the point. But that’s equal – not an inversion of what some perceive to be the status quo.

And, whether some women might approve of the decisions and subsequent actions of other women or not, the central tenet of feminism is surely to give women the freedom and the opportunity to make and act on their own decisions.

Anything else becomes exactly what those doing the disapproving claim they are opposed to. A matriarchy is no better than a patriarchy.

Feminism should be enabling. To proscribe and prescribe is simply to be disabling and, indeed, to show a deep distrust in (and arguably dislike of) those whom one purports to liberate.

The last pope – John Paul II – is credited with helping to end the Cold War and defeat Soviet communism. Years later, visiting his native Poland, he berated crowds on the basis that he hadn't liberated them just so that they could go and have abortions.

Fundamentalism is always dangerous. It is always reactionary. It always involves bigotry. It is always, ultimately, anti-democratic and anti-freedom and anti-choice. And it is always divisive.

And that doesn't change when such ideas are published in supposedly liberal publications.


  1. Hi Amanda, great piece in particular this:

    'Now if I tell some right-wing fundamentalist to fuck right off out of my sex life – why should some feminist think that they can do the same, without precisely the same riposte?'

    Is spot on!

  2. Many thanks, dil8. Glad you enjoyed it - and thanks for commenting.

  3. Great thought provoking article. You are correct on all counts!

  4. As a Guardian reader and liberal I really should stop "lying back and thinking of England" when reading it, I have become lazy and rarely question their stance, whether it's editorial or opinion pieces - thank you for kicking me up the backside.

  5. John, I know what you mean. I'm sure it's partly that you find yourself thinking that there are so few liberal and progressive publications around that it feels somehow wrong to query an approach – in effect, as though that's a tad treasonous.

    Anyway, I'm glad you appreciated it. And thanks for the comment.

  6. I got steered this way by a comment on a Guardian piece, and was struck by the contrast between your writing and what passes for comment in the MSM. I'm not quite entirely sure what it is with some people, but they never seem to be happy unless they are telling other people what to think/say/do/believe. I've been inclined to ignore them all my life, but they are getting away with it a bit more now, and have a compliant government which seems receptive to some of their nonsense. You are quite right - it's long overdue that we send them away with a flea in their ear.

  7. Thanks, Graham. Some of it seems even more salient now, in light of the Twitter joke trial and the Porn Trial. Glad you appreciated it.

    Let's all carry on giving a few fleas in ears.