Neville the Part Time Barman (mcduff) wrote,
Neville the Part Time Barman

The Frustrations of Feminism

I've recently become quite a fan of Craig Murray's blog. The political commentary is mostly a source of great insight into the political horse-trading that's going on in this country. I'd recommend his blog to most anyone.

However, he has a blind spot. To his credit, it's a blind spot he acknowledges, but unfortunately it's pretty large and generally comes in a sort of hourglass shape. The latest example, which I'm posting about here because unfortunately I'm either inexplicably banned or marked as spam over there, is in this post:

My speech centred on the recent fake bomb scare in the North West, and the relief it had temporarily provided the government from terrible headlines over the death of Ian Tomlinson and over Jacqui Smith's expense claims. I threw in the following line because a speech needs jokes, and because I like to tease the left sometimes:

"You know, I make no claim to being politically correct. So I can say that, if I were married to Jacqui Smith, I would probably use a lot of porn too."

Most of the hall laughed, but the feminists got most upset and started to interject. Points of order followed. When I had finished, a speaker from the floor said that my speech was such an important denunciation of the attack on civil liberties in the UK, that it should be copied to DVD and given out on tube stations. Then someone stood up and demanded that I withdraw my comments on Jacqui Smith.

I stayed and listened to an interesting talk on Iraq by Sami Ramidani, but when I left I was harangued on the stairs by a young woman who made Jacqui Smith look positively alluring. She told me I was a sexist disgrace. She seemed very proud of being the Chair of Glasgow Stop the War. I expect it too has a rapidly declining membership.

Now, radical as my friendslist is, there are probably still quite a few on it who would wonder about the umbrage. So allow me to take the liberty of reimagining it for an American audience, possibly about another well known politician.

I threw in the following line because a speech needs jokes, and because I like to tease the left sometimes:

"You know, I make no claim to being politically correct. So I can say that, if Barack Obama were working for me, I wouldn't send him out to pick my watermelons because he'd probably try and dupe me out of them.

Most of the hall laughed, but some militant blacks got most upset and started to interject. When I left I was harangued on the stairs by an uppity young black man who made Obama look classy.

Unfair? I don't think so. Of course nobody would put in a "joke" about Obama liking watermelons or fried chicken here on the left, and if challenged people wouldn't defend such a thing. For a start, being "PC" in the parlance of the tabloids is what we used to call "basic politeness" before the white male backlash had its way and convinced a generation of people that personally insulting people based on their class was a mark of intellectual courage. Basic standards of taste and decency would keep that kind of thing out of a public address, whether it was a humorous aside to "tease the left" or not.

Here's a question: why would you even bother to put something in a speech that essentially came down to "also, my political opponent is ugly and I would not have sex with her." Murray has claimed in comments that he wasn't referring to her physical appearance but rather her political opinions - driving straight past the question of why he would be married to someone whose political opinions he found so libido killing in the first place - but it doesn't matter. In fact, it might even make it worse. "My political opponent's policies are so bad that I wouldn't have sex with her." Sorry, was that even an option? I'm sure she wouldn't have sex with you either. Why bring it up?

The unfortunate and still very relevant fact is that women constantly face the pressure of being defined according to their class. This is something most white men don't get, on a very basic level, because it doesn't happen to us. In the case of women, the social pressures and judgements, the fundamental biases that permeate society and are the only reason Murray's comments work as a "joke" at all - can be summed up pretty succinctly: your value as a woman is entirely based on whether men will put their penis in your vagina.

Comments like this get people riled, especially from people who are ostensibly on our side, because they reiterate their essential comfort with that truth. "I'm on your side, but when it all comes down to it I'll still define you in terms of whether I'd have sex with you if it will get me a cheap laugh." It's a slap in the face, a reiteration of the fact that, despite all the progress feminism has made with liberal men, far too many of them still don't see a problem with asserting their male privilege at the most inopportune moments. Contrary to what the defenders of that privilege on Murray's blog would have you believe (including a character called JimmyGiro who is such a stereotypical petulant man-child that it's peculiar to think nobody would bother to satirise his behaviour because it's accepted as normal - go read, it's fascinating), you don't have to be some kind of ugly sex/man-hating anarcho-feminist to feel that. Of course for a certain kind of person, the notion that someone might be upset with you personally because of your behaviour is a little difficult to grasp, so it's a lot easier to claim that these women "just hate men" than to realise they probably only "hate" you just stood on stage, insulted a woman in a sexually aggressive manner that had the side effect of insulting the whole class, then insisted that they had no right whatsoever to feel aggrieved. That'll do it, I find.

The trouble is that the Jacqui Smith comment could be kind of shrugged off as being tasteless and pointless but not too bad. I'd prefer that we stick to criticising Ms Smith because she is an absolutely appalling Home Secretary, corrupt, authoritarian and incompetent. Nonetheless she isn't a particularly innocent target and, while the problem with hurling sexist insults at her is that they keep the perpetuation of sexist language and stereotypes in the window of "acceptable discourse", it's understandable that they would be thrown. What's not as forgiveable is the characterisation of the woman who confronted him afterwards. Look at the first thing Murray mentions. We might well paraphrase that "before we get to a discussion about whether her points were valid or not, I will define her character for you by telling you that I would have even less sex with her than I would have with Ms Smith, if such a thing were possible." We needed that information to form our own opinions why? Well, only because we, the audience, are expected to understand the implicit value judgement that because she is not a viable sexual target that her opinions are not as valued. It's not to say that Murray deliberately thought that through when he wrote it, but it is hard to think of another reason we could possibly need to know about the woman's lack of "allure" without that context.

Murray isn't a "sexist" in the old school, women should stay in the kitchen, kind of way. But "equality" doesn't mean the right to insult people in sexist or racist terms and then shrug off criticism because "it was just a joke". Unfortunately he's representative of a deeper problem, that of trying to convince liberal, well intentioned men that feminism isn't just about equal pay and opportunities, but about changing the culture so that we understand that there's a difference between whether a woman has value as a person and whether you want to sleep with her. Murray has, in the past, said that he intellectually acknowledges this truth - and I believe him when he says it - but it still seems a while to go before the bravely "non-PC" liberals out there realise that if they make jokes that implicitly conflate those things that they're undermining feminists' attempts to make it true.
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