23 NOVEMBER 1991, Page 7


Neil Lyndon On how civilised society

is being corrupted by feminists and their mad doctrines

DOES FEMINISM count for anything today? Does anybody take it seriously? . Some of those who do seem to takefemi- nIsm seriously are not to be taken seriously themselves; some figures who must be taken seriously, such as the Prime Minister and the Law Lords, might be surprised to think that their thoughts and judgments are Influenced by feminism. As always, throughout its 25-year history, modern feminism doesn't know exactly what to think or to make of itself. According to some outward signs, it might seem that the °lost influential social movement of the post- war years is expiring in the last decadent gasps of redundancy.

TI,vo weeks ago, a group of feminist-mind- ed. women writers and editors held a gathering to consider nominations for the Hooker Prize, sPoofing the Booker Prize. Prominent in this band of sisters were the Sunday Times 'style' Journalist and novelist Kate Saunders, the screenwriter Lynda La Plante, the columnist Iaci Stephen and Liz Calder, Publishing Director of the Blooms- b,1!131 publishing house. KIled by the absence of women writers from the 80oker shortlist, they struck back by shortlisting Martin Amis, „Clive James and Melvyn Bragg for the looker Prize which they awarded for 'male chauvinist writing'. First prize — 'the World's smallest condom' — went to Mar- tin Amis for a passage about women's underwear in his novel London Fields. The occasion had many marks of the o?rm feast at St Trinian's — especially the trilling and giggling over naughty bits in Inodern fiction, read aloud with chortling Wonder (And then, you'll never guess what he does next: he gets out his THING; we all screamed with laughter').

The gathering was, however, decked out with the trimmings essential to the status of members of a dandified literary and jour- nalistic set, declaring that these girls had graduated from the classrom of IVa to the ranks of the have-it-ails. The ceremony was held at the Groucho Club, where the beau monde goes to study its reflection and touch its own flesh. The girls awarded a special prize to Angela Carter as compen- sation for missing out on the Booker. It was, of course, a bottle of bubbly. Original.

The twittishness and chittishness of that sisterly gathering provide one style of answer to the questions about feminism: many of its adherents cannot be taken seri- ously. Kate Saunders covered herself with a toss of curls to describe the occasion. 'The award itself is a bit of a joke,' she said, but then, to get full advantage of both sides of the jape, she went on, 'but we all felt there were lots of women's novels that were as good as, if not better than, the ones which were selected [for the Booker Prize.]' The joke, in other words, is impregnable to scepticism or scrutiny, both because it is a frippery and because it rests upon a serious proposition. The sisterhood has always been adept at having it both ways; and, even in jest, they have never taken them- selves less than seriously.

Trivial vanity though it was, the Hooker Prize cannot be dismissed entirely as an irrelevance to our times. It is not important but it is slightly significant. It suggests that people who have some power may be gov- erned in their thoughts by the muddled axioms of modern feminism, just as it was disturbing, earlier this year, to hear the QC Helena Kennedy , after a televi- sion film on the subject of rape, that the act of rape expresses the power which all men feel entitled to exercise over all women. Helena Kennedy may be a High Court judge one day. If, on that day, she still adheres to the feminist line of cant which holds all men to be rapists, our society (and the defendants who appear before her) will be in a spot of trouble.

By the same measure, Liz Calder, Publishing Director of Blooms- bury, is in a position which nobody would describe as being with- out influence. Book- publishing may be a financial minnow in the seas of a national economy (Marks & Spencer probably turns over more money in a single day on sales of socks than Bloomsbury's entire list gener- ates in a year); but the business's power to influence opinion is not expressed in its balance-sheets. lithe Publishing Director of an important house will give her name to the Hooker Prize, we may assume that she agrees with the first principles of the assembled group and we may assume, fur- ther, that they will have some bearing upon her work and her judgments.

Kate Saunders was a judge for last year's Booker Prize. For all the idiocy and flum- mery and the hoop-la surrounding the event, the judging of the Booker Prize is self-evidently an important role in our national culture, affecting the book-buying of a wide group of readers and immensely influencing the balance-sheets of publish- ers. Why should we imagine that the atti- tude Kate Saunders brought to her deliberations as a Booker Prize judge should be markedly different from that which made 'the world's smallest condom' the Hooker Prize — an unquestioning faith in the rectitude of modern feminism?

That view provided the Hooker Prize with its muddled point: the authors who were reviled (Dickens was also nominated) and pissed upon by the Trinians in the Groucho dorm had committed the offence of writing about sex. This is not allowed. A man may not write about the feelings of men towards women (or their under- clothes) or of women towards men, even in fictional varieties and inventions of charac- ter, without opening himself, as an individ- ual and as a writer, to the charge of 'male chauvinism'. Any male writer, dead or alive, Western or Eastern, Christian, Sikh or Buddhist, may be subjected to this charge. Regardless of the divisions between their times and their cultures and ours, Shakespeare and Hemingway, St Paul and Charles Dickens have had this accusation boxed around their ears — a philistine bar- barity no less ridiculous and indefensible than the chanting of the Red Guards that Confucius was a 'cultural revisionist'. Some of the very same people who protest most vocally about the Rushdie fatwa, declaring that a writer may say what he likes even if he offends against the cardinal tenets of a religious faith, also take it as axiomatic that a man may not write or talk about women or sex in any terms other than those they approve: if a man breaches this informal prohibition, he is likely to be told that he has 'offended feminism' (another body of abstract faith) or that he is 'misogynous' or 'male chauvinist'.

Sex, sexual interests and desires, sexual relations and the politics which might attach to them have all been treated for 25 years as being the exclusive preserve, not just of women, but of the feminist sister- hood — their territory to define, to pre- serve and conserve. Any man who ventured a line of print upon this patch might find his reputation and his willy held up to scorn, presented with 'the world's tiniest condom' or with the chest-wig which was given to Clive James as second prize. (Odd how people who are so dedicated to the extirpation of 'sexist' observations about women's bodies are so pleased with them- selves when cackling about men's bodies: imagine what their reaction might be if a group of men chose to award one of them the world's biggest Dutch cap or smallest bra.) The sisterhood, better known as the hoods, has always been in a strangulating twist of moral division and descriptive con- fusion over the difference between the sex- ist and the sexual. Since the difference is impossible to locate, define and codify, the hoods have been driven back to the base line of all censorious intolerance which joins the High Court judge with Mary Whitehouse and Clare Short with William Rees-Mogg in saying that 'everybody knows pornography when they see it'. On the question of sexism, they are reduced to saying 'Everybody knows the difference between the sexual and the sexist.'

The truth is the opposite. Nobody knows that difference; and they never could. Twenty years ago, when I was an editor of Time Out, a group of young women who had founded the feminist magazine Spare Rib came to an editorial conference to tick us off for printing an observation, written • by one of our number, that external female genitals looked to him like raw steak. This, they said, was plainly and incontestably sex- ist. They would not hear argument to the contrary. They would not admit the propo- sition that a writer may feel free to make any observation he chooses, nor that artists customarily see one thing as being like another. They could not be alerted to a paradox of those days which has survived into the present: the licence of expression which is denied to men is taken, with mal- ice and derision aforethought, to be an incontestable right of feminist writers. The boy who wrote in Time Out was not allowed to give his view of a vulva but hoods such as Germaine Greer were quite free to give vent to any degree of physical loathing of male parts. A year before the Spare Rib hoods descended on Time Out, Greer had published The Politics of Female Sexuality, in which she wrote about 'the male genital, the visible doodle, the tag of flesh that could become as hard as a fist the tremulous dangling thing . . . his tassel

. the pork sword'. Nobody saw these expressions as being sexist.

Twenty years later, some of those same sisters are running publishing houses, media companies, sections of major news- papers and magazines. They are sitting in judgment on the panels of the Booker and of the Hooker Prizes. They have acquired some influence both in law and in social custom and manners. They may have been and may remain exceptionally foolish, intolerant, morally perverted people who ought not to be taken seriously; but they have and have had some measure of their own way.

The Law Lords tipped their wigs in the direction of the hoods when they rein- tepreted the law on rape to include acts between a married couple. Their Lordships were probably not aware of the particular feminist claim to which they were respond- ing in their deliberations. The hoods have always claimed that heterosexual inter- course is, itself, a style of rape and that all women who consent to penetration are submitting to their oppressor. In Sexual Violence: The Reality for Women, composed by the London Rape Crisis Centre and published by The Women's Press in 1984, the authors declared: Once we see that rape is not an abnormal act, but part of the way men — nut just strangers or maniacs but fathers, uncles, hus- bands, boyfriends, friends and professionals — treat us as women, we realise that we can- not make a distinction between 'normal' men and rapists. The silence around rape and the myths that obscure the reality have prevented women from realising that rapists are not recognisable as such. While men may choose not to commit rape, they are all capable of it and know this. When women know this too! we can stop relying on men for protection, start being angry and begin to find our own strength. In short, without this network of myths, society as we know it could not func- tion as it does.

When their Lordships shifted the law on rape in marriage, they acceded to and gave established respectability to the idea that normal men are rapists. We may wish that they endure many hours of brow-beating perplexity in conducting this principle through the courts. Another wisp of feminist orthodoxy got under the coat-tails of the Prime Minister two weeks ago and gusted him in the direc- tion of Opportunity 2000 — his initiative which will require ministers of state and major corporations to take positive action, ensuring that women's names should appear on all lists of candidates for execu- tive and managerial jobs.

Observing the conventions of cant and nodding amiably in the direction of pol cal correctness, Mr Major said that men in authority, controlling appointments, might not like the emergence of women into posi-

tions of commercial power but they were going to have to get used to it. Everybody in his audience enjoyed a quick smirk of superiority. On this point, it is well-nigh impossible to find anybody who doesn't feel superior. Even the roly-poly Rotarians, trenchering and troughing at their monthly luncheons in the market town near my vil- lage, congratulate themselves and each Other that, in their bank, in their building firm, M their small factory, in their legal firm, any woman can take any job, for which she is fitted by ability and application. If there genuinely exists a seriously profit- minded group of male employers and exec- utives whose members are averse to the hiring and promotion of women, I should genuinely like to meet them: they are such rare and antique specimens that they ought to be preserved as a national treasure.

The Clarence Thomas hearings in Amer- ica revealed another measure of the extent to which the intolerant attitudes of the sis- terhood have penetrated the life of the West, not so much in the evidence which was given as in the commentaries upon the case, in America and here.

Editors and columnists everywhere thun- dered the news that men must adjust their moral bearing to the new realities of pro- fessional and commercial life, in which women as equal colleagues had a right to Pursue their work without unseemly leer- 'rigs from the water-cooler and indecent boasting about the pleasures they were Missing. These admonitions seem to be inherently decent and incontestable; but they do not take account of the deeply altered state of affairs at work for men and women: they do not allow for the truth that all places of work which include men and Women in roughly equal numbers are hec- tic cockpits of sexual interest, flirtation, intrigue and scheming, in which women are Just as likely as men to make advances and, If they are spurned, to be spiteful in revenge. With the emergence of women in great numbers into work, all the rules of sexual manners in offices which guided our par- ents went out along with the carbon paper and the Gestetner. Like men, women do verY often see their place of work as a the- atre of sexual engagement. Many more Men than women are still in senior posi- tion, but women are being found increas- inglY in positions of power within e°mpanies and some of them don't hesitate to bend their powers to their sexual ends. Men who are fancied may get better work, More indulgent treatment of their expenses claims and enough free lunches on the c°mpany to choke a horse. Men who don't r,esPond as desired may find themselves off tile circulation lists for memos, lodged in the meanest hotel rooms for conferences and subjected to withering examination over their expenses. Some ninny might call this sexual harass- rment; that, too, would be cant. As adults, °°tb men and women must deal with the

complications and frustrations of sexual engagement at work as best they may, with as much tolerance, forbearance and good- will as they can muster. The vigilantes of sexual harassment and the corporate harassment counsellors who are appearing in American commerce will be made redundant when it is universally recognised that women may fancy men as much as men fancy women; and that desire, realised or thwarted, causes people to commit acts which may be unseemly, unjust or an abuse of office on both sides of the gender divi- sion.

The feminist orthodoxy insists that male sexuality is actively antagonistic to women, being barbaric, uncontainable and aggres- sive. They see and they describe the essence of male sexuality in acts of rape, the sexual abuse of children and the batter- ing of women at home. In a book which I have just finished, I try to show at length that the incidence and extent of these acts have been wilfully and intentionally magni- fied by the hoods to make the case that all men menace all women; and I try to show that men, in their very being, have been represented as a sub-standard genetic form, a mutation of life, which must be contained and ordered if it is not to threat- en all life on earth.

Does anybody take those propositions seriously? They do. All the rape crisis cen- tres, the family rescue havens (previously known as battered women's refuges), the NSPCC, ChildLine and other charitable ventures depend upon the idea that male sexuality is, essentially, ungovernable and aggressive. Under the direction of Mr John Patten, Minister of State at the Home Office, police forces and courts have been instructed to 'crack down' on violent men in the home, assuming that there are such men in great numbers, which I have reason to doubt. Agony aunts like Claire Rayner repeatedly assure us that the sexual abuse of children is the untold secret of our social organisation and family life. This claim

looks weedy when it is placed against the extreme infrequency with which social workers and police officers successfully bring cases to court on those charges; and it looks wild and self-serving when it is placed in the light of Lord Justice Butler- Sloss's urgings that the evidence for widespread incidence of sexual abuse of children should be treated with the utmost caution.

The hoods and their accomplices in gov- ernment and media will not admit that women, too, may be violent, both towards their men and their children; that women may be suspected of sexually abusing chil- dren; and that women may act reprehensi- bly, deviously and deceitfully at work in pursuing their sexual desires. Their abso- lute and totalitarian insistence is that all evil proceeds from the male and that the male is all evil.

At the bottom of these movements and policies is a terror of Eros. The hoods suc- cumbed to the terror when they were very young women, stunned by the fissiparous shock which had arrived in all our lives through the invention of infallible contra- ception. The intolerance they released upon the West was intended to exclude and to silence men. The admonitory and censo- rious movement continues, most recently given shape in the little condom awarded to Martin Amis. Men must keep their place, according to the tastes and defini- tions of the hoods; or they risk public dis- grace, humiliation and mockery. Whether or not you take it seriously depends upon your calculation of the effects and consequences of that movement and the view of masculinity upon which it depends. I can see few things more serious in our society than the presence among us of a totalitarian group, legitimated by fash- ion, office and place, whose wicked and vain orthodoxies are influencing the opera- tions of courts and of commerce and are inhibiting expression in all our most com- pelling forms of art.

'Do you know! I can't remember a damn thing about all this memorabilia.