3 OCTOBER 1992, Page 8


Does one hoot or does one not?


Last week The Spectator printed a com- plaint about this column from a correspon- dent in Bruton, North Somerset, called D.C. Barker, who took exception to a piece I wrote in the issue of 5 September 1992, using an indisposition I had briefly suffered to illustrate a short sermon on the National Health Service.

'I hope I am not being churlish if I say that I do not find his [AW's] bottom a par- ticularly inspiring subject for contempla- tion,' wrote D.C. Barker before proceeding in sterner tones: 'Even less did I care for the vivid account of recent melancholy events occurring in that region of his body.'

It would be easy to sympathise with D.C. Barker and say 'there, there'. But I am afraid that future accidents of the same sort will almost certainly be reported just as conscientiously. Too little happens in a columnist's life for any of it to be wasted. A few years ago I devoted a whole page to the story of how I had nearly (but not quite) kissed an unknown young woman in the Underground, on the lips, through absent- mindedness. Was D.C. Barker inspired? I do not know: You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink.

By the same token, I was interested to learn in last Wednesday's Guardian that my colleague Germaine Greer has recently had a reportable experience. She nearly (but not quite) had a motor accident in a coun- try lane. The incident is soon told. If one disregards all the usual stuff about how the other driver was on the wrong side of the road, passing on a blind corner etc. etc., what happened was that Dr Greer saw a lorry coming towards her and stopped in good time to flash her lights at its driver. As he drove past, he made a V-sign at her.

That, then, is the essential incident. More dramatic than my nearly kissing a strange young woman on the Tube, but less so, perhaps, than my experiences in the Charing Cross Hospital last month. All motorists have occasional near-misses. I have superstitiously refrained from drawing attention to my own, but if I were truly des- perate for something to write about what we hacks call a McKay situation and could think only of a near-miss like Dr Greer's, followed by a rude sign from the lorry driver, I would probably use it to illus- trate the rudeness and aggressiveness of the New Briton, apportioning the blame equally between Shirley Williams and Mrs Thatcher, who appear to have produced Andrew Neil between them . . .

Greer, being Australian, is not concerned with our class war. Writing for the Guardian, which has not allowed any but the same old ideas and opinions to be expressed for the last 25 years, she proba- bly felt she had no choice but to discuss the lorry driver's two-finger salute as part of the Sex War. It does not seem to have occurred to her that the poor fellow was suffering from social deprivation, power- lessness, government cuts etc. Instead, she asks herself whether his gesture was part of a reported anti-feminist backlash.

She might have had a point. I have noticed that New Brits on the road are especially loathsome in their rudeness to women, making free use of the c-word, which, in its use by men to insult women, surely separates whatever is left of our con- cept of the gentleman from the subhuman New-Brit oaf. But I generally attribute this especial rudeness to the New Brit's cow- ardice, rather than to his hatred of women.

Greer similarly pooh-poohs the idea of an anti-feminist backlash, attributing the lorry driver's behaviour to traditional male brutality. But first she must wring as much as possible out of the incident:

`Let's be quite clear about what the two- finger salute means,' she wrote in Wednes- day's Guardian. 'It means a digit up your vagina, a digit up your rectum. Fuck you and bugger you. I shrugged it off, of course. Such insults are commonplace, after all, but their real meaning should be registered.'

Well, perhaps it has that meaning in Aus- tralia, but nobody with whom I discussed the matter had the faintest idea that the derisive V-sign (which is made at men as much as at women) carried any such anatomical implications, and I don't believe it does. Greer, however, uses this 'sadistic reaction' on behalf of the driver to repeat every moan in the feminist's litany — that husbands are frequently pardoned for mur- dering wives who irritate them, that contra- ception does not leave women in control of their reproductive destiny because IUDs - —

and contraceptive pills are unsatisfactory (I was reminded of the famous apothegm of Evelyn Home, agony aunty of Woman mag- azine in the great days, that the best contra- ceptive is 'No), that many women do not have as much sex as is their right (Tem& sexuality still depends upon male demand') or always enjoy it as much as they should when they do:

The kind of sex that leaves women pregnant is not the kind that gives them the most intense pleasure, but it is the kind they usual- ly get. Once again, I am afraid that Dr Greer must speak for herself. All this may seem a long way from her Real Fright and Horrid Experience in a country lane, when a lorry driver made a rude gesture at her after she had flashed her lights at him. The thought occurs to me that the lorry driver might have been trying to apologise to her. I do not know — I do not speak to these people, either, if I can help it — but I met some woman or other about ten years ago who assured me that lorry drivers were often the salt of the earth . . .

Greer's résumé of the feminist position, prompted by the rude lorry driver, takes in the significant moan that 'where once we struggled for the right to work, we now have a duty to work to service the family debt'. It is on that area that I would urge her to muse further. For the rest, her repe- tition of familiar moans about male bias and hatred of women might support the impression that the women's movement is running out of vitality. We can always trade insults, as the Times has babyishly


us to do, but that is not what I mean by the Sex War, nor by hatred of women. No doubt there has been a backlash of the lorry-driver sort against feminism, but it is not significant. A more significant reaction — one could call it a backlash, but it is slower and more- purposive than that --- may be seen in New York, in the emascula- tion (or at any rate impotence, when eon: fronted by women) of New York men, and their adoption of homosexuality despite the., gravest discouragement on grounds 01. health. Lesbian growth is obviously part of the same thing. The key text for our times may not be the lorry driver's ambiguous gesture to Greer in a country lane, but the Sun reader's other injunction, blazoned on his rear window: Hoot if you've had it tdaY, or Honk if you've bonked. Does one hoot, Germaine, or does one not?