Where am I at, politically?
I’d hesitate to call myself a feminist, not because I wouldn’t personally identify as such, but because I know it can piss some women off to have a man do so. At the same time, I wouldn’t call myself a “feminist ally” either, as that sounds absurdly subservient, and also implies a degree of activism I don’t really partake in. I’d say that I’m interested in feminism, see things generally from a feminist point of view, and think concepts like patriarchy are enormously useful and revealing ways of looking at the world.
None of which I want a cookie for, incidentally; I’m just trying to explain. Basically, it’s why I feel slightly awkward being a man writing in defence of a woman, when no defence is, really, required. And yet here we are.
What happened recently is this. A site was set up attacking Jeremy Duns. (There have been two sites, actually, but the person couldn’t spell Jeremy right the first time they tried). Jeremy spends a lot of time chasing people online, so it’s natural he makes enemies, and since he’s generally right, it’s also natural that those enemies manifest themselves in fairly pathetic ways. This particular one focused on the allegations around Stephen Leather, although it’s hard to say whether that was the real motivation behind it, or who might be responsible. Jeremy responded in the comments, linking to an interview Leather gave about his attitude to Thai bar girls. Fairly unpleasant stuff, albeit typical. I hadn’t read it before, so – bored – I randomly tweeted the link to it, along with a quote from him about how the girls these days weren’t as pretty as they used to be.
In reply, Leather tweeted three times, the last of which was this:
A few people were shocked by this, and I understand. But it’s basically just bargain-basement misogyny – depressing and depressingly familiar. Let’s look at it.
First, there’s the implication that a woman can “improve with age”. This is basically saying that your partner is there to look good: as a trophy on your arm; as a prize; as an object. The idea is that women should be valued solely by the way they look, not who they are, and that if they fail to meet a particular man’s criteria, they must be judged on that. They must be made to feel unworthy. Because that is all women are.
Second, there is an implicit attack on what is clearly seen as property. Leather has no interest in engaging in argument, but seeks to win a point with a spurious trump card. He might as well have said “your house is run down”. He is seeking to diminish me, or make me feel diminished, by attacking something he sees as belonging to me and which is somehow depreciating in value. Of course, my wife does not belong to me, but it speaks very clearly to how he sees women (and also, ironically, to the views expressed in the interview I linked to). Women are currency to him, and he is showing his wallet, and thinks it is impressive. He thinks insinuating “your wife is ugly” is a reflection on me, not on her – and more to the point, not on him for doing so in the first place.
Those two points tie together. What is made clear by this (as well as the otherwise irrelevant “I sell x number of books and they’re just envious!” comments he’s scattered across the internet) is that Leather requires the admiration of other men. I sell this many books! My woman looks like this! Admire me! It would be offensive if it wasn’t so risible and pathetic. Or perhaps, vice versa.
Just quickly: one keen memory I have is of the birth of my son.
It was a difficult birth; afterwards, more than one midwife would tell us that if we’d asked for the worst birth possible, well, we got it. It was a bad and busy forty-eight hours, and I don’t remember a lot of it. But I do remember that my wife, throughout it all, kept apologising to the doctors for putting them out. With everything that she was going through, she was still thinking of them, and how she was making things harder for them. Because that’s the kind of person she is.
Listen: she doesn’t need to improve with age (whatever that even fucking means) and she doesn’t need to be or become anybody apart from who she is. If that’s your argument, then sorry, you’ve lost.
But you know what? It wouldn’t matter anyway, what she was like. You don’t win arguments by doing that. You don’t do anything except make yourself look bad. If you have something intelligent to say to me, about what I’ve said and what you think about it, then just be brave and say it. To me. I’m not fucking hard to find.