An interesting moment of clarity from QRG [Edit: It’s actually a guest post] at Graunwatch:
You’ve got nothing to worry about, son. I’d suggest going out on a rampage with the boys, getting on the booze and smashing anything that moves. Then, when some bird falls for you, you can turn the tables and break her heart. Of course, the other option is to cut your ex’s face, and then no one will want her.
I wouldn’t be above some impromptu castration, either. Last December German Helmut Seifert cut the knackers off the 57-year-old “boyfriend” of his 17-year-old daughter with a kitchen knife. That’s the way to do it, sir: grasp the issue at its root. Don’t telephone the man and sound him out. Just saw off his nuts. Sure as eggs is eggs, he won’t do it again, will he? See. Direct action. It works (almost) every time.”
Both of these atrocious, inhumane sentiments are quoted from the Guardian, but in entirely different contexts.
The first is an extract from an advice column by Danny Dyer, which the Guardian were reporting on after its appearance in Zoo magazine gained widespread criticism. (I blogged about this two years ago, almost to the day. It’s interesting, incidentally, to note the way my style of public engagement has changed since then – perhaps most notably in my approach to calling people cunts and telling them to fuck off.)
The second is from a straight-forward and apparently wholly irony-free column written by arch-feminist Bidisha, for which she was presumably paid by the Guardian and which is presented by them without comment.
I think Graunwatch over-simplifies the situation by suggesting that the Guardian’s varied coverage of these two opinions is the only difference between them. It’s an important difference, but the distinctions which render the one opinion more acceptable than the other – in at least some sub-editors’ eyes – are also worth examining. The reasons for the distinction are more interesting and complicated than simply a lefty broadsheet being fashionably sexist against men.
The victims of the proposed punishments are, respectively, a young woman who was in a relationship which ended some months ago (at whose instigation remains ambiguous), and a middle-aged man who was “involved with” a teenage girl. (Whether or not the relationship was sexual is also unclear, and Bidisha doesn’t seem too concerned either way; it at least seems to have been consensual.)
The notion that this latter victim deserves, not just retribution, but sexually violent retribution in particular, is, firstly, profoundly repugnant; but it also aligns neatly with the “women as victims” narrative common to the left. I realise that’s a dangerous phrase to use without clarification: it’s certainly true that some crimes exist in which the a significant majority of victims are female, and a gender disparity like this should always be taken into account when considering how to deal with these sorts of crimes. But a generalisation that women are “victims” are men are “aggressors” as a matter of course simply doesn’t follow.
And yet, such a generalisation is the only thing which can really explain the glee with which some feminists imagine violently assaulting men, even before those men have provably done anything to any women that might merit it. The idea that there might be any complexity or nuance or humanity to the above tale of castration isn’t even considered. He was some old perv leching after a teenage girl. Just saw his nuts off. Job done.
Another important difference is that, as best I can make out, Bidisha’s comments were the more sincere. Dyer (or whoever wrote that column) was, I suspect, not genuinely suggesting that the letter-writer to whom he was responding should take the specific violent action described. He was making a joke – a bad, tasteless, unfair joke, a joke which insensitively targets women who’ve suffered violence, a joke without even humour as a redeeming quality – but a joke all the same. Bidisha appears to be genuinely in favour of the “medieval justice” she writes about. There’s no detectable hint that she’s affected an extremist position for the purposes of lampooning it, in the way that more gifted satirists tend to make just obvious enough without overplaying it. I can only take her at her indefensible word.
But the similarities between the two pieces are also striking. In particular, they both assume that there’s no need to treat some segment of the population with any particular humanity or dignity, and that’s why what they’re saying is basically fine. With Dyer, that demographic was women, and I think he was fairly criticised for being callous. I suspect “women” didn’t occupy quite the same mental space as “people” for him, and so being blasé about violence against them went unremarked upon in his thought process.
In Bidisha’s case, on the other hand, that demographic is men – but not for the same reasons. She’s not callous about men because they’re not quite people, but because men are fine. They can take it. They’re all homogeneously lumped together in one big privileged group, full of people who never have to worry about any gender issues, and so don’t merit any consideration in matters like this. They’re entirely distinct from women, who are in a separate group of beleaguered victims. Dismembering men with a knife might be an appropriate way to bring them down a peg or two.
It’s dangerous, dehumanising nonsense in either case. Let’s try to remember that getting “revenge” on an entire gender, either because you’ve identified them as the “other” and they need to be put in their place, or because some of them might seem to be abusing their privilege, makes no more sense than any other form of sexism or racism ever has.