Gender Critical or Jameela Critical?
What a woman I admire's book has taught me about letting a woman I don't admire read another woman I admire's book I have yet to read.
Helen Lewis's (@helenlewis) Difficult Women has turned out to be one of those books that does that thing of "edifying” one. It’s full of stuff you didn’t know, but also full of stuff you did, but framed in a way that makes it feel new. When a book has really given you something it gives more than just good stories (it does give you that) it gives you a way of thinking – that is truly generous because unlike a story, a way of understanding something can’t ever end.
Lewis discusses some of Feminism’s pioneers, identifies how they changed society, and how they were in other ways variously: unpleasant; racist; or sometimes just boring, cowardly and a bit rubbish. The list is endless, but Marie Stopes is one who springs instantly to mind. The woman who, without question was the most instrumental person in ensuring women have access to contraception and ultimately abortion, was also a fervent eugenicist. She shows us how impossible it is to disentangle this in many ways loathsome person with the extraordinary good she did that helped shape our liberation. As Lewis says: “we don't have to like Marie Stopes to value her”. It's a simple enough sentiment and may not seem all that revolutionary. But it is actually a magical sentence. I will come back to why later.
Now, Jameela Jamil isn’t a feminist pioneer. I’m pretty certain about that. But she certainly is, difficult. And she is a woman. Albeit by the time of writing it’s entirely possible she is “identifying” as something else (and yes, I get why that’s an issue). A couple of days ago Jamil tweeted a tweet that alarmed me. Nothing new there. What was new was that it was the nature of my initial response, and the response of my gender critical colleagues that disturbed me more than the tweet itself.
My response went something like: “Pah!” then “Yikes. Her abounding self-pity has eclipsed her ability to discern Feminists from posers and she's accidentally plumped for a proper Feminist. How embarrassing”, then “Hey, where’d it go?”. Then I read some of the comments that had been screen-shotted prior to the tweet's deletion. It’s hard to say who gave her more shit for it. The TRAs and Intersectional Identefarian posse were outraged that she’d endorsed a “terf”, and the GCs were, like me, dumbfounded that her virtue-signalling had apparently lead her to into such staggering hypocrisy that she was suddenly (surely inadvertently) promoting a woman whose entire belief system she had spent an awful lot of time unilaterally condemning as hateful bigotry. It was really difficult not relish it at first. That is not an easy thing to admit to, I mean it. Particularly because this is not where this story ends. But before I explain how I rose above it, I should really explain how utterly allergic I had become to the woman…
I've felt at various points that Jamil and other well-heeled and well-remunerated members of the well-lit woketariat have gaslit me; impugned my moral character and those of my sisters, and undermined the progress of my sex-class and our common cause. I feel that she and others like her have served to advance the cause of narcissistic men who think that Validation is the supreme existential endgame, because it is socially expedient and superficially (not to mention financially) rewarding to do so.
So if you like me found Jamil’s endorsement of a work (Why Women are Blamed for Everything) by a woman (@DrJessTaylor) who is one of the people she has ostensibly shat on from her great and silly height, I want to say at this point, I too felt that hot sweet schadenfreude that morning and I too rubbed it on my gums before breakfast, and I get it. And if you didn’t, you’re a better person than I, congratulations.
Kathleen Stock (@Docstockk) and Julie Bindel (@bindelj) were among those to express dismay at GCs response to Jamil’s tweet and its subsequent deletion that morning. I don’t know either of them at all well (Julie’s eyes do that twinkly thing that Albus Dumbledore’s are said to do, and Kathleen has amazing trainers and Tilda Swinton energy), but having met them both I get the sense that, respectively, bullying isn’t really their jam. And although I didn’t contribute to the pile-on that morning I might well have done. I’m not really a morning person. But I have allowed it to feel personal with dear old Jameela. If I had engaged, can I honestly say it would have been a dispassionate critique of her position (if she can be said to actually have one – ah! there I go again! fuck!) or would it basically be a snide relishing of the idea that she was about to have a really shit day? I have said some thoroughly unconstructive stuff to Jameela on Twitter, because, I reason, she is harming the cause. All is fair in love and war etc.
So why is the idea of valuing and not liking women a magical idea? And not magical as in fanciful, magical as in transformative - miraculous even. Because it just so happens that I don't especially "value" Jamil either, though I'm totally open to the idea. (Honestly, call me the moment she does something of value, I'm all ears*). It's magic because it guards against the single biggest threat to progress - really of any society but perhaps most especially of women's movements - Purity.
There is nothing more antithetical to what Feminism is, than witch burning. Of this I am certain. I do not consider Jameela Jamil a feminist. I do consider Jameela Jamil to be a very useful idiot and fairly instrumental in an agenda that holds women back. I do not think Jameela Jamil is wicked. I do not think Jameela Jamil is murdering three women a week. And here's the real corker, I think it's possible that she's actually really upset about that fact. (Since I'm not some post-modernist cultural-relativist nutter I think intention does still count for something, crazy I know). What is more, I think that the perception that Feminists hate Jameela Jamil (who describes herself as a Feminist) does more damage than Jamil does all by herself. Purity is a disaster.
It is why, in the end, Liberal Feminism cannot win. It thinks it is anti-purity because it bangs on about sex all the time (and thinks introducing drag culture to primary aged children is "loving" and if you are not aware of the relationship between Queerness and so called MAP culture, I urge you to watch Derrick Jensen on the subject) but it is as puritanical an ideology as it gets. Libfems absolutely loathe difficult women - you could see that from the responses from people who are ostensibly on Jamil's own side - and it is absolutely crucial that we not be like that if we are going to win. We have to stop burning witches.
I meant to publish this the day of Jamil’s strange Twitter fart. But life, unfortunately, happened, in that way that it sometimes will, and I learned that for my last and absolute favourite grandmother, death will, unfortunately, be happening, really very soon indeed. Her name is Sheila and because it is not Covid, mercifully, she is going to be allowed to die at home, with my father, her only child.
In a way I’m glad I didn’t post that day, because in the (terrible) time that has since elapsed, I’ve been able to deepen my understanding of this Difficult Women business (via the ever obliging and smiley Jameela) by watching Twitter in that weird distracted way one does when trying to stave off real agony.
I intended to write something tidier about how the talisman that is the book Difficult Women has helped me overcome any vestiges of purity or aspirations toward it as a cure (perhaps always more of a tendency in lefty types, which is what I am) and implore all twelve readers of this blog to consider that Tuesday's response to Jamil's interest in reading Taylor's book, while in it's own dark way delicious, was also kind of awful and counter-productive and brought out a lot of sectarian bullshit that makes us all look like a bunch of arseholes. That is basically what I'll end up saying, but it's the sectarian bit in particular that ultimately emerged over the course of the past few days, and what I want to finish with, and it won't be so tidy.
See, apparently, it isn’t so much which GC people went for Jameela’s jugular and which didn’t. It’s which GC people then subsequently decided they were being “told off” by certain venerated Feminists and as a result kicked off about it. It's worse than I thought see. As bad as it is that GCs went for Jamil, it's worse that we then went for each other. And we don't even have the excuse of not believing the same stuff. Ridiculous. So it looks like by expressing admiration for Bindel and Stock I have unwittingly allied myself with a particular camp. Whoops. Except that I haven't...
So. Before you feel the need to get in touch and tell me what a prick I am – not to mention a hypocritical prick (easier to type than say)- for comparing Bindel to a fictional icon who has a literal wand, and Stock to a Hollywood legend, while suggesting it’s sexist to make women into Madonnas (and by implication the possibility of whores) while lecturing you not to bully poor sweet Jameela even though she's a bloody idiot, I would ask you to please check in with your sense of humour. I understand that they too are difficult women. There is stuff I don’t agree with them about. For instance, I agree with Julie wholeheartedly about commercial surrogacy being absolutely terrible and akin to prostitution, but I can’t see the harm when it is done truly voluntarily. And I am sure there is something Kathleen has said or done that I don’t like. (Does she eat meat? Yeah? Well fuck you Kathleen!)
Here are some other things that are true. I think Jane Clare Jones and Rosa Freedman are fucking cool. All they have ever been is kind to me, particularly the former who I know pretty well, and makes me laugh and makes me think. It's also true that I once caused Jane to leave a restaurant I pissed her off so much. It is a matter of time with Rosa, I blame lockdown. They are both difficult and thank god for it. You know who else is difficult? Posie Parker. I don’t know much about her to be honest. I know that some people I really admire don’t like her at all and appear to have some pretty compelling reasons for it; I’m aware her politics don’t remotely line up with my own in most ways; I’m aware she doesn’t afford much nuance to issues of transsexualism and I’ve heard her say things about transsexuals that have made me feel, at best, uncomfortable. I also think that her courage and strength and refusal to compromise her beliefs gives me goose bumps; I think her composure is mesmerising; and I think the work she has done to draw attention to the rights of girls and women and the way they are being flagrantly undermined has been completely invaluable. Let’s all keep letting each other be difficult, we don’t need to like each other. This isn’t some fucking boys club: this is Feminism.
*Since publication, someone got in touch with me to acquaint me with some of Jamil’s work which they thought I might value. I’d like to thank Jo Rickhards (@JoRickhards) for doing that. Jamil is heavily involved in what is known as the Body Positivity movement. It’s a branch of Liberal Feminism which - while it occasionally strays into pretty dodgy and nonsensical territory (Beauty tends to stop being a word with any meaning at all at a certain point, and there can be a danger of glamourising body types that are dangerous and if you say anything about it you’re told you must hate fat people… very tedious) it is a branch of Lib-feminism that I have real time for. Perhaps because criticism of oppressive beauty standards and highlighting the deleterious effects on the mental health and subsequently the whole lives of women and girls is actually very much routed in the Old School. Her work in this space consists of a vocal and unrelenting critique of airbrushing and filters; and a gloves off, no-holds-barred opposition to diet-culture (she herself is a survivor of Anorexia Nervosa) and has said of the Kardashians’ unfortunate habit of encouraging children to buy laxatives to keep thin, that their “pockets are lined with the blood and diarrhoea of teenage girls." To which I say: “Yeah. Pretty much”. Her activism (it is that) in this direction has been instrumental in Instagram introducing limitations as to what can be advertised by celebrities to their followers. That is Feminism in my book. I value that work she does, it’s extremely useful. And if you find it a bit rich that such a sublime looking human being should be telling people not to use filters… Well… I have limited sympathy with this argument. There are loads of implausibly symmetrical knockouts who don’t say this stuff. She does. It’s a good thing.
28th April 2020