The Staunchly Imperfect Chaotic and True Allyship of Graham Linehan
It’s thought that as many as a quarter of the “witches” murdered in the 16th century alone were men and boys. We can either choose to care about this or not. And there are those that sincerely hold that even the mention of this fact, or what is implied by the raising of it, is in some way anti-feminist, or at best tacitly serves to undermine the reality of misogyny.
And so I have wondered for a while about how to discuss the matter of male allyship, or whether it is prudent to discuss it at any great length at all.
Liberal Feminism’s deranged “feminism is for everyone” and it’s attempts to be “inclusive” have rendered Feminism flabby and meaningless just so long as it's comfy for men, and I see only harm and inanity produced by this approach. Whether the toothless “feminism is for men too!” was a canny and bold - albeit totally misguided -manoeuvre to get men on board, or a purely cynical plot by bad actors to invite in a Trojan horse with the simple aim of felling Troy I am not sure, but I know that it came to the same thing. I know that in the 90s or then abouts, a number of Feminists reckoned Feminism needed men, and that men could only be made to join up if they wanted to have sex with Feminists. I know this deal with the devil was made, and that this was, and remains, a disaster.
And so, bearing all this in mind, while I have cherished male allies, I have also been reluctant to be too effusive about them. Liberal Feminism can focus on men, that seems to be it's entire raison d'etre. I would prefer to focus on women. And yet, here I am, very much wanting to talk about Graham Linehan, very much wanting to say something kind about him.
Last week, Graham was sent outside to sit on the naughty step to think very hard about what he’d done. I have been thinking with him. It is the least we owe him.
Graham’s name now appears alongside names like Katie Hopkins or Milo Yiannopoulos in an interminable discussion about free speech. Each character more detestable aggressive and grotesque than last. I wouldn’t wish to detach what has happened to Graham from a discussion about free speech – I couldn’t even if I wanted to - but I’m not convinced of the extent to which that is the most prescient aspect of this story. Twitter is a private company etc. I’ve no doubt it acted according to the letter of its own insane law, one in which calling men “he” gets you suspended but the proliferation of pornography showing women's breasts being nailed to desks or the normalisation of so-called ‘MAP’ culture is totally cool and fine.
His name does not belong on such a list. It belongs on the list with Meghan Murphy, Holly Lawford-Smith, and endless others, mainly women, brave, clever, difficult all.
I am not asking you to pity him beyond those he has sought to fight for. My appreciation for him is enormous and also entirely proportional, and if you detect sycophancy in what follows, or praise unearned, I would suggest that you to address any vestiges of sexism alive in that interpretation... One should be very careful, I think, of accusing women of any kind of “dick-pandering” if one calls oneself a Feminist.
The fact is Graham has been a boon for the Women’s movement in the UK. He is someone who is genuinely enraged by the regressive, homophobic and misogynistic things that are happening in the name of trans rights, particularly to children. I think he has a highly calibrated bullshit detector and that lies offend him, constitutionally. I think he can spot an underdog from a mile away, and will then take it home, even if it parks a massive turd on his sofa.
Among his most notable achievements so far, was the War on Women newsletter, which was a dispassionate and painstakingly compiled list of the fuckery being piled upon women and girls on a weekly basis. It was a record of the unfairnesses, sometimes blatant and thudding and in a manner that would leave you wondering why everyone and their aunt wasn't up-in-arms about it, and sometimes insidious, like arsenic being snuck daily into the morning porridge of a fading family member with a juicy will, women - frequently lesbians - were having to field. Graham and his co-author, known only to us as 'JL' (we can imagine all too easily the need for anonymity) were determined to miss nothing. A part from anything else it was masterly writing. I don’t know if between them they deployed a single adjective, trusting presumably that the content would speak for itself. I found the discipline of that extraordinary. I wonder how many people were “peaked” by those War on Women pieces - that good, dogged writing. A fair few I reckon. I know that I read those litanies of madness and injustice with increasing bewilderment, rage and conviction.
He's the only remotely famous person I'm aware of who has attempted to leverage his connections to advance this cause. Jon Ronson is probably the most galling example, galling because it failed. But he had some success with Jonathan Ross. There were Ronsons and there were Rosses and there were Hislops in between, Graham tried them all. I wonder how many other people you and I have heard of - people with BAFTA laden mantelpieces - who have had Graham bend their ears on this. I wonder how many of them still pick up the phone. What a bunch of dicks.
It's this aspect of Graham's contribution - his being well known - that is the most paradoxical. It is the thing that generates the most sympathy and the most scorn. I've found that "He's a famous man" is the answer that will meet two questions: i) Why shouldn't I feel grateful for what he's done and consequently sorry for his booting from Twitter? and also ii) Why should I feel grateful for what he's done and consequently sorry for his booting from Twitter?
Someone I know who is quite famous (not Graham) once tried to explain to me what being famous felt like to them sometimes. They said "Lydie, it's like you've farted" I laughed, but I remember noticing that they were serious and they went on: "It's like you farted in a room full of people and everyone knows it was you." I don't think we can know (unless you who is reading this is also famous) what it is like to do something so chronically unpopular as to suggest women are real and not a feeling and that no, transwomen aren't women, when you have what is embarrassingly called (but there's no other term really) a "public profile". I don't think that acknowledgement of the many cool things that surely exist about having the social capital that goes along with being famous (famous in this case for doing something brilliant like writing a number of beloved sitcoms) should prevent us from empathising with what it must be like to be so available to loathing. I think what it must be like, is shit.
I know that when members of his extended family or erstwhile colleagues decided to stage interventions - out of concern of course, and never ever as a result of complete ignorance as to what was going on or just how rational it was to be furious - it was done in public.
I think I have never felt more for him than when people have either intimated be means of concern-trolling or just said it straight outright that he was in some way "losing it". Part of why Graham has been a brilliant ally is his deference on matters about which he cannot know, namely matters pertaining to being female. But if you are a woman reading this, I'm guessing someone has at least once in your life and at least once this week, called you mad, over-emotional or irrational because you cared about something important, be it a relationship or a social injustice. Being accused of madness is the worst thing that can be said about you of course, because contained (and impugned) within the charge is the very thing - the only thing - you have to defend yourself: your reason. I know if you are a woman reading this that someone has accused you of madness, I know how that feels. Well, Graham knows too.
It's important to note that it was not always cowards and idiots who asked him to stop. It was not always "concerned" friends who, having failed to acquaint themselves with the severity of our current moment, assumed something must be wrong with him rather than our society. Pleas for him to tone it down particularly in relation to his interactions on Twitter with women (to this day I think it is only Theresa May he ever called a cunt, for which he may ultimately be forgiven) would sometimes come from gender critical women, myself included. He did not always listen. And I think sometimes that it would have been better had he taken some time and space while fighting what was and is an undoubtedly good and necessary fight, to reflect that: any perception that he was becoming "unhinged" while both cruel and inaccurate and unpleasant and all the rest of it, was also just incredibly unhelpful to us, and at some point feelings must be laid in pursuit of what actually works.
Graham kept at it when a number of women asked him to stop. Asked him, crucially, on the grounds that he was no longer helping, to stop. I daresay he should leave it to women to point out to handmaidens and doormats when they are being handmaidens and doormats.
The nub of the thing seems to come down to whether you think it is the duty of allies to “create space” or to scream at the top of their lungs. I recall video from the Evergreen Protests a few years ago where white allies of the BLM movement were told that they "needed to shut up" minutes after being told that "white silence is violence". Google "allyship" and you will find a thousand screeds, each more incoherent and contradictory and handwringing than the last as to how best to help. I certainly don't have the answers when it comes to racial justice, and I don't seem to know definitively the best approach re Women's Rights either, but I am clear that I will eat my own thumbs before I divest myself of people whose hearts are so utterly in the right place.
I have wondered whether he wanted to get booted. Freud was a sexist coke-addled maniac but he had a few good ideas. Graham had seen many friends booted, all women. In this scenario, I wonder in a way whether Graham isn't the Queen Mother hunkering down in the Blitz, just wanting to be able to look the East End that is Woman in the eye.
Whatever Graham is going through now, I think he is not deluged in rape threats in the way that, say, JK Rowling is. As a man even if he were, it would not be as frightening. That is, if he gets such threats he is not having to field them in the context that a woman necessarily does. And however surreal it must be to be expelled from what is essentially the contemporary equivalent of The Forum, he is hardly disenfranchised. The recognition he has earned in his career may protect him from being sacked into oblivion and obscurity but look at what happened to ally James Dreyfus who was recently excluded by the BBC. One can keep mitigating, keep coming up with reasons as to why it’s not so bad, what’s happened to Graham. I think it is a mistake to think he has not paid a tremendous price. Just as I think it is a mistake to imagine he has earned clout or some kind of social capital that can be wielded in any kind of meaningful way whatsoever from all this.
It’s a mistake not to notice and appreciate those who are prepared to fight - however scrappily - for the rights of women and girls.
What matters to me anyway is that he has cared to try, and tried, and told to fuck off and die in a grease fire and booted out of professional and social circles and tried again. I hope he knows how much he means to us. I’m very glad that he is continuing his campaign on this channel where he chats to excellent people.
I’ve written in an earlier post about the book Difficult Women by Helen Lewis, and how invaluable I found it. It helped cement what I already knew: that people are flawed and purity is a catastrophe. In Graham Linehan we are dealing with a Difficult Man, and I can give no more meaningful honour. He has been, at every single turn, the most loyal; energised; infuriating; invested; curious; motivated; productive; worrisome; kind; problematic and treasured of male allies, and I bloody love him.
5th July 2020