I object to Laurie Penny\’s abuse of the English language

Well, I often object to her abuse of it but this really will not stand:

Now a collection of liberal feminist groups has come forward

There is nothing fucking liberal about these unshaven harridans determining how others should live their lives.

The essence of liberalism is that consenting adults get to do as they wish as long as it is indeed consenting adults and they don\’t frighten the horses out in the streets.

Attempting to censor the press so that 19 year olds can\’t display their iced nipples, 50 years olds drool over them, is not liberal. It is authoritarian, puritan, it is many things but all of the things that it is are not liberal.

If you wish to use the American perversions of our language then please only do so when writing in America for Americans.

24 comments on “I object to Laurie Penny\’s abuse of the English language

  1. “Care must be taken to ensure that the current modish rhetoric of combatting “sexualisation” is not elided with the asinine, sexually repressive agenda of Christian conservatism.”

    ‘Because it’s different – and far more worthy – when we do it!’

  2. CiF is an online-only thing, yes? So where are the links in this (the three included just link to elsewhere on the guardian website.) I wanted to see who this cold collation were.

    There is the usual confusion between risk behaviour and blame as is comes to rape. If you leave your mobile phone out in your parked car, or you don’t lock your car door, you are at high risk behaviour of theft. You are not too blame – the thief is. The analogy extends perfectly well to rape – there are high risk behaviours – wandering about alone, lifts from unlicensed mini-cabs, even some dress states (not that ‘being provocatively dressed’ seems to be a much of a differentiator), beyond merely being female. Doesn’t mean that the woman is to blame – it is still the rapist – and it shouldn’t be (and I don’t think it is) considered as mitigating factors on a rapist’s sentence. But that seems to be too complicated reasoning for a feminist, or possibly just for a feminist’s article.

  3. I apologise for the “too” versus “to” and “is” versus “it” confusion in that rant.

  4. On this vein, I think the most outrageous example of liberal/authoritarian confusion I have seen was trannie artist Grayson Perry on Question Time.

    The question was about whether the couple running the B&B should be prosecuted for refusing (on religious grounds) to allow the gay couple to share a bed in their house.

    I would have thought Perry, in in full glory dressed like his granny on national television, would be an undying defender of the right of this couple to do as they wish on their property.

    But no, on cue, he wanted them prosecuted.

    No, the liberal bit only applies to let Perry (and Laurie Penny) do what they want, which includes giving them the freedom to tell us what to do.

  5. Surreptitious Evil

    When at University, I walked a female friend home one night, after a drunken revel of some kind. I had to insist very firmly, because she said “I should be able to walk home safely on my own”.

    Now I couldn’t agree more, I would love to live in a world where women were not at risk from rapists. But back in the real world, I felt obliged to behave with chivalry. Yet to her, my offer to look after her was apparently an acceptance of something unacceptable.

    I hasten to add that we were good friends, and she wasn’t worried about my intentions.

  6. Okay, the cold collation.

    End Violence Against Women” – on the basis of it, fairly sensible and not apparently massively illiberal (the ‘worst’ I could find was an objection to rape porn.) However, as they get some of their stats from utterly reliable sources such as the Poppy Project, probably more well-meaning than well-reasoned.

    Equality Now” – again, seems fairly sensible. Mostly seems to campaign against some of the more egregious discrimination internationally. Most illiberal thing – a ban on Japanese ‘rape simulator games’. I know the Japanese cultural acceptance of porn is rather different to ours but I can’t help feel that rape simulation is rather more immoral than the commonly accepted mass-murder games we seem to enjoy. Not that my maunderings about morality justify government action.

    Object” – Ah, yes, here we go. Bans on lap dancing, lads’ mags and beauty pageants. Only women are objectified in adverts, apparently. So bansturbationist and illiberal. Definitely.

    Eaves” – apart from being the home of the Poppy Project, whose problem is their statistics and publicity, not their intent (i.e. provision of accommodation for trafficked women), again, mostly sensible. Most illiberal thing? Probably the heavy government funding. Although I wish they’d learn to spell “detention”.

    Okay – so 3 out of 4 aren’t actually illiberal in the UK sense. 1 is. So less appalling than Laurie herself.

  7. “I should be able to walk home safely on my own”.

    And I agree with her. However, reality, as you quite correctly noted, doesn’t currently support her and my desires. “Should” and “could” are more strongly differentiated than many people are willing to accept.

  8. Serf, Surreptitious Evil

    The fact that your discussions of rape issues immediately leap to the realms of ‘stranger rape’ (ie. bad man jumping out of the bushes) does, I regret to say, kind of show that you’ve got no business discussing rape issues.

    The bad man in the bushes is not the problem.. it’s the acquantance who takes advantage of drunkenness, or the husband with a sense of entitlement. It’s all rather horrid and complex.. and whilst there’s no harm in challenging the feminist line on these things, you can only do that if you know what it is. If you’re just echoing the tabloid line then, alas, you’re making Penny’s point for her.

  9. kind of show that you’ve got no business discussing rape issues.

    Well, as that’s the point that Laurie herself was raising – if you’d bothered to read the source material – does she have no business discussing rape issues either? Anyway, being drunk around men with a over-blown sense either of their entitlement or their attractiveness is a relevant risk behaviour.

    I’ve had enough problems with consistency and accuracy in one long comment – given the lack of a preview function on this blog – to go off topic into a detailed discussion of rape. Especially as the available statistics are widely acknowledged to be dubious.

  10. Syrupy Evil

    I’m not going to defend Penny.. not for a second.. I *really* don’t like her. And she’s full of shit.

    However, ‘victim blaming’ is a thing, and it goes way way beyond pointing out objectively careless behavior.. almost to the point that all a person need to do to ‘share the responsibility’ for being raped is to share a bottle of wine with an old friend. So when people enter that thorny debate by bringing up ‘stranger rape’.. which is incredibly rare.. it indicates that they’ve not got the best grasp of what it’s all about.

    I’m far from an expert. But having been taken to task once or twice for making the same mistake, I’ve read up enough to have a grasp of the issue as it is seen by yr feminist types. Maybe you get it too, but your initial contribution hid that fact rather well.

  11. The Thought Gang

    …..The fact that your discussions of rape issues immediately leap to the realms of ‘stranger rape’ (ie. bad man jumping out of the bushes) does, I regret to say, kind of show that you’ve got no business discussing rape issues……

    Nice to know what topics I can and can’t discuss.

    Do I have to completely cover every topic I ever comment on, even if that means going off topic and being overly wordy.

    The little anecdote that I gave, coincided with a number of female students being attacked by “bad man jumping out of the bushes”.

    The anecdote was to illustrate that dealing with the world as it is does not indicate a political preference, but is rather pragmatic. It was not designed to be a treatise on rape.

  12. Mr Ecks – I take your point but we also know that the official statistics are wrong.

    Because of the (utterly reasonable) difficulties in rape convictions at the “beyond reasonable doubt” standard, we know that rape conviction stats bear no relation to rapes occurring.

    We know that non-stranger rapes are also significantly under-reported – for social reasons, as well as because of the feminist media insistance that the raped are always treated appallingly by the system. And, we also know that, as Julia points out incessantly, that false rape reports are common (although probably a statistically insignificant fraction of rapes occurring.) We also know that the “half of women are raped” claims are based on very doubtful research – possibly even your “bogus”.

    This all makes it very difficult to have any sort of statistical rather than moral discussion about rape. And as “rape is wrong” is trite, a moral discussion about it is hard, as you immediately get in to arguments about ‘exactly what constitutes consent’. At which point the battle lines are drawn.

  13. However, ‘victim blaming’ is a thing, and it goes way way beyond pointing out objectively careless behavior

    Maybe you get it too, but your initial contribution hid that fact rather well.

    Did you read my contribution before you over-reacted? I think I said, quite clearly:

    “Doesn’t mean that the woman is to blame – it is still the rapist – and it shouldn’t be (and I don’t think it is) considered as mitigating factors on a rapist’s sentence.”

    There are risk behaviours in many crimes. Very few of these are considered to bring any culpability by the criminal law and the law is generally right. (As an aside, if you want to see risk behaviours bringing formal culpability in criminal law, have a good look at limited criminal aspects of Admiralty Law.) Of course, in civil law, particularly commercial, the variant behaviours of plaintiffs and defendants are nearly always considered.

    That the reactionary media is reactionary isn’t news.

    And stranger rape isn’t “incredibly rare”. It may be less common than non-stranger rape but, as we haven’t got any reliable statistics (in fact, as we have pretty much endless differentiations in jurisdictions as to what actually constitutes ‘rape’ as opposed to other sexual offences) it remains difficult to have a rational discussion about the frequency of occurrence of the offence and its different flavours.

    That “yr feminist types” don’t have a particularly rational view of the subject (e.g. two drunk students enjoying themselves must be rape) doesn’t me that I must subordinate my views on the subject to theirs. Or, in fact, yours.

  14. Serf..
    You may discuss what you wish.. I apologies if it came across as me suggesting otherwise.

    SE..
    The issue (back up to Ms Penny) is about how the media engages in victim blaming, and how that’s reflected in society (whichever came first is irrelevant to me, albeit not to Penny).. not about what the criminal justice system does.

    But yes, it’s complicated and thorny and this isn’t the place to go through debates that have, in any case, been had in a thousand other places without ever, funnily enough, leaving everyone happy at the end.

    I reacted to comments which, I considered, were typical of those that come from clumsy anti-feminist types who’ve never really attempted to understand where the others are coming from and, at the very least, disagree with them from a position of strength. If I misunderstood/misjudged then, well, fair enough.. it’s for you to decide if you’ve got a decent enough grasp on an issue.. but other folk can challenge that where the see fit.

  15. There have been a few liberal feminists. They were an out of place minority, like liberals in the Tory Party, an accident of the 1960s.

    The driving force of feminism, it’s raison d’etre, is puritanism. Always has been. Always will be. It is the only reason it exists. That is why there was no feminism during the conservative mid 20th century, then it suddenly roared back into life after the sexual revolution. They want the genie put back in the bottle that they themselves created back in the Victorian Era.

    The Murdoch Press has always been a thorn in their side because of Page 3. Not long before the election, Harman, May and Featherstone were on a panel at the Fawcett Society, at which the feminists roared and whooped as Harman declared she’d “love to take on Page 3” and Featherstone agreed. The video is available on the web.

    They have no other purpose. They do not care about women, or about equality, or about womens’ rights. They are simply Puritans. That is all the movement exists for. That is all.

  16. Ian.. you need to meet some more feminists. I know a whole bunch.. and whilst they would all claim to be liberal, but often fail to actually *be* liberal (bang in line with Laurie Penny.. ‘people are free to do whatever I think they should be free to do’) they are not puritans. Authoritarian?.. sometimes.. Prohibitionist?.. on rare occasions.. but they really are too busy having a lot of sex, drinking a lot of alcohol, and taking a lot of drugs to be able to fit puritanism into their schedules.

  17. TTG-

    I’m not really much interested in your anecdotal friendships. Hypocrisy is rife in every political wing, and frequently so among Puritans who, seeing themselves as an especially gifted “elect” whose role is to tell lesser mortals what to do, feel no need to obey those rules themselves.

    What matters is the Movement itself, what it stands for, what it campaigns for, and what it achieves. That’s what I’m trying to analyse. It’s the difference between analysing Conservatism, and talking about how Newt Gingrich is a nice guy when you get to know him, or analysing Socialism and saying that you know some Labour Party people and they’re jolly nice chaps.

    The Feminist Movement, by any rational historical analysis, is an overtly and monomanically puritan movement. It has attracted all sorts of people into its ranks at various times, and gained support from all kinds of people. But what matters is the core movement itself and what it is trying to achieve.

  18. Ian

    Why is your interpretation of the feminism you’ve encountered so much more representative of mine?

    Feminism is a rather broad church. To boil down the thoughts and aims of millions of people to such narrow terms is, well, bizarre. You’re talking about a movement that has spanned centuries, and involved millions of people. You talk like there are a set of ideas that they all sign up to in order to wear the badge. There isn’t. It’s like saying that everyone on the political right and/or the political left share fundamentally similar philosophies.

    This is the last place I’d expect to encounter that sort of thinking.

  19. It’s nothing to do with the feminism “I’ve encountered”. I don’t often get invited to tea with Gloria Steinem. It’s about analysing the movement, not some specific members of it.

    Your argument would make all such analysis of any movement or social formation in society impossible, and indeed the definition of any such formation impossible, because we would just keep saying “oh, they’re a broad church, they’re all different”.

    So what you do is look at the activities of the movement. You look at what, for instance, the Fawcett Society campaigns for. And you look at the history of the movement. And you look at its core source texts. Not what my friend Freda Bloggs who says she’s a feminist happens to do.

    If you disagree with my analysis, fair enough. Present an opposing one. Or just say I’m wrong. Or ignore me. But none of it is anything to do with personal experiences.

  20. The Thought Gang – “The bad man in the bushes is not the problem.. it’s the acquantance who takes advantage of drunkenness, or the husband with a sense of entitlement.”

    Well a husband with a sense of entitlement is one of these cases where the law creates the crime. I doubt there are many successful prosecutions just because community attitudes are different. However you miss the main point – stranger rape is a problem of an unknown size due to the protections we put in place. It is not that stranger rape isn’t a problem, it is that it is easier to defend against. Which we do. It is harder to defend against acquaintance rape.

    Take the example of the drunken girl walking home with a friend. Yes she is at some risk of rape by said friend (although not of course from the poster in question). But it is a low risk. She is at a much greater risk of rape if we asked some random stranger to walk her home. No one would do that because it is stupid.

    The risk is still greater, vastly greater, with strangers. That we are massively successful at protecting women from strangers is not a sign that friends are problem. It is a sign that you cannot really protect yourself from friends and family.

    To put it another way, Tay Sachs disease used to be more common in the Jewish community. They now routinely test for it and advise against marriages between two carriers. Which means that the incidence is now lower in the European origin Jewish community than in the mainstream American population. But the risk is still higher among Ashkenazi Jews. It is just that the risk is so high, they take precautions.

  21. Ian B – “The driving force of feminism, it’s raison d’etre, is puritanism. Always has been. Always will be. It is the only reason it exists. That is why there was no feminism during the conservative mid 20th century, then it suddenly roared back into life after the sexual revolution.”

    Sorry but this has to be one of the most gob smacking pieces of historical revisionism I have seen in some time. Yes, there is a strongly puritanical element to modern feminism, but it has not always been this way. No feminism in the mid-century? We would have to argue about when the mid-century was, but feminism not only pre-dated the sexual revolution, it was a major cause of it. Gloria Steinem wrote her first articles in 1962. Betty Friedan wrote her first book in 1963.

    But this is a step backwards. After all, Dwight D Eisenhower asked Congress to pass the Equal Rights Amendment for women in 1958. Is that mid-century enough for you? Indeed the nasty Republicans had tried to put it to Congress each and every year from the 1920s to the 1970s (only to be defeated, of course, by organised labour that did not want the competition).

    “They want the genie put back in the bottle that they themselves created back in the Victorian Era.”

    Puritanism pre-dates feminism and in the Victorian period there were plenty of sex-positive feminists. Their turn to lesbian man hatred comes in the 1970s as everyone else moved mainstream leaving the movement to the fringe weirdos. Look at Erica Jong (if you must) or Marilyn French.

  22. So, er, the whole “First Wave” and “Second Wave” thing, that every other student of feminism believes in, that’s me doing historical revisionism, is it?

    Crikey.

    The First Wave ended after they got the vote, temperance, and obscenity/prostiutution laws in place and ran out of ideas. Then there was the odd one or two- no movement stops completely- but radical women went into Marxism instead. The Second Wave started after Friedan (whose book was basically a reasonable, if marxist, complaint about how suburbia was boredom on toast for women), when Andrea Dworkin started writing rape fantasies but didn’t have an internet to publish them on, so pretended they were true.

    Okay, sorry, got a bit silly. But seriously, Friedan soon found herself an outsider in “her own” movement. Because the Second Wave was a puritan reaction against 60s liberalism, and that is all it was.

    So the general point is, although you find occasional writers during the hiatus writing about womens issues, or from a womens perspective, they aren’t actually part of the Feminist movement itself, which it is universally agreed to have occurred in two waves; both of which are female-dominated puritanism.

    Feminism did not cause the sexual revolution, except obliquely. Sanger supported creation of the birth control pill, but the intent was not to allow women to sleep around. It was to save them from the consequence (pregnancy) of their husbands’ horrid male lusts. The socially liberal formation that developed after WWII and burst forth in the 60s was squarely a reaction against the Puritan social code that had been a central emplacement by First Wave Feminists, or the Social Purity movement as they had been known at the time.

    The mid 20th century was characterised by social conservatism, and the absence of a womens’ movement of any significance. The Feminists only reappeared when their sisters started sleeping around, to their horror. Hence the rapid re-emergence of a cohort of boot-faced harridans to put a stop to it. A few liberals got swep’ up in that, but they were rapidly eclipsed.

  23. Ian B – “So, er, the whole “First Wave” and “Second Wave” thing, that every other student of feminism believes in, that’s me doing historical revisionism, is it? Crikey.”

    No, your interpretation is what it is.

    “The First Wave ended after they got the vote, temperance, and obscenity/prostiutution laws in place and ran out of ideas.”

    That’s probably about right, or rather they ran out of ideas they had much chance of getting any public traction with. It is not as if they went away or they did not have other demands. The ERA goes back to the 1920s after all. So do demands for abortion and birth control.

    “The Second Wave started after Friedan (whose book was basically a reasonable, if marxist, complaint about how suburbia was boredom on toast for women), when Andrea Dworkin started writing rape fantasies but didn’t have an internet to publish them on, so pretended they were true.”

    Look at the period you jump there – Friedan’s big writings were in the early 1960s. Dworkin did not come to prominence until the late 1970s and early 1980s. There is a huge gap in which many feminists were sex-positive. So much so that Dworkin was working as a prostitute in the Netherlands in this period.

    “But seriously, Friedan soon found herself an outsider in “her own” movement. Because the Second Wave was a puritan reaction against 60s liberalism, and that is all it was.”

    So you’re excluding Friedan from the Second Wave? Yes, she was soon excluded. Because she supported sexual freedom and thought that the real battle was economic. She openly came out against attempts to suppress porn. She did not think lesbianism was significant. And so by the late 1970s she was side lined. But that was by the late 1970s. She had a decade or more in which her views were important.

    “Feminism did not cause the sexual revolution, except obliquely.”

    Well yes and no. Both probably had more to do with technology – the Pill setting women free. But feminists played a big role in persuading women that it didn’t matter if he respected you in the morning, and it was their right to have sex where and when they chose.

    “Sanger supported creation of the birth control pill, but the intent was not to allow women to sleep around.”

    On the contrary. She may not have started out that way, but she was a convert the idea soon enough. And she spent most of her life defending other forms of contraception.

    “The socially liberal formation that developed after WWII and burst forth in the 60s was squarely a reaction against the Puritan social code that had been a central emplacement by First Wave Feminists, or the Social Purity movement as they had been known at the time.”

    Odd then that so many feminists should have embraced it and they should have seen it as a revolt against older men who imposed Social puritanism on them. But what would they know?

    “The mid 20th century was characterised by social conservatism, and the absence of a womens’ movement of any significance.”

    That is probably true for some definition of the mid-20th-century but it is weird. I think it was more of an absence of any significant women’s movement – mainly because women had won their demands in the First Wave and their lives were damn good in comparison with those of their Mothers. It was the next generation who became more radical who started the next wave.

    “The Feminists only reappeared when their sisters started sleeping around, to their horror. Hence the rapid re-emergence of a cohort of boot-faced harridans to put a stop to it.”

    And yet that does not describe most feminists in the 1960s who were fine with women sleeping around. Germaine Greer belonged to this generation for instance. It is not until the 1970s, the late 1970s at that, when lesbians started to take over NOW and they started to oppose pornography. Which, to be honest, had got pretty nasty by then.

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