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Harry’s Place and sexism

Guest post by Sarah

I was invited to write a guest post after commenting, on this thread, that having Bea Campbell held up as a representative of feminism was like being lumped, as someone who identifies with the left, with the SWP. I’m not sure I fit everyone’s definition of a feminist– I’ve had run-ins with female colleagues for disagreeing with them about our (Eng Lit) curriculum being too male dominated, I enjoy reading romantic novels of the kind Germaine Greer attacks in The Female Eunuch, and I think Carry On films are pretty funny. I think I’m a feminist but other people don’t always agree. Perhaps I’m a Decent feminist.

I recently remarked to someone that it was odd that, seeing as I’m a Eustonite type who thought What’s Left was great and loves to grumble about the UCU, Harry’s Place is the blog where I feel least welcome. This is largely because of the number of sexist comments which get made and (more importantly) tolerated. It could be countered that this is just because HP is a very argumentative, no holds barred sort of forum where everyone gets insulted. It is certainly true that there is a fair bit of anti-Muslim bigotry (in the comments) but perhaps less than there used to be. Also David T and others have been admirably careful to distinguish between criticisms of specific practices and groups and attacks on Islam in general. This makes the odd bigoted commenter seem like an unwelcome interloper rather than one of the gang.

But there is little equivalent editorial support for feminism. There isn’t so much as a single entry for women or feminism on the topic bar on the left of the screen. However I can remember one post which might have fitted such a category, Neil D’s ‘Democracy and Women’. This focused on a piece by Clive James in which he attacks ‘western feminists’, asserting that they ‘have a tendency to believe that undemocratic societies are somehow valuable in the opposition they offer to the free countries which the feminists are so keen to characterise as not free enough.’

Even if you think the article was fine it’s still interesting to see what kind of people felt welcomed and encouraged by the line it was taking. Here are a couple of comments:

‘silly slag got caught. tough shit. maybe she’ll learn to keep her legs shut in future.’

‘Of course the feminists will be silent on the matter. It does not fit their world-view, or their nasty sneaky little hidden agenda.’

One might make a comparison with the recent Dispatches programme, which many people happily defended but which elicited such vile approving comments.

I’m quite ready to accept that SOME ‘feminists’ fit Clive James’s picture, but I think this kind of argument is deployed in order to shut feminists up, to tell them to stop making a fuss about any problems in the West. It’s a useful alternative to the slightly clichéd accusation that feminists don’t have a sense of humour. I don’t remember ever reading that gay rights activists should shut up about homophobic bullying because homosexuals are hanged in Iran. There are of course plenty of feminists who are outspoken in their condemnation of the treatment of women in some non-Western societies. Ophelia Benson is one of the best known such bloggers – and when I went over to Stroppy Blog just now, I noticed that the latest story is a forthright criticism of the theocratic regime in Iran.

What really frustrates me is the fact that HP is (rightly) very alert to other forms of prejudice but so blasé about sexism. Once someone responded to a complaint from me with the suggestion that I run along and made the tea. OK, that was quite funny, but if someone had complained about racism against Hispanics would they have been told to get on with mopping the floor?

HP is a leftwing blog– this suggests it should be interested in issues of fair play and equality, and be driven by a hope that the world is capable of being improved. Surely that world view can easily accommodate at least a moderate feminism? It would be great to see Harry’s Place featuring– just occasionally– posts about mainstream feminist issues: analyses of the truly terrible practices condoned in some countries and also coverage of less painful, but more local, topics such as discrimination at work or sexist discourse in the media. As someone who sees feminism as part of a wider concern with justice and equality I’d also welcome articles on the disadvantages facing men in certain areas (such as child custody).