WEEKLY RANT: A politician, a columnist, another columnist and the language of misogyny
I was not going to comment on the whole Alibhai-Brown/Fabricant/Delingpole thing. Truly, I wasn’t. I have kept my gob shut for days and my fingers away from the keyboard. But there is something about Delingpole’s defence of Fabricant – about any logical fallacy, dressed up to be so reasonable looking – that sends me into a sort of intellectual anaphylactic shock.
The bulk of the argument, in his imaginatively and tastefully titled piece “There’s nothing wrong with wanting to punch Yasmin Alibhai-Brown in the throat”, is essentially that this is not about all women, but about a particular woman. This woman, he argues, is herself responsible for the anger she causes and, therefore, violent fantasies are just dandy. His point is severely undercut by language laced with sexism both in his piece, his Channel 4 News appearance and many of the comments in support. Language which seems to contain a drummer-like repetition of “screeching”, “screaming”, “hysterical”, “harridan”, “harpy” and related sentiments.
The other part of Delingpole’s argument is semantic and insidious:
It’s immediately obvious when you read the tweet that Fabricant is outlining a hypothetical scenario. Hypothetical scenarios, by definition, may never happen. And in this case… Fabricant has ruled out it ever happening. So it seems bizarre, to say the least, that Fabricant should be censured or forced to apologise for something he hasn’t done and will never do, but merely for something he thought and then rejected… Far from being censured, Fabricant ought surely to be praised for illustrating in his tweet the wise restraint which forms the basis of civilisation.
This superficially attractive approach is more problematic, because it tries to dress up one thing as another and possibly, if no further thought is given, succeeds. What if I tweeted: “I could never appear on a discussion prog with [a specific woman] I would either end up with a brain haemorrhage or by raping her on the way out”? What if I tweeted “I could never appear on a discussion prog with [a specific person of Jewish ethnicity] I would either end up with a brain haemorrhage or by putting them in a gas chamber”? Going by Delingpole’s logic these scenarios are just as hypothetical, just as innocent. I ought, indeed, to be praised for “the wise restraint which forms the basis of civilisation”.
Which is, of course, utter bollocks.
When people like Fabricant, Delingpole, Liddle – and countless threatened little men – get into trouble for crap like this, they run to the temple of Context and yell “Sanctuary! Sanctuary!” at the altar of Free Speech. But free speech does not only enshrine your right to say every cockamamie thing that pops up like a weed in the fallow field of your imagination. It also includes everyone else’s right to tell you they find it objectionable and why. What Delingpole is really asking for is not freedom of speech, but freedom from criticism. And freedom from context.
Because context does not only go as wide as you want it; one can always find a convenient rung along the ladder from the specific to the abstract, to justify just about anything. Context in this case includes a man in California shooting half a dozen girls because they wouldn’t fuck him. It includes a schoolgirl in Pakistan being shot in the face because she had the temerity to want an education. It includes two teenagers being gangraped and hung from a mango tree in India. Whether you like it or not, this is the context within which your grotty little fantasy about violently shutting up women fits. In this context, for a man in a position of power to express – and by extension perpetuate and embolden – misogynist fantasies is plainly vile.