What women want

In Spiked Online, Claire reviews Ella Whelan’s new book on the importance of putting freedom back into feminism.

While writing this review, two newspaper pieces catch my eye that sum up today’s destructive sexual-politics zeitgeist. In the New York Times, author Stephen Marche applies pseudo-Freudianism to the Harvey Weinstein scandal, concluding ‘if you let boys be boys, they will murder their fathers and sleep with their mothers’. The now assumed truth of the ‘brutality of male libido’, he argues, is made worse by the reluctance of men ‘to talk about their own gendered nature’.

The other piece was in the Observer’s problem page, where a political-party activist had written in to ask: ‘Should I report sexual harassment I received even though I later had a sexual relationship with the harasser?’ She explains how she dealt with it at the time: ‘I laughed as I was really not sure how else I could respond.’ But now, she writes, she is upset and guilt-ridden. ‘[W]ith the stories in the press I wonder if I should report his behaviour. Or have I let women down, by sleeping with my harasser and using him for a job reference? I know I will get abuse for this.’ In response, Mariella Frostrup, the Observer’s agony aunt, seems unusually hesitant and nervous. Why is this? Because ‘so pulse-raising is the topic that the angry mob will already be racing to gather kindling for the bonfire and pithy 140-character putdowns to roast me’, writes Frostrup. Still, she sensibly points out the dangers of ‘wip[ing] out the art of seduction entirely. We can’t afford to omit shades of grey from the discussion, no matter how loud and vitriolic the chorus of disapproval.’

So in the name of a feminist campaign against sexual abuse, men are routinely characterising themselves as potential predators; advice columnists are pulling their punches for fear of the Twittermob; and worse still, women revisiting past unpleasantness through the prism of #MeToo are fearful they’ll be attacked by feminists for not reporting incidents they had moved on from. How on earth did we get to this point? Luckily, Ella Whelan’s new book, What Women Want: Fun, Freedom and an End to Feminism, helps us untangle this mess.

What Women Want is a necessary antidote to the #MeToo madness, not least because, like that problem-page letter writer, it is sometimes difficult not to feel as though you’re letting down the sisterhood when you fail to ‘call out’ men for the slightest sexual indiscretion. The opprobrium is even worse if you criticise the post-Weinstein search for sex abusers, or suggest perhaps there is something of the witch hunt about it.

Read the full article here.