Condemning misogyny in Standpoint

Feminists, you are opposing misogyny all wrong according to Nick Cohen and Clive James in the latest issue of Standpoint. Screw the demos: you want to spend a bit more time criticising each other for not being sufficiently anti-Islam. Obviously, shouting “WHERE ARE THE WESTERN FEMINISTS?” is unlikely to have any direct positive effect on the lives of women suffering horrible privations and attacks – but then, Cohen and James don’t seem to self-identify as “Western feminists”, so apparently they don’t feel any personal impulse to help women living in repressive theocracies.

As both articles come with representations of burqa-ed women to illustrate the essays’ headline concepts of “blindness” and “silence”, it seems that neither James nor Cohen object to piling negative connotations onto the women apparently being betrayed by their Western sisters. I’m not massively keen on the burqa, but a picture of a black-clad head with a bloodied knife for an eyeslit is maybe overstating things to the point of being a little bit inflammatory.

And while James and Cohen eagerly enumerate all the forms of harm to which women are subjected in the strange collation of states they decide to look at (Iran, Somalia and Afghanistan are all lumped together, despite being very different countries with peculiar circumstances contributing to cultural misogyny) the two men are less good at naming the strategies that Western feminists should be following. “What is to be done about this worldwide victimisation of women? What else but to condemn it?” asks and answers James, for whom condemnation is apparently as useful an approach as offering education, medical assistance or asylum.

James seems to think that casual references to women’s attractiveness is consistent with feminist polemic – check out the beauty race he sets up between Aung Sann Suu Kyi and Neda Agha-Soltan (neither of whom seem very relevant to his argument, since both women have been victimised for specifically political reasons not directly related to gender). And Cohen’s awkward demands for an “uncompromisingly militant feminist movement” are just slightly undermined by his tendency elsewhere to dismiss women as irrational. It’s unsurprising that neither seems to experience any sympathy with either the oppressed women of the world or a feminist movement.

But then, as Standpoint’s mission statement is to “celebrate our civilization, its arts and its values”, the professed interest of these features in women’s rights is strictly cosmetic, intended purely as an illuminating contrast to the beauties of liberal democracy. And that’s why the only action they advocate is the strictly cosmetic one of condemning what they don’t like. Obviously, condemnation is a pretty weak force when it comes to changing the material conditions of women’s lives – but it’s awfully powerfully when you want to stroke your sense of culture into a spurt of self-congratulation.

Text © Sarah Ditum, 2009

3 thoughts on “Condemning misogyny in Standpoint

  1. Ah, the old ‘You ladies can’t even agree amongst yourselves’ angle. I thought you were joking about the burqa/knife slash pic, but it LITERALLY WAS that. Words fail me. Ace post and lovely, er, finish.

  2. The odd thing abou that burqua/knife pic is that it’s ambivalent. You can read it as a woman being stabbed in the head (by the burqua, as it were); but I think it’s also possible to see it like the cover of Mad Melanie Phillips’s ‘Londonistan’ (which shows a bloke in tinted glasses, one lens reflects an explosion, IIRC) – the knife/eyeslit represents the mental state of the burqua wearer: she is planning murder.

    I don’t get Standpoint. There’s a clear Telegraph-Spectator axis, and the political leanings are also clear there. Commentary is mostly very dry Thatcherism: free markets, blah blah, though armies and flag-waving are also good if the very awkward fit with Adam Smith can be glossed over. But both cover reasonably objective news (the Torygraph had some good reporting when I used to read it) and good sports and arts coverage. The Spectator could give an approving review to a left-wing play for being a good play. Standpoint seems incapable of this; as if they’re really fearful of what I can only call ‘political incorrectness.’ (Nick always seems intent on uncovering the philosophical underpinnings of the most banal material.) I think Standpoint wants to be a high-brow monthly companion to the Mail, but there doesn’t seem to be a market there. There simply isn’t a niche going for a right-wing magazine. I think it’s still true that conservatives don’t do ideology. At least the Mail tries to be fun.

  3. I always though Standpoint was meant to be a right-wing, neoconservative equivalent of Prospect – and a place for ‘right-wing intellectuals’ to gather in order to provide a risposte to the idea that the intelligentsia are all left-wing, in preparation for a Tory government.

    Some problems though: it is so expensive that I can’t imagine anyone really wants to spent the £6-odd for an issue, and subscription doesn’t even soften that blow particularly, bringing it down to the clearly justifiable £4 an issue; Prospect, whenever I’ve read it, is not only pretty boring but also so Blairite it might as well be right-wing anyway; they loudly trumpet the calibre of their guest writers but they’re people like John Bolton and Bishop Nazir-Ali; and finally, to back up Dave’s main point, the writing is Standpoint is so predictable, and so overwhelmingly dull, that I have no idea why anyone would want to read more than one issue.

    It was launched as a ‘celebration of Western values’ but as celebrations go it’s a bit of a damp squib. The ‘overrated/underrated’ feature is probably the best thing about it, as it’s so unintentionally funny. Recently featured in overrated? Ken Loach, Naomi Klein, Noam Chomsky. And underrated? Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Tim Montgomerie, and Sarah Palin. Wow.

    I’ve nothing against magazines being run at a loss – the LRB is, and so is the New Statesman – but I can’t quite work out the point of Standpoint. The Spectator does it all much better.

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