America has chosen, and it chose the pussy-grabber. The guy who said his daughter was a “piece of ass”. The guy who has been accused – in multiple, mutually corroborating accounts – of sexual assault. The guy whose ex-wife accused him of rape in a divorce deposition. So tell me again how a rape accusation ruins a man’s life. Please, I am all ears for your sympathetic descriptions of the terrible injustice done to men when they’re named as the suspected perpetrator of a violent crime in exactly the same way that suspected perpetrators of violent crimes are always named.
You are ten. When Hillary Clinton accepted the Democratic nomination and said “one of you is next”, she was speaking to you.
Not, of course, that you were literally on your way to becoming President of the USA – but her victory spoke of possibility for girls and women everywhere. When the ruling party of the biggest democracy in the world selects a female candidate as its presidential candidate, it matters. When that candidate is the woman who said “women’s rights are human rights”, it really matters.
Between late July and last night, we lived in a swallow-flight moment of hope. It was beautiful as it darted through the sky, and it is gone. Back in the summer, you teased me about this election: “Mummy, Hillary Clinton’s not going to win, is she? Because no one you like ever wins, do they?” And you made me laugh, which felt like a rare thing in that grim summer after Jo Cox was murdered and the UK voted to leave the EU.
But you were right, too. I felt it then, and I know it now: the things that I think make sense about the world, the faith in a bedrock of fairness and generosity that I have built into my calculations so far, do not seem to be there.
In August this year, several UK councils issued guidance to schools on accommodating female pupils who wear binders. A binder is a constricting undergarment for the upper body: what it binds are the breasts, pressing them down to a flatness that the wearer feels is appropriate to their self-perception as masculine or gender-neutral. According to Cornwall Council, the binder is “very important to [the wearer’s] psychological wellbeing.” But binders have unwelcome physical side-effects too, including “breathing difficulties, skeletal problems and fainting.” Lancashire Council’s advice urges teachers to “monitor [wearers] carefully during physical activities and in hot weather. It may be necessary to subtly offer more breaks.”
When the NSPCC invited me to participate in a discussion on the subject “is society letting down transgender children?” (part of its Dare to Debate series), those guidelines were one of the first things I thought of. They’re written in accordance with the overriding principle of gender identity politics, which is that affirmation is all. Any bodily harms incurred count for little compared to the trauma believed to be inflicted by a “mismatch” between appearance and identity. It’s a doctrine that insists we’ve moved beyond the tyranny of physical sex and social pressure, and into a realm of pure selfhood where all must be able to live in accordance with their own inherent being.
Maybe one day, when this brutal presidential election is over, Hillary Clinton will look on Melania Trump with sympathy. The prospective Republican First Lady’s experience sometimes seems like an anxiety dream rerun of Clinton’s own time stumping for job of wife-in-chief back in 1992. Even before Bill Clinton had the Democratic nomination, rumours about his infidelities were being kicked up, and in a bid to outflank them, the Clintons appeared in a joint interview on the CBS current affairs show 60 Minutes. “I’m not sitting here some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette,” she said, the extreme humiliation of her situation registering as perhaps the tiniest flicker of her perfectly composed face. “I’m sitting here because I love him and I respect him.”
Another decade, another TV set, another consort to a nominee called on to defend her husband’s honour. After the release of Donald Trump’s grotesque “grab her by the pussy” comments from 2005, Melania has headed out to do her wifely duty. But where the Clintons in 1992 had the benefit of uncertainty – the allegations against Bill were unproven – Melania is going up against the implacable fact of recorded evidence, and going up alone. Even leaving aside the boasts about sexual assault, which she’s at pains to discount, this still leaves her talking about a tape of her husband declaring that he “tried to fuck” another woman when he was only newly married.
Why is it “grab them by the pussy” that did it? Why, after everything he’s said, is it this that’s pushed senior Republicans to finally turn away from Donald Trump? Not slurring Mexican immigrants as drug runners and rapists. Not calling for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States”. Not retweeting an anti-Semitic meme that originated on a white supremacist message board. Not his racist and sexist bullying of a Venezuelan Miss Universe winner, and not his heavy-handed hinting that assassination might be an appropriate way to put Hillary Clinton out of the running.
None of those things have left a mark on the Trump campaign like that inflicted by a few minutes of candid tape from 2005. As Trump went to film a cameo on soap opera Days of Our Lives, he was accompanied by a crew from the TV entertainment news programme Access Hollywood recording behind-the-scenes footage; some of that footage was unbroadcastable, and some of that has now been leaked. “I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them,” says Trump in the recording. “It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait.” Then: “And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”
At one point in her documentary, A World Without Down’s Syndrome?, Sally Phillips finds herself earnestly agreeing that the most important thing about a woman’s decision to abort or continue with any pregnancy is that it’s exactly that – her decision.
But a decision can only be as good as the information you base it on, which makes this a strange moment when the film itself is essentially a plea to deny women access to a safe and accurate test for Down’s syndrome. It’s your choice, was the message, but you shouldn’t know too much about what you’re actually choosing.
“Rich person suffers horrible mishap” is exactly the kind of story that brings a warm glow to the schadenfreude-prone. Even more satisfying is this: “Rich woman suffers horrible mishap”. And if the story happens to be about a rich woman with a talent for self-publicity, the glee flows in torrents. Which means that Kim Kardashian being tied up and robbed of several million euros worth of jewellery, at gunpoint, in a Parisian hotel has made a lot of people very happy.
The simplest, and incorrect, way to think about racism is as though it were a matter of bad ideas to be debunked and discarded. The faux-empiricist scaffolding that supports racism is only that – scaffolding. We could argue indefinitely about bell-curves and brain volumes, and settle nothing, because the reason people are attached to racist beliefs is not that they are true. It is that they are useful.
Ta-Nehisi Coates’ 2014 essay “The Case for Reparations” details unsparingly the history of America that is a history of the exploitation of black bodies, tracking the line from slavery to Jim Crow to the predatory financing of the subprime sector that all served to extract from black people whatever they had – their capital, their home, their livestock, their children, their very selves – and put it into white hands. Black president or no, America is not done with its reliance on an economically exploitable subclass, so it is not done with the racism that creates that class.
Every strand of racism serves to put groups of people to a specific use. Which is why Momentum vice chair Jackie Walker was wrong when she said (in a speech at the Momentum fringe conference) that “anti-Semitism is no more special than any other form of racism”. The uses of anti-Semitism are distinct, and perhaps more indispensable to the British left than those of any other racism. Throughout European history, Jews have been cast in the role of other. A little different, a little treacherous, loyal to ethnicity and religion rather than the state; tolerated, but with a tolerance easily revoked whenever social strains arose that could be settled by a pogrom.
When confronted with anti-Semitism, both inside Labour and more broadly in left-wing movements, the temptation is always to disown it: to respond that it is really a problem of society as a whole for which Labour is unfairly blamed, or a problem of the right (exemplified by the Mail’s harrying of Ed and David Miliband’s father Ralph as “the man who hated Britain”), or (for those in the moderate wing of the party) a problem of the hard left that has invaded Labour through the alien body of Momentum.
These are pleasant self-deceptions. Anti-Semitism is at home within Labour. Jeremy Corbyn has been an MP for over thirty years. At a 2009 parliamentary meeting, he described Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends” – both organisations with explicitly anti-Semitic constitutions who derive their ideology in part from The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Corbyn has recently repudiated this position, but the fact is that for seven years, he considered this affiliation to sit happily with his membership of Labour – and so did the Labour Party, because there was no threat of suspension.
Before Ken Livingstone became that guy with who can’t stop saying (falsely) that Hitler was a Zionist, he was blurring Jewishness and Nazism by calling a Jewish journalist a concentration camp guard while Labour Mayor of London. Jackie Walker was reinstated to Labour following a suspension for slurring Jews as “chief financiers of the sugar and slave trade”. Her most recent outpourings are only possible because earlier ones were not deemed expulsion-worthy. Before Naz Shah MP was exposed for her anti-Semitic Facebook postings and suspended, she was a Labour Party member: membership of the Party did not, at the time, strike her as incompatible with comparing Israel to Nazi Germany and calling for the dissolution of the Jewish state.
In an apology published by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz after her reinstatement to the party, Shah was eloquent and unflinching about her error. “I’d never before understood that anti-Semitism is different – and perhaps more dangerous – than other forms of discrimination, because instead of painting the victim as inferior, anti-Semitism paints the victim as, in a way, superior and controlling,” she wrote. This is the claim that NUS President Malia Bouattia, for example, activated when she described Jewish Birmingham students as a “Zionist outpost”. Identifying young British Jews with the state of Israel implies that they are both suspect adherents to an outside power, and privileged by that association in such a way that they cannot be oppressed. It makes them legitimate targets.
And it’s this belief that Jews are powerful that makes anti-Semitism such a seductive ideology to the left. Even when not explicitly internationalist, the left, and the English left particularly, tends to be squeamish about national identity. While nationalism is permissible when it’s Scottish, Welsh or Irish – Corbyn and his ally John McDonnell have openly supported and celebrated the paramilitary nationalism of the IRA – English nationalism is an unspeakable, embarrassing thing seen as synonymous with racism. Rejection of nationalism is no bad thing, but without recourse to patriotism, all that’s possible is an identity of exclusion. The most obvious element to exclude is, as ever in Europe, Jews.
This is the intellectual environment within which anti-Semitism finds a sympathetic home on the left. Even when Jews are not explicitly named, the apparatus of the leftist persecution complex – the vision of a controlled media working in tandem with a rapacious financial sector in the service of a militaristic state of which Israel is the considered the supreme example – is a set of signs that point ineluctably towards Jews as the ultimate source of harm. These habits of thinking are ingrained in leftist understanding, and will remain so until there is a serious reckoning with what it means to be a state defined by something apart from expulsion of the impure element.
Every denial or diminishment of anti-Semitism in the left, whichever part it comes from, is really special pleading to be allowed to carrying on using Jews in the way the left has habitually used Jews: as the representatives of that Other which defines what we are not. Shami Chakrabarti’s report into Labour anti-Semitism begins with the claim that “the Labour Party is not overrun by antisemitism”. Of course it is not, because how can any organisation be “overrun” by something that is woven into its underlying principles? Labour can turn itself against anti-Semitism, but only when it grasps how radically the prejudice against Jews is entwined in leftist politics.
I argue the case for “no” in a debate with Jennie Kermode, chair of Trans Media Watch
“I’m not sure what the public health issue is that would require a focus only on those who become pregnant, as opposed to any of those involved in pregnancy, either becoming pregnant or causing someone else to become pregnant,” Dr Elizabeth Saewyc, a Canadian professor in nursing and adolescent medicine at the University of British Columbia, recently told journalist Jesse Singal when he asked her for clarification on a study she conducted into trans youth and pregnancy.
Her statement is, on the face of it, extraordinary: unlike those who “cause someone else to become pregnant” (males), those who “become pregnant” (females) actually, well, become pregnant. But as absurd as Saewyc sounded, her position is the logical endpoint of “gender neutral” language about pregnancy.
When I was four, my role model was a small cartoon mongrel dog with a formidable talent for swordsmanship. Or swordswomanship, because I was convinced that Dogtanian (of Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds) was a girl. My reasoning went like this: I am the most important person in the world and a girl, therefore the most important person in my favourite cartoon must also be a girl. And many happy games of Muskehounds were played by me, in my dungarees, oblivious to the unlikelihood of a children’s cartoon having a female lead in the first place, let alone giving that female lead the lovely Juliette as a romantic interest.
Eventually I realised my mistake, decided it was unfair that women never got to be action heroes, and grew up to be a feminist with the Alien films on Blu-ray. But it could all have gone another way. On Radio 4’s iPM this week, the mother of a 10-year-old called Leo explained that one of the reasons she knew her female child must be either a boy or non-binary was that Leo’s fictional idols were always male: Peter Pan, Iron Man, Wolverine.