In this week's New Statesman: The weaker sex

Natasha Walter | Jonathan Rutherford | Jeanette Winterson | Jenni Murray | Naomi Wolf | Liz Jones |

the weaker sex

The meaning of the F-word

For this special New Statesman Sex issue, we ask 19 writers, activists and politicians: if feminists could campaign on only one issue over the next year, what should it be? The responses include:

Jenni Murray, presenter, BBC "Woman's Hour" Childcare

I find that the personal drives my political priority for campaigning. It was in 1972 that the women's liberation movement included 24-hour, free, quality childcare in its seven demands. Let's be pragmatic: maybe 24 hours is a little excessive. Most important, let's emphasise that this is a demand made not just by mothers, but by parents, because the care of children is not solely a woman's job.

Jeanette Winterson, author Getting into the boardroom

Get women on to boards. Men pretend that what they do is so hard . . . They should try walking in a pair of Louboutins while giving a presentation and running a family. (How about having a national Men's High-Heel Day, where we send them about their business as normal but in heels?) Just put women on the boards! We will soon find our way. No more excuses from the men. Change it now.

Stella Creasy, Labour MP for Walthamstow Personal safety

From fears about cuts to services for victims of rape or domestic violence to the impact of turning off street lighting and raising car parking charges and discomfort at the way in which women are portrayed in modern culture, the responses astounded us all. Some of these problems pre-date the coalition but bringing them together highlights how women are now under pressure from many different directions. It must be our choice to challenge this.

Naomi Wolf, author and political consultant Uphold the bill of rights

Feminists should campaign to end the department of homeland security and repeal the National Defence Authorisation Act and the Patriot Act, because there won't be any feminism or dissent of any kind if there ain't no bill of rights. First things first.

Liz Jones, columnist, Daily Mail Be honest about airbrushing

Women are being assaulted as never before by images of perfection. We need laws on retouching, with the unadulterated original posted on the internet as a sort of Dorian Gray flashback. Lack of self-esteem ruined my life, so let's stop it ruining any more.

Louise Mensch, Conservative MP for Corby Trafficking

Let the police, the CPS, the courts and politicians recognise what sexual trafficking is and the difference between prostitution and gang rape. It is part of the overall culture of hand-washing on sexual violence against women. Traffickers are slavers and rapists and they should go to prison for their entire lives, in recognition of the lives of the girls and women they have stolen.

Rob Delaney, comedian Education

Women outnumber men on our planet. And women create life inside their bodies. Yet misogyny and sexism, whose twin engines are fear and ignorance, continue to exist. We must deprive them of their fuel and that begins by educating women and men. The good news is that women and men start out as girls and boys, who are more fun to be around.

How to be a man: Jonathan Rutherford versus Natasha Walter

In the NS Cover Story, "The weaker sex", the editor of Soundings journal, Jonathan Rutherford, and the writer and campaigner Natasha Walter debate whether feminism has left masculine identity in the 21st century in crisis.

Rutherford argues that, in just over a single generation, the tenets of traditional male identity have collapsed:

Millions of skilled working-class jobs that once gave men status and purpose have gone. The male solidarity that was the backbone of the labour movement has gone. So has the family wage, and increasingly men can no longer follow their fathers and grandfathers in the role of family breadwinner. Old-fashioned, maybe, but any parent of the bride wants to know the prospects of their future son-in-law.

All these social changes - especially for those at the top and bottom ends - have had the effect of "a prolonged form of masculine adolescence without obligations of paternity or responsibility for others".

Rutherford finds that in politics, too, masculine identity has been stifled:

Last year when the party's Blue Labour tendency argued for a politics of masculinity, accusations that the idea was anti-women abruptly ended public discussion. As one tough-minded male Labour member advised the party, "Men do not debate feminism with women."

Responding to Rutherford, Natasha Walter, author of Living Dolls: the Return of Sexism, questions how we are to know whether feminism has been successful:

Are we to assume that feminism has done its job because it has increased the numbers of Labour MPs - or because men are now doing as much childcare as women at weekends? It is dangerously easy to pick out a small example of progress and use it to gloss over the enormous evidence of continuing inequality.

With latest figures from the Fawcett Society showing that women's unemployment is at a 25-year high, Walter argues that austerity measures are hitting women hardest:

Women's supposed emotional affinity for new kinds of service-sector work, which may start with their greater readiness to smile at customers but may translate into a greater readiness to wipe bottoms or clean lavatories, may be born of necessity rather than some natural ability to empathise or serve.

She ends with a warning that the debate cannot be turned into a competition to decide who feels most pain:

This is not the time for nostalgia for the good old days when men were worn down by being non-stop breadwinners and women by being non-stop unpaid homemakers. This is a time to try to find a more equal sharing of the burdens and the rewards of paid and unpaid work.

Jemima Khan: The marriage business

Also for the Cover Story, Jemima Khan reports on the booming business of arranged marriages in the UK.

With Muslim men bringing 12,000 women to Britain as spouses from the Middle East, career women are increasingly electing to become "co-wives":

[Mizan Raja, who runs a Muslim matrimony service in east London,] reckons he gets between five and ten requests every week from women who are "comfortable with the notion of a part-time man" . . . There is someone for everyone, but if you're female and over 30 or divorced, you may have to share. The same rules do not apply to men.

Khan finds that the online marriage scene, too, is flourishing - more than two million members use shadi.com, one of the world's largest portals. Unlike ordinary dating sites, these "seem designed to repel any skulking commitment-phobes". Khan notes:

Those registering are asked upfront: "Would you like to get married soon or within 12 months?" Users are asked to rate their religiousness, family status, class, complexion ("fair, medium, dark or wheatish"), income and, brutally, their weight - in exact kilograms.

Also in the Sex issue

In the NS interview, Mary Roach, the American author of Stiff, Spook and Bonk, talks about the science of sex; the NS reports on attempts by politicians and religious leaders to control our sex lives; Nichi Hodgson asks whether feminism is sexist, and Helen Lewis explores OkCupid, the dating website whose data reveals some unexpected prejudices.

Elsewhere in the New Statesman

All this plus Tim Montgomerie, founder of ConservativeHome, on his frustrations with the Tory party in an interview with George Eaton; Mehdi Hasan on Ken Livingstone's tax avoidance; Nelson Jones argues Cardinal Keith O'Brien's apocalyptic rhetoric on same-sex marriage shows he knows the argument has already been lost; Laurie Penny reports from Washington, DC on Rush Limbaugh, and in Critics, the leading historian Richard J Evans eviscerates A N Wilson's Hitler: a Short Biography.

Alice Gribbin is a Teaching-Writing Fellow at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She was formerly the editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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Hannan Fodder: This week, Daniel Hannan gets his excuses in early

I didn't do it. 

Since Daniel Hannan, a formerly obscure MEP, has emerged as the anointed intellectual of the Brexit elite, The Staggers is charting his ascendancy...

When I started this column, there were some nay-sayers talking Britain down by doubting that I was seriously going to write about Daniel Hannan every week. Surely no one could be that obsessed with the activities of one obscure MEP? And surely no politician could say enough ludicrous things to be worthy of such an obsession?

They were wrong, on both counts. Daniel and I are as one on this: Leave and Remain, working hand in glove to deliver on our shared national mission. There’s a lesson there for my fellow Remoaners, I’m sure.

Anyway. It’s week three, and just as I was worrying what I might write this week, Dan has ridden to the rescue by writing not one but two columns making the same argument – using, indeed, many of the exact same phrases (“not a club, but a protection racket”). Like all the most effective political campaigns, Dan has a message of the week.

First up, on Monday, there was this headline, in the conservative American journal, the Washington Examiner:

“Why Brexit should work out for everyone”

And yesterday, there was his column on Conservative Home:

“We will get a good deal – because rational self-interest will overcome the Eurocrats’ fury”

The message of the two columns is straightforward: cooler heads will prevail. Britain wants an amicable separation. The EU needs Britain’s military strength and budget contributions, and both sides want to keep the single market intact.

The Con Home piece makes the further argument that it’s only the Eurocrats who want to be hardline about this. National governments – who have to answer to actual electorates – will be more willing to negotiate.

And so, for all the bluster now, Theresa May and Donald Tusk will be skipping through a meadow, arm in arm, before the year is out.

Before we go any further, I have a confession: I found myself nodding along with some of this. Yes, of course it’s in nobody’s interests to create unnecessary enmity between Britain and the continent. Of course no one will want to crash the economy. Of course.

I’ve been told by friends on the centre-right that Hannan has a compelling, faintly hypnotic quality when he speaks and, in retrospect, this brief moment of finding myself half-agreeing with him scares the living shit out of me. So from this point on, I’d like everyone to keep an eye on me in case I start going weird, and to give me a sharp whack round the back of the head if you ever catch me starting a tweet with the word, “Friends-”.

Anyway. Shortly after reading things, reality began to dawn for me in a way it apparently hasn’t for Daniel Hannan, and I began cataloguing the ways in which his argument is stupid.

Problem number one: Remarkably for a man who’s been in the European Parliament for nearly two decades, he’s misunderstood the EU. He notes that “deeper integration can be more like a religious dogma than a political creed”, but entirely misses the reason for this. For many Europeans, especially those from countries which didn’t have as much fun in the Second World War as Britain did, the EU, for all its myriad flaws, is something to which they feel an emotional attachment: not their country, but not something entirely separate from it either.

Consequently, it’s neither a club, nor a “protection racket”: it’s more akin to a family. A rational and sensible Brexit will be difficult for the exact same reasons that so few divorcing couples rationally agree not to bother wasting money on lawyers: because the very act of leaving feels like a betrayal.

Or, to put it more concisely, courtesy of Buzzfeed’s Marie Le Conte:

Problem number two: even if everyone was to negotiate purely in terms of rational interest, our interests are not the same. The over-riding goal of German policy for decades has been to hold the EU together, even if that creates other problems. (Exhibit A: Greece.) So there’s at least a chance that the German leadership will genuinely see deterring more departures as more important than mutual prosperity or a good relationship with Britain.

And France, whose presidential candidates are lining up to give Britain a kicking, is mysteriously not mentioned anywhere in either of Daniel’s columns, presumably because doing so would undermine his argument.

So – the list of priorities Hannan describes may look rational from a British perspective. Unfortunately, though, the people on the other side of the negotiating table won’t have a British perspective.

Problem number three is this line from the Con Home piece:

“Might it truly be more interested in deterring states from leaving than in promoting the welfare of its peoples? If so, there surely can be no further doubt that we were right to opt out.”

If there any rhetorical technique more skin-crawlingly horrible, than, “Your response to my behaviour justifies my behaviour”?

I could go on, about how there’s no reason to think that Daniel’s relatively gentle vision of Brexit is shared by Nigel Farage, UKIP, or a significant number of those who voted Leave. Or about the polls which show that, far from the EU’s response to the referendum pushing more European nations towards the door, support for the union has actually spiked since the referendum – that Britain has become not a beacon of hope but a cautionary tale.

But I’m running out of words, and there’ll be other chances to explore such things. So instead I’m going to end on this:

Hannan’s argument – that only an irrational Europe would not deliver a good Brexit – is remarkably, parodically self-serving. It allows him to believe that, if Brexit goes horribly wrong, well, it must all be the fault of those inflexible Eurocrats, mustn’t it? It can’t possibly be because Brexit was a bad idea in the first place, or because liberal Leavers used nasty, populist ones to achieve their goals.

Read today, there are elements of Hannan’s columns that are compelling, even persuasive. From the perspective of 2020, I fear, they might simply read like one long explanation of why nothing that has happened since will have been his fault.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.