Fleet Street Fox's hypocritical misogyny

Women should stop denigrating women, says columnist. In a column denigrating women.

Do you know why girls don’t run the world? The Mirror’s columnist Fleet Street Fox does, and it’s one of those truth bombs so powerful, it can only be dropped from the protective cage of a saucy-sounding pseudonym. The problem is that were all such goddamn bitches. It’s women, not men, who run other women down, according to the Fox – in a piece that’s substantially dedicated to running other women down:

“Another woman will think it's all right to sleep with a man who's already taken. Another woman will compete with you – whether you like it or not – to wear the nicest shoes, the best dress, and be seen as just better according to the unwritten set of rules females carry around in their heads.”

This women-beware-women stuff is textbook. Here’s a version of it from Forbes. Here’s Esther Rantzen in 2006, declaring that she “will not remain in silent solidarity with my sex” to cover up the issue of workplace bullying by women. And let’s not forget (or link to) the Samantha Brick “why do the other girls hate my beautiful face?” neverending opus.

If female aggression is a dirty secret, then we’ve hidden it badly – a pair of grubby knickers floating around on the carpet somewhere between the laundry basket and the washing machine. The fact that there’s a specific word to describe (and deride) female aggression makes it obvious that the Fox isn’t breaking new frontiers in anthropology when she accuses other women of bitchiness.

But she is a pioneer in hypocritical misogyny. Jump back to that quote: “Another woman will think it’s all right to sleep with a man who’s already taken.” Whose sexual propriety is under attack in that formulation? The other woman’s. Who’s a helpless victim of the woman’s floozy lure? The “taken” man – never mind that he would be the only one in this imaginary coupling with any obligation to be faithful to anyone.

The column tips a pair of implied expectations upside-down. Women? Not as nice as they’re supposed to be. Men? Nice. Really, really nice. Men listen. Men are supportive. The Fox makes a few token references to some female friends with whom she isn’t engaged in perpetual psychological warfare, but the overriding impression is that she sees herself as a man’s woman.

She’s not like the other girls, who smile sweetly as they drag each other down by the hair extensions to get ahead. She tells the truth about intra-gender warfare. She’s opening a window so the lovely boys can look into our savage female hearts – and see her, um, pulling down other girls by the hair extensions, or in this case armpit hair.

The topical motivation for the column is this: Amanda Holden has said that she watched Tulisa’s sex tape after Alesha Dixon sent her a link. “How grubby, how bitchy, how many new tips did they pick up?” sneers the Fox. Holden participating in the invasion of another woman’s privacy is unpleasant (as an exemplary tabloid journalist, I’m sure Fleet Street Fox has never done anything so grubby as watch a celebrity sex tape), but if you watch the chat show where Holden discusses this, it’s obvious that this isn’t just a girl-on-girl crime.

David Walliams makes a joke about the tape, Holden sniggers, and host Alan Carr gigglingly urges the conversation in that direction – the exchange lasts about 90 seconds, and the men are just as active as Holden. In the same way the Tulisa sex tape has been portrayed as an amusing instance of female sluttiness, rather than the betrayal of a very young woman by a vicious ex (as Tulisa explained, in a composed and affecting YouTube response), the actions of the men who shared the stage and the sniggering with Holden are ignored – they get off lightly in Barbara Ellens take too. Who gets the blame? The women in the picture. Because men are just so nice, aren’t they?

The Fox’s second example of lady scapegoating comes from disgusted Twitter reactions to the brilliant Vagenda writer Emer OToole’s display of armpit hair on This Morning. (The Fox claims that all the bile came from women, but one of the tweets pictured seems to be from a man, so bang goes that generalisation. Again.) “I too felt a little queasy… and caught myself thinking that she wouldn't be able to get away with it if she weren't pretty,” writes the Fox – and even though she goes on to argue that women need to give up the pretence of physical perfection, she also stresses that “It's not going to change any time soon, because humans have been removing 'uncivilised' body hair since the days of Ancient Greece.”

In other words, don’t worry boys: this Fox is hairless and in no way a threat to your gender conventions! Right the way through, Fleet Street Fox is claiming two contradictory but dependent things: that she’s a typical example of femininity (which by her account means bitchiness with a Ladyshave), and that she’s standing outside the mass of women by telling the truth. In other words, this is a massive wink and wiggle at patriarchy: love me because I’m an exception, and love me because I won’t challenge any of your beliefs about gender. She is a fox, after all.

That pseudonym reminds me of something else Tulisa related: the singer’s nickname is “the Female Boss”, because (Tulisa told the Guardian) “[the band] used to say if there was any other girl in this group, they would just get walked all over from head to toe”. It’s another version of the not-like-all-the-other-girls manoeuvre pulled by Fleet Street Fox, and by Margaret Thatcher before her in her “Iron Lady” guise.

Femininity is endemically associated with weakness, but a woman whose strength is interpreted as unfeminine becomes a despicable non-person. One way for women to succeed in ferociously male environments (politics, grime music, tabloid journalism) is to become a kind of hyper-feminine “female-plus”: sufficiently girlish that you don’t threaten the underlying principles of boy club, but with an edge that explains why you’re the one-off who should be allowed in.

If the Fox genuinely thought women were being held back solely by their attacks on each other (or genuinely thought it mattered), then she wouldn’t have written a column attacking other women. The fact that she’s done so tells us either that she doesn’t really think “the only reason we're not running the world is because we're so busy running each other down”, or that she doesn’t care. After all, there are plenty of rewards for women who’ll rip strips off each other, just as there are for male bullies and sociopaths, whether or not they’re representative of the rest of the population.

Sarah Ditum is a freelance journalist. She lives in Bath and blogs at her website.

Amanda Holden attends the launch of at BFI Southbank on March 22, 2012 in London. Photograph: Getty Images.

Sarah Ditum is a journalist who writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman and others. Her website is here.

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The problem with grammar schools – and the answer to Labour's troubles

This week's news, from Erdogan the despot, to memories of Disraeli, and coffee and class.

Whom should we be cheering in Turkey? Coups are by their nature ­anti-democratic, whatever the rhetoric of their instigators, but Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Islamist president, is about as much of a democrat as Vladimir Putin. Once he regained power, he dismissed several thousand judges, putting some under arrest. A large number of journalists were already in prison.

As recently as 1990, nearly half of Turkey’s employed population worked on the land and, even now, the proportion is more than a quarter. Erdogan has ruthlessly exploited the pious, socially conservative instincts of his people, who are rarely more than a generation away from the peasantry (and therefore politically “backward” in the Marxian sense), to win elections and push through economic liberalisation and privatisation. His foreign affairs ministry claims that the aim is to confine the state’s role to health, basic education, social security and defence. That is good enough for most Western governments. Provided he also co-operates in limiting the flow of Middle Eastern migrants into Europe, Erdogan can be as Islamist and authoritarian as he likes.

 

Quick fix for Labour

I have an answer to Labour’s problems. Its MPs should elect their own leader while Jeremy Corbyn continues as party leader. The former, recognised by the Speaker as the leader of the parliamentary opposition, would get the usual state aid for opposition parties. Corbyn would control Labour Party funds and assets.

He and his hardcore supporters should welcome this arrangement. Their aim, they say, is to build a new social movement. Relinquishing the burden of parliamentary leadership would leave them free to get on with this project, whatever it means. Corbyn could go back to what he enjoys most: voting against the Labour front bench. He would no longer have to dress up, bow to the Queen or sing the national anthem. This, I grant you, would not be a satisfactory solution for the long term. But the long term is more or less extinct in British politics. If Labour had peace for a few months, it might be enough. The situation would be resolved either by Corbyn falling under a bus (preferably not one driven by a Labour MP) or the Tory government collapsing in the face of a mass people’s uprising demanding Corbyn’s installation as supreme ruler. Don’t tell me that neither is likely to happen.

 

Divide and rule

The choice of Birmingham as the location to launch Theresa May’s leadership campaign, combined with proposals such as worker representation on company boards, has drawn comparisons between the new Prime Minister and Joseph Chamberlain.

Chamberlain, who as mayor of Birmingham in the mid-1870s tore down slums, brought gas and water supplies under public control and opened libraries, swimming pools and schools, was a screw manufacturer. There was an Edwardian joke – or, if there wasn’t, there ought to have been – that he screwed both major parties. He became a Liberal cabinet minister who split the party over Irish home rule, putting it out of power for most of the next 20 years. He and his followers then allied themselves with the Tories, known at the time as the Unionists. He duly split the Unionists over tariff reform, excluding them from office for a decade after the Liberals won the 1906 election.

Chamberlain was a populist who brilliantly combined patriotic imperialism with domestic radicalism, proposing smallholdings of “three acres and a cow” for every worker. One can see the appeal to some Brexiteers but he was also divisive and volatile, making him an odd role model for a supposedly unifying leader.

 

Mind your grammar

Justine Greening, the new Education Secretary, is the first to be wholly educated at a mainstream state secondary comprehensive. Pro-comprehensive groups were almost lyrical in praise of her appointment. Yet, unlike her predecessor-but-one, Michael Gove, she declines to rule out the ­return of grammar schools.

To understand how iniquitous grammar schools were, you need to have attended one, as I did. Primary-school friendships were ruptured, usually along lines of social class. The grammars were rigidly stratified. I was in the A stream and do not recall any classmates from semi-skilled or unskilled working-class homes. They were in the C stream and left school as early as possible with a few O-levels. No minister who wants a “one-nation Britain” should contemplate bringing back grammar schools.

 

Living history

Simon Heffer’s recent account in the NS of how his father fought in the Battle of the Somme led one letter writer to ask if anyone alive today could have a grandparent born in the 18th century. Another NS reader replied with an example: John Tyler, a US president of the 1840s, born in Virginia in 1790, had two grandsons who are still alive. Here is another possibility. “As Disraeli said to my husband . . .” If you hear a 94-year-old say that, don’t dismiss her as demented. Disraeli died in 1881. A 71-year-old who married a 24-year-old in 1946 (not impossible; the actors Cary Grant and Anthony Quinn both married women 47 years younger) could have spoken to Disraeli as a boy.

The past is not as far away as we think, though many politicians and journalists behave as though anything before 1980 happened on another planet.

 

Milk money

The class system is alive and well in parts of England. On a family weekend walk, we came across a small village with two adjacent pubs – one clearly for the toffs, the other more plebeian. This was most evident when ordering coffee. The downmarket pub told us that it served only UHT milk with its hot drinks. The other was ostentatiously horrified at the suggestion that it might serve any such thing. 

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 21 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The English Revolt