Author: Timothy Cootes

Yassmin Abdel-Magied: The Woman On Whom Everything Is Lost

Last week on ABC’s Q&A, Yassmin Abdel-Magied declared Islam to be “the most feminist religion.” It’s a strong field, but this may well be her most idiotic statement yet. As The Australian reported, last year Abdel-Magied took a taxpayer-funded jaunt across the Middle East. The #YasMENAtour, as it was called (her words), took her to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Sudan, and other countries with atrocious records in women’s rights and legal systems that just happen to mention Sharia and its virtues. Unfortunately for Abdel-Magied, none of this led her to an outbreak of coherent thought. On the Q&A program, she spoke highly of Sharia and wouldn’t stand to be told about its faults. In her reading, it’s all about justice and equality, a few optional prayers, and spiritual merry-making. That sounds swell, and who could disagree with it? Well, probably a vast majority of the world’s Muslims, for starters, as well as more than a few Islamic scholars. There may be perfectly benign elements to Sharia, but it also undoubtedly has something to do with the …

A Good Word for the Contemptible Straight White Male

I’m always on the lookout for new writing opportunities, especially with publications funded by the Australia Council for the Arts, as one can usually expect modest remuneration. I was initially pleased, then, to discover the literary magazine called, quite appropriately as you’ll see, SCUM. Its About section notes that it “has filthy feminist leanings and a disregard for propriety.” Terrific, I thought. Perhaps I could pitch an essay or two. I have often detailed the squalid nature of contemporary feminism à la Clementine Ford and the rest of the gang. While I haven’t dipped into her new book, Fight Like A Girl, I’m keeping an open mind, should the opportunity to read it ever come up. To update the old joke, I imagine that Ford’s oeuvre, along with every copy of Fairfax’s Daily Life, will be the only reading material available for borrowing at the single library in hell. There, how’s that for propriety? Of course, a quick glance through its essays and reviews proved that I had badly misread SCUM’s editorial policy — the …

Are the Gender Wars Just Getting Started?

The Victorian government has delivered an unexpected Christmas present to Australian conservatives: a parting of the ways with Roz Ward, the co-founder of the controversial Safe Schools program. Score one for the cisheteropatriarchy, as the kids call it. It may not be in the spirit of Tiny Tim to gloat over someone’s misfortune and dismissal at this time of year, and many people would resist the impulse. But I am not among such people. Since her emergence in the public spotlight, the problem with the criticism directed against Roz Ward is that it has not been relentless enough. Safe Schools, as most Australians have come to realise, combines a praiseworthy anti-bullying component with more than a few of the fashionably crackpot notions of gender and queer theorists. Originally intended for both primary and secondary school students, the program presents ideas like gender fluidity and the social construction of gender as unshakeable facts, rather than postmodern fads. A few of the program’s pedagogic tools also raised eyebrows. For the four and five year olds, who may …

A Defence of Lionel Shriver: Identity Politicians Would Kill Literature if They Could

Saul Bellow once described the experience of reading the literary quarterlies of the fifties and sixties, after their takeover by the academy. He recorded feeling “first uncomfortable, then queasy, then indignant, contemptuous and finally quite bleak, flattened out by the bad writing.” If you have followed the events and aftermath of the recent Brisbane Writers Festival, you may have experienced a very similar emotional reaction. In this essay, I hope to arrest that sense of bleakness, but first, a brief summary is in order. To put it uncharitably, Yassmin Abdel-Magied, a sensitive plant, had a tantrum during the keynote address by Lionel Shriver. Her ire was caused — or triggered, as the kids say — by what is a very conservative notion nowadays: writers of fiction can write about whatever they damn well please. Shriver took aim at the devotees of identity politics, who occupy and conquer today’s university campuses. Recently, they have no-platformed controversial speakers, carved out intellectual “safe spaces”, and have now kicked off a panic about “cultural appropriation”. Shriver explained: Those who embrace a …

“Like” This Essay — The Case Against Social Media

I have recently noticed, with immense displeasure, a complication to my everyday social intercourse. After the initial hello-ing and how you doing, the very newly acquainted will almost immediately add each other to their numerous social media accounts. As they turn to me, already impressed by my charm and wit, I say that I manage to live my life without Facebook or Twitter or any other such thing and that our very promising acquaintanceship must be limited to the offline world. Such an admission, I have discovered, is something like bad manners. At the very least, I no longer seem so charming or witty. Most of my respondents fail to conceal their bemusement behind an unconvincing ‘Oh, really?’. At no extra charge, they offer a mild jest at the expense of my social life, which is assumed to be less than thrilling. Others are quite generous with their criticism and insist that my behaviour is nothing less than a betrayal of the Millennial generation, which I am condemned to call my own. I wonder if …

The Masochists Who Defend Sadists: The Regressive Left in Theory and Practice

I. The most contemptible of John Pilger’s declarations of left-wing solidarity was made in an interview with Green Left Weekly in January, 2004. The Australian journalist was asked whether the Left should support the anti-occupation movement in Iraq. Pilger replied: Yes . . We cannot afford to be choosy. While we abhor and condemn the continuing loss of innocent life in Iraq, we have no choice now but to support the resistance. One must remember that in the ranks of the resistance were the Ba’ath party loyalists and the newly arrived jihadists of al Qaeda, who set out to foment sectarian war and leave Iraqi civil society in ruins. And they succeeded. For Pilger, the fascists and Islamists were the true friends of the Western Left. Pilger had a lot of other friends, too. Radicals and populists such as Michael Moore, Tariq Ali, Arundhati Roy, and the Stop the War Coalition came out to support the resistance, oppose the United States, and demonstrate their commitment to barbarism. There were many decent and moral ways to …

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Dismiss Radical Feminism

My advice on feminist issues is seldom – oh, all right – never requested. The recent, shall we say, clusterfuck over at New Matilda has ended my usual reticence. Jack Kilbride, a Melbourne university student, offered a few tame and clumsily expressed opinions on feminism as it is currently practiced. To summarise: he considers himself a feminist; he thinks that the fight for gender equality is one of the defining issues of our time; he prefers the strategy of Emma Watson and the HeForShe campaign to Clementine Ford’s feminism of the gutter; he argues, rather cutely, I think, that people should try to be nicer to each other. Only the last part really ought to be controversial, as it came gift-wrapped in a stupid and risible and perhaps even dangerous package: if feminists would stop being so nasty about online abuse, online abusers would stop being so nasty. Respectability, if it’s still a virtue, is overrated anyway. Kilbride’s argument was rightly called out for being wrong. The commenters and responders went further, though. For them, …