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 filthiness of feminism is a virtue rather than a vice — and it was very clear that I didn’t belong there.
Before slinking away, however, I chanced upon a piece by Chloe Reeson called Straight White Men. And no, before you ask, it didn’t come with a subtitle like a rhapsody or an appreciation. Ms. Reeson, a real peach of a girl, begins her essay like this: “I’m bisexual and I live in fear of one day falling in love with a straight, white man.” The poor lamb goes on to compare this fear with that of receiving a cancer diagnosis. To this selective misandry she adds that the mere thought of straight, white men induces “rage sweats.”
Good grief. What traumatic past event could possibly explain all this? How does one become a third-wave termagant? Ms. Reeson informs the reader:
I’ve been taking a French course for the past year. It’s been going pretty well. The first semester’s class was full of women. We had a French instructor and a couple of men but none of them white. It was brilliant.
Merveilleux! But during the second semester everything changed: “now there were two older, white cis-het men.” Quelle horreur!, she must have remarked. One was boring and the other obnoxious and Ms. Reeson didn’t like them at all. Fair enough, then. But her attitude to these two sods, it seems, soon extended to every male who happens to share their skin colour and sexual preference. If only we had a few adjectives to describe such regressive attitudes . . .
Anyhow, it’s best to part with Ms. Reeson here, as I find her company truly execrable. Before I move on, it’s worth pointing out that she seems to have unintentionally devised a solution to those matters of the heart. After all, she has advertised her moral flaws in a public platform; the affections of her fellow human beings ought to be fairly easy to avoid. Or so one would imagine.
In truth, Ms. Reeson’s essay is one of the milder examples of the hateful garbage spilling from feminist rags, university campuses, and fatheaded activists and politicians. Nowadays, it’s morally and intellectually permissible to denigrate a group of people based on skin colour and gender, so long as they’re white and male.
There are far too many examples to draw upon, but special mention must go to this Buzzfeed article. Here, the alleged news site venerates daring minority students and their PowerPoint presentations, bearing such titles as ‘White People Are a Plague to the Planet’ and ‘Y’all White People Are Dangerous: A Horror Story’.
Dead white males aren’t safe, either. Recently, London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies made global headlines. The student union demanded that white philosophers like Plato and Kant be extirpated from the curriculum because, well, they’re white. In a compromise move, it was suggested that such Great Thinkers only be taught in a critical context, that is, in such a way as to prove their worthlessness.
These kinds of incidents and controversies multiply daily. What’s most striking, however, is that such abhorrent thinking isn’t merely consequence-free, but serves as a demonstration of one’s moral virtue.
This seems odd, doesn’t it? In these examples, replace the word ‘white’ with any other ethnicity or gender category or whatever and you’ll have a textbook racist or sexist or bigoted remark. Why does an exception apply to white people? Surely some timid inductee to the social justice academy wonders about this. I think I know the response, though. To annex a line from Arthur Koestler: the question, comrade, shows you are thinking in reality-based, rather than intersectional terms.
Intersectionality, as the kids call it, is a fashionable word nowadays, as it has graduated from the Gender Studies departments and begun to inflict itself on wider society. It suggests, along with much other nonsense, that only white people are capable of racism, because they hold the structural power in society. Or something like that. It discounts the real differences and variety among this massive group of people and paints them all as privileged and contemptible. This includes the white working poor, the laid-off, the drug-addled, and other deplorables. No doubt they would be quite surprised to hear themselves described as “privileged.”
Of course, none of this is to dismiss or minimise the very real challenges and hardships faced by minority communities. But the point is that racism and sexism and other nasty traits are either condemnable or they are not. This is an easy moral test, and many people who think themselves fair-minded and decent have failed it.
Today, the bodyguards of racism are the illiberal left just as much as the ascendant alt-right. Both trade in the politics of identity and resentment and are equally boring and useless. Two more Gods that are doomed to failure.
What we require, as ever, is liberalism and its attachment to the universal, its respect for the rights of the individual, and its eschewal of tribalism. For many, that might sound a touch dry, especially in our politically charged moment. Don’t worry, though, there’ll still be plenty to disagree about. You can still hate your enemies, too, and for the right reasons: their sinister and fatuous ideas, rather than skin colour and supposed group characteristics. How refreshing that would be.
Timothy Cootes writes for Quillette, The Spectator Australia, and Quadrant. Follow him on Twitter @timothycootes.