In 2059

Laurie Penny takes a look at the familiar subject of hipster sexism, this time in the person of Russell Brand.

Brand is playing the court jester, and speaking limited truth to overwhelming power in one of the few remaining ways that won’t get you immediately arrested right now – from an enormous stage made of media money, liberally thickened with knob jokes, with a getaway sportscar full of half-naked popstars parked out back and one tongue firmly in his cheek.

But what about the women?

I know, I know that asking that female people be treated as fully human and equally deserving of liberation makes me an iron-knickered feminist killjoy and probably a closet liberal, but in that case there are rather a lot of us, and we’re angrier than you can possibly imagine at being told our job in the revolution is to look beautiful and encourage the men to do great works. Brand is hardly the only leftist man to boast a track record of objectification and of playing cheap misogyny for laughs. He gets away with it, according to most sources, because he’s a charming scoundrel, but when he speaks in that disarming, self-depracating way about his history of slutshaming his former conquests on live radio, we are invited to love and forgive him for it because that’s just what a rockstar does.

And it’s even worse when you’re ancient enough to know that this particular dispute has been going on since the late 60s. How depressing is that?

I don’t believe that just because Brand is clearly a casual and occasionally vicious sexist, nobody should listen to anything he has to say. But I do agree with Natasha Lennard, who wrote that “this is no time to forgo feminism in the celebration of that which we truly don’t need – another god, or another master.” The question, then, is this: how do we reconcile the fact that people need stirring up with the fact that the people doing the stirring so often fall down when it comes to treating women and girls like human beings?

We think of different, and better, ways of stirring things up.

It comes up whenever women and girls and their allies are asked to swallow our discomfort and fear for the sake of a brighter tomorrow that somehow never comes, putting our own concerns aside to make things easier for everyone else like good girls are supposed to. It comes up whenever a passionate political group falls apart because of inability to deal properly with male violence against women. Whenever some idiot commentator bawls you out for writing about feminism and therefore ‘retreating’ into ‘identity politics’ and thereby distracting attention from ‘the real struggle’.

But what is this ‘real struggle’, if it requires women and girls to suffer structural oppression in silence? What is this ‘real struggle’ that hands the mic over and over again to powerful, charismatic white men? Can we actually have a revolution that relegates women to the back of the room, that turns vicious when the discussion turns to sexual violence and social equality? What kind of fucking freedom are we fighting for? And whither that elusive, sporadically useful figure, the brocialist?

More than four fucking decades, we’ve been asking that. I seriously hope Laurie Penny won’t still be having to ask it more than four decades from now.




  1. Al Dente says

    Penny made the following comment in her article:

    I attended two talks last year at which I was told by older white men in left academic circles that feminism was either irrelevant to class struggle or actively its enemy. Mark Crispin Millar announced that ‘identity politics’ were invented by the CIA as a way of dividing and weakening the American left, by way of foreclosing any further discussion.

    I’ve seen MRAs argue against feminism for various illogical reasons but this is the first time I’ve seen a CIA conspiracy offered as a reason to dismiss feminism.

  2. rq says

    Oh ye goddes, now the CIA is involved in the feminist conspiracy?? Let me guess… It’s all women with sharp implements at the helm, right? … These people. I think they forgot to properly install their brains.

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    The CIA did play more of a role in feminist activism beyond nurturing the early career of Gloria Steinem.

    Anti-feminists generally interpret the stories about as coherently as troofers do the events of 9/11/01 (& 9/11/12, or 11/22/63, …), but you can find an actual baby gasping under all this foul foamy dishwater. A chapter in Hugh Wilford’s The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America provides a good intro (other chapters on labor, intellectuals, students, Catholics, blacks, students, & journalists also bear close reading).

  4. Minow says

    Laurie Penny hangs around with the SWP and other tiny marginal, sometimes racist, political groupings and is surprised that they have unpleasant views about women too? She is a very trivial person, with a lot of talent, and masses of privilege. I wish though that she would stop pretending that saying the things she says, over and over again from the pit of The New Statesman is somehow braving the terrifying oppression of the fascist state, saying the unsayable! Women like Penny who have led a life of unbroken wealth and privilege (so much so that she does not even realise that she is wealthy) are hardly well placed to speak about any kind of oppression (although I am sure she has read about it in books).

  5. quixote says

    The subject is sexism, hipster sexism, not Laurie Penny.

    Just give it a rest, huh? Only the perfect spokeswoman is to be allowed to open her mouth? Say what? That is the tactic constantly used to silence women. Oddly enough, the woman speaking is never that perfect woman.

    And never forget that all those other, important discriminations include women. Racism? Half of any group targeted is women. Disbled people? Huge proportion of women. Fat people? Poor people? Rich people?

    Within any group, one half is crapping on the other half with sexism.

    Logically, given the overwhelming numbers involved, given the fact that the issue is everywhere, people would be saying, “This is the first priority.” Not the last.

    But then, of course, they’d have to work on changing their own behavior instead of merely feeling virtuous for their fairness toward a group that isn’t half their life.

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