Feature writers aren’t often acclaimed for their courage, but Neil Lyndon deserves a bronze plaque in St Bride’s. Twenty-two years ago, he wrote a book called No More Sex War in which he questioned some of the assumptions underlying the modern feminist movement. He pointed out that many of the advances made by women over the past 200 years have been made with the help of men and suggested that men should be regarded as allies in the war against injustice, not defenders of the status quo.
Perfectly reasonable, you might think. Not a misogynistic tract, but a progressive critique of radical feminist ideology. Yet that wasn’t the way it was received. Almost without exception, the book was reviewed as if it was a full-blown assault on women’s rights. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Neil Lyndon was hounded from polite society. His career nosedived and he was declared bankrupt. The feminist publisher Carmen Callil speculated that the reason Lyndon was worried about the plight of men was because he had a small penis.
Coincidentally, it was around 22 years ago that the Taleban first emerged as a religious and political force in Afghanistan, but as far as I’m aware no prominent feminists took exception to them. Think about that for a moment. Because a Sunday Times journalist had the temerity to point out that men suffered from discrimination, too — even though he warmly embraced the doctrine of sexual equality — he was condemned by virtually every left-wing woman in the country. But when faced with a group of religious zealots who raped, tortured and murdered women who dared to depart from their medieval code of conduct, none of them batted an eyelid. The equivalent, I suppose, would be a group of British Jews in 1938 that campaigned to ban T.S. Eliot’s poetry on the grounds that it was anti-Semitic, but ignored the rise of the Nazi party.
This same double standard exists today. On Tuesday, I was invited to sign a petition on Change.org demanding that the Home Office refuse to grant a visa to Julien Blanc, an American ‘pick-up artist’ who is due to hold some ‘seminars’ in London. Forget for a second that US passport-holders don’t need a visa to visit the UK, the point is that I’ve yet to see a single Change.org petition objecting to any of the atrocities the Islamic State has committed against women. The complaint against Julien Blanc is that ‘a likely outcome of his seminars’ would be an ‘increased risk’ of sexual assault. A ‘likely outcome’? An ‘increased risk’? Why does that wind up feminists into a white fury of moral indignation, whereas the fact that IS has sexually enslaved tens of thousands of women leaves them completely cold?
Whenever I point out inconsistencies like this, I’m always accused of ‘whataboutery’. The same charge is levied at anyone who questions why left-wing firebrands like Mehdi Hasan miss no opportunity to criticise Israel but, for the most part, ignore the far greater crimes of Israel’s Arab neighbours. I’m baffled by this rebuttal, particularly as the very same people will use identical tactics when it comes to defending their own position. Try telling a trade unionist that the law should be changed so strike action is only lawful if more than 50 per cent of the union’s membership vote for it. They will immediately point out that David Cameron’s party only polled 36 per cent of the vote at the last election, yet that didn’t stop him becoming Prime Minister.
Needless to say, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this. It’s called argument by analogy and it dates back at least as far as the ancient Greeks. Indeed, if you read any of the Socratic dialogues they consist of little else. Some numbskull like Thrasymachus sets out his position and Socrates then challenges it by making an analogy and asking whether the same principle holds. Thrasymachus is forced to refine his position, at which point Socrates makes another analogy… and so on. It’s just as well Mehdi Hasan wasn’t around in 400 bc because he would have responded to all of Socrates’ arguments by screaming ‘whataboutery’. Plato’s Republic would have been a very short book.
I don’t suppose any feminists reading this will have a change of heart about Islamism, but can I urge them to read No More Sex War? In an act of reckless bravery, Neil Lyndon is re-publishing it this week.
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Toby Young is associate editor of The Spectator.
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