Status anxiety

The man feminists seemed to think was worse than the Taleban

Neil Lyndon was hounded out of polite society. Islamists are treated rather more gently

15 November 2014

9:00 AM

15 November 2014

9:00 AM

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.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Toby Young is associate editor of The Spectator.

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Show comments
  • Spigot

    2015 is an important anniversary for the Middle East, compared to which all the Israeli-Palestinian handwringing is all whataboutery. Just saying.

    • A Free Man

      How so?

      • Spigot

        1915.

      • noix

        Armenian genocide.

        • A Free Man

          Ah ta, I’m usually pretty good on dates but I was drawing a blank on 1915 and the Middle East. Couldn’t get past Sykes-Picot for some reason

  • JohnRedLantern

    Fully agree Toby.

  • Ned Costello

    Maybe you could set up a fund for Nei Lyndon Toby, I remember the feminist hysteria and general furore when his book was published and I’d happily chuck him a tenner in gratitude for the annoyance it caused to the sisterhood and “wimmin” everywhere.

  • Rebecca

    Should hope that if the book is as ahead of its time as all that , that twenty years on we could all (women and men) be persuaded to read it. I await a copy with interest.

  • Rebecca

    Feminists are to do what the Spectator reader who comments on columnist Rod Liddle’s articles re Teresa May and Islamic visas for Britain clearly would not? If one believed Rod Liddle, Spectator readers should be shooting Islamic women on the basis of race or religion in order to keep things gender equal. Thankfully many humanitarian people of both genders clearly care enough to share the feminist ‘ workload.

  • David S

    No Toby, argument by analogy is “whataboutery”. Just because Socrates and Plato amused themselves and entertained their readers with strings of analogies doesn’t make it a particularly viable debating tool. It’s more of a diversion and takes in people who haven’t the wit to say that there are always differences between the case in point and the analogy. The response to Socrates is “it might, but you are changing the subject. Come back with a better argument”. That Thrasymachus goes along with his game proves he’s a numbskull. It’s like…no, I’m not going there.

    • global city

      a tool for winning a debate, nothing about getting to the truth….it is a sporting tool.

      • David S

        One for PPE graduates…oh I forgot, Parliament is full of them.

  • Marvin

    These radical feminists do not have the intelligence to go after the important groups
    like ISIS on their treatment of the female species, so they target the easy and simple
    issues. I am all for total, and I mean total equality if we get rid of ladies, women and
    separate female competitions and tournaments in ALL walks of life and sports and
    compete together in everything. Shall we go for it girls?

    • global city

      but it isn’t about equal rights for women….it is simply one of the tools for bringing down western culture and it’s global hegemony.

      • Marvin

        That is the ideology of the sub human mutants of ISIS. I am referring
        to the aggressive masculine feminists in the west who cannot understand that the male and female species are different and have different roles in enjoying this life in this tiny spec of rock.

  • Michaela Young

    You’re like the patriarchal Dad who says to his children: “Eat up your soggy overcooked sprouts: think of the poor starving children in Africa!” while he helps himself to as big a slice of apple pie as he can cram into his mouth.

    • little islander

      Excellent piece of whataboutery.

      • Michaela Young

        The point of Feminism is to turn the spotlight back on men because they are the ones doing all the shitty bad horrible things all over the world. Feminists should be criticising male behaviour constantly. So instead of asking women to explain why they do or do not do such and such, why don’t you explain to us why e.g. a group of men with long hair and beards decapitates groups of men with short hair and no beards. Why do muslim and non-muslim men want to control women and why do the women go along with it? It might be more interesting than reading about your past sexual conquests.

  • little islander

    ‘The Englishwoman….she wants everything.” Revisited The Romantic Englishwoman recently by Tom Stoppard and Thomas Wiseman.

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