Thursday, 8 December 2011

Nick Cohen, the "women monsterers", and the story of Neil Lyndon

Journalist Nick Cohen has written a blog post entitled "A regiment of women monsterers" on the the Spectator magazine website. Now I find this title to be appalling (and rather disturbing) written English, on the whole, but that's not my main point here.

The "woman monsterers" he is talking about are the commenters and journalists who, he says, hurl verbal abuse at female journalists online and in print.

The example recipients of this behaviour that he lists include Polly Toynbee, Melanie Philips, and Laurie Penny. (I could add that Jan Moir has received some abuse online, which does provide another example)

Now I have seen some criticism of Toynbee, mainly calling her a "champagne socialist" for talking about socialist issues when she has a villa in Tuscany, and there is some dislike of Philips, mainly as an outspoken writer for the Daily Mail, a paper vilified by the liberal left in the UK.

Laurie Penny has certainly been on the wrong end of a lot of criticism, and many jibes of immaturity and self-absorbtion. On the other hand she is someone who gets very excited about revolution, calls Conservatives "hordes of drooling poshos", and can be rather sharp tongued about the male of the species.

Cohen's article does echo what some feminist writers said a month or so ago. My view then has not changed, online debate is very tough on everyone, there is no conspiracy to "silence women" as some implied back then. We'd need to look a bit more carefully into the evidence before jumping to that conclusion. This is one of the difficulties with any debate involving gender at the moment. People with a political agenda one way or another will state their conclusions as established fact before doing any sober analysis, then attempt to shout down anyone who disagrees with them.

If you are in doubt about whether we do need to look again at evidence for Cohen's conclusions, indeed if you have read his article at all, I would strongly suggest you read the story of Neil Lyndon (here and on wiki)

Lyndon wrote a piece in the Sunday Times 20 years ago, mildly criticising feminism. Efforts were apparently made by female journalists to block publication of his piece. The response in the next week's paper was revealing (quoting from the Guardian link above):

"Looking back at the cuttings, there was not much discussion of the content of his writings, rather it was the size of penis, his ability to attract women and the fragrance of his breath that were called into question. One adjective was so routinely applied to him, you began to wonder if it was part of his name: the Inadequate Neil Lyndon"

The abuse didn't stop there, including physical attacks, further insults and work drying up for him, when he wrote a book on the subject. Lyndon must have been very tough to come through what happened next..

Cohen concludes his tirade literary tour-de-force with the following:

"The cases of Penny, Toynbee and Phillips show the hollow-eyed masturbators on the comment threads are not alone. Journalists are more than willing to encourage them."

Now some people might be a touch surprised to find our heroic defender against "vicious denunciations" ( a quote from the article) going on to describe the denunciators as "hollow-eyed masturbators on the comment threads", but I'm sure there's a reasonable explanation.

Please, if you have read Nick Cohen's piece in the Spectator, read the above links too...

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