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November 23, 2006



You never know, our future PM might be into Bloc Party


"As the old adage has it..."

Pish and tush to the old adage. I'm half as old again as you, and I'm still a pinko. I much prefer Brad DeLong's formulation, which starts from knowledge rather than calendar age:

"neoclassical economics is a very useful set of disciplinary tools for somebody whose instincts and intuitions are on the left. They sharpen your arguments and clarify your thought. By contrast, I think that most people whose instincts and intuitions are on the right find their arguments dulled and muddied by too much exposure to neoclassical economics"

See also this comment:
"I'm tempted to explain it like this: economics, in every flavour, tells us what *can* be done. If you also think that's the sum total of what *ought* to be done, you're in trouble. Social science draws the map; if you forget your compass, you're still lost."

As for your main point, I am not a Hegelian... oh all right then, I'm a *recovering* Hegelian... but I think there's more historical cunning at work than your academic friends allow. As little as thirty years ago, it was widely assumed that women's *only* roles were to be decorative and look after children; women who 'made it in a man's world' were freakish oddities. (When Thatcher became leader of the Tory Party, a popular slogan on the left was 'Ditch the Bitch'. Right on, brother.) If seventies feminists did a lot of shouting, they had a lot to shout about.

So it's true on one level that magazines like /Nuts/ and /FHM/ take us back forty years, to the days of /Titbits/ and /Reveille/ - and it's true that pornographic imagery is degrading, oppressively so when it's ubiquitous. But it's also true that some of the core feminist arguments have been won, or at least conceded. The very language in which these students defend those magazines reflects the radical liberalism of mainstream feminism, or of the mainstreaming of feminism: /why *shouldn't* a woman be a doctor, a bus-driver, an MP, an astronaut? why *shouldn't* a woman go where she likes and wear what she likes? why *shouldn't* a woman take her clothes off for the cameras?/

Feminism also meant a much harder set of arguments, having to do with dignity rather than freedom of action. These are questions of what's good for women as women - and, more importantly, who gets to decide. I'd say that the problem on this front isn't that the gains of women's liberation have been rolled back, so much as that they were never really made. "Women shouldn't have to look sexy all the time" is a fine liberal argument - it's a subset of the belief that nobody should *have to* do anything. "Women shouldn't be expected to look sexy" is another matter, and finds a lot of liberals on the other side of the fence - after all, why shouldn't people have expectations of one another, and why shouldn't people sometimes choose to comply with other people's expectations?

It's an argument which was never really won - and, I would argue, it's come back to bite us in the shape of the hijab debate. Twice over, in fact: advocates of hijab play a distorted and sexist version of the dignity argument ("why should a woman be expected to put herself on display?") while advocates of other people's right to wear hijab play an equally distorted version of liberalism ("why shouldn't a woman have the right to shield herself from prying eyes?"). Ugh.

So I think you can add to your list of prophecies that feminism will be back, but it won't be so liberal next time. And it'll probably be wearing a pinafore over jeans.


Ugh, missing URLs (I hate Typepad...)

Here's Brad:

And here's Donald on Brad:

Will Davies

Thanks Phil. This is a rather more sophisticated argument than mine. I guess I was simply reflecting on that surging, irrational desire I get to punch someone when kids are playing music on their mobile phones on buses, and the general sense of despair I feel when surrounded by adverts telling people they can do anything they want to do. It's more of a Philip Larkin thing I guess, but the good news is that, from the duffer's perspective, David Cameron looks as hideous as anyone else.


The students of the media lecturers you describe would seem to be taking their own arguments more seriously than they do. If women are free to wear whatever clothes they like, then they must also be free to wear as few clothes as they like.

You do not liberate someone by requiring her to obey your orders. Nor by forcing other people to deny her options.

Complaining that teachers are being bullied by their own students implicitly admits that discipline in schools has disintergrated, and that this is a bad thing. If the teachers cannot defend themselves, what do you think happens to the weaker students? There were right-of-centre predictions to that effect quite some time ago...

Will Davies

anon - Nobody said anything about forcing anyone else to do anything. You introduced the issue of coercion, not me.

As for discipline and the right-of-centre predictions you refer to, I can't work out what you're getting at. Maybe you've missed the point of my post, which was precisely to say that, ironically and sadly, clinging to any notion of what 'good behaviour' consists of from one generation to the next may involve one becoming a conservative in some way (at least, the effort to conserve certain norms is, by definition, conservative).


"For most people born before 1930, the civil rights movement, feminism and the demand for personal freedoms would have looked morally outrageous and a threat to social peace." Evidence? My parents were born before then; I can remember them tut-tutting at the difficulty American blacks had in having their rights recognised. They were all for personal freedom - that's why they were keen anti-socialists. Feminism they did laugh at, but mainly because it was so obviously intellectually dud.

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