I took a break for lunch during a recent painting day in our local community centre. A male friend and I repaired to one of the many cafes nearby, where we met an attractive blonde woman also on the course, tucking into her tahini, beetroot and aubergine bake.
It all started well, we discussed the morning’s work, commiserated and agreed and she mentioned another course she is taking soon at a very high cost, and her children’s artistic talent. The usual conversation I have with local women who tend to be what some call ‘old hippies,’ even if they are young, the ‘old’ refers to the distance in time since their ideas were born.
They are less well off than the ‘yummy mummies’ I knew in Chiswick. Their houses tend to be 19th century nail-makers cottages rather than detached Arts and Crafts mansions, and their kids generally go to local schools. Neither are they like the women I met at an art school in Chelsea who were terribly rich, elegant and very poorly educated. What they do have in common with the Yummies of Chiswick is their politics.
As I am new in this area I keep off anything controversial and I’m old enough to know that very little opinion is ever changed in conversation with strangers. For some reason as we sat down my male friend started talking about the bombing of Dresden. The blonde lady looked blank on the subject. Many women know nothing whatever about the second world war, as it’s firmly not on any girlie agenda. I didn’t want to discuss it either, as it’s not a subject for lunch, but somehow from that we wandered onto current issues of a particular kind – they hippy-mother feminist variety.
I wasn’t sure I liked her; or rather I was a bit wary of her, just small hints at first. I said I was going to the Rubens exhibition at the Royal Academy. She said she wouldn’t go as, ‘A whole exhibition of Rubens would be too much for me.’
Rubens has recently become a hate-figure for feminists, rather encouraged by Prof. Mary Beard who suggested his paintings are all about rape. But the woman obviously trusted me as she decided to make some kind of confession to me about a problem that was really bothering her.
‘My daughter has recently been assaulted,’ she said.
We both looked up from our cheese omelettes which we were cautiously unfolding in the hope of finding some cheese.
‘She’s had a really sexist, unpleasant letter from a boy she knows.’ She went on. ‘ I am going to have to take it up with his mother. She’s going to have to get him to change.’
The boy had sent a note invited her girl to a party, adding, ‘bring your little friend too if you like.’
He had committed a sexist offence, she said, by the extremely ‘derogatory word ‘little.’
‘It’s just not good enough,’ she said, looking as if she might cry. I was rather stunned by this, and instead of smiling sympathetically and continuing the hunt for cheddar, my friend and I began asking her about it. She explained that ‘little’ would only be used by a man to a woman, and ‘these kinds of remarks are being made all the time, everywhere, they go on all the time.’
I asked whether I could send a letter to a man along the lines of, ‘bring your pimply, pain in the neck friend,’ or ‘bring your boorish, beer drinking pal too,’ if the mood took me. She looked baffled, as if she hadn’t reached that chapter in the book yet. Any idea of a friendly lunch evaporated.
‘If we don’t stand up against them, how can we ever make changes?’ she asked. I asked who ‘They’ might be? And we were at loggerheads. ‘There are a lot of ignorant people around,’ she said, still naming no names, ‘and they have to be challenged. So many people are just sleep-walking.’
I agreed but suggested it wasn’t always sleep walking, some people, like me, don’t want to talk about politics anymore.
‘It is sleepwalking,’ she insisted. ‘The next thing you know, you’ll wake up and find your daughter can’t get a termination when she wants one.’
I decided we must have floated back to the 1960s somehow and the conversation was not only pointless but had turned unpleasant for no good reason.
‘I no longer feel comfortable expressing myself here,’ she said, accusing me of being, ‘aggressive,’ and flounced off. I sat feeling deflated and worried. We had the rest of the afternoon to get through and she was drawing me. I wondered how I would end up looking, something like a bull elephant perhaps. But it is really worrying that there are so many women like that around, not bright or well informed but very passionate in their belief that most lively discourse must be closed down as it is somehow dangerous.
The public must be banned from uttering sentiments they deem incorrect and punished if they err, saying ‘coloured,’ for instance rather than ‘of colour.’
Innocence of intention is no excuse in the new world she wants. Even a schoolboy is in for it, for writing what I see as a very sweet letter.
Extraordinarily it’s chiefly comfortably off middle-class liberals and the ladies of the left who have a problem with the idea of free speech. They don’t seem to understand how it works, wishing to silence conservative and even ordinary male opinion. Not so ordinary male opinion is clearly in their sights.
Even as I write, Angela Eagle, the shadow leader of the Commons is proposing a new ruling to ban MPs who shout, heckle or make gestures during PMQs. Labour MP Sarah Champion has constantly complained about ‘the sexist atmosphere in the chamber.’ These dull women may get their dreary way as ‘research’ apparently shows that the public doesn’t like rowdyism in the chamber. Who they spoke to for this survey I don’t know, the same people, I imagine, who form focus groups for judging films and TV. Their opinions are not mine. I would guess that most people give a knee jerk response and are largely uninterested in the manners at PMQs, as research apparently shows that many of them, particularly women, fail to vote even in a general election.
Douglas Murray recently pointed out that the last Labour government consistently worked to lower the bar on what is permitted, ‘even criminalising speech simply deemed ‘offensive.’
In the cafe I experience more than mere irritation about silly women. I fear them as much as they fear my loose opinions and attempts at humour. Murray points out that in 2006 the Labour government came within one vote of passing a section of the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill which would have criminalised all ‘reckless’ criticism or ridiculing of religion. He notes that when the current government overturned the worst portion of the 1986 Public Order Act, relating to ‘insulting words,’ Labour expressed deep concern over how this might affect minority groups.
There is a civil war brewing over this issue of free-speech. As the blonde woman swept out we hated each other as Cavaliers and Roundheads ever must.
‘I didn’t really know what she was on about. I didn’t take it in,’ said my male friend, who I think started it. He shares my politics but then said he hadn’t heard any of it, and ‘not to worry.’
That is one way of dealing with the situation I suppose, although I feel he might be sleepwalking into something really horrid.