25th October 2019
I spoke to the journalist and author Ella Whelan for her documentary about feminism. Catch me from minutes 6.50 – 14.00…
25th October 2019
I spoke to the journalist and author Ella Whelan for her documentary about feminism. Catch me from minutes 6.50 – 14.00…
This may shock you, but I am in my mid-30s and am perfectly happy to be single.
And I refuse to whip myself up into a frenzy of hand-wringing just because I never seem to have a boyfriend, never mind a husband.
It’s true that, if I judged my whole life according to my search for love, I could make myself miserable. But just because I have so far failed to find Mr Right does not in any way make me a failure as a human being.
My 80-year-old grandmother is appalled by my attitude, and thinks I ought to be taking drastic steps towards settling down.
But I shouldn’t be valued solely for my ability to attract a man — I’m a successful journalist, a good friend and sister — and I’m not going to conform to some ‘desperate’ vision of how a single woman should behave.
Frankly, such stereotypes no longer match the reality. Single women are no longer outcasts, or even unusual; in Britain today, there are more of us than at any point in history, more and more of us in our 30s, 40s and beyond.
If you’re aged between 25 and 44, you’re also five times more likely to be living alone than you were back in 1973.
And yet the way we talk about single women has been slow to catch up.
The most familiar ‘singleton’ in fiction, for example, is still the hapless Bridget Jones — a character more than 20 years out of date, who popped up married and with a baby in the latest celluloid instalment of her story.
I force myself to go on dates because that is what I must do if I want to find love in the 21st century. Or so society insists. And so I’ve spent countless evenings staring at men I’d like perfectly well – if they were my dentist – trying to stave off the realisation that I’d have spent a more thrilling evening at home, flossing and spitting blood down the sink. My single girlfriends and I know – from experience – to expect nothing better. But for those not used to the dating game – with no idea how to distinguish a potential bore from an actual psychopath – it can prove a terrible shock.
Take Ruth E. Valentine, whose 100 dates over a five year period were so traumatic she wrote an entire book about them. Her first date seemed perfectly wonderful – until he pulled up his suit trousers to reveal fishnet stockings. The second chap turned out to be married. The next revealed that his dead brother was sitting next to him in an empty chair. ‘Another guy I dated for three months,’ she continues. ‘Everything seemed perfect until he announced he had a court case coming up and might be going to prison for 12 years. Last I heard he got locked up and put on the sex offenders list.’ One does not have to get anywhere near the end of ‘The Life & Times of an Online Dater’ to conclude that it was all downhill from there.
This month marks two years since Vanity Fair declared the Dating Apocalypse had hit the States, thanks to the dating app Tinder. But no one thought to tell poor Ruth whose dating life only continued to degenerate until she gave up last week. In 2017, her case is not unusual. All we ladies (who remain single past the age that Jesus died) privately trade grimmer and more gruesome stories because dating apps have done to love and romance what the machines did to humanity – in the Doomsday scenario from Terminator II. Tough young millennials, who grew up after civilisation ended, do claim to feel liberated by a situation in which boring old human ‘emotion’ has been replaced by animalistic rutting. But for those of us who want to get married and – heaven help us – breed, the situation is petrifying.
My friends and I, our biological clocks a-ticking, ought to be stepping up our efforts: pasting on Dior war paint, arming ourselves with the latest in killer heels, downing cocktails for courage. Instead, we hug each other in foxholes, reassuring one another that it is A-OK to still be nursing wounds from the last time we ‘put ourselves out there’. In the age of Tinder, a typical first message is: ‘Hey. To be honest unless we’re having sex on the first night I’m not really interested… Let me know. x’ Followed by an entirely unsolicited dick pic. This is not what we want. And it is not what we need. It’s time we rose up and declared, en masse: ‘No Tinder, please, we’re British.’
As Beth McLoughlin, a 40-year-old editor complains: ‘When I was younger this thing called ‘dating’ didn’t exist here. Why is it necessary? If we could just abolish it, we could go back to just connecting people naturally with people we liked.’ Ideally, we’d revert to the antiquated system of ‘rounds in the pub,’ whereby Brits who previously had no idea they even fancied each other, staggered home one night only to wake up five years later married with three adorable children. First, we fell in like, then we fell in laugh; and – bam – we fell in love.
Back in the Nineties, this idiosyncratic approach was still de facto and Bridget Jones was our heroine. She now reappears on our screens every Bank Holiday to remind us of when Britain did things best and jumped out of planes wearing Union Jack parachutes just to prove it – much like James Bond. Carrie Bradshaw may have dated her way across Manhattan with a handbag stuffed full of ‘ultra-textured Trojans with a reservoir tip’ but our Bridget trusted to the contraceptive qualities of her giant knickers. She made love.
Dating belongs in America, where it sprang into being alongside out-of-control capitalism and Coca-Cola. The term ‘date’ was first used in 1896 in a column written about ‘working class lives’ in which a young man, whose girlfriend was growing tired of him, lamented ‘I s’pose the other boy’s fillin’ all my dates.’ The convention of a man paying arose because women were paid half what a man would get for working the same job. So, if a girl wanted to go out for dinner her ‘date’ would have to pay for it.
Dating is an industry that has been inextricably linked to time pressure ever since. According to Moira Wiegel, who last year published Labor of Love: the Invention of Dating our mating habits still reflect the labour market. So whereas in the era of ‘old fashioned 9-to-5s it made sense to ask someone, “So, I’ll pick you up at six?” She explains. ‘Now, in an era of flexitime and freelancing we might be more likely to text a lover “u up?”’
Tinder is the very embodiment of the free market when it comes to sex. As Vanity Fair’s Nancy Jo Sales put it, ‘online, the act of choosing consumer brands and sex partners has become interchangeable.’ It is easier for a man to get laid than at any point in history – but the quality of sex is suffering for us women. According to the Kinsey Institute, women are twice as likely to have orgasms in the context of a relationship. But since ‘relationships’ have been replaced by a never-ending regimen of dates, young girls kept asking Sales ‘what’s a real orgasm like? I wouldn’t know.’
Some new phone apps – such as Bumble – claim to liberate women from all this Tinder bullshit. But in effect it just deludes us into thinking we have some control over the product, when we don’t. On Bumble, a woman has to message a man first and within 24 hours, after which he’ll disappear forever (like a bargain resisted in the January sales). But it’s the men who benefit. My best male friend has used it to juggle eight different women simultaneously. And he’s ginger.
Using apps to find love doesn’t even make sense. Tinder has a vested interest in keeping us single. Otherwise, it’ll disappear like MySpace, Bebo and Friends Reunited. Even those with positive experiences of the app see it as an extension of their working life – just one more thing to achieve. ‘Dating’ is ‘a numbers game’. You ‘only get out what you put in.’ What most scares me is the prospect that – even if I do, against all odds, couple up, I’ll still have to go on ‘date nights’. A fitting British response to the whole concept is as Nicholas Lezard puts it: ‘Let’s split up. It’s more dignified.’
For as Ruth E. Valentine eventually concluded, there is nothing more dismal and depressing than dating. ‘Every time I thought I had met a nice guy they were all either married, liars, cheats, psychos, mentally deranged, abusers, transvestites, criminals, druggies, alcoholics or mummy’s boys.’ Ultimately, dates are about one thing: sex. So it’s time to say: down with dates! Leave them to the Americans. Somehow, we have to bring back old fashioned British confusion and abashment. For even in the 21st century, there’s still no more beautiful way – to fall in love.
Emily Hill is the author of Bad Romance, which will be published on Valentine’s Day, 2018.
Ever since a Twitter troll was elected 45th President of the United States, the Twitterati has agonised over who to blame. But since it was Twitter that gave American voters unfettered access to Donald Trump’s brain, they really ought to be blaming Twitter itself. It’s not possible to say anything balanced or nuanced in 140 characters — that’s a format for jokes, insults and outrage. If you want to seize the world’s attention today, you must troll or be trolled on Twitter.
And since this is the one skill at which Trump is utterly unrivalled, he’s now busy trolling both America and himself. When a man with barely any followers once tweeted him in the middle of the night to say: ‘I firmly believe that @realDonaldTrump is the most superior troll on the whole of Twitter’, Trump retweeted it to his millions of followers: ‘A great compliment!’
In 2017, our ability to write books, act in films or even govern appears to be measured in Twitter followers, not talent. So there will be no stopping Trump or his disciples here in the UK, Katie Hopkins and Piers Morgan. Were it not for Twitter, Hopkins would be a failed Apprentice candidate, not a highly paid commentator for Mail Online. Morgan would be a disgraced former newspaper editor, not a television host engaging in Twitter spats with J.K. Rowling. Unless Twitter ends, there will be no end to them.
At its worst, trolling is utterly repugnant, a sickening spectacle, and no one gets anything out of it. This was the case last year when Leslie Jones, star of an all-female remake of Ghostbusters, was hounded off Twitter after the alt-right tweeted racist abuse at her. It was also the case in 2013, when a PR consultant named Justine Sacco was hounded off Twitter by anti-racists after she tweeted: ‘Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!’ But whereas the forces of good Twitter, quite rightly, felt bad for and fell in love with Leslie Jones, almost no one sympathised with Sacco; they thought she’d revealed herself to be a racist — and therefore a vicious troll.
No one ever points out that the difference between a troll and a troll victim is as complex as that between a terrorist and a freedom fighter. Nor that being trolled can have unbelievably positive results for your career. The pop star James Blunt, for instance, has reinvigorated his fanbase as a result of retweeting all the abuse he gets on Twitter. He has been hailed (in a Buzzfeed article viewed almost a million times) as ‘the trolliest troll of all Twitter trolls’ and millennials love him for it.
Blunt must relish getting trolled — and so do many journalists, though they’d never admit it. I once sat in a restaurant with someone who’d written a perfectly innocuous article for Grazia magazine and became positively giddy when her bleeping BlackBerry showed she was being trolled as ‘a feminazi’ by hordes of maladjusted losers on Twitter.
As Jamie Bartlett explains, ‘Being trolled by strangers on the net gives you the chance to show how hard things are for you, how right you were, and how noble and magnanimous you are in sharing your suffering with the world.’ In his book The Dark Net, he notes, ‘It is very rarely mentioned that the victims of trolls are far more often privileged, wealthy, happy, and successful than their perceived oppressors, who are often frustrated, jealous, and lonely.’
‘I’ll tell you how to be single at parties. I met a girl who told me on Saturday night…’
To read on, please pledge here.
“I was single, straight, and female,” Emily Witt begins, with all the élan of an alcoholic stating her name and what’s wrong with her. Only there isn’t anything wrong with Emily Witt. (The book jacket tells us she has three degrees and won a Fulbright scholarship to Mozambique.) Unless you count not having a fella in your fourth decade. Which she does. And doesn’t.
Future Sex is a collection of essays about sex and society, originally published in magazines including N+1, GQ and the London Review of Books, packaged into book form. In America, it enjoyed rave reviews. Here, it’s had a sexy reprint by Faber. I got very excited too, for the first two chapters, when Witt seemed to be asking the question no one ever poses: ‘Why, when we enjoy all the freedom women would have killed for throughout three millennia, do we still feel we’ve failed if we’ve not snared a man for better or worse?’
Feminists used to tell us that we’d been liberated: that ‘a woman without a man was like a fish without a bicycle.’ Now we’re fish out of water, flapping around, wondering what’s wrong with us. Why are we alone – not in a tank somewhere, with a man fish and fingerlings? Or as Witt puts it: “I had disliked my freedom because I didn’t want to see myself landing on the outside of normal.” After a rousing monologue in which she declares her affinity with those ‘who had not found love… who were used to going to weddings by themselves, who knew they embodied some ahistorical demographic whose numbers were now significant’ she had me. I was Team Witt – on a mission to find ‘a new kind of free love.’
Only then she just veered off to find new and utterly foul ways of having sex instead.
That dismal quest begins in San Francisco, where Witt tries “orgasmic meditation” – or (as you and I might call it) “public masturbation.” At first, she doesn’t like it. (“I avoided all eye contact … caught the bus home… and watched the Norman conquest episode of Simon Schama’s History of Britain…”) Then she has a go. And she doesn’t like that either. (But then, because the experience consisted of a man wearing latex gloves flicking at her clitoris as ineffectively as a novice in a game of Subbuteo – who would?)
Undeterred, Witt goes on to examine live webcams, polyamory and the Burning Man festival – where scenes get so pretentious they might appear in Pseud’s Corner: ‘I picked up the phone and spoke to God… “This is why people don’t like you anymore!” I wailed, and hung up the phone.’
Witt has a degree in journalism from Colombia. There, they must have taught her to take notes, because she keeps telling us that this is what she is doing when a tabloid trained hack like me would ask a bloody question. Her detached style has been much praised and that was fine… Until she attends the live filming of an internet series called Public Disgrace. Here, Witt blankly records, a pretty girl called Penny has a sign that says “I’M A WORTHLESS CUNT” hung round her neck, is stripped, smacked, whipped, prodded, poked, penetrated, ejaculated on, electrocuted, anally fisted and worse, while a baying mob jeers and ‘mascara runs in rivers’ down her face.
To Germaine Greer, this would have been an outrage on womankind – Penny herself a ‘victim of male fetishism and loathing’ who like all the forgotten dead prostitutes of time – strangled, raped with bottles – didn’t cry out to those tormenting her: “‘Why do you hate us so?” although hate it clearly is.” But Witt doesn’t imagine herself as Penny – for a single second. She thinks the whole scene is cool – ‘taboo-breaking’ – and even tells us that ‘the pornographers at Kink are feminists themselves.’ That it took ‘feminism to explain how the gagging, slapping, and sneering of porn might be hateful to women… You couldn’t have Public Disgrace without feminism.’ Which is utter rot. Had she died at the end, Penny’s violation could have been a blow by blow re-enactment of the gang rape of Tralala in Last Exit to Brooklyn – which was published six whole years before The Female Eunuch.
This scene isn’t just hateful to women – it’s hateful to the human soul. Witt does not even wonder what happened to Penny to make her submit to treatment that would not be allowed – if she were a cow. All sympathy is concentrated instead on our authoress who chooses this point to confess that she’s so miserable without a boyfriend she’s not having sex at all.
Six weeks on, I’m still furious at having to finish this repulsive, meandering, incoherent book. I’d have had more pleasure being groped by Donald Trump. After a lot of panting, Future Sex fails to climax.
And so farewell, the Bailey’s Prize for Fiction. Formerly known as the Orange Prize for Fiction. And soon, no doubt, to be revived – and known as the Dyson Hand Dryer Prize for Fiction. Or the Electrolux Blender Prize for Fiction. Or some other type of fiction brought to you by a ‘brand’ or business that ought rightly to have nothing to do with judging greatness in literature.
But back to Bailey’s which has – for now – withdrawn its funding of the UK’s all-female book prize, to the sound of great sobbing, which began on Monday lunchtime, with an announcement on BBC Radio 4’s World At One. For it is a very special prize – and needs to be saved for the nation – because men cannot compete in it. Past winners have included Zadie Smith, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Lionel Shriver and Ali Smith.
You might wonder why – when women represent more than 70% of the book buying public and when every book selling behemoth of recent times from J.K Rowling and E.L James to Hilary Mantel hasn’t a Y chromosome between them – we need a special female only book prize. And you’d be in excellent company. A.S Byatt, who beat Beryl Bainbridge and Penelope Fitzgerald to win the Booker Prize for Possession six years before the Orange Prize came into existence, has called the prize ‘sexist’ and refuses to allow her publisher to submit her novels for consideration.
Feminism used to be about the battle for equality and that is a fight I’m signed up for until the bitter end. But in recent years the term ‘feminist’ has been applied to those who insist women need special treatment (because they are delicate, sensitive and – by imputation – not as capable as men). This is particularly absurd when it comes to books. Jane Austen, all three (female) Brontes, Mary Shelley, Elizabeth Gaskell, George Eliot, Virginia Woolf, Agatha Christie… I could go on but I’d be typing all day… have all proven that women not only write great books – they write them better than men.
Germaine Greer wryly observed -when the Orange Prize was founded in 1996- that ‘someone would soon found a prize for writers with red hair.’ However well intended the founders of the prize were (and Kate Mosse, in particular, is impossible to dislike) women just don’t need specialist help and it is patronising, in the extreme, to suggest that we do.
And yet while researching the Bailey’s I have found an even more bizarre, and terrifying, plan to feminise the already femtastic book trade. Writing in The Bookseller, the author Kamila Shamsie has suggested that 2018 – the 100th anniversary of women getting the vote – should be a year in which the UK only publishes new titles by women.
I hope – very soon – Germaine Greer will eviscerate that idea too because whatever it represents – it isn’t feminism. It is a complete perversion of what the Suffragettes fought and died for. Women should have the same rights as men – not more rights than men. And to discriminate against men – to the extent of banning their books! – is perpetuating injustice from which women have finally – thankfully – been liberated.
The Bailey’s Prize is dead! But I’m sure it’ll get another sponsor… unfortunately, for the proud tradition of women’s lib.