The well-known art critic, agent provocateur and surname-lacking phenomenon that is Bidisha had an article on the Women’s Page of yesterday’s Guardian. Disappointingly, she chose not to discuss her lack of a surname, or indeed her latest bank robbery, blackest shades or how long a leather coat must be before it is suitable for wear by a true badass (see earlier blog entry). Instead, she complained about the casual sexism and misogyny of society generally as manifested in a string of remarks made by people she has met recently. Apparently, "The misogynists’ approach to women can be summed up thus: sneer, leer, exploit, ignore".
It would be difficult to defend a lot of the comments or attitudes Bidisha mentions, although it might well be pointed out that some of them are as much illustrations of the decline of good manners in public, especially amongst hip young creative types, as of misogyny. What really struck me about the whole thing, though, was – who’d be a feminist, or indeed any kind of radical? To judge from the article, Bidisha seems to spend her personal and professional life in a series of confrontations with people making unkind comments about a woman or women, which must be pretty stressful on a daily basis. This is the problem with deciding the personal is political. Politics is all about resolving disputes through argument, which is all very well, but you can’t spend your entire life in arguments with everybody you disagree with. Taken to its logical conclusion, you’d end up with no friends, an estranged family, and probably no job, if you pissed off your employer enough.
All this is perhaps really another way of saying that eventually everyone, whatever their views, has to make their peace with society on some level; or to be harsher about it, everyone sells out in the end. I must admit that it didn’t take an awful lot of persuading in my case. Being prone to selfishness and laziness, not to mention naturally pessimistic, is not the best equipment for any kind of radical to have. You need, in the final analysis, to be more bothered about the state of the world than I am able to be. I could never quite understand the sort of people who get involved in long campaigns against injustice to complete strangers, a lot of whom have recently cropped up in relation to the death of Ian Tomlinson. I could understand the outrage from his family and friends, but what makes all the other people who you find piling on the bandwagon to start all these campaign groups do it? I might be talked into getting involved if the police were beating people up on my street, but anything larger scale than that just seems too remote.
I once came across a good quote from Luce Irigaray, who is apparently a feminist but of whom I have not otherwise heard, that "It is as difficult to become an authentic female subject as it appeared to Kierkegaard to be a true Christian." It is interesting to make the religious comparison, given that what Bidisha, like a lot of other radicals, objects to is what they regard as unrighteous behaviour. However, the problem with that is the difficulty of anyone remaining consistently righteous themselves. Quite apart from the conflict caused with the rest of society, policing one’s own behaviour becomes exhausting. Bidisha advocates that we "don’t perpetrate it (misogyny) yourself, call it when you see it and fight any man defending his misogyny", but you could spend every waking moment doing that and still not succeed. Nor do secular radicals have the Christian reassurance that in the end, we are forgiven because Christ died for our sins, not because we are good. For a radical, if you fail to behave in the politically correct way at all times – well, you’re the secular equivalent of a hell-bound sinner. It’s purely a form of private mental anguish in modern Britain, but historically it might be no joke. Just ask all those who ended up in the Gulag for not being good enough Communists.