Behold the fat, glistening tear-drop of Peter Hitchens’ that spells the demise of male privilege. The fall of Harvey Weinsten and now the Westminster sexual harassment scandal has prompted a deluge of tears from men mourning the loss of their power. “With great power comes great responsibility”, said Uncle Ben from Spider-man. That poignant chunk of wisdom appears to have sailed straight over the heads of some men in power, who instead have abused that responsibility as a vehicle to grope women.
Pre- Harvey Weinstein, it probably never occurred to these men in power sat on their thrones built on the cloudy plumes of their egos, that they would have to think twice about staying their wandering hands. But now the question rattling the minds of every Harvey Weinstein, seedy politician and average misogynistic Joe of the world is: “To grope, or not to grope?” That is indeed the question. It’s this thought that is eating away at the minds of the likes of Daily Mail columnist Peter Hitchens, whose article published yesterday is the perfect example in which to see the unfurling of male egos at the mere thought of emboldened women owning the narrative and speaking out against their abusers. As the Arabic adage goes, ‘A woman’s voice is a revolution’, and it’s this voice, bold and resolute, that is right now the mother of all male crocodile tears and crumbling male egos.
The unfathomable leap Hitchens makes in his article from the Westinster sexual harassment scandal to the Niqab is almost as absurd as Daily Mail readers going red-faced over Nadiya Hussain celebrating Christmas: It’s just downright bonkers. Apparently, if you’re a modern liberal calling out sexual harassment, you have something in common with a ‘militant Islamist’ who wants to gender segregate and cover the entire planet with a Niqab (face veil). On the one hand Hitchens’ ‘old fashioned’ and ‘prudish Victorian’ sensibilities are incensed by the seediness that has gripped gender relations in our country, a direct result of the big bogey-woman that is equality and the F-word that is feminism. On the other, he lambasts the ‘Islamic world’ (as if Islam functioned on an entirely different planet), a world where the merry mixing of the sexes without black shrouds, physical contact and (God forbid) handshakes, is not permitted. He laments the demise of the ‘old code’ of the Victorian world where women were made to wear excruciating corsets, every Mrs Bennet was eagerly seeking a suitable arranged marriage for her daughters, and romantic sophistry in public went as far as talking about the weather as a kind of sexual innuendo or exchanging longing, smouldering glances with your intended in-between synchronised dances. That society was sexual repression incarnate. Brits weren’t exactly blasting the Victorian equivalent of Marvin Gaye’s ‘Sexual Healing’ on the streets. If you’re struggling to visualise all this, you need only watch a Jane Austen period drama to get a sense of what I’m saying.
The sheer irony is that it’s inflammatory views like Hitchens’ that are on par with that of this phantom ‘militant Islamist’ (a multi-syllabic word which sounds more like it is supposed to confuse and stoke fear than it sheds light on the situation). Like many, Hitchens has jumped onto the very modish bandwagon of misogyny combined with big, bad Islamophobia. There’s nothing quite like killing two squawking birds with one stone now, is there? His joking suggestion that the Niqab is a panacea to the plague of sexual assaults that have been a reality of women’s lives since time immemorial, sounds like the plot-line to a far-right dystopian novel which involves a Muslim Freddie Kruger as the anti-protagonist and terrified men fleeing into the night. Why throw women under the bus when you can throw visibly Muslim women who wear the Niqab under the victim-blaming bus as well? Hitchens need only speak to an actual rape victim or a visibly Muslim woman who has also been subject to sexual assault to know it’s not clothing that draws in a perpetrator, it’s the perpetrator. Period. Of course this will be a shock to his prudish Victorian ways, but there’s no time like the present to break that Islamophobia fortified, misogynistic echo-chamber. As for the image, how Orientalist – I mean original. Never mind it’s a stock-image that looks more like a screenshot from a makeup tutorial promoting a cosmetic brand to get the smoky, kohl-lined eyes of Angelina Jolie. It’s the same tiresome conveyor belt of click-bait stereotypes and images used to feed the hungry masses who internalise these narrow conceptions of Muslim women and project them onto living, breathing human beings.
With so much mansplaining from men advising how and if women should speak out about sexual assault, to quote Nigel Farage’s favourite adjective, what exactly is the ‘proper’ way for women to make it obvious that we don’t give consent to a man’s roving hands drawn into the sanctuary of our bodies? If we were to shout “YOUR GROPING HAND SHALL NOT PASS!” with the baritone gusto of Gandalf the Grey, or better yet clobber the fool square in the face, (the mantra ‘fly like a butterfly, sting like a bee’ comes to mind), I’ll wager we would get accused of being bullish and manly faster than you can say ‘Margaret Thatcher’. In short, there is no easy way to avoid treading on frail male egos erected on a foundation of making women feel inferior. So stampede we must.
Hitchens is not alone in his diatribe against the growing number of women who are becoming emboldened to speak out. Telegraph columnist Charles Moore, who by-and-by is “praying women share power with men, not crush us”, is male privilege incarnate. I can imagine his hands clasped tightly, a glistening halo circling above his head as he fervently prays an army of Boudicca’s and Amazonian warriors don’t crush the patriarchy with their iron fist of egalitarian justice. I hope he never comes across Beyoncé’s ‘Who Run The World Girls’. He might just have a cardiac arrest envisaging the matriarchal world she created in that music video.
Now a revolution is afoot, led by the women who bravely came forward, the Tamara Burkes and the Rose McGowans of the world, not forgetting the many, many women who haven’t come forward. In the title of his article, Hitchens asks ‘What will women gain from all this ‘squawking’ about sex pests?’ Well Peter, for one thing, accountability. For too long men have lived with impunity, assaulting women as they see fit for little than a fleeting gain of sadistic pleasure on their part, and a life-time of trauma inflicted on their victims. Speaking out won’t stop sex assaults to be sure, but if the shocking number of women coming forward signals the death-rattle of the toxic culture of victim-blaming that has silenced women for so long, I for one will happily lend myself to the cause. You say the future generations will laugh at us as we lose ourselves in the kerfuffle. I say they will glower with pride as they look back at how hard we fought to create a world where no means no, and your actions have consequences, no matter your status in the world.