Saturday, 5 February 2011

Why do female bloggers make us angrier than males?

The Telegraph blogger, Ed West, has written about the tendency of female bloggers to attract far more vicious comments than their male colleagues – all the way from “I hope your house burns down” to seething four-letter tirades.

And he’s right. I, for instance, can’t read anything – and I mean a single paragraph – written by Polly Toynbee, Yasmin Alibhi Brown or the Telegraph’s very own Tokyo Rose, Mary Riddell, without my lower back muscles tautening in anger and the most horrible epithets popping unbidden into my head. (Apparently, Melanie Phillips has the same effect on liberals.)

Don’t get me wrong – I find many male leftists annoying. But not as annoying.

I don ‘t think I’m sexist - but, then, I expect many sexists say that (similarly, many men to whom women are a mystery will rush to tell you how much they “love the ladies” or somesuch toe-curling twaddle – when what they really mean is “women scare me and the only way I can get over it is to dominate them”). In my own defence, I would say that I generally avoid all-male gatherings, genuinely enjoy the company of women, and have usually enjoyed working for and with women (of course, there have been some notable exceptions).  

I have absolutely no objection to opinionated women - Mrs. Thatcher is one of my idols, and she had quite a bot to say for herself. Ditto Melanie Phillips. In both cases, of course, I pretty much agree with everything they say. Inevitably, all the female commentators who drive me potty are left-wing liberals – I’m not sure I hold a single opinion in common with any of them. Yet I can read, argue with, listen to, and be friends with left-wing men without risking a coronary thrombosis.

What’s the difference?

Humour, for a start – or rather, its absence. The relentless po-facedness gives women writers a dour, relentless, hectoring tone (and, yes, Mrs. T suffered from the same stylistic defect, and Melanie Phillips isn’t exactly a barrel of laughs). 

Then there’s all that nauseating more-compassionate-than-thou posturing: we are women and therefore we are nurturing, caring, tender-hearted, and we own the franchise on sympathy and moral insight. (This was captured perfectly by Craig Brown in his collection of imaginary Observer columnist, Bel Littlejohn’s writings, Hug Me While I Weep, For I Weep For the World.) Male columnists generally want to show how intelligent/witty/thoughtful/knowledgeable  they are – my trio of harridans just want to show how bloody “caring” and morally superior they are: the last thing they’re interested in is converting anyone to their point of view.

What’s truly sickening is their habit of dividing the world into victims and oppressors, and then finger-waggingly lecturing the latter: basically, if you’re a middle class man or hold right-wing opinions, you’re a mindless, heartless persecutor of everyone else. There’s something positively Calvinist about this approach – you’re either damned or saved: you either deserve sympathy, or you’re a complete bastard. They’re as intolerant as religious fundamentalists.

I assume that when most male commentators are writing, they’re constantly aware of opposing points of view: they’re trying to convince an imaginary opponent of the rightness of what they’re saying, or at the very least trying to bait the opposition into responding, so they can have a good fight. Ed West, James Delingpole, Rod Liddle, Nick Cohen -  even David Aaronovitch – you just know they’d relish some criticism to help them hone their arguments, or to indulge in some ironic banter. Leave out the “ironic banter” bit, and I get he same feeling from Melanie Phillips’s writings, and Janet Daley’s – and Mrs. T didn’t have enjoy a ding-dong. When I read these people, I feel a desire to agree or point out where I think they’ve gone wrong – because I get the feeling they actually enjoy debate. 

But leftie female writers don’t seem in the least bit interested in engaging with the enemy (or with fellow-travellers, for that matter). They’re laying down the law, and that’s that! Even worse, they all heartily support a specific political party: you know, for a fact, that they all vote Labour. Certainly, they have their little spats and they like to nuance Labour policy here and there – but essentially, they’re true believers. I often don’t have a clue whether right-wing male bloggers vote Tory or not: many of them evidently despise the Coalition. With the Harpies, it often feels like listening to a Labour Party Broadcast.

The science fiction writer A.E. Van Vogt coined the term “Right Man” for the kind of chap who will brook no opposition, who must be obeyed, who has to be right all the time, and who can’t stand having his opinions – or his orders - questioned (let’s face it, there’s a bit of him in all of us chaps). The Harpies strike me as “right women” – and, while one can admire someone who knows what they think, it’s hard to warm to someone who makes it plain that anyone with an opposing view is either wicked, mad or insubordinate.

You preach tolerance endlessly, girls – what about displaying some?


  1. Unsolicited advice. Do not explore this theme further. Remember what happened to the poor trucker in "Thelma&Louise". Or worse still, you could find yourself being berated on your door-step by a lady with a face like a glistening chocolate blancmange, nylon hair and the voice of a stroke victim backed up by the Gender Crime Squad. Or you might have to take a revenge beating administered by Sami Chakrabarti and Harriett Harman down the local nick. You are operating in the Danger Zone.
    Thursday, February 10, 2011 - 12:58 PM

  2. As far as I remember, I can't find the book any more, did I lend it to someone, all three volumes, Trotsky says in the early chapters of his History of the Russian Revolution that Lenin was the most enthralling public speaker but no good at argument. He didn't have that instinctive grasp that many of us have occasionally that there is another side to the story, there could be counter-arguments. It's not just that Lenin ignored opposition, Trotsky says, he had no idea that opposition was even theoretically possible, refutation was impossible because he just didn't have that place where the rest of us accommodate and consider contradiction.

    I never read this Yasmin lady you mention, when I do read Ms Riddell I am left bemused as to why the Telegraph publish her, but the fuse wire is still intact. But Polly Toynbee. Oi veh! She gets under the skin. She is relentless. She is impervious.She is not "right woman", I think, she is ... Leninist.

    I'm not sure that Ed West is right about women commentators attracting more violent hostility. He quotes a few examples in support of his thesis, but no counter-evidence is admitted. How many times have I been moderated on the Guardian for excessive criticism of Jonathan Freedland? How many times have I moderated myself and refrained from pressing the submit button when responding to a Seumas Milne article? Many, in each case. Going back into pre-history, I used to suffer appalling visions of the violence that would be done to Trevor Phillips when he hosted the London Programme. Not a woman among them.

    I added a new character to the cast last night, Sebastian Faulks*. "Jim Dixon is the UK's answer to Jean-Paul Sartre." What! This man Faulks, comfortably interviewing all his friends while talking tripe, has put the cause of university English departments back about 100 years in one TV show. There are three more episodes to go. At the end of which I should imagine Gove will just shut the universities.

    I hope Sebastian gets a triple flaming. And if that takes the heat off Yasmin, Mary and Polly then, who knows, the lack of interest in them might lead their employers to stop publishing them, if we chaps stopped frothing at the mouth, that might itself be the solution and amke the problem go away.

    Tuesday, February 8, 2011 - 11:18 AM
    Thursday, February 10, 2011 - 12:59 PM

  3. Don’t worry, Concerned Male, I shall lay off the hectoring horrors for a bit: I know I’ve been sailing close to the wind and I don’t want that “Baronness” Warsi coming round giving me earache. As for Sami Chakrabarti – I don’t know much about her, because I mute the sound the minute she appears on TV. I used to quite like that Mariella Frostrup before I caught her interviewing some male writer on Radio 4 last week and giving him a hard time about his female characters as if she were cross-examining a defendant at the Old Bailey. Are they all going mad?

    DM, Trotsky on Lenin sounds fascinating – I suppose if your view of truth is that it’s entirely relative, there’s not much reason to be interested in arriving at the it via some form of Socratic dialogue! I sometimes wonder if the general feebleness of right-wing commentators when they appear on TV and radio is partly to do with their interest in presenting a reasonable case rather than in winning the argument at all costs – the liberal way. Delingpole, Charles Moore, Scruton – none of them really cut the mustard.

    I caught Freedland being interviewed on BBC News recently, being treated as an objective observer on something or other – being a deranged leftie means you’re a neutral observer round at the Corporation.

    I have TiVoed the Sebastian Faulks programme. Whenever I reread “Lucky Jim”, I always picture Dixon as Jean-Paul Sartre, so uncannily well has Amis caught the old French Marxist firebrand in this famous roman a clef – Dixon’s girlfriend, Margaret Peel, is so obviously based on Simone de Beauvoir, it hardly needs stating.

    As for Mary Riddell – no, I give up! Why the nation’s main Tory newspaper would give space to this caricature of a half-witted leftwing bint is a mystery: I used to think she was one of Craig Brown’s creations, but he doesn’t write for them any more. I’ve only been censored once, and that was when, in response to one of this creature’s turgid Labour Party press releases, I asked the Telegraph blog editor, Damian Thompson, why he had deliberately set out to annoy and insult his traditional readership. One day, I’d really love to hear his reply!
    Thursday, February 10, 2011 - 01:00 PM

  4. This clip will tell you everything you need to know about Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. It's long, but worth watching 'til the end. She makes Polly Toynbee look reasonable.
    Thursday, February 10, 2011 - 06:13 PM

  5. Thank you, Harumphrey, that was truly awful.

    Friday, February 11, 2011 - 11:16 AM

  6. Thanks you, Harumphrey and DM - I enjoyed both of those. Mind you, I may have found a female liberal even more stupid than Alibhai-Brown or Toynbee, across the Great Herring Pond -
    Friday, February 11, 2011 - 09:39 PM