It’s very tempting to try and speculate what Jane Austen may have written about the misogynistic maelstrom unleashed by her future appearance on the ten pound note. In Pride and Prejudice” she noted “”A WOMAN, especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can.” Two hundred years have passed since. We like to think that, in all sorts of ways, there has been progress in two centuries of human endeavour; and notably, in equality of the sexes. But as Mary Beard, a woman who has the “misfortune” of knowing a great deal, will attest, non concealment of female brilliance is still a highway that can lead straight to hell.
When a well-known, by-lined and established critic saw fit to berate her for appearing on television at all; A.A.Gill, he was mildly taken to task over it. There were protests, but it was hardly an outcry. This is a man who routinely refers to his partner in his columns as “The Blonde”. This just gives a teeny hint of his sexual politics. His remarks obviously wounded, but Professor Beard must have had no idea then that this was just the tip of the iceberg. In fact, Mary Beard is a lovely looking woman. She has a wise, handsome face which suggests a person at ease with themselves, and dark, intelligent eyes. It is not her looks, per se, I don’t think, that cause the cruelty. It is her erudition.
In the midst of the recent Twitter storm and the torrents of terrifying troll hatred, a smaller story has slipped along in the news. This is the Queensland MP who has been suspended for sexting a picture of his penis in a glass of plonk to his mistress. “He wanted a drink of red wine” was the witty caption. Bless him, eh? The cheeky chappie. Gives a whole new meaning to the The Member for Redlands. The Guardian ran the headline “Coq au Vin”. It is a titter-titter sort of item, and the primary focus, apart from his embarrassment, has been on whether he misused public expenses. Just imagine for one excruciating moment, that that MP was a woman, and the instagram had been of her vulva. It is actually daunting to consider the hyena-like howling which would have been heard around the world, the threats and torments implied against her person. The castigation, condemnation, and vilification would have been ceaseless. If it had been the case, that hypothetical woman would not be safe. As for this man, Peter Dowling, he may not even necessarily lose his job over it, although they surely can’t re-appoint him as Chair of the Ethics Committee. His private life is “unrelated to his duties as an MP”. But a woman, if she puts herself forward in public life at all, foregoes any rights to privacy.
Even if it just to have the temerity to suggest, as Caroline Criado-Perez did, that it might be nice, and fair, and representative, to have Jane Austen on our tenners. And yes, she battled, and she won, but at staggeringly huge, disproportional, personal cost.
It is all so deeply depressing that it is difficult to know how to feel. Do some men really really hate and fear women so much? It seems they do. The Daily Mail, doing some actual journalism for once, uncovered some of the anonymous trolls, and they were from a wide cross section of society. Mary Beard herself, as clever as ever, exposed one man who was threatening her by re-tweeting his vile message, and earned the satisfying consequence of having someone threaten him back – to tell on him to his Mum. He apologized. His name, for the record, is Oliver Eric Rawlings.
And this brings us back to an undeniable fact. All men are born of women. They depend on their mothers for nurturing and love in the first few years of life at least. So then what happens? Where does this loathing stem from? I don’t know and I’m scared to know, because if all we have keeping us from a simmering explosive collective male rage, is a scrape, not even a veneer, a vestige, of pretence; That they like us really – if we are pretty enough, like “The Blonde” and learn to keep our mouths shut – then we might as well all be living on the edge of a volcano. We are all kidding ourselves that we are getting along just fine.
I heard on the radio that England had won the Ashes again. Being slightly allergic to cricket this did not make much impact, but then I thought, Did we? Hang on a minute; we used to be really bad at sport. We were trounced, walked over, beaten, a laughing stock. But in the last decade England have won all those Olympic Gold medals for starters, the Ashes three times, two Tours de France and the Rugby World Cup. And Andy Murray, at last, won Wimbledon. The only thing we are still rubbish at, strangely enough, is football. So why does this turnaround not inspire? Well, it’s mainly men isn’t it?
If British men can succeed in the fields they care about so passionately, and get to the top of their game, and enjoy worldwide acclaim and respect – all the stuff, basically, they’ve been getting to do one way or another for ever, but with bells on, and STILL behave like feral beasts, there’s even less hope for the future.
By the way,there is a word for the opposite of misogyny, its misandry, and I am not, and never want to be, a misandrist. Neither was Jane.
To give her the last word: “The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with it; and every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of merit or sense.”
- Man arrested over string of abusive Twitter messages aimed at MP Stella Creasy and Caroline Criado-Perez (thisismoney.co.uk)
- Diary: Internet trolls, Twitter rape threats and putting Jane Austen on our banknotes (newstatesman.com)