Of skinny men and small minds

February 13, 2008 at 9:28 pm | Posted in Feminisms | Leave a comment

Because it’s not something I normally read, I sometimes check out Catherine Townsend’s Sleeping Around blog on the Independent. As far as I can tell, it reads like the kind of thing one might expect to find in Cosmo – semi-regular dispatches on the author’s unfathomably complicated dating arrangements, interspersed with the odd witticism on whichever online article has tickled the author. It’s neither particularly racy nor at all times enlightening, but is frequently smart, witty and funny. Above all, it seems real, and I reckon men would find reading blogs like this every once in a while to be a pretty useful experience.

On Monday, Catherine posted a brief, irreverent comment about how the male models at London Fashion Week were starting to look as skeletal as the women, and pondered why this might be so. Is it the way designers cut their clothes? Because most men in the fashion industry tend to be gay? Or is it simply down to a failing economy snatching the bread out of their pretty little hands? Knowing nothing about fashion (or, for that matter, what it’s like to have a skeletal frame) pretty much disqualifies me from further comment.

There was a serious point to all the frivolity; namely that although women are still under most pressure to attain unattainable standards of beauty, it is increasingly felt by men too. But, she concludes mischievously, “this trend toward skinny boys could mean that there are loads of buff six-foot plus men with six-pack abs who are suddenly out of work and in need of a shoulder to cry on”.

Now, if a woman says this with a group of friends, no one thinks any less of her. Indeed, I don’t know any man who would think less of her either (the worst reaction: some guy quiety stares at his sagging stomach and thinks ‘must. get. in. shape’). But apparently there’s something about the internet which encourages its users to reinterpret a history of harmless musings on sex & love as a deeply offensive romp through the sexual deviance of Depraved Britain. Emancipated from such trivialities as manners by the golden firewall of anonymity, the blog’s commenters swifty sought to bludgeon her to death:

I hate this blog, the damned ironic “I’m an independent, well-paid, fast-living media slut, comfortable, shallow, shaggable, slim, getting more than you (money and sex)” title, the putrid content, the smug self-absorbed smirk on the author’s photo…

To the author, jeez, I didn’t even read your article to know it was anything to do with Fashion Week – frankly, I just totally prejudged you based on the name of your blog and your smarmy DatingDirect posed-photo.
What a troll I am. What a hater. At least, though, I’m not making a living writing (very poor prose) about the faecal-bowl of an empty modern life, where Sex in the City forms the Alpha and Omega of my personal life.

Are you for real? Or were you born hyper-sensitive and unable to follow basic arguments – formerly known as critique.Just cause we think your “writing” is slightly less riveting than coughing up phlegm, doesn’t mean we don’t fancy you. It’s called critique, darling.

As it happens, the previous three comments were all left by the same time-rich malcontent who was either surprised that a blog on sex, dating & relationships contained entries on exactly those topics, or was enraged that a national newspaper which normally uses its front page describing how the world’s being royally fucked-over by capitalism and/or America/Israel should allow even one columnist to touch on the subject of recreation, procreation and the search for happiness. (Perhaps it’s laziness, but I seem to be deploying triplets with as much abadon as armies drop landmines – apologies for that).

But this isn’t the first time that Catherine has been attacked by pious misogynists who seem enraged that a woman might be open & honest about sex. And since a pattern emerges in the tone & rhetoric used when attacking her, it’d be a good idea to discuss some of the troubling under/overtones of these attacks.

First, you wouldn’t attack a golf, rugby or football columnist for only writing about golf, football or rugby, just in the same way you don’t attack Robert Fisk for only writing about the Middle East or Johann Hari for taking a liberal/left-wing view on politics. That is their speciality; it is what they are paid to discuss. So why, then, attack someone paid to write about sex/dating, for doing just that?

I think Catherine hits the nail on the head in a mostly concilliatory post yesterday. Whilst briefly discussing a date she had with a physicist, she writes this:

Some people assume that because I write about one element of my life that the rest must be empty, or that my most productive organ rests between my legs. How very un-imaginative. I have my happy days and my sad days, like everyone else. But generally my life is very happy and fulfilled: A great mix of friends, family, relationship, hobbies, and lots and lots of books (I try to read four per week). Currently I’m into dystopias, I’ve just finished Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake and, inspired by the physicist, I’m going to finally finish Kip Thorne’s Black Holes and Time Warps, which sounds like a bad porno but may finally clear up the mystery of artificial wormholes, which has kind of been keeping me awake at night.

Only a woman who writes about sex would feel forced to offer this sort of proof that she is not some empty and vacuous slut with a single-track mind. Only a woman who offers observations on dating & love would be treated as so cheap that she feels she has to prove neither her intellect nor her morality reside between her legs.

Catherine, I know no decent people who think those things about you, and I bet that none of your nasty, cretinous commentators would ever spew their hate to your face. On the internet, silent minorities are given a voice, but please don’t feel you have to prove your worth or your humanity, because the vast majority of us take that as a given.

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