It’s a year since Sarah Everard was abducted, raped and murdered — and the London Mayor this week called for men to lead a “fundamental cultural shift” to help end violence against women. Sadiq Khan said the problem was not just violent men, but men who engage in sexist behaviour and who stand by silently when other men harass women. So far so good.
But is he really the best candidate to speak about sexism? This is the same man who dropped Joan Smith from her role as Co-Chair of the Mayor’s Violence Against Women and Girls Board without explanation, although it is thought to have been because she has campaigned against giving biological men access to women-only refuges. Khan, like so many prominent Left-wing men, is on the “trans women are women” side in the gender war; he appears not to understand what sex is.
The gender wars have proved useful for these men over the past few years. They have used the issue to firmly and incessantly position themselves as progressive superheroes, bending over backwards to be seen as supporting the oppressed and marginalised at all times. These men signal their support for Black Lives Matter — and spout, at every opportunity, “trans women are women”. But scratch the surface of Left Man and you will find all kinds of hypocrisy.
Left Man uses liberal feminism as a smokescreen to mask his misogyny. He is unwaveringly committed to the “sex work is work” and “porn is empowering” ideologies. So long as there are a few female voices claiming that women freely choose to rent out their body parts for men’s one-sided sexual pleasure, the social structures that underpin porn and prostitution worldwide — the racism, colonialism and misogyny — can be set aside.
While men on the Right tend not to bother pretending to support feminism, progressive men not only claim to be feminists, but also then try to dictate feminism’s terms. Recently, in the interval of a play exploring the history of racism in the US, I heard a white, bearded dude shout, “my feminism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit”. He was sitting with a group of mates, sipping real ale, and I heard mumbles of “transphobia” and “TERFs”.
The mantra that the young man shouted out was coined by Flavia Dzodan who, in her scathing critique of feminism, argued that “intersectionality” means including men in the category of women, and celebrating prostitution. It is a twisted version of the original definition, which was created by the feminist law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw to describe the specific challenges faced by black American women in the workplace. If you’re standing in the path of multiple forms of oppression and exclusion, Crenshaw argued, you are likely to get hit by both.
The shouty beard at the theatre brought home to me what a gift Dzodan’s bastardisation of Crenshaw’s concept has been to so many men on the Left. They get to look progressive, while still disdaining women.
Likewise, as Tom Farr, a lawyer and pro-feminist campaigner against violence against women says, the reason so many white men are keen to attach their name to anti-racism activism is because they can look as though they are challenging their privilege without actually doing anything. They have precious little awareness when it comes to their own racism — or indeed their sexism.
“The championing of ‘sex work’, which is in part built upon the racist objectification of black women, makes it clear these men care not one iota for deconstructing their actual privilege”, says Farr. “But to actively challenge sexism and misogyny they would be required to change their behaviour and own up to their own contribution to male oppression and exploitation of women”. They can virtue signal about ending racism, but to work towards ending misogyny, they would have to give up the advantages associated with their male privilege, and their right to treasured modes of sexual release.
Some men get it, and their genuine commitment to tackling misogyny shines a light on the posturers. Robert Jensen, the author of The End of Patriarchy: Radical Feminism for Men (2017), believes that men on the Left who celebrate pornography and prostitution tend to downplay the prevalence and devastating effects of rape and other forms of violence against women. It is no longer possible for men on the Left to claim that racism, economic or global inequality is irrelevant to their work, he tells me, “but men on the left can, and routinely do, ignore the relevance of patriarchy”. He writes not only about the misogyny explicit in pornography, but also the racism; unlike many men on the Left, Jensen understands Crenshaw’s concept of intersectionality, and is able to apply it.
But for every man like Jensen, there are ten like Owen Jones. The leftist uber bro insists he is a massive supporter of feminism, while defending men’s use of pornography, despite its inherent racism and obvious harms to women. Jones has even defended MPs and judges — our public servants — accessing it during office hours, because however much men like Jones want to be seen as on the right side of history, they will almost always defend the right of men to debase women. As Jones himself said, magnanimously forgiving the disgraced judges, “There’s clearly a sound argument that judges should be doing their jobs, not getting off on porn. Fair enough, but there’s all sorts of procrastination that goes on in the workplace.”
Men tend to bond over sexual entitlement, and porn specifically. The American civil rights leader Jesse Jackson waxed lyrical about the commendable anti-racist values of Hugh Hefner — the pimp and pornographer responsible for transforming images of women being sexually degraded from a niche market into mainstream entertainment. Hefner “featured” black women in his pornography, because selling the racist stereotype of “exotic” women to white men makes money. Jackson was thrilled to be interviewed in Hefner’s flagship porn rag Playboy, and in an article following Hefner’s death in 2017 lauded him thus: “Very few whites associated with blacks publicly. But Hefner opened his nightclubs to African-American performers and patrons.”
Hefner hated women and referred to them as “dogs”. But boys stick together and damn those bitches that make a fuss about being degraded and abused. It is almost as if they only support social justice movements in which men have a stake. Or, as feminist legal scholar Catharine MacKinnon put it, “It seems that if your oppression is also done to a man, you are more likely to be recognized as oppressed, as opposed to inferior”. As these men of the Left might put it, it’s bros before hoes.
And, in their quest to put men first, they tell actual feminists how to do feminism properly — using intersectionality, again, to silence women. There was a particularly egregious example at Washington’s march against Trump in 2017. Perched on a plinth above the crowds were two young white men, sporting smug expressions, standing either side of two young black women. The men were holding the poles of a huge banner bearing the slogan “White feminism was built on the back of women of colour”. The imagery is clear, and straight out of the Marvel Universe: Left Man saves the poor powerless heroine, while pouring scorn on the lady villains of “white feminism”. This is a toxic combination of white knighting and virtue signalling, covered by a progressive smokescreen.
And you can see this toxic mix guiding policy. Kenneth Roth, head of Human Rights Watch (and a highly paid white man), has lobbied for the removal of all laws pertaining to prostitution, including pimping and brothel owning. When criticised by feminists (including black women) for his support of the sex trade, Roth erected a façade woven from arguments about free choice, and economic empowerment for women from the Global South. “All want to end poverty, but in meantime why deny poor women the option of voluntary sex work?” tweeted Roth. To which sex-trade survivor Rachel Moran responded with: “Wouldn’t you say, if a person cannot afford to feed themselves, the appropriate thing to put in their mouth is food, not your cock?”
But patriarchy is depressingly resilient. It can thrive in all sorts of environments. “As a member of the Labour Party my whole adult life, I’ve always taken it for granted that lefties were the progressives ones, and the racism and sexism was left to the nasty party (the Tory’s)”, says Lucy Masoud, a former firefighter who was one of the very few black elected officials in the Fire Brigade Union, and the only black lesbian. Like many feminists, she is sick of the new breed of progressive man. “They describe themselves as ‘cis’ and hang around in Dalston drinking stout and declaring that trans women are women. But under all the faux progressiveness always lays the same entitled misogynist.”
What worries me, a life-long leftist, is how much power and influence Left Man has over young women looking to find their way as feminists. It is hard to see and believe that these men are seeking only to protect their own interests. But these sexists in sheep’s clothing can’t be allowed to set the agenda.