“The old Spare Rib ended in an argument – and the new one is beginning with one.”
My daughter Anna always argues back, but she was shocked by the Spare Rib founders arguing about the dots and commas of my proposals for a relaunch. She wondered why they couldn’t help me out, instead of arguing.
I’ve always enjoyed a nice knock-down argument, until recently. By slow increments, I’ve become less attached to arguing and more likely to find myself in the unfamiliar position of being the one thinking: ‘why can’t we just behave like grown ups, and respect each other’s points of view?’
I can’t listen to more than ten minutes of the Today programme before stressing out. I used to love the macho cut and thrust of commons debates, and think it was wimpy of women to complain that they felt excluded. Now I am convinced that this ritualized form of engagement is anti-democratic.
When I was going out with Julie Burchill I wouldn’t debate capital punishment, despite being goaded repeatedly, “what would you do with Hitler then?”
These days it is Twitter I am terrified of. I don’t want to get into an argument about the finer points of feminist theory with Rod Liddle. Or engage with people who consider their bigotry and hatred a well thought through argument. Why do so many high profile feminists seem to relish twitter spats? And how do they have time between writing, campaigning and looking after the kids to come up with 140 character rebukes to their detractors?
Could I extend this arguing moratorium into my professional life whilst launching a new feminist magazine? Are feminists addicted to arguing?
My deputy editor thinks the idea that that all women teams always turn on each other, like they do on The Apprentice is a myth. (I reminded her that leading her feminist choir had been no picnic). I am not so sure.
Caroline’s Criado Perez’s statement about the reasons for resigning from Twitter is a panagyric to arguing. In many more than 140 characters, she argues with the twitter trolls and the people who presumed to advise her. It is a cri de couer – she knows that arguing with her detractors has fucked up her head, but can’t stop herself from having the last word.
I know what this feels like. During the dispute with the Spare Rib founders, I kept trying to draw a line under it, but only succeeded in stoking it up. It was an argument without end, conducted by email in the first instance, than with lawyers. I wanted to convince them that I was a worthy heir of their magazine, the more passionately I argued my case, the more alienated and angry they seemed.
I read an old piece about feminists ‘trashing’ each other that was published in Ms magazine in 1967. The author had never imagined speaking publicly about her experiences, as “I am a firm believer in not moving the movement’s dirty linen in public.”
I was worried that talking about this would create a pleasing spectacle for the anti-feminist forces massed at Derry Street. The Daily Mail loves nothing more than a feminist catfight. Julie Burchill is also a big fan and always makes sure she’s got a ringside seat; her suggestion for our new name was ‘Catfight.’
Trashing is a form of character assassination – an argument against your very being. Ms Magazine concluded that the people most likely to be trashed were strong characters, accused of being male identified, who were neither maternal nor in need of mothering.
“You are immediately labeled a thrill-seeking opportunist, a ruthless mercenary, out to make her fame and fortune over the dead bodies of selfless sisters who have buried their abilities and sacrificed their ambitions for the greater glory of Feminism. Productivity seems to be the major crime – but if you have the misfortune of being outspoken and articulate, you are also accused of being power-mad, elitist, fascist, and finally the worst epithet of all: a male-identifier.”
Trashing hasn’t gone away; years after the Ms article appeared, I was having a long conversation with one of my feminist friends at Glasonbury. She empathized with me about my Marsha and Rosie problem – she had extensive experience of being trashed by feminist colleagues and the attacks were invariably cloaked in the rhetoric of honest confrontation.
Now Feminist Times is a reality, how can we avoid this phenomenon of Feminist Trashing? Paradoxically, the more successful we are the more likely it is that we’ll be trashed. So maybe it makes more sense to weather it.
I wish for a thicker skin. More realistically, I will try to neutralize the trashers by not arguing back. I don’t want Feminist Times going down in history as another feminist exploit destroyed by feminists.