Friday, November 5, 2010

Dear Stephen Fry Part Deux

Hello Again Stephen,

When I requested engagement on our issues, I did not mean "I shall talk in my most erudite, passive aggressive, dismissive way, and you shall listen while I tell you how wrong you are again". Ahh "Silliness" - It's all too silly to contemplate, so you shall expound and tell us women how silly we all really are for being upset. Ahh yes, another man tells us how the discussion on sexism should go.

You claim that you were putting this idea of female sexual repression out there as such: "I had fondly imagined that in a free and open society one might be allowed to play with such ideas in a reasonable spirit of debate". Surely one such as yourself should understand the rules of the debate: that each side gets to speak their piece and the other side rebut.

However, what has gone down here is not a debate. You said your piece in a forum which was a one sided conversation, and when women/feminists/pesky media finally got a chance to respond in the forums they have, you flounced from the debating table, opened up the opposition to attack, denigrated the forums in which we have to respond, and positioned yourself as the victim.

Yes, we understand the media is a nasty wee beasty who will twist words and seek attention using a person's good name. I am critical of the media on a daily basis for such bottom feeding behaviour. However, it is disingenuous for you to write paragraphs acknowledging this and the status of celebrity in today's society, then turn around and say you are "Just a nobody whose opinion is worth no more than anyone else’s". No matter how twee, sweet and humble you posit yourself as, there comes a time where you must own the responsibilities of celebrity, with the power and privilege that come with it.

So, you were "simply taking a thought for a walk", as if struck by the thought on the spur of the moment and your tongue got carried away with your brain. Strange that you've taken this same idea for a walk on previous occasions:

Regarding your disengagement from media and avoiding reading about yourself, that's fair enough - engaging on every little thing would get tiring and hurtful, and who wants to be told they're a moron on a daily basis, without basis. But this is not a little thing, and refusing to engage on it makes it even less littler. You chose your own forum in which to respond, your own safe space, which is also fair enough, but by refusing to read what was written and asked of you (intelligent engagement with people who know something about female sexuality) you have no sense of what troubled people so much beyond the vague concept that "people were upset, and when they're upset they're angry, it's so silly to be angry and I don't engage with silly and angry people". Goodness, that sounds very much like the Tone Argument. You're intelligent Stephen, I thought you'd be beyond having Feminism 101 explained to you.

"I suppose I might have to find a way to avoid saying something monumentally stupid that finds its way back to Britain." I am in New Zealand. The person you opened up for a Twitter dogpile is from New Zealand. You talk to the world, yet you make out like this is some quaint little Fleet Street ruckus, a storm in a British teacup. For someone who has been a major early technology adopter and one of the biggest Twitterers, this is another disingenuous leap.

"All they have to do is ignore me". Ah another derailing cry from the fingered misogynist. I know the big, bad "m" word can be frightening, but you know what Stephen? Own it. Women have ignored sexism for far too long, and silence condones. If no one is willing to speak out about sexism, how will it ever be solved?

"I admit that I do have a sometimes disastrous tendency, when asked a question, to answer it, often jokingly, or in the interests of ventilating a new thought that has struck, or more or less as the mood takes me but certainly too much without any consideration of the possible consequences." Good good, we're getting somewhere - yes, we all have brain farts. But a sexist joke is still sexist, and still hurts. However, not once in all the times that you have spouted this nonsense have you framed it as a joke or some comedy spiel. The above video seems to be in a serious tone, and the quote from the article that stirred this debate (ahem) were taken in a serious manner by the journalist. My comedy meter is not broken - I'm still not going to laugh when someone jokes "Women, eh? Aren't they just frigid, marriage and baby hungry shrews?"

"I am not, after all, a politician who has to weigh every syllable and its chances of giving offence." No, you're not a politician, but dammit Stephen you're a human being, and human beings of every type, politician or no, should weigh their words carefully regardless, to save harming other people. Basic common human decency. Honestly, is that so hard?

"It simply isn’t my business to pronounce on something that I know nothing of and I’m sorry if the very idea of my even touching on the topic is deemed offensive, inappropriate and outrageous by authorities on gender issues, if such authorities exist." Goddamit Stephen, it's passive aggressive bullshit like this that really gets my goat. Of course you're allowed discourse on topics you may not be so learned on, but don't be so put out if we come back at you claiming a little more expertise and wishing to engage on the matter in a different manner. If such authorities exist? Are you really saying women are not the authority on their own gender or sexuality? Men can be learned on gender issues too if you take the time to listen. This is not listening - this is sneering at our frustration.

In the end, you play the Oppression Olympics and victim cards. We are very much aware of the homophobic bullying, and we're on your side with that. It's disgusting, and should not be tolerated. But we're feeling bullied here too, especially by you with your insistence on non-engagement and non-apology. You're feeling "spanked with a fly whisk"? How about women feeling slapped in the face every single day by the patriarchy, told they have no right to their sexuality, that it belongs to hetero men? How can we be effective allies to you if you're blocking us in such a fashion.

I'm glad that you see your words were "ill-judged", but my guess is not because you feel sad you hurt some of your fellow human beings - it's because you were pulled up and your privilege shown for what it really is. Hey, I recognize what it's like to have your privilege pointed out. It hurts. It sucks. But Stephen, it's not your precious feelings that need saving here.

Not once did you give a decent apology in your response. In fact, it amounts to the standard, sigh-inducing non-apology that the discriminated against get every single fricken' day - "I'm sorry you were offended". I see you recognize your prejudices too, and I'm not asking you to grovel, just a recognition that you have a ways to go to unpick where these prejudices are coming from and that you are willing to try.

And if you're not willing to at least try, then I'm sorry Stephen we can't be friends any more. Because I expect better of my friends. Perhaps you should consider a leash for that thought of yours if you decide to take it out for a walk again.

ETA: Since people are selectively seeing only this blog post - and not even the whole thing it seems - here is my original open letter to Stephen Fry, and the article that sparked the whole debate.


  1. That video really is a little damning, isn't it? *sigh*

    (Typo heads-up: you might want to change "Pppresion Olympics". :))

    The whole thing smacks of someone who hates being wrong and doesn't want to admit that he might have been wrong, so let's just brush off any reactions as "silliness".

  2. Brilliant! Thank you so much for writing this.

  3. This is a brilliant rebuttal, absolutely brilliant. I wish I could say I was surprised by his response. He just keeps digging himself in deeper...

  4. This is excellent! Thank you for writing it. It gets at all the annoying things about that apology (did I say apology? I meant pity party) which rankled but which I couldn't express.

    Also, what's great about him describing it as a bit of "silliness" is that any subsequent attempts to address this BS can be branded as hysterical feminazi light-heartedness fail. For a while there we were in danger of having a useful discussion about sexism but thankfully that risk’s been averted.

  5. Brilliantly put, as usual! It was a blame-dodging non-apology buried in a giant pile of words.

  6. Nicely argued. Just a tad sad such arguments still need to be put.

  7. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I used to be a fan of his, and this shook up my liking. I just listened to an appalling interview he gave for Australian radio where he spouted the most jingoistic nonsense I've heard in a while, and now I don't give two shits about him. DIAF, Stephen.

  8. Thanks for your comments everyone :)

    Anon at 8:59, I can understand anger and being upset at a former hero, but I'd prefer not to wish violence on someone, even if it's frustrated rhetoric.

    Threaten them in the pocket. I wanted "The Fry Chronicles" for Christmas, but have told people emphatically it's off my wishlist.

  9. You're right, I shouldn't have said that, I didn't really mean it. I apologize.

    Incidentally, I did have "Stephen Fry in America" on my wishlist, but now I think I'll get something more worthwhile. Like socks.

  10. Brilliant!
    I must say that I really like his work. But I was totally disappointed by his blog entry. You've said it all.

  11. Arn't there many more nasty grubs on this planet to have a swing at than Stephen Fry ? Sure Fry isn't perfect but isn't he essentially a rather peacefull soul who generally fills our world with his lovely wit.

    PS Stephen Fry in America is a good watch.

  12. Hello Anon @ 2.29: Feminism 101 sez "haven't you got anything better to do?

    Wouldn't you be worried about the most "peaceful soul" in the world saying vicious things about you? The Pope is supposed to be a spiritual leader to hundreds of millions, yet he has some disgusting opinions on the status of women, GLBTI and abuse victims. Does he get a pass too, coz he's a harmless white dude ushering people's souls into heaven (if they so believe)?

    Those words may be dressed up in wit, but it's still nasty. I don't let my Nice Guy (TM) friends get away with it, why should cuddly ol' Stephen?

  13. @ Amanda

    Fry isn't the most "peacefull" sould in the world so don't twist my words meanings please.

    I was trying to point out that he is basically a rather harmless individual. Whilst he may not be an ideal speciman the world is a better place for him being here IMHO.

    The pope and churches in general are fair game in my book and deserving of much criticism on a whole range of issue.

    cheers again

  14. Anon said at 2.29: "isn't he essentially a rather peacefull soul"

    Then Anon said at 5pm: "Fry isn't the most "peacefull" sould in the world"

    I'm not twisting anything. You're doing fine without me.

    He may be harmless on some aspects, but continuing rotten stereotypes, and hate and fear for female sexuality is not "harmless". It is one of the many drops in the bucket that women fight against every day with regards to sexism.

    Dressing sexism up in a tweed coat, an aw shucks grin and celebrity privilege doesn't get a pass. Would you let a brother, partner, father, cousin, friend etc away with words like this? What makes Stephen Fry any different other than his celebrity and class privilege?

  15. @Anon: There's actually nothing "harmless" about people in the public eye, who command a huge amount of fandom and respect primarily on the basis of their assumed high intelligence, repeating stereotypical misogynist tripe.

    Boganette's Twitter exploded from the number of people sending her abuse because she questioned The Almighty Stephen. How many of them do you think now feel entirely justified making assumptions about women's sex drives and romantic objectives because Stephen said so and he's really clever so he must be onto something?

    Very fucking harmless.

  16. Ugh - he keeps insisting he was misquoted, or that his comments were at least taken out of context - yet here is he is on video saying the same things a few years ago:

    He really believes what he says here. Note also the tone of contempt when he's talking about female sexuality. Very telling.

  17. what I don't get is how dan savage has been saying the same thing for years and none of the feminist press seems to care.

  18. You must be reading the wrong feminist press, Anon at 3:10, because they do care very much. Funny how that works, that selective seeing thing, eh?

    But you know what? We care, over and over and bloody over when some dipshit says crap like this, yet they carry on regardless because of their fame and/or privilege. So you can see, it can get rather tiresome, and much like shouting into the storm.

  19. I fail to see how the video you have produced as evidence of Stephen's clearly misogynistic views on women's sexuality is in fact a confirmation of any such opinion. The point he would appear to be making is that women and men clearly have differing experiences and values when it comes to sexuality, and i can't see how anybody could so poorly misconstrue such a perfectly sane idea. He isn't insulting women. He isn't being sexist. I actually rather thought that the video was in favour of female sexuality, judging from the "tone of contempt" that anon 1:14 so gleefully pointed out. He isn't speaking in contempt about feminine sexuality, he's talking about the way in which men sexually objectify women. He goes on to wonder why women would want to posess this same primal characteristic, and rightly so! Like Mr Fry, i do not profess to be an authority on the topic of feminist ideals, but isnt striving towards the abolishment of such behaviour towards women a large part of it? The only reason i can see for arguing in opposition of his comments is the overarching desire for feminists to possess gender equality. Does gender equality mean masquerading in the guise of masculinity?

  20. Ugh, you barely warrant a response. The only reason I'm leaving this comment up is because it's classic mansplaining.

    Here, this'll help:

    If you "don't profess to be an authority on feminism", don't wander into a feminist space and proceed to mansplain us into the ground. Because honey, you hit every 101 bingo square.

  21. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  22. Ollie obviously missed my new Commentary Policy, and proceeded to whine, mansplain again (and what does that meeeeeean? How would you knooooowww? It's not a real woooooord), and question my intellectual rigour while calling me a bad feminist. Because I'm so damn angry, and people would take me more seriously if I wasn't angry!

    Is it any wonder we present as angry and pissed off when our lived experiences are questioned every. single. fucking. day? Don't answer that Ollie. Or anyone intent on correcting a Woman Who Is Wrong On The Internet. I'm sure you're a Nice Guy (tm) with the best of intentions, but you've said it yourself - we know more about this than you do, so STOP TELLING US HOW WE ARE WRONG.

  23. Ollie's argument is pretty much: I don't find it offensive therefore it isn't offensive.

    Classic privilege denying dude.

  24. [img][/img]

  25. Ack, I wish I could figure out how to post images/edit comments

  26. Ollie Sez: If you won't educate me, how will I learrrrrrn.

    Sigh. *facepalm* Place for feminism 101, this is not it. I say this very clearly in my commentary policy. This is my last public acknowledgment of the situation. If you don't know what you're doing wrong, I can't, and won't, help you.

  27. Hello i have read your article and i think it is simply wonderful. You've really put that misogynistic bastard in his place! I mean, you can just tell from the way he is speaking in contempt about women in his video that he hates women. Im certainly not going to by his autobiography, haha! Let him feel the wrath of feminism as we cripple him financially! I just wish there were more feminists out there willing to voice their views in such public arenas like the internet. I hear that a lot of men use the internet, so by putting showing ourselves to be disgruntled on this wonderfully public forum, all the men will realise that they are repressing women and change their ways!

  28. I let the above comment through because I wanted people to see what a ridiculous piece of snark it was. Amusing.

    Yes, Anon, we will financially cripple him (roll eyes). Ever heard of the concept of Teaspoons in feminism?

    And there's a lot of men on the internet? WELL FUCKING HELL. I never would have guessed by all the ridiculous amount of trolling a Woman Living Life on the Internet gets!

  29. Oops, misquoting "I hear that a lot of men use the internet"

    Why yes! *sings The Internet Is For Porn song*

  30. I am a feminist from way back and a lot of these terms all sound a bit rubbish to me. If you want to enact social change, you need to use rhetoric that can be understood by all, not just the ones who have read about "feminism 101" and so on. In my hayday, we knew what was right and what was wrong and we did something about it. The only people who sympathise with modern feminists will be and apparently are other feminists.

    I sympathise with Ollie's comments to a degree. I dont think that video is as damning and misogynistic as you would make it out to be. Having read Stephen's latest biography and seen a lot of his work, i think i know him well enough to say that he is quite the opposite to the way you have portrayed him in your article.

  31. Helloe Anon @ 8.35. I think it's sad there's a divide between old and young feminists, as a lot of us do as much as we can to know where our success came from, and women's rights history. If we make an effort to know our history and expand on what our mothers, aunts, sisters and historical feminists did for us, don't you think it's fair that you get up with the play on how modern feminists think/see/do?

    I think some people are missing the point of this article, that it was a follow up reply to Fry' non-apology about an article I'd blogged about earlier that week. Since people seem to not be reading everything, I will add a link to that blog/article.

    I'm not sure how you would think modern feminists aren't doing anything. There is power in words, and the feminist blogging community is huge, diverse and vocal. Social media is massive. We live our beliefs in our every day lives. How is that not doing anything, if we live what we believe?

    Just because we're not out shaking placards and "burning our bras" doesn't mean we aren't chipping away every day, through our work, through our political support, through our blogging. Heck, if you wanted a placard shaking rally, did you miss the recent abortion law reform rally in Wellington perhaps Anon?

    And I disagree that we can "know" any celebrity through just a book, or watching them on TV. They very carefully cultivate a public persona for just this reason. It comes down to one simple thing: nice people, like Stephen Fry, say shitty things too. And they should be held accountable for it.

  32. Oh and Anon, exactly what terms are "rubbish"? And is your Google-fu broken that you could not look them up?

  33. I want to reiterate something: you know, I get it. I get why as a nice person you would feel hurt, disappointed and angry when someone calls you on shitty behaviour. To the commenters who have expressed these feelings in this way I get it - you think Stephen Fry is a nice guy, a favourite Uncle/bro/mate of some kind, and people you respect and share the same opinions with aren't supposed to do and say shitty things. Therefore you will defend them, even when you know deep down inside what they've said is wrong. This is privilege.

    Thing is, I'm disappointed and hurt too. I like Stephen Fry because he's nice too. Don't get me wrong - I'm not all "grahh I hate him coz he said one shitty thing". I'm disappointed. I'm hurt, but I'm capable of critical thinking and saying "Hey Stephen, what's going on here". I wrote my original article asking for clarification and engagement on the issue. Fry went and compounded the hurt by refusing to do so, laughing it all off, and perpetuating a massive dogpile on someone on Twitter.

    That's bullying.

    You also want to know what else is bullying? Teeing up your mates to come and dogpile on some person's - who you have never met, don't know and haven't read the rest of the blog (or commentary rules!!!) - and saying "wahh bitch feminazi is excluding me from the conversation". I'm not stupid - don't think I don't know what trackbacks from Facebook and Twitter look like.

    The conversation has been dominated so long by those of privilege that it's time to stop and listen when those discriminated against are speaking. It's not your place to leap in and tell people how they are wrong, how they should be feeling and set the agenda for the conversation. This is my place, my space, and *I* set the agenda. If you can't deal with that, further shouting isn't going to help. It will just get you moderated.

    You know what it looks like? Someone has been sent out of the sandpit for being mean to a girl, and because your pride is stung you gather up all your mates and tell them to go yell at and harrass the girl. It doesn't matter to them what the original reason for being sent out of the sandpit was. They're just defending their patriarchal given right to dominate the narrative.

    And you wonder where kids learn how to bully.

    That is the final word on the matter. I will not blog about to assuage your over blown feelings of importance to this narrative. Now, either abide by my commentary rules and engage on the issue in the article (drag it back on topic to What Fry Said, not what I am), or hush up and listen.

  34. I wasn't defending Stephen arbitrarily as you seem to think. I was defending him on the basis that he didn't say anything worthy of taking offense to. What he said wasn't sexist, it was simply a statement of fact. Women and men are different when it comes to sexuality. You may as well take offense to someone saying women are the only ones who can get pregnant for goodness sake.

  35. Wow, way to completely ignore everything that was said Anon.

    Privilege Denying Dude says: