Monday, 4 April 2011

Why Cristina Odone Is Wrong About Feminism

After David Willetts' ill-advised anti-feminist tirade last week (rebuked here and here), Cristina Odone decided to stick her oar in, with a piece in today's Telegraph entitled "Why David Willetts Is Wrong About Feminism". Now, I don't know what I was expecting from someone who has also written articles with such snappy titles as "Hands Off My Child You Liberal Hypocrite" and "I'm Praying For Christopher Hitchens", but surely she must have something interesting and pertinent to bring to the deba...oh.

No. Odone has this to say:

"Willetts is right that feminists are responsible for the plight of working class men. But not because they have stolen their jobs. Feminists – or at least the kind that have gained the upper hand in this varied movement – have undermined working class men with their philosophy that all males are expendable. Women don’t need men: not as husbands or partners, not as bread-winners, not even as fathers to their children. This man-hatred has not only been taught, it has been rewarded: successive Labour governments have satisfied the feminists in their ranks by conceiving a benefits system that rewards single mothers who don’t let the father of their children live under the same roof. Women in low income families learn quickly that it is better to marry the state than any worthless man.
“ Thatta girl! You don’t need him! He’s rubbish!” – this is the refrain that working class men keep overhearing. Little wonder they feel demoralised and useless, and live down to these expectations."

Right, here's my problems with this:

  1. Odone says that feminists think that "[w]omen don't need men: not as husbands or partners, not as bread-winners, not even as fathers to their children". And to a degree, she is right. I don't need a husband or a partner. I don't need a man to be a bread-winner, and I don't need a man to raise any hypothetical children with. However, what she (and most right-wing, nuclear-family promoting people) seem to miss is that even though feminists might not believe that you need men for these roles, they don't believe that there's anything wrong with them actually doing it! Peddling the "all feminists are misandrists" myth gets no points.
  2. Labour (or any other political party) have never rewarded "man-hatred". The reason single parents get more benefits than couples (and bear with me here, because this might be a very difficult and complex concept to understand) is because they still have to pay the same rent and bills, but with only one income.
  3. Odone berates: "single mothers who don’t let the father of their children live under the same roof". Which are they? Are they single mothers, or are they women who are in a couple but live seperately from their partner? If she's actually saying that single mothers should continue (or even start) to live with the fathers of their children, that's clearly too ridiculous to even warrant my rage (I don't think she is, by the way, but you can never be sure with these types). However, even if she is having a go at women who don't live with the father of their children, so what? I know couples who have never lived together, but have been in a relationship for over 20 years. It's not for everyone. Helena Bonham Carter and Tim Burton have children together and live in seperate houses, and they seem to get along just fine. Of course, I suspect that her real problem with this is to do with the next point...
  4. "Women in low income families learn quickly that it is better to marry the state than any worthless man". I hate it when people push this opinion. It's ridiculous and offensive. It's essentially saying that all women in low income families are emotionally dead, grasping scroungers who would rather have a few extra quid a week than be in a loving relationship. Do the people who say this really think that there are legions of feckless women out there who decide to get knocked up by people they don't like for a bit of extra dosh a month? Being a jobless single mother is not a lifestyle that is so appealing that there's people up and down the country clamouring to get into it!
  5. Odone suggests that the reason 'working class men' don't have jobs or aren't socially mobile is because the poor little lambs are too disheartened to do anything because the mean old feminists don't want them. They don't "live down" to expectations forced on them by feminism, they "live down" to the lack of opportunity given to them by a society that's happy to blame women for the ills of the working class, rather than the destruction of industry and the financial barriers to social mobility.

So, there you have it. In Odone's mind, women are either misandrist harpies who want everyone with a penis strung from lamp posts, or docile, emotionless cows who are so grasping that they'd give up love for an extra bit of cash. And that's why men don't have jobs. Or something like that.

(n.b. I know I have approached this from a heteronormative and cisnormative point of view, but only because I was responding to Odone's points.)


  1. Great post, and I would add that the massive elephant in the room that Odone and all her ilk ignore is that if working-class men feel hopeless or surplus to requirements (which, really? They're the worst-off, most reviled group? Ooookay...), it's not because they would only feel fulfilled in the role of family patriarch. It's because Odone's right-wing chums have crushed the unions and the working classes and wage levels while sucking an ever-larger share of the nation's wealth upwards.

    And because reactionary, God-bothering policies undoubtedly supported by Odone ensure that even if single mothers do want to live with their partners, the archaic benefit rules immediately remove her benefits and force the man, if working, to support her completely. Putting her just where the likes of Odone want her - dependent on her man.

  2. I don't know if you saw Suzanne Moore on Newsnight arguing with Odone.

    But I think Moore gave Odone's argument some credence. She (SM) said that a lot of working class men are not capable of supporting women both financially and practically/emotionally, and that they need to learn to 'step up' to the mark. I know she was saying that working class men lack economic/job opportunities, but the way she phrased her comments really did suggest a lack of respect for the actual capabilities of those men as people. I found her comments 'misandrist' to a degree. She also said most men 'leave' women on their own with kids when I am sure she (SM) as a single parent knows this is usually much more complex.

    I am not saying Odone is correct in all her points, but that when she was arguing with a feminist, the feminist seemed to be illustrating her points about feminism's view of men, and working class men in particular. I know Suzanne Moore doesn't speak for you all but she is prominent and was 'representing' feminism on Newsnight.

    Also it seems a bit unfair to slag Odone for writing an article saying she was going to pray for her friend who had been diagnosed with cancer.

    Also with regards to finances- men have to by law financially support kids when estranged from their mums, but they often do not get custody or adequate access to their own children. This hasn't been dealt with as an issue by anyone.

  3. Suspended between Hampstead, and The Vatican, Odone, and her ilk, are happy to entertain, and propogate, any pot of nonsense in 'explaining' the 'plight' of the working class male, other than your 5th point...the 'no- shit- sherlock-elephant-in-the-room-trumpeting-the house-down' bleedin' obvious truth...another excellent post, you deftly wield Occam's razor to cut through the media-crap...