Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Truth About Julie

A number of people have asked if I would respond to the piece Julie Bindel wrote about
The Sex Myth in the Grauniad. Clearly as she took the opportunity to let rip, so too must I?

maybe not. Because the truth about Julie Bindel is that she is - shock,
horror - actually decent company. You would totally have a drink with
her as long as you stayed off the topics of sex work, trafficking, porn,
trans issues, gay marriage and... well you get the idea. There are
definitely people with whom my politics are more closely aligned whose
company I have enjoyed a lot less.

But in the interest of "setting the record straight" (as if such a thing exists) here are my notes on the encounter:

I approached Julie to ask if she wanted to interview me, in part
because I figured she would write about the book anyway. Since I
criticise her writing extensively in The Sex Myth it seemed fair to give her a face-to-face.

- She's prettier in person than in her photos. Not that that's relevant, or important, but she is.

We met three times that week: once for lunch, once for the photos, and
again on Sky news. The first words out of her mouth on the air at Sky
were "As much as I hate to say this I agree with Brooke." I did a little
mental air-punch at that one. (It was also approximately the first
thing Claire Perry said when we were on the Today programme. File under: win.)

The "offal", by the way, was calf's liver and very good it was too.
Though I did wish I'd ordered the lamb sweetbreads special instead.

The dessert was an Eccles cake with cheddar cheese ice cream. Hand on
heart, I loved the ice cream. The Eccles cake was not nice. If you have
occasion to go to The Gilbert Scott at St Pancras, ask them for a bowl
of that ice cream.
- She thought my criticism of Swanee Hunt
mentioning her father's political background a bit out of line. My
reply to that is if Hunt's still trading on his name and his
connections, then she has to expect that. Her extreme privilege (yes,
even in supposedly classless America; yes, even when your work is deemed
charitable) is a huge hurdle to overcome. Eye of the needle and all
that jazz.
- Julie's a big fan of Viz,
especially Eight Ace and Sid the Sexist. Who knew? Also she liked Fat
Slags better when it was shorter whereas I prefer the longer ones.

In principle we both agree that sex workers themselves should not be
criminalised. After that our thoughts on sex work are mainly opposed.
When I put it to her at lunch that the much-talked-about "Swedish model" and Icelandic approaches could never work in the UK, she agreed.

Julie's piece was filed after we met for lunch on the 17th April, I
believe before we had photos on the 20th. The final edits to the book
were made on the 25th and approved on the 27th. First edition came off
the presses May 1st. (Yes, we cut it fine.) This unfortunately means
some of the things from her piece may not be the book.* I'm not sure if
it is the writer's or the editor's responsibility to check reviews
against the published copy, but someone should have done.
- We both think the Grauniad will cease to exist in printed form soon. Probably most people think that though, so no news there.
She seemed concerned that I think feminists of her stripe/generation
are against sex, and took pains to assure me plenty of sex was going
down among the redfems in the 70s and 80s. I said "I bloody well hope
so," because what would be the point of rejecting the model of
virgin-to-wife-to-mother only to not get laid? However, in my
experience, the lesbian-identified feminists when I was at uni in the
very early 90s were not so free and easy with the sexual favours. Not
that I'm bitter, mind. It wasn't a great place or time to be a woman who
slept with both women and men.
- She think my
husband looks like a model. As far as independent assessments of
attractiveness go, that's about as airtight as they come.
Her claim that I was 'roundly criticised' by Catherine Hakim for my
educational background is a misrepresentation of Hakim's review; you can read it here.
My education is in anthropology, maths, forensic science and
epidemiology. I've also worked in chemoinformatics and child health
research (mainly cancer). If anyone thinks that makes me unqualified to
comment on academic research... with all due respect, check yo self.
- The last thing I said to her, when we were leaving Sky news: "Civilised is the new uncivilised."
there it is. No particular desire or need to fetch a hatchet, because
who benefits? (It might also help that I have professional experience of
finding common ground with just about anyone for two hours as long as
they're buying.) The Grauniad is a known quantity and the "pity" angle
of her article frankly unbelievable... you don't bother tearing down
someone if you feel actual pity for them. You might even wonder why I
bothered. To which I say: lunch? On their dime? Admit it, you so would.
And so I did.

Right now you're probably thinking I should go to
the cinema with Tanya Gold and discover maybe she's not as bad as all
that? Hey now, let's not get crazy.

tl;dr - I was expecting a
snarling nemesis, what I got was a lesbian Michael Winner... hugely
offensive, yet surprisingly charming, bon viveur.

Believe it or not The Sex Myth
is not only about columnists, or trafficking, or even feminism: those
are only a small part. Most reviews have barely touched on any of the
other chapters. It also discusses the medicalisation of female desire
and the denial of women's appreciation for erotica, for example. It
examines the criticisms of "sex addiction" as a disease. It champions
under-reported sexualisation research that is more interested in
representing real families than in reflecting a political agenda. It
includes citations of all referenced material so you can read them and
decide for yourself. My aim is not to force people and certainly not
Julie Bindel to think the way I do: it's to open up the discussion in
ways we simply
are not doing around these topics. It's a call for less panic, not more.

Go get it. Read it. Make up your own mind.

[Update:  Yes, I have checked this against the email record between
me, my editor, and the Orion legal bods; and yes, I have run this blog
past them and got the thumbs-up. Proceed to question it at your own

Khondoker Hafizur Rahman

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