Soft porn, sluttish brides and honour killings. Another routine week for feminist journalist Natalie Haynes
There should be a phrase to describe the sensation of suddenly noticing a bunch of things that seem to be connected over a short space of time, like déjà vu. Soudainement noté, I guess, consulting my computer translation programme, which is never happier than when you ask it to do one word at a time (making it almost completely useless, but not quite).
A couple of weeks ago, I was on Radio 5 Live, discussing the story that the Navy has banned topless pictures of women anywhere on its ships, even in lockers. To be honest, it had never occurred to me that anyone might want a picture of a topless woman inside their locker – presumably for those frequent occasions when one requires a masturbatory aid while simultaneously looking for a pencil, and trying to dispel assumptions of homosexuality simply based on one’s job title. The panel (me and GP Taylor) were in agreement: it seemed like a good idea to us. But listeners called in to say it was PC gone mad – what was wrong with looking at pictures of naked women at work? I always want to ask the defenders of wholesome soft porn how they would feel if it was inside the locker of a teacher, or a priest, rather than a sailor, but sadly the opportunity rarely arises.
That weekend, I was reviewing Lenny’s Britain, a travelogue-cum-sociological dissection of the nature of comedy, starring Lenny Henry. There’s a scene where he’s helping a Best Man out with his wedding speech. The guy’s opening joke is that Gucci (the bride. Yes, really) has moved in with her beau, so could all the other men who had keys to her old flat please return them. Whereupon twenty men are scheduled to get up and hand over their keys. Henry shrieks in horror, “You can’t say that.” But he goes to the wedding, and watches the guy do the gag almost unchanged. It gets a massive laugh. Henry concedes that he was wrong, but I don’t think he is. I loathe weddings for many reasons (off the top of my head: feathers in people’s hair, insect bites, tepid wine, being expected to wear chick shoes), and near the top of the list is the “My friend’s wife is a total slut” section of the evening.
Then a few nights later, the story breaks that Banaz Mahmod, a 20-year-old Kurdish woman, had been murdered by her father and uncle for walking out of an arranged marriage and falling in love with another man. A viewer had anonymously texted in (the way people with the courage of their convictions do) to say that people in the west should not be so quick to judge other cultures. I wanted the newsreader to ask why exactly not. A culture that slaughters women for kissing someone is one that should be judged and possibly even found wanting. Do you know how come I can say that? Because in spite of making it a habit throughout my teens to kiss unsuitable boys, occasionally on the mouth (which I’m sure irritated my father immensely), I’m still here to tell the tale.
Then today I had a call asking me if I would do an interview for a women’s magazine about how even successful women were often messy inside: drinking heavily, taking drugs, kissing more unsuitable boys – all those things that used to be considered a good weekend, and are now signs that we are damaged, and need help. I had to point out that my obsessive compulsive disorder means that I am actually very tidy inside. And outside. I wondered why they needed to make even women’s success stories seem like failures. It seems to me that we have enough of those already. Anyway, if you’re not using it, I was wondering if we could have equality back?