Yesterday we met Laurie Penny, a very young British woman who has made a very big impact with her very left-wing views.
In particular, we saw a few minutes of her parrying with historian David Starkey. She evinced the usual far-left attitude toward such exchanges: free speech for me, but not for thee. I can hurl personal accusations because I’m on the side of the angels; for you to do it, however, is beyond the pale. If I speak, that’s my right; if you disagree, you’re being uncivil and trying to silence me – and therefore deserve to be silenced.
In short: I’m the hero here – and the victim.
As we saw, Penny can give it but she can’t take it.
Let’s take a look at another video. This one has been “fisked” by a popular blogger who calls himself Sargon of Akkad. (Definition of “fisking,” from the Free Dictionary: “To criticize and refute…especially in point-by-point or line-by-line fashion.”)
This video (see below) finds our upper-class heroine onstage at the Sydney Opera House, in front of a packed audience of admirers, explaining why she – by virtue of being a woman – is oppressed.
Note the way in which Penny recycles familiar far-left rhetoric about colonialism, imperialism, patriarchy, and capitalism, serving every bit of it up as if she’d invented it. Note, as Sargon puts it, that she talks about the oppression of women as if it were the 1950s, as if women were still confined to the home, “as if women’s liberation never happened.” Note the glibness and ignorance with which this young woman, who has benefited immensely from modern capitalism (how do women live in non-capitalist societies? How did they live before the modern era?), savages the modern world and the capitalist system for creating “losers.” In fact, as Sargon quite properly observes, modern capitalism has made more people “winners” – that is, improved their material conditions – than any system in human history.
And how about Penny’s absurd and audacious contention that she knows how today’s men feel and think? They feel like “losers,” she maintains, because of the ways in which the economic system has oppressed them, and they respond to this feeling of oppression by, in turn, oppressing women. She pretends to have sympathy for these men; but instead she batters them brutally. “We are not saying that all men hate women,” she offers generously. “But culture hates women.” And, later: “Men as a group, men as a structure, hate women.” (Check out this savvy reply by one You Tube commenter: “Culture hates women. What, you mean that culture that’s 53% women? The culture where it’s perfectly acceptable for a woman to stand on any stage and blurt out the most disgusting rhetoric against an entire half of society, whereas if a man were to do the same thing the other way around, the event would be bullied into cancellation.”)
Penny, though awash in privilege her entire life, truly does appear to regard herself as being oppressed. (One sentence in the introduction to her book Unspeakable Things begins: “Women, like any oppressed class…”) And she sees every man as an oppressor. One can’t help thinking here of Professor Starkey, who not only knows a hundred times as much as Penny does about how society works and how it has come to work that way, but also – as a son of working-class parents who was openly gay in mid twentieth century Britain – understands prejudice and oppression in a way Penny never could.
Sargon provides a perfect summing-up of Penny’s stubborn, counterfactual conviction that she’s oppressed: “That is what privilege looks like.” Bingo.
Tomorrow: on to Penny’s written work.