Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Peter Hitchens: Not A Feminist

It's probably fair to say that Peter Hitchens and I don't see eye to eye on everything. Indeed, sometimes I wonder if my life would have been noticeably different if I'd made every decision based on a "what wouldn't Peter Hitchens do?" credo. I know what Peter Hitchens' worldview is, and it leaves me a bit cold. Well, a lot cold. Still, every now and then he expresses it in such a brutal, fundamentalist way that it catches me off guard.

In Hitchens' most recent piece, One benefit reform that would make us happier... and richer, he makes his position clear in the first paragraph.
There's only one lasting, simple welfare reform package this country needs. It goes like this. First, an announcement that nine months from today, all benefits of any kind for new unmarried mothers should cease.
It's so simple, so straightforward! Simply by making unmarried mothers poorer and increasing the hardship in their lives, we could change everything in Broken Britain! The conclusion of the next paragraph is where my jaw first collided with my knees:
Note the word 'new'. Existing victims of one of the stupidest policies in human history should continue to get their handouts and subsidised homes until their children are grown. It is not their fault, or their children's, that they were misled by weak and wicked politicians into this way of life.
Because, of course, it's always a choice, right? And what's more, these feckless, stupid single mums creaming state benefits are not just irresponsible, but so incredibly weak-minded that they were manipulated into choosing this way of life by...politicians. Presumably in these families (if indeed you can call them "families", these abnormal living arrangements), the mothers kneel before a framed picture of Jack Straw or Charles Clarke or Tony Blair and thank them for their blessing, their inspiration, their encouragement to choose a life raising a child on meagre state benefits.

He's not all bad, though, Hitchens, he's got a heart! I mean, look...
They should not be condemned or harassed. But this state-sponsored assault on marriage should stop.
Yeah, don't harass them, these silly women! After all they're too stupid to think for themselves, being victims of the Sixties liberals who have caused all these problems. No, the real problem, if you're Peter Hitchens, is that providing state support to lone parent families is nothing short of a "state-sponsored assault on marriage". Hitchens then goes on to generously throw these women another bone; if your husband got exploded in a war, or utterly abandoned you, you might still get benefits under a Hitchensian system! Hooray!

I've argued with Hitchens before on his blog. His view is very stark and simple, black and white. Briefly, he believes that all moves to make divorce easier (and also all moves to make gay marriage a possibility) are purely ideologically driven; not by the ideology of trying to be fair to people whose relationships fail, or to give people choice, but by a straightforward liberal Marxist hatred of the "traditional" family unit. The norm for Hitchens is, and should always be, husband and wife, married, living together with children. The Left, however, because they believe in state control, supposedly see the family as a threat, a unit that needs to be broken up if the state is to have the pliant subjects that socialism, he believes, requires. Hitchens is married, and his marriage is still intact. He seems to be unable to understand why it might be different for anyone else, and not that interested in finding out. And what's more, he's so convinced about the unquestionable correctness of his view, he believes that his norms should be enforced or at least encouraged financially by the state.

You can make your own judgements about his position. I look at things a little differently to him. I think marriage is a fine thing, it's not something I believe should be abolished or banned, despite being a card-carrying member of the PC Brigade. However, it's not the only way to exist. There are a huge range of reasons why a woman with a child might be single. Hitchens views any state benefit given to such a woman as a political endorsement of her foolish choice, and believes that we should reward marriage and penalise lone parenthood. I, on the other hand, view the benefits system as a safety net for those who need it. Lone parents are already at a disadvantage on a purely economic level. To punish them in order to make an ideological statement condemning their lifestyle seems irresponsible and judgemental to me, patronising even. Even if I accepted that all single mothers were foolish, feckless idiots, which I don't, I could never endorse a benefit-slashing policy that would see their blameless children suffer as a result.

And who's to blame for all this foolishness? Well, the BBC of course!
[The Tory party] has sold its soul – and the conservative people in this country – in return for the approval of the BBC and for the empty, pompous joys of office without power
Anyway, you might be thinking, "oh, leave old Hitch alone! He's just an old romantic who believes in the sanctity and purity of marriage and its high-minded ideals!". But, further down the column, he presents a view of marriage, and men in particular, that ranks among one of the darkest assessments of anything I've ever seen in a mainstream newspaper. Criticising the film "Made In Dagenham" for telling the story of a woman who let her husband look after their child for a bit while she fought for equal pay, Hitchens writes;
As she hurries off to yet another meeting, he points out to her that he's been a good spouse – not drinking or gambling away his wages, not raising his hand to her or the children.

She turns to him, rather snottily, and makes a Germaine Greer-type speech saying that she expects all these things by right, not as a privilege.
Feminists, eh? Where do they get off, treating the right not to be battered by their husbands as anything other than a privilege we men bestow upon them! He continues;
Men don't naturally behave in the responsible, considerate way that most working-class husbands still did in 1968. There was a deal, called marriage, which persuaded them do so.

But when that deal collapsed, not least when sex outside marriage became freely available, men began behaving like cavemen again, and women suffered from their own 'liberation'.
Did you get the message? Women have themselves to blame for this! By seeking, with the help of the Sixties liberals, rights like the ability to divorce, they have screwed men over in the deal we had. The deal was this; marry us, and we promise we probably won't beat the shit out of you after a night spending all the money on booze and greyhound racing. But hey, if women as a whole do anything to undermine the sanctity of marriage in the eyes of right-wing newspaper hacks, then indiviual women can't realistically expect us men not to revert to our woman-thumpin' caveman instincts, right?

It's an astonishing bit of woman-blaming, and a depressing conclusion to reach about marriage. I like marriage, or at least I did before I read this article. I thought it was a romantic statement; not one for everyone perhaps, but something people should be free to choose, a declaration of love and commitment. If Hitchens is right, and marriage is little more than a brief declaration of ceasefire, where men agree to temporarily stop behaving like animals in exchange for compliance from their woman, then maybe I'm not so hot on the idea after all.

I'll leave you with Hitchens' baffling conclusion;
The normal household needs two pay packets to survive, instead of one.
...and yet lone parents on benefits, Hitchens believes, should be forced to live on LESS than one pay packet, and penalised financially until they effectively have no choice to hook up with a man and depend on him. Cheerful fellow, Peter Hitchens.


  1. Hitchens column was, indeed, dark and depressing. The very idea of a government basing it's policies on such a fundamentalist view would be terrifying if I thought it was ever likely to happen.

  2. I heard Peter Hitchens on Radio 4 sometime ago talking about his childhood. It seemed to me he blamed his mother for his parents divorce. He was cold and dismissive about her and warm and respectful towards his father. I thought as I listened that explains his attitude towards women and divorce.

  3. It's amazing how pessimistic folk who wish to impose "tradition" on other people are about the human race. And by implication, how low an opinion they hold of themselves - it's a good job Hitchens is married himself, or else he might come across totally unreasonable. Hmm...

  4. Now the two pay-packets thing is really bizarre in the context of the rest of his rant. I'd have expected that he believes that women should stay at home to look after their children!

  5. There's only one lasting, simple welfare reform package this country needs. It goes like this. Deport Peter Hitchens.

  6. The farcical thing is that you can easily check whether conceptions outside marriage happened before the welfare state. Um, yes they did. You could also check whether men beat women more when they are or aren't married - however insane his thesis sounds, he could find out if it actually stands up. Of course he doesn't. Because his deranged 'the-Marxist-BBC-lizards-have-eaten-our-marriages' thesis is a freestanding glory of no-logic.

  7. Statistics sadly show that the majority of domestic abuse actually starts within heterosexual relationships when the woman gets pregnant; many woman end up being single mothers because they had the courage to walk away from a bastard and keep the child. And what about women whose husbands or partners leave them when they are pregnant? I'd love to see Hitchens' take on these scenarios... although, of course, he'd not touch them with a bargepole, as they'd challenge his foul, bizarre little worldview that single mothers are ALL uneducated young slags who open their legs to anyone just to get themselves a council flat and a weekly handout.

    His model of marriage seems to posit that women must prostitute themselves to a man and 'put up and shut up' with any crap thrown at them just to get a roof over their heads and to avoid violence and that men are basically subhuman scum who can only be controlled by a piece of metal on their ring finger. Mmm, that certainly makes marriage sound really inviting - as soon as I've posted this I'm off to google local registrars...

  8. A great many years ago, when I was still a student being inculcated with trendy Marxist nonsense about equal rights and not judging people based on their sexual preferences, I spent two summers weeding the enire court records of three rural areas of Scotland in the nineteenth century, from about 1840-1900.

    Thus, unlike Peter Hitchens, my evidence is based on actual cases involving real people (I nearly said "human beings", but I suspect Hitchens might not accept that terminology). In farming communities in Christian Presbyterian Scotland, it was the norm for africultural workers to live together in communal dormitories, not segregated by sex. Even without the influence of the BBC, these unmarried young people regularly had sex, and every year the court records were full of cases of "Affiliation and aliment", where young women on the Poor's Roll sought (and inevitably failed) to receive some form of payment for their children.

    Of course, in Hitchensworld™ the good thing was that these women ended up penniless and in the workhouse, where they could assist in not becoming a burden to the state by catching a fatal disease by age thirty. I, however, indoctinated Marxist that I am, thought that a world where the children of unmarried mothers were not at risk of death by starvation was a more progressive one; I had of course failed to grasp that the potato-pickers of Victorian Banffshire had been "misled by weak and wicked politicians into this way of life".

    Of course, it remains a fact that single parents and stepfamilies were extremely common in an era where death in childbirth and appalling working conditions resulting in numerous deaths were expected parts of life. For the vast majority of British workers, the era when couples could realistically expect to live together for a long time due to advances in healthcare and sanitation was not a long one; even allowing say 1895-1965 as the core period, you have to deduct ten years of wartime and a massive influenza epidemic before you can create a meaningful analysis.

  9. Excellent article. In the same piece by Hitchens he argues that in the film: Made in Dagenham, there's a point where the husband of the woman played by Sally Hawkins has a fit because she's going to meetings instead of knowing her place and staying at home cooking and attending to his needs. Hitchens trumpets in rage that:

    'She turns to him, rather snottily, and makes a Germaine Greer-type speech saying that she expects all these things by right, not as a privilege. This rings as false as most of the scenes (and the excessive swearing) in the film. But it's also morally wrong.'

    Excessive swearing! A Germaine Greer-type speech!

    He's so insanely fundamentalist that I sometimes wonder if it's all an elaborate joke. Which is easier to come to terms with than the fact that he means every word of this bilge.