GBNews is a new, UK-based, news channel that has its share of detractors. It certainly got off to a shaky start with wildly fluctuating sound levels and poor lighting. The predictable accusation has been that it is ‘far-right’ and a UK equivalent of Fox News. However, the ‘Guardianistas’ hate it, so it can’t be all bad.
A recent podcast from GBNews that caught my eye featured two people I admire greatly, Helen Pluckrose and the host Andrew Doyle. Helen is author of the book Cynical Theories which lays bare the shallow intellectual foundations of ‘wokeness.’ Andrew Doyle has attacked the same problem by means of brilliant parody in the form of the Titania McGrath Twitter account and the book My First Little Book of Intersectional Activism. As you might expect, The Guardian isn’t very keen on Andrew (see here) and it has responded to Helen Pluckrose by ignoring her.
The podcast lasts for over one hour and ranges over a wide range of topics broadly grouped around ‘wokeness‘ and that, of course, includes toxic feminism, although they don’t (and perhaps wouldn’t) call it by that name. The interview proceeds in a mutually respectful manner without the hectoring and straw man arguments we have come expect in parts of the media. Whatever the shortcomings of GBNews (and there are many) I can’t imagine the BBC or C4 news hosting a dialogue of this quality.
Elsewhere on this blog, I have commented on the number of English Literature graduates, in particular from Oxford and Cambridge, commenting on matters to do with gender in the media. It seems to me that they indulge in some rather crude binary thinking that is related to the nature of the education they received – see posts Arwa Mahdawi, The Feminist Glass Escalator and Death of the English Literature Degree. Broadly speaking literature is analysed according to the power relations of victim/ oppressor pairings operating under the yoke of invisible social forces. For example gay and straight people (operating under heteronormativity), white people and people of colour (racism), or men and women (patriarchy).
Helen Pluckrose and Andrew Doyle studied English Literature at University but they adopted a sceptical approach to their teaching and didn’t accept ‘Social Justice’ dogma at face value. The following quote (starting at 59 seconds)from Helen illustrates this nicely.
I studied late medieval women’s religious writing before and after the reformation. I was interested in how women used the Christian narrative to gain authority and autonomy for themselves….. because I was looking at women’s experiences I was expected to view everything through a very particular feminist lens and that wasn’t the way I wanted to do it. So all of these original post-modern theories and queer theories particularly, kept coming up in my studies and getting in the way of doing the scholarship I wanted to do. At the same time, I was an active liberal feminist and I found my feminism and my mother’s feminism being seriously derailed by the intersectional feminists and so these two things kind of collided together and made me want to track and trace the development of these post-modern ideas into the theories and activisms that we are seeing right now”
And then Andrew Doyle adds,
That makes a lot of sense to me because I had a similar experience when I was studying English Literature at university and for my doctorate as well. Around that time the post-modern theories, the Foucouldian theories…. all this kind of thing was almost like a dogma, it just that it was a given that would be the approach, that would be the lens through which you analysed texts, often at the expense of the poetry.”
Helen goes on to explain more about post-modernism
…. a reaction to modernity which was a respect for science, reason, evidence and empirical research. The post-modernists were over that, they believed it was naive and simplistic. They believed truth was constructed by the powerful in the way they talked about things and so we have to look at the ways of talking about things, about discourses and see how they uphold power structures so everything needed to be read in that way.
Andrew follows with,
This lends itself to identity politics because if you say when we read a play like Othello we are not reading the play for its own sake we are looking for how Shakespeare is upholding the power of white males with society and that is quite limiting perspective particularly when you are talking about the arts”
It is worth listening to the full hour of the podcast and I hope GBNews considers publishing a full transcript of the interview. However, just the opening dialogue, that I have transcribed above, gives us an insight into the thought processes of the young female activist journalists who dominate all levels of publishing. Look at the columnists at the Guardian and the Independent for example, and I suspect the same thing is true, behind the scenes, at BBC online news. There is a surfeit of young and female English Literature graduates who do not have the wit and insight possessed by Helen and Andrew. Activists who not only view literature through the limiting perspective of post-modern theories but who look at the wider world through the same lens and only see binary systems of victims and oppressors.
What these activists also fail to see is that even if you believe that ‘truth is constructed by the powerful’ then in the media, it is young activist women who hold (and misuse) that power and it is their narratives that we are being force-fed.
To quote from Andrew Larming writing in the Critic..
Long before any ideas of ’woke’ entered the mainstream, university English departments had decided what was and wasn’t acceptable. Woe betide you, student or tutor alike, if you deviated from the new orthodoxy.”
This blog has previously discussed the axis of radicalisation into toxic feminism (see here). The discussion between Andrew Doyle and Helen Pluckrose gives us useful insights into the process of that radicalisation.