Imagine using the politics of fear to try to get elected in a city as buzzing and optimistic as London. Imagine if the only way you felt you could appeal to Londoners was by making them feel petrified and promising that you, a decent, caring, saviour-style politician, would keep them safe from the myriad harms that surround them. That’s lame politics, isn’t it? It’s sad, downbeat, depressing politics.
Oh, and I’m not talking about Zac Goldsmith, by the way. I’m talking about the Women’s Equality Party (WEP), whose peddling of fear makes Zac look like a rank amateur in the doom-spreading stakes.
In recent days the liberal press has featured finger-wagging editorials about Zac’s fearmongering about Islamist terrorism and gushing accounts of the WEP, which was founded last year by Radio 4 comic Sandi Toksvig and other movers and shakers in the elite media set. Which is weird, because all the criticisms being made of Zac and his fear card could just as easily be made of the WEP.
Where Zac has used the spectre of terrorism to try to get into City Hall, not least in that notorious Daily Mail article with the photo of the blown-up London bus, the WEP uses the spectre of rape. One of its posters bellows: ‘230 RAPES EVERY DAY? WHO GIVES A DAMN? WE DO.’ No one else cares about rape, of course; just the WEP. If you don’t want to get raped, vote WEP — that’s the grotesque, fear-exploiting message.
Where Zac has hinted that there are loads of Islamists in our midst waiting to harm us, and that Sadiq is mates with some of them, the WEP goes one better: it suggests every aspect of everyday life is harmful, primarily for women.
Because of ‘catcalls in the street’ and ‘everyday sexism’, ‘millions of women feel unsafe every day of their lives’, it says. This is worse than anything Zac has hinted at. Sure, he might suggest that some Muslims pose a threat to London life, but the WEP hints that everyone — well, men — make London scary and unpleasant. Want to stop feeling freaked out whenever you leave the house? Vote WEP.
And don’t think you can avoid the terrors of daily life by staying home and browsing the internet or flicking through a magazine. Nope, that isn’t safe either.
Magazines are full of ‘adverts telling us to starve ourselves’, says the WEP. And then there’s the ‘trolling, abuse and violence perpetrated on social media that never seems to get taken down’. Leaving aside the question of how violence can be perpetrated in a virtual space between people who are miles apart, the message here is pretty clear: the internet is terrifying and some of it needs to be ‘taken down’. Want to feel safe online? Want censorship to deal with trolls? Want to be saved from harmful words by politicians who know what’s good for you? Vote WEP.
What a soul-crushing message to go into an election with. Violence is everywhere, streets are unsafe, people are sexist, the internet is dangerous, and magazines will turn you into a sad puddle of self-doubt.
The WEP’s campaign confirms that the new feminism is just another strand of the politics of fear. For all its pretensions to radicalism, for all its hinting that it’s the heir to the women’s lib movement, the WEP is really just a slightly sassier, slightly younger version (though only slightly) of Mary Whitehouse. Men are rapacious, the media will warp your mind, ‘taking it down’ is the best approach to dodgy commentary — you couldn’t fit a sheet of Rizla between the outlook of the WEP and the censorious fear once promoted by the blue-rinse lobby.
The WEP may have made waves in the Guardian and among the Twitterati, which isn’t surprising considering it is chattering-class to the core. But it seems to have made almost no impact on the public consciousness, including on women’s consciousness. That isn’t surprising either: the new feminism, with its narrow obsession with getting more female voices on the Today programme or ensuring Twitter is safe for plummy feminists to chat to each other without a gruff bloke saying ‘Bollocks’ at them, has nothing whatsoever to say to most women.
The WEP might view the streets and the internet and the media as dangerous, but most normal women don’t. Most women like life, and public space, and unpredictable interactions, and they believe they can handle themselves without needing Mary Whitehouses in women’s libber drag to chaperone them from morning to night.