And make you smile my dear

Boys will be boys.

Polly Toynbee was on Radio 4’s Today with a pompous bloviating Tory commentator –

If you didn’t hear Today, you can imagine what transpired. He took a swing at “our new establishment”, the “new elite … schmoozing and networking”, the “mass of people forever wagging fingers” and “telling us how to live our lives”. And as he did so, he betrayed again that curious paranoia of those who hold power, wealth and influence, and their defenders in the Tory press, pretending that they are the victims. For most of my life, the Tories have been in power, with brief social democratic interludes showing that democracy still functions, if intermittently. They are the captains of just about every commanding height – except, maybe, the most senior figures in the arts. That’s why they are Letts’ great bete noire.

Same old same old; just like filthy rich Trump pretending to be on the side of the workers.

He was losing the argument. So what does the right do next, what does a Mail man do next? He turned personal and patronising: “Do you know, whenever I’m on with Polly I wish I could just pin her to the ground and tickle her under the armpits and make you smile my dear!” It was creepy, disgusting. In the panic of the live radio moment I cringed and simpered a bit. “I do smile!” I said, falling for the trope of the “miserable humourless Guardian old girl can’t even take a joke!” (Old girl is what he called the prime minister on the Mail’s front page last week). And then I kicked myself a thousand times for all the things I might have said. Pin me down? Tickle me? Can you imagine him saying that to Simon Jenkins or Jonathan Freedland?

There was no harm done: I’m not vulnerable. But on Twitter there was anger at another wearying reminder of the extent to which contempt for women informs the Mail culture. This isn’t pussy-grabbing or masturbating in front of actresses. Letts isn’t Trump or Weinstein – but his twee, over-physical little put-down comes from an adjacent place. Men are men and women forever silly girls – old or young.

It isn’t pussygrabbing but it’s all part of the same shit: the same seeing women as other, lesser, empty, an afterthought, there only for the fucking.

I guess that this week all women my age have been mentally re-running the bum-pinching, grabbing, intimidating humiliations from men in power of our youth. I remember as a gauche and inadequate 22-year-old reporter, that interview with the author Saul Bellow. Bored, bullying, he ordered me to walk ahead of him in the park so he could look at my legs as they were better than my questions. And shamingly, I did. Mordecai Richler, the Canadian novelist, assumed a fixer had set me up for the night with him on his publicity tour in exchange for an interview. He was outraged when I ran off. I never wrote those things into my interviews, as now we would.

Ick about Bellow. No wonder Martin Amis idolizes him – Mart is another who can’t see women as real people. They’re everywhere.

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