The word “irrespective” means saying or doing something without taking anything else into account. For example: “Irrespective of the fact that the cost of living has jumped, putting pressure on many people, the government ploughed on with Brexit and argued that there would be no real economic impact.”
So it is fitting that white man of the moment, Laurence Fox – who appeared on the BBC’s Question Time programme and told a BAME audience member that Meghan Markle has not been on the receiving end of racism before subsequently appearing on the cover of The Sunday Times to tell the world that he does not “date woke women” and then displaying an appalling understanding of history by calling the inclusion of a Sikh soldier in Sam Mendes’ film 1917 “incongruous” – has “irrespective” tattooed on his arm.
Did you hear that at the back, ladies? Laurence Fox – who you perhaps only knew as Billie Piper’s ex-husband because you’ve never seen Lewis (what?) – does not date “woke” women who he believes are being taught that they are “victims”, irrespective of whether they are right or not. He thinks that it’s “institutionally racist” to tell the story of the First World War in a racially diverse way, irrespective of the fact that Sikh soldiers absolutely fought for Britain. And he also doesn’t believe in white privilege, irrespective of the fact that he works in a painfully undiverse industry, was privately educated and comes from a wealthy acting family which is nothing short of a dynasty.
Fox is denying racism and sexism, irrespective of whether or not they exist. It’s nothing short of gaslighting. It’s all very Donald Trump.
Fox is denying racism and sexism, irrespective of whether or not they exist. It’s nothing short of gaslighting. It’s all very Donald Trump. And as you would expect, the whole debacle has lit a fire under anti-woke poster boy Piers Morgan while gaining Fox thousands of extra Twitter followers.
I could go over all the things he’s said; I could use data to prove how wrong he is; I could express concern for his mental health (after all, who really enjoys arguing on Twitter?); I could make jokes about his behaviour. But all of that would be to seriously miss the point.
There’s nothing funny about the things Fox – or Wokey McWokeface as he now wants to be known – is saying. It’s also not particularly sad. It’s dangerous. He is just one very privileged man, and as a result of said privilege, has been given a platform. And he has used that platform to legitimise a bigger backlash against diversity and progress which is unfolding every single day in less public corners of the internet.
Not wanting to date “woke” women, far from being laughable, is actually one of the more insidious aspects of it. Spend an afternoon on any major dating app and you’ll come across (generally white) men saying openly sexist and misogynistic things. They might say “no psychos” or that they “fucking hate big eyebrows” in their bios. And, by and large, they also tend to hold extremely right-wing views and see themselves as victims of liberal thinking.
In fact, as I was writing this, a dear friend sent me a screenshot of a guy she’s just matched with who describes Jordan B Peterson as his “dream dinner guest”. Yes, the same Jordan B Peterson who thinks that white privilege is a “Marxist lie” and wants millennials to drop their obsession with “social justice”.
I, meanwhile, recently had to block someone who after matching with me launched into a vile rant about how women are “evil”, “only want sex” and treat men as though they are “disposable”. When I asked him if he hated women he replied that he had “only moderate disdain” for us before asking me whether I didn’t want to date him because I’m actually “pretty rough”.
The reactionary influence of these ideas doesn’t stop at dating, though. As the campaign group Hope Not Hate reported last year, a hostility towards feminism is feeding directly into far-right movements online.
All of this, of course, speaks not only to the presence of the very active online communities of anti-feminist incels but to the prevalence of the hideous and incorrect ideas they promote. It doesn’t take magical thinking to see how men are radicalised by anti-feminism. As the saying goes: “When you’re used to privilege, equality feels like oppression.”
The reactionary influence of these ideas doesn’t stop at dating, though. As the campaign group Hope Not Hate reported last year, a hostility towards feminism is feeding directly into far-right movements online. They found that a third of young British people today believe that feminism is marginalising or demonising men and warned that these beliefs were a “slip road” to other far-right ideas.
This isn’t just speculation. We know that the number of far-right referrals to the British government’s deradicalisation scheme Prevent has dramatically increased recently. In the year from 2017/18 they jumped by 36%, while referrals for Islamism actually decreased by 14%.
Right now, Laurence Fox, whether he realises it or not, has just landed the biggest part of his life. He is legitimising hatred and division. And yet he cannot be completely unaware of the role he plays; he has spoken about being “radicalised” himself on YouTube.
Last year he released an album called A Grief Observed which is largely about his acrimonious split from Piper. When The Times interviewed him about it he turned up wearing a pro-Donald Trump MAGA (Make America Great Again) cap and said it was a “social experiment”. He then told the interviewer that he spent a lot of his time watching YouTube interviews which had “totally radicalised” him and caused him to embark on a “crusade against woke culture and political correctness.” He wanted, he said, to call one of the songs “Me Too” but was prevented by his record label.
Fox is a case in point that what might start as playing devil’s advocate by wandering the streets in a MAGA cap to provoke “hipsters” can quickly turn into something more sinister.
The far right itself can be difficult to pin down because it isn’t exactly a coherent global movement with a concrete set of ideas. It largely exists online, in Facebook groups, as Twitter accounts, on YouTube and anonymous message boards such as 8chan. But every now and then, their bile spills out dangerously into the offline world.
In 2016 the Labour MP Jo Cox was murdered by far-right terrorist Thomas Mair who, 25 years before he killed her, told a far-right magazine that the “white race” faced a long and very bloody struggle. And it was 8chan that hosted the manifestos of three mass shooters who killed scores of people last year: the El Paso shooter (who left 20 people dead and many more wounded only a couple of weeks ago), the Poway shooter (who opened fire at a synagogue in California last April) and the Christchurch shooter (who killed 51 people at two mosques in New Zealand last March).
Laurence Fox, whether he realises it or not, has just landed the biggest part of his life. He is legitimising hatred and division. And yet he cannot be completely unaware of the role he plays; he has spoken about being ‘radicalised’ himself on YouTube.
Susan Faludi wrote about the link between violence, anger and anti-feminism prophetically in her book Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women back in 1991. Long before the turbulent times which have seen the rise to power of two male caricatures – Donald Trump to the office of US president and the accession of Boris Johnson as our prime minister – she warned:
“When an attack on home soil causes cultural paroxysms that have nothing to do with the attack, when we respond to real threats to our nation by distrusting ourselves with imagined threats to femininity and family life, when we invest our leaders with a cartoon masculinity and require of them bluster in lieu of a capacity for rational calculation, and when we blame our frailty in ‘fifth column’ feminists – in short, when we base our security on a mythical male strength that can only increase itself against a mythical female weakness – we should know that we are exhibiting the symptoms of a lethal, albeit curable, cultural affliction.”
She added: “When the enemy has no face, society will invent one.” For men like Fox, who feel they have been wronged somehow, that they are missing out on opportunities because, for once in history, they are being given to other people, women and people of colour become the enemy.
When the enemy has no face, society will invent one.
Susan FALUDI, BACKLASH: THE UNDECLARED WAR AGAINST AMERICAN WOMEN
You can see it in the abuse and threats received by women MPs and in the wildly different treatment of Meghan Markle and Kate Middleton. While Middleton, who generally keeps herself to herself and says little, has become a pinup heroine for traditionalists, Markle, who has spoken openly about sexism and racism, trying to use her platform for good, has been – quite literally – driven out of the country, condemned for being an outspoken snowflake.
Make no mistake, the far right is already capitalising on Fox’s words, gassing him up and turning him into an icon. He has added to their backlash and given it oxygen. Every time he is invited onto a TV or radio show to talk about it, that oxygen will cause the backlash to burn hotter and faster, irrespective of whether we’re watching or not. It’s important not to trivialise this anti-woke, anti-women backlash. In the end, it’s only by paying attention to it that we can understand it and do something about it.
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