Tanya Gold’s Critique of Joanna Lumley Fails at the Last Hurdle.

(Image taken from here)

Tanya Gold has written a very good critique of Joanna Lumley’s recent foray into misogynistic, victim-blaming. Unfortunately, at the very last minute, Gold herself makes a statement which, at best, undermines part of her point. For those that missed the twitter storm earlier this week, this is Lumley’s advice on how not to get raped:

‘I promise you it is better to look after yourself properly, which means behave properly, be polite, be on time, dress properly – I don’t mean dully – but don’t be sick in the gutter at midnight in a silly dress with no money to get a taxi home, because somebody will take advantage of you, either they’ll rape you, or they’ll knock you on the head or they’ll rob you.
‘Don’t look like trash, don’t get drunk, don’t be sick down your front, don’t break your heels and stagger about in the wrong clothes at midnight. This is bad.
‘It’s not me being a snob about it. It’s not me being an old woman talking to young women, it’s just standard practice for how our species should behave. Don’t behave badly.’

Gold is correct that Lumley’s advice as nothing to do with rape awareness but is simply “about misogyny, reactionary ideals of femininity, and, as ever, class“. Lumley’s lack of awareness and empathy are shocking; even with taking into account the hypocrisy of the Daily Fail criticising anyone else for perpetuating and perpetrating rape myths. Gold slams the obsession with “national treasures” and mythical bogeyman. I was nodding along to the article so much I was rattling my teeth.

And, then, I read the very last paragraph:

Lumley says she cares about these girls. Perhaps she thinks she does, even as she lays rape at their own doors. But if that were true, there are many things she could have said. She could have spoken of education, of inequality, of the pay gap, of gender segregation, of the under-representation of women in parliament, the professions, the City and the judiciary, and of all the ways in which women feel less important than they should. She could have said that rape is the only crime where the victim is routinely blamed and routinely disbelieved. She could have criticised a country where ambition – and seemingly, pleasure – is now, more than ever, for the wealthy and, to her eyes, tasteful. Instead she turned, with wrinkled nose, to the clothes – a fashion model still.

I agree with everything up to the phrase “a fashion model still”. It just feels wrong. Our culture routinely dismisses fashion models as stupid and incompetent; as walking boobs without brains. It just feels wrong to end an article about misogyny with a reference to Lumley’s one job in which her intelligence would have been routinely dismissed. Now, I’m not a huge fan of the fashion industry (massive understatement klaxon) but women who are fortunate enough to belong to that 5% who naturally pass the partriarchal fuckability test aren’t stupid; they are simply using something beyond their control in order to financially benefit in a society which punishes women who don’t conform.

So Gold’s last sentence seems to subvert much of what she was arguing. It reads as if she’s dismissing Lumley for being a former fashion model rather than critiquing Lumley’s privilege and her refusal to acknowledge the structural inequalities and misogyny which lead to blaming women for rape instead of men for raping. 

It’s obviously just one of those throw away lines not intended to imply what I read into it. I write those all the time but we do have to be aware of when we’re doing it (and I most definitely need to work on this skill) otherwise we are helping to support the very myths we mean to combat. These type of throwaway comments do reveal the extent to which internalised misogyny is revealed in the very language we use to critique it.

2 thoughts on “Tanya Gold’s Critique of Joanna Lumley Fails at the Last Hurdle.”

  1. Totally agree with you. She almost could have written ‘stupid woman’ instead of ‘a fashion model still’. [Or maybe I’m taking the interpretation of it a bit too far…]

    I haven’t read the full article, cos of my boycott of mainstream media. :o) At any point in it, in addition to those other factors mentioned in the paragraph you’ve quoted, did Tanya Gold suggest that Joanna Lumley could have spoken about male violence against women, and could have turned her attention onto rapists and the choices they make?

    1. She doesn’t directly but she does talk about how we mythologise rapists and uses the fairy tale of Red Riding Hood as the basis of her critique. It’s actually a very good criticism. She just ended it with such a ridiculous statement. 🙁

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