Magazine article The Spectator

Sorry, Ken, but Even I Know You Can't Say That

Magazine article The Spectator

Sorry, Ken, but Even I Know You Can't Say That

Article excerpt

This week I thought I would offer advice on the sort of things one can and cannot say in public without fear of censure. I realise that I may not be the most obvious person, at this moment in time, to offer such a service. Maybe even the last person. But one has to plough away, give help where it might be needed. And in this particular case, to our Justice Secretary, Kenneth Harry Clarke.

So Ken - here's the last thing you should ever say in public. You should never, ever, as a suffix to a statement, make the claim: 'And most women agree with me.' We've got to be clear about this: you should never say it even if the statement to which it relates is anodyne and blankly factual, as in, 'Chives are a bulb-forming herbaceous perennial - and most women agree with me.' Or, 'It is a little over 120 miles from Norwich to Towcester - and most women agree with me.' You should not do this because they will see it as a challenge, the league of women, and will immediately disagree with you on a point of principle, via the pages of the Guardian and other such conduits for outrage. They will become incandescent with fury; they will assume that what you are saying is slighting, presumptuous, that it is no business of yours how far women think it is from Norwich to Towcester and that, in any case, only a man would be so phallocentric as to drive directly from Norwich to Towcester, without stopping on the way or allowing for deviations to take in interesting scenery, visit a friend in Diss or take lunch at a nice restaurant in Cambridge. The paucity of the male approach is summed up in that oblivious claim: 'It is a little over 120 miles.' Mechanistic, unyielding, life-denying.

So you shouldn't say it in those circumstances. But you particularly shouldn't say it if you are dealing with a subject over which women believe themselves to have sole dominion. Then the shit really will hit the fan. These subjects include, but are certainly not confined to: abortion, child-rearing, menses, pregnancy, the novels of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, shopping and rape. On none of those subjects are you permitted to have a view; or at least you are permitted a view, but only if you make it clear that it is a view of no real value. As in 'I disagree with abortion on ethical grounds, but as a man it is not really my place to decide.'

Of all these subjects, rape is the most problematic because it happens to women far more than it happens to men and men do most, almost all, of the perpetrating. Further, because the issue is charged with a sort of political ideology, there are certain things you cannot say about rape even if they are every bit as true as saying that it is a little over 120 miles from Norwich to Towcester. …

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