Outrage over Helen Mirren's comments is just another tiresome example of feminist in-fighting

A "micro-aggression" here, a "check your privilege" there, and after a while you realise you've spent so long pissing on other women you've forgotten about equality

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The Independent Online

When I read Helen Mirren’s off-the-cuff words, “It annoys me to see men with an arm slung around their girlfriend’s shoulders – it’s like ownership”, I felt a real pang of protectiveness towards her. I like Helen Mirren a lot. She is glowingly statuesque, ever-candid and occasionally, vaguely feral. In fact, everything I love in a fellow female.

I would hate, I thought, for Mirren to spend the next 72 hours as a punchbag on Twitter or dragged through the media mire for the crime of saying a slightly feminist thing which didn’t apply to all 3.52 billion women in the world. This is so often the case these days. Just like poor Charlotte Proudman last week who dared to stand up to Alexander Carter-Silk’s comments about her looks on LinkedIn. Wow, I bet she’s learned to shut up now; the vast majority of steely women do, eventually.

Being the sort of woman who “says stuff” just gets far too exhausting. I avoid the F-word as much as I can nowadays. And I’d advise any young female in the public eye to tread carefully on topics such as breastfeeding, Tampax tax, high heels, whether they like being called “love” or whether being told they have nice tits by a man from a van window is slightly annoying.

Oh it feels so exhilarating at the time, saying what you mean – but it escalates quickly until your name is a Twitter trending topic, a curiously similar feeling to when Cersei from Game of Thrones walked naked through the streets of King’s Landing while rabid onlookers threw human excrement at her head. Soul-breaking, and leaving one in need of a good, hot shower.

I wasn’t worried so much about an anti-Mirren backlash from men, including the sorts who do actually view woman as property. The latter are too busy waiting for the buffet at the all-nude table dancing venues to cause much fuss.

Instead, comments such as Mirren’s – idiosyncractic observations or personal beliefs – are just as, or indeed more, likely to offend other feminists who don’t quite agree.

In fact, not merely offend; they might find Mirren’s entire personality from that moment on “problematic”, virulent with “micro-aggressions”. Or, worse than any of this, Mirren might be stigmatising and marginalising to women from other cultures in which arm-draping is an act of glorifying female emancipation.

OK, so I didn’t know any such culture off the top of my head, but I felt sure there must be one somewhere in the world, was certain some women on Twitter would be utterly furious on behalf of this hypothetical but nevertheless marginalised grouping for upwards of 48 hours. Would Mirren even have a L’Oréal contract by lunchtime? Or would some woman whose husband had no arms complain to the make-up firm that she felt insulted by Mirren’s words.

By lunchtime, women pundits on Sky News and ITV1’s Loose Women were indeed predictably dissecting Mirren’s highly controversial outburst at great length, with Coleen Nolan clear to underline she loves an arm around her shoulders. Mirren’s priorities, her privilege, her lack of children and her awful luvviness were being called to question on Twitter.

In matters like this, as women pile in on other women like an after-hours wine bar brawl, it’s completely forgotten that the root cause was simply “a woman saying something mildly interesting in answer to a question”. Instead it quickly transforms into one bad, evil woman attacking much of womankind.


When Taylor Swift makes positive noises about body confidence, equal pay or the tired idea that writing about her lovelife makes her some sort of bunny boiler, it is curious to see the general drubbing she gets from other feminists for simply not being utterly perfect in thought, word and deed.

Swift’s youthful feminist fire is pissed upon from a great height by other women. It’s either marginalising or a marketing ploy. I wonder how long Swift will carry on bothering speaking up at all.

“Feminists fighting on Twitter is one of my favourite things ever,” a robust alpha-gay male said to me recently. “Why?” I asked, preparing to be outraged, because, let’s be frank, I’ve been a feminist since I was nine years old; humourless militancy is written through me like an oestrogen-laden stick of seaside rock.

“Because,” he said, “You spend all day screaming at each other about what each other has said or hasn’t said. Or starting e-petitions, or trying to have each other removed from university speaking engagements for encroaching upon each other’s safe space. Or writing awful think-pieces. Or blogs and counter-blogs about how each other are harmful to other women.” “What’s funny about that?” I said, feeling slightly guilty. Especially about the think-piece part. Especially as we were sat on a sofa I’d paid for with a piece about something wimmin’s lib.

And he answered: “I always think that if you feminists all just stopped attacking each other over the small stuff you could have big things like equal pay, child-care and sex-trafficking stitched up by Friday lunchtime.”

He had a point. If we stopped finding each other so offensive, we could probably wipe out true equality. But then what would the ladies gossip about on Loose Women? And some weeks, my Tuesday column would need to be a really good doodle of a snail.

If you’re offended by me regularly, perhaps this would be a welcome change.