It could only have been an April Fool. I mean, seriously, who could utter a sentence like "feminism replaced egalitarianism" and not be pulling our leg?
Someone who believes in equality among people, but doesn't believe women are people, it turns out. Because the government minister in charge of higher education, "Two Brains" Willetts himself ("half-brain" Willetts is an irresistible joke that should not longer be resisted, I think), apparently does genuinely believe that whereas giving equal rights to women was in principle a good thing, it was, in the long run, detrimental to equality.
Chew on that one for a bit.
This is the man charged with deciding the future fate of academia in this country. Who has also recently commented that university fees are progressive, because women earn less than men and so will have to pay off the debt more slowly. Yes, a government minister in Britain in 2011 believes that the wage gap gives women an advantage over men - a Scott Adams level of delusion, frankly.
Now, it's a rapidly coalescing consensus that this government is inflicting sustained and systemic violence on women: cuts to child benefit, unprecedented mass redundancies, decimation of women's shelters and rape crisis funding, withdrawal of funding for legal aid and help in getting child support payments - these are all things that will trap the most vulnerable women and children in potentially dangerous situations through poverty and a simple lack of somewhere to go, likely pushing the number of women murdered by intimate partners from 2 a week to something higher.
So I don't necessarily know that it surprises me that we are governed in part by a man who hates and fears women. Because it's only fear and hate that could make an otherwise intelligent, well educated person miss the three massive elephants in the room with this argument: that wages and working conditions have been stagnating since the 80s, feminism or no; that women have not achieved anything like equality, and even for the upper wage brackets economic inequities and the pay gap persist; and that class inequalities and gender inequalities are not Lego blocks that you can mix and match however suits you to construct a plausible sounding complaint, but disparate and complex economic phenomena, duh.
No, surprise was not the emotion I felt most keenly; it was more bafflement at the fact that misogyny would make someone so heedless of embarrassing themselves in public. What did surprise me was seeing Page 5 of the print edition of the Telegraph today. It was a half-page, with the bottom half given over to advertising, and the top half containing the following headlines:
Feminism 'held back ambition of working men'And...
Mothers being forced back to full-time work
Female drinkers 'a burden on the NHS'
Nice Baps, shame about the nameOh and also a piece about rude place names titled "Silly Trolls", which was what made me think the whole page might have been a leg-pull.
Because seriously, how can a publication with any sort of pretensions to newsworthyness concentrate so many misogynist tropes - objectification, vilification of feminism, moral panic about misbehaving women, mommy wars pearl-clutching - into one page, and expect to get away with it?
It's seems to me that the Telegraph - a newspaper I used to respect even when I disagreed with it - is trying to pander to the illusions of its readership; illusions about always being middle class, about staying married and not needing to go to work to survive, about not needing feminism because "we have equality now", about the cuts being necessary to bring those lazy, shiftless, drunk poor people in line and not having any effect on "us". It's decided to act as a mouthpiece to a callous government that is hoping to get away with murder because its core voters are too alienated and too smug to realise that blinking at the proposed suffering of others will have implications for them, direct or otherwise.
A lot of people have variants of these illusions. Most if not all of us at times judged or blamed the unlucky, the unsuccessful, thinking "I would never let that happen to me". But of course these people didn't "let it" happen. Bad things happen for random reasons, or for structural reasons that are sometimes too big to see.
And one of the reasons bad things continue to happen to women - bad things like under-employment, poverty, violence, rape - is that we live in this environment of constant, unremitting blame, where a major daily national paper can afford to dedicate an whole page to saying a variety of untrue and damaging things about women and their struggle for equality, and no one but a bunch of angry feminists would even notice, let alone comment.