According to the headline and subheading in today’s Telegraph, Fay Weldon thinks Katie Price “drinks too much and sleeps with too many people and talks about it too much for common decency”. The more detailed quote, as it appears in The Telegraph, reads on:

“However, the author of The Lives and Loves of a She-Devil said Price, the glamour model otherwise known as Jordan, could be considered an “empowering” role model because she has made a lot of money.

It depends what you think the function of women is,” Weldon said, in a talk at the Richmond Book Now Festival in south-west London.

“If it’s to look good, then she’s fine. If it’s to make a lot of money, then she’s fine. So I suppose she must be empowering for women because one wants them to be prosperous and they like to look good.

“She drinks too much and sleeps with two many people and talks about it too much for common decency, but who of us is perfect?”

If the headline understandably gives the impression that Weldon is making damning and antiquated judgments about Price’s life, perhaps we should be noting the context of “common decency” for her remarks. Separately, I reckon anyone who would sensationally claim Weldon is upholding Price as a role model should consider her use of potentially pertinent question-raising if‘s in her answer to the question about empowerment. (To be fair, at least one source erring towards the second kind of spin refers to “the standards of modern society” within the piece itself.)

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve cringed at a few of Weldon’s comments in my time (for example, the ones about sex education and teenage pregnancy, as highlighted by Samara, last year). But doesn’t it seem as if her words have been twisted? True, she does seem to be making somewhat of a judgement about Katie Price’s apparent drinking and “sleeping with a lot of people” (and that’s annoying) but I think her emphasis is more on how such behaviour doesn’t fit in with convention, with the basic conclusion that “nobody’s perfect” anyway. Isn’t this ultimately saying Katie Price doesn’t have to be “perfect” according to common standards because, really, nobody is?

It seems to me that the Telegraph is indulging in a spot of feminist baiting here. Of course, this is something Weldon is no stranger to herself (i.e. her frequent self-satisfied “one drink ahead” posturing that seems to scream “been there, done that and now I’m above it!”) but I’m not sure we should be getting pissed off in the manner the Telegraph seems to be nudging us to.

But wait. Weldon also had a few things to say about feminism:

“Once it was only the men who were wage-slaves, and now it’s the men and the women too. You know, I’d really rather blame capitalism… You do feel some qualms for these women who actually have to shove their children’s arms into clothes at five o’clock in the morning and get them off to nursery.”

Yet feminism remains the “least worst” option and has left the majority of women better off, she insisted…

“…There’s never a perfect solution. There’s just the least worst. And least worst is feminist society, which is more or less what we’re getting now. And people on the whole are happier than they were before… although everybody’s much more tired.”

Okay, so these points are irritating insomuch as you can already sense them being gathered up to get pulled out of shape by anti-feminists eager to suggest feminism is a terrible thing that has made women miserable. As Anita Singh and Ceri Radford say, respectively:

Is this really the choice women are faced with: aspiration-free dullard or miserable wage-slave? Must feminism have a “downside”?

“…However imperfect the current state of affairs, it shouldn’t even need saying that a past which tended to consign half of the human race to a life of unending domestic drudgery – regardless of their talents or wishes – is worse”

Despite the potential in her words to fuel more feminist-bashing, I do think Weldon makes a really good point about how far we all have to go in terms of real freedom. After all, it’s one thing to insist that one half of humanity should not be kept out of the workplace in order to make way for the other but quite another to ignore how oppressive full-time wage slavery can be in general. Should we blame capitalism? Absolutely. In another report on the festival interview, Weldon is quoted to say that she reckons about 20% of women are “worse off” after feminism and, though I wouldn’t go that far, it does seem that many women are placed in a position of double jeopardy by being pushed towards either being kept by a partner or stuck in poorly paid work (and often still expected to put in the domestic shift at home in addition to that). However, rather than being some second-rate-best-of-a-bad-bunch choice that conveniently ignores the many women (and, indeed, men) who are still no better off, I’d say feminism has an important role to play in addressing such inequalities.

Comments From You

Charlotte Revely // Posted 1 December 2009 at 10:25 pm

I suspect Fay Weldon enjoys being deliberately provocative and then watching the reactions. I think the point about everyone being more tired is a valid one and we may be in danger of confusing feminism with capitalism which exploits everyone but some more than others. An economy which creates a housing market for rental or purchase which forces people into long hours just to survive is part of the problem. Equality is about respect and we mustn’t fall for the media distortion of it all being about careers or motherhood. A different socio-economic system would liberate us all.

Jennifer Drew // Posted 2 December 2009 at 12:05 am

Rather weak comments made by Fay Weldon wherein she makes indirect attacks against Katie Price but says nothing about how our male-dominant society promotes and narrowly represents a male-defined notion of how women should look, act and appear. Yes, it is true if women do enact what our male-dominant popular culture promotes as ’empowerment’ then yes some women will benefit but more importantly – not women as a group. Therein lies the difference.

As for blaming capitalism Weldon should take a look at how capitalism operates because it is a combination of patriarchy and the so-called free market which deliberately exploits those groups who do not hold dominant social and economic status. Most women do not hold positions of economic and social power and whilst most men also do not, however men as a group continue to retain and promote their greater economic and social status compared to women as a group.

Remember the gender pay gap? Which group is the one still being paid less than men?

It is a myth claiming men now are the ones in full-time work slavery because in fact women have always had to work and it was not until the rise of the middle classes due to the industrialisation that new male-defined ideas of appropriate ‘feminine roles’ arose. Middle-class women were prevented from entering the male-dominated workplace whereas working class women have always worked.

Now, whilst some women have ‘broken through the glass ceiling’ this has not resulted in a radical change with regards to the continuing male-defined workplace and male-defined ideas of what passes for work conditions.

Feminism has not achieved full human status for all women and in fact only a tiny minority of women are being promoted as ‘having achieved full human status subject of course to male-defined definitions.’ Feminists have never said we would radically change society because herstory shows that radical change is always slow.

But, if it were not for innumerable but sadly women who have been dismissed as not important according to male historians, women would not have achieved any rights. Not until the middle of the 19th century was legislation passed making it legal for women to retain their property and ownership of any finances upon marriage. Education for women was a hard and long fight because education was considered a waste of time for women. Then there is the matter of male sexual violence against women, wherein it was not seen as a social problem emanating from men’s greater social and economic power over women. Instead it was viewed as isolated incidents or a ‘private matter’ wherein the state had no right to impose legal restraint or charge men with assaulting their female partners.

So, yes if it was not for feminism women would not have any of the above rights but we still have a very long way to go and the immense backlash against feminism is all about men’s fear and many womens’ fear too of what would happen if indeed ‘the world did split open’ and women finally, finally achieved full human status. Something which white heterosexual males have enjoyed for centuries.

So, instead of focusing on individual women such as Katie Price, Weldon and The Daily Telegraph should not waste time and effort attempting once again ‘to divide women’ whilst the real social issues remain hidden and invisibilised.

But of course it is always much easier to attack female scapegoats rather than go to the root of the problem – which continues to be patriarchy and capitalism combined.

earwicga // Posted 2 December 2009 at 9:41 am

“She drinks too much and sleeps with two many people and talks about it too much for common decency, but who of us is perfect?”

Disgusting comment even without the typo.

I must admit I have always had a soft spot for Weldon, and I’ve seen her criticisms of feminism to have some basis, but I really really wish she hadn’t jumped on the hate wagon towards Katie Price.

Agree totally with the rest of the comments and your post Holly – we are now in a situation where choices regarding child care are stark and unforgiving due mainly to the relentless drive to increase house prices and the woeful record of affordable and social housing provision.

Holly Combe // Posted 2 December 2009 at 10:31 am

@Jennifer. I agree wholeheartedly with what you say about capitalism in your second paragraph. However, I think Weldon did at least hint at how problematic the perceived function of women is. She just did it in her trademark “meh” kind of way that seems to be meant to imply a sense of peace with however the world works rather than a struggle against it.

I’ve been thinking further about the “I’d really rather blame capitalism” comment. The preceding comments meant I took it to be a sidestep away from what seemed like a critique of where Weldon thinks feminism has left women. But I guess she might have been shifting the blame away from patriarchy when, as you say, Jennifer, the root of the problem is surely patriarchy and capitalism combined?

Louise Bond // Posted 3 December 2009 at 8:32 am

The problems women and even feminists face in todays society are due to a backlash against feminism and not feminism itself.

We are not just going to say lets give up because patriarchy is fighting back. it only means we need to keep fighting and fight harder.

Women are stronger than that. Fay Weldon has a pessimistic view. She needs to give women more credit

nick // Posted 3 December 2009 at 8:45 am

Holly , Jennifer –

‘if the problem is patriachy and capitalism combined ‘

then is a solution matriachy and socialism combined ?

If so, how would the changes take place ?

Holly Combe // Posted 3 December 2009 at 9:16 am

@Nick: That’s a very dichotomous way of looking at it! Ultimately, I’d say no to matriarchy (though I do think it’s interesting to see reactions when someone dares to suggest it) and yes to socialism. I think enabling more jobs to be worked part-time and teaching/encouraging everyone to take the time to do their own dirty work so that underprivileged people don’t end up having to do it for crap pay would be a good start. You couldn’t expect society to change overnight though and, of course, that’s not even considering the more radical move of abolishing capitalism… Like most people, I’d say I’ve been sufficiently messed up by capitalism to not even be able to imagine life without it, so managing it through nationalisation of services (eg: transport) and regulation of business is all I can really envisage for now.

Kez // Posted 3 December 2009 at 9:40 am

@ Nick, why does it have to be either patriarchy or matriarchy? How about, um, equality??

Redheadinred // Posted 3 December 2009 at 3:26 pm

Why does this woman call herself a feminist? I’ll never work it out.

earwicga // Posted 3 December 2009 at 4:35 pm

@ Redheadinred

Read her books and you’ll find out. Start with Praxis.

polly // Posted 4 December 2009 at 9:46 am

Weldon’s structuring of her response is bizarre. She talks about ‘women’ as though a)she isn’t a woman herself and b)they were some kind of rare species, not approximately half the human race. Has it ever occurred to her that not all women want the same things because they’re not a homogenous group?

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