I stand here before you in support of a woman’s right to get drunk.
If she is of legal age, spending her own damn money and has no minors under her immediate care, I support a woman’s right to get as bleary as her heart desires.
I also support a woman’s right to casual sex. Well, what we used to call ‘casual sex’, and is now called “hooking up”. Again: Legal age? Consenting adults? Go for it. Some of the best sex you will ever have is likely to be with people you don’t even like, so seriously, it’s much better to keep that stuff casual, rather than try to convince yourself that every orgasm means something. And yes, I am releasing a line of inspirational tea-towels.
I will take to the streets to defend a woman’s right to do both those things, if they are her choice.
So why did comedian Dawn French’s comments about “drunk girls” – where she talked her way into a proper Internet pile-on for suggesting that she was confused about some young women’s explicit sexuality – seem perfectly reasonable to me, while they flapped much of the Internet into an indignant frenzy?
In case you missed it:
Dawn French – comedian, writer, Vicar of Dibley, legend – gave an interview to the The Times last week, about a great many things.
She’s just written a confessional memoir, and after 30 years working in the sausage-fest that is the comedy world, French is being asked a lot about feminism.
In the Times piece, she tells of how she and her long-time collaborator Jennifer Saunders' new comedy show will have overtones of our times. She says there's a lot of Handmaids' Tale references, and that she and Jen had also been, as an act of research, been watching reality shows about young men and women on holiday in Ibiza. Getting, well, smashed.
Here's the quote that got everyone very upset:
“I am shocked by how they behave. These girls are preloading with vodka, primping, helping each other get ready. You reckon they want to meet someone who would love, cherish and respect them. But instead they go out and get utterly hammered and are shagging in a bush and coming out and going ‘Yes!’, like men. Like the men we hoped we wouldn’t ever be like, and certainly not mimic as women — being champions of the shag machine and going home covered in sperm on their legs, and throwing up.
“I don’t believe that you feel great about yourself the day after that. I don’t think boys do particularly either. Is that what women threw themselves in front of horses for? For this? For girls to be as low as those awful boys. What have we done? How did we go wrong? They have mothers who love them. What’s happened that they don’t value their body or that they don’t mind any of this? Am I totally out of step? Is it really OK to be as sexually free as you like and as drunk as you like? I don’t buy it. It feels wrong to me.”
Dawn, come on, just tell us what you really think.
Is this an outdated, misogynistic rant from a desperately out-of-touch woman, as my colleague Jessie Stephens full-throatedly believes?
Or is this the perspective of a woman who's earned some wisdom, who has a young-adult daughter, and who can't quite believe that these days, people will have sex on reality TV for hardly any money at all?
Which side you choose probably has a lot to do with your age, and your proximity to getting drunk and having sex in bushes. Specifically, whether it's you or your daughter (actual or imagined) who is closer to doing it.
"Drunk girls looking trashed" is a now a popular schtick for reality TV shows and tabloid newspapers and sites alike. Junior journalists and photographers are regularly assigned to head out onto the streets of capital cities in the early hours to capture women in short skirts looking unsteady on their heels. It terms of judgemental voyeurism, it's like shooting fish in a barrel, and not especially original. Every generation thinks the one that comes after it is going to hell in a hand-basket. It's just part of getting old.
Listen to Jessie and I debate French's comments, here:
But French's comments, for me, had a genuine ring of concern that's familiar to many, many woman who feel uncomfortable with the instruction that in a post-feminist world, we have to be okay with absolutely everything that other women choose to do.
The parts of her candid comments that rang true with me were these:
"But instead they go out and get utterly hammered and are shagging in a bush and coming out and going ‘Yes!’, like men. Like the men we hoped we wouldn’t ever be like. Is that what women threw themselves in front of horses for? For this? For girls to be as low as those awful boys?"
The triumph of feminism - the point of feminism - is not to be exactly like men.
In our supposedly woke world, the culture is always telling us to be more like men. Have the confidence of a middle-aged white man is code for 'it doesn't matter how bad you are at something, just pretend you're fantastic at it.' That's objectively terrible advice that will stop you from ever learning anything.
Women apologise too much. Men don't make excuses for their very existence. Much better, clearly, to not care at all how your actions affect other people.
Be more ruthless at work. Because more myopic people with only their own interests at heart is exactly what the world needs right now.
It's not anti-feminist to look at people behaving badly and think, 'I don't like that'.
It's not misogyny to shake your head at the young people and say 'They might regret that'.
And it's not woman-bashing to look at the boorish, thoughtless behaviour of roving, drunk young men and say 'I hope my daughter doesn't do that'.
That's just perspective, gleaned from experience. Sometimes drunken casual sex is gloriously fun and life-affirming. Sometimes it makes you feel like shit on a shoe.
Women of Dawn French's age are tired of pretending otherwise.
Listen to the whole episode of Mamamia Out Loud, here: