Friday 19 January 2018

Stephen's attitude leaves a lot to be desired

Stephen Fry's comments demonstrate that heterophobia is just as deplorable as homophobia, writes Ciara Kelly

Stephen Fry, well-known British broadcaster and witty intellectual, has this month, in an interview in the English magazine Attitude, expressed some very interesting and individual opinions about women's attitudes towards sex and sexual politics. "I feel sorry for straight men," said Stephen candidly. "The only reason women will have sex with them is that sex is the price they are willing to pay for a relationship with a man, which is what they want."

In one succinct sentence Stephen, usually perceived as champion of liberalism, has managed to put women firmly back in their place, as wannabe wives and girlfriends who use sex merely as currency to snare a man.

He goes on to say, "Of course, a lot of women will deny this and say 'Oh no, but I love sex, I love it!'" (Because that is how we women talk) "But do they go around having it the way that gay men do? If women liked sex as much as men, there would be straight cruising areas in the way there are gay cruising areas."

Since homosexuality has rightfully been decriminalised, it's come out into the open and gay cruising areas have moved into pubs and clubs just like straight cruising -- where, in fairness, it's much more warm and comfortable.

It is true that women's sexuality has evolved a little differently to that of men. Sex has always been more complicated for women, in that they run the risk of becoming pregnant. So sex without some kind of security was conventionally something avoided by most. However, the introduction of contraception has revolutionised sexual politics for women in that they no longer had to worry about unplanned pregnancy and could have consequence-free sex -- just like a man.

As it happens, despite this, women still often prefer to

have sex within a relationship, although that is not true of all women or, indeed, all sex. But wanting a personal connection to the man you're sleeping with does not equate to not liking sex. What perhaps Stephen fails to understand is that for a variety of reasons -- fear of pregnancy, fear of being thought less of, a sense of inadequacy about their bodies -- women can feel inhibited and unassertive about sex but that does not mean they do not like it. When they are at ease, women enjoy sex every bit as much as men.

Over the years whilst ascertaining their contraceptive needs, I have discussed with innumerable women their outlook on sex -- and it is clear to me that women enjoy an often vigorous and earthy sexuality.

It seems to me that Stephen Fry who was famously celibate for years, citing disgust at the idea of "rubbing the wet slimy bits" of his body over other people, has -- despite his lusty claims -- some ambivalence about sex himself. And his comments, as a gay man who is presumably indifferent to the sexual allure of women, smack both of heterophobia and sexism.

Because he finds the idea of straight sex distasteful -- he feels sorry for straight men. Because he has no interest in the sexuality of women, he assumes them to be asexual. One wonders what he thinks lesbian women do -- do they never have sex at all? Or are both women in that situation so desperate for a relationship they are mutually putting up with it?

What is perhaps most interesting in his unexpected theory on women's sexuality is the fact that he feels no compunction about offering it. To make comparable comments about gay sexuality would be completely unacceptable. Fry was vitriolic in his self-righteous lambasting of the female journalist Jan Moir last year, whose ill-judged comments about homosexual promiscuity -- something ironically that Stephen seems to corroborate in his latest interview -- resulted in him spearheading a frenzied campaign on Twitter, which culminated in death threats against her.

Stephen was outraged by her opinion on homosexuality. He was incensed that she made sweeping generalisations about gay relationships. He, however, has no problem doing that exact same thing himself. Hello? Pot, anyone . . ? Perhaps he was not merely infuriated by her supposed homophobia but at her temerity to offer an opinion at all -- perhaps Stephen is not only indifferent to women's sexuality but to their views as well.

Offering prejudicial views on another person's sexuality is not just the premise of the ignorant heterosexual. Heterophobia is no better or worse than homophobia. Another consenting adult's sexuality is entirely his or her own business and Fry's sexuality is no more and no less precious than mine. Bullying and discrimination is wrong in and of itself and not any worse depending on who is on the receiving end of it. We sometimes fail to grasp that fact. In Celebrity Big Brother in 2007, when the late Jade Goody et al bullied Shilpa Shetty -- an Indian Bollywood actress -- there was outcry because she was a member of an ethnic minority. On the same show in 2006, no one batted an eyelid about the far more vindictive bullying of Jodie Marsh -- a topless model -- by Pete Burns and George Galloway.

It's like we've gotten our heads around the idea that racism or homophobia is wrong, but even Stephen Fry hasn't quite grasped that all discrimination is wrong, even if it's not against one of the untouchable groups. Does saying that mean I am a homophobe? -- No, of course not.

Fry's comments -- which he has described as being misquoted -- have resulted in such outrage that he temporarily closed his beloved page down. British feminists turned on him, not only because of what he said but also because he was someone whom they thought was on their side.

It seems that Fry has finally said something that doesn't make him look big or clever.

Dr Ciara Kelly is a Wicklow-based general practitioner

Sunday Independent

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