There are some things that matter more than politics – friendship and family foremost among them. The ties and history we have with people we know from growing up have a meaning and a depth that cannot, nor should be, easily shaken off. Our families and friends are a huge part of who we are: we should therefore be extremely wary of anyone – individual or group – that tries, for whatever reason, to convince us to sever these bonds.
But what about love? In matters of the heart, things, as always, are more tempestuous. Can two people who disagree on fundamental matters – religion, politics, best garden birds – nevertheless reach a higher admiration for each other on the basis of character or soul? Undoubtedly! It would be an incredibly sad, and quiet, world if love required total agreement.
But because we live in a suspicious and deeply infantile age, who someone adores is naturally a matter of public judgement. Actress Jodie Comer, who previously pledged allegiance to the rainbow, has been cancelled for possibly going out with a man who might supports Trump. Any bloke who gets to go out with someone so lovely as Comer is frankly sublimely lucky more than anything, but still, Comer’s romantic life has generated an unattractive hashtag, #JodieComerIsOverParty, so it must be serious.
Let us note, in passing, that Brooklyn Beckham’s announcement yesterday of his forthcoming marriage to Nicola Peltz, whose father is a top Trump supporter, has not been met with similar calls for the lad to be stopped from doing whatever it is he does. Beckham, idolised by a fanbase as similarly young and woke as Comer’s, has, predictably, kept his reputation pristine.
But this asymmetrical treatment of Comer and Beckham arguably points to something deeper: women are judged far more for the men they love than men are for the women that they do. But why? Once society collectively agreed that women of a certain age (and property-less men) were equal participants in the discussion of how things should be run, it would have been foolhardy to imagine that things would proceed as they always had done.
A heterosocial world – a world in which men and women of all backgrounds mix in public life, in employment, on the streets, romantically and in conversation – was never going to be a world in which everyone agreed. Women’s recent mass entry into public life, into politics, into the arts and culture, remains, for all its successes, deeply fraught. Let us not forget that the first female Member of Parliament to take her seat in the UK did so only just over a hundred years ago.
Too many men across the political spectrum today seem to think that women are just there to nod along with them, and if they don’t, they should be shunned and expelled from public life. Thus, the Labour Party has, over recent years, purged many women who refuse to simply accept the idea that a woman is anyone who says they are one.
The Green Party met similar resistance a few years ago to its idea that ‘non-men’ would be a good replacement term for ‘women’, and Beatrix Campbell’s very recent account of her time in the party, and her reasons for leaving, makes for extraordinarily harrowing reading. It is interesting to think about whether JK Rowling's expulsion from the mainstream on account of her views around trans people would have been less explosive, vitriolic and personal had she been male.
People have always ‘fallen out’, yet in recent years people seem to have not only burnt, but nuked, bridges, on the basis of disagreement over, amongst other things, Brexit, Trump, the meaning of sex and gender, and how to live with the virus. We will inevitably disagree with various of the decisions, thoughts and behaviours of our friends and family, and they with us: sometimes these breaks are irreparable. Sometimes we understand each other even if we disagree.
It’s necessary to note that it is not only men doing the expelling and punishing, whether in matters of private or public life. Some women have attacked Comer, while others have defended her right to hang out whoever she wants to, and others pointed out that it’s insanely sexist to judge a woman by her beau. Several of the people attempting to lose women work for wrongthink have been other women. The same goes for Rowling.
Women disagree with each other all the time. It would be too easy to say that these women are suffering from internalised misogyny. There are profound disagreements at the heart of public life, and divergences regarding how we should treat each other, that do not easily fall across sexed lines.
But we have to talk, all the while maintaining extra-political loyalties to friends and family, without fear of losing employment and being socially ostracised by each other. We cannot perhaps help who we fall in love with. But we – rich or poor, famous or unknown – shouldn’t be punished for it. It’s too important a thing for that.