Big Beasts and Little Women


This morning I gradually became aware of l’Affaire Fry (or should I say la Nouvelle Affaire Fry?). Namely, that Stephen Fry has announced in an interview that women don’t really like sex. If they did, they’d go cruising on Hampstead Heath. Oh, and they’re a bit mercenary about it, too. Gods, I should pay more attention to what’s going on in the world. Our political editor, Ian Dunt already has a nice comment on this in the Guardian, so I’ll try not to contradict him or tread where he’s already gone.

Normally, when I see a headline on Fry I tend to ignore it, just as I don’t subscribe to the televisual wit and badinage of his QI program or follow his bon mots on Twitter. I admire his obvious intelligence and respect his National Treasure™ status. I just feel I’ve got enough on my plate in the way of intellectual stimulation, and I’ll do the organising of any supplement to this along with my cod liver oil capsules and vodka shots. So, apart from the tiresome ubiquity of the face of a man I’ve been led to believe is a genial combination of Jeeves and Oscar Wilde (but is more likely the product of an intellectually under-stimulated media machine), I’m pretty neutral about Fry.

All the same, the more I read, the more I felt sorry for the chap. He claims he has been misquoted and the relevant interviewer is adamant that he was not (but really, just think about it, who has more to gain out of Fry being deadly serious here?). Quite apart from the fact that his expression of this heretical view may have been made in a humorous context, his opinion is so obviously a huge generalisation that the only people who take it seriously are those who will make money out of doing so and simultaneously wind us up. Step forward, most editors and female hacks.

Fry is a victim of the media’s obsession with celebrity, its careful husbandry of the celebrity stock, reared and culled just like cattle, or in the case of the Daily Telegraph, like grouse or, indeed, deer. Why, when that other big beast, the Exmoor Emperor, was shot the other day, at a subliminal level, I started to worry about Stephen Fry. Now I know why.

Mix this celeb fixation with the toxic, divisive polarity of modern day sexual politics: the emasculating political correctness of sexual enjoyment on Andrea Gherkin terms or the mindless, gymnastic approach of sexual enjoyment, Shirley Balls-style, and poor Stephen becomes as good a target as a Fry-sized fish trying to swim in a rather small barrel.

But it’s not just the newspapers. Much of the sex industry (in its broadest sense) is interested in seeing the female libido being replicated as closely as possible to that of a man, so that they, too, can become voracious sexual consumers. Sex and the City sold millions of Rabbit vibrators. Book publishers and television production companies shove, push and squeeze womanhood into a straightjacket of sexual lust that not all of them relish. But it sells some ghastly books and some pretty hellish sex toys. It piles on the pressure by telling them they should achieve more positions and more orgasms than they do and induces a sense of failure if they can’t.

All in all, it’s a good excuse to do some navel-gazing à propos the nation’s sex life. And soon one thing becomes abundantly clear: a sense of humour about sex and human relations is still not very sophisticated in most of the media. I would put it at around the Donald McGill postcard level. I like his work, and there’s no doubt that McGill knew something about female sexual enjoyment, but it would be nice to think that we have all moved on a bit since the 1940s.

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