A fight in Paul Dacre’s madhouse

Hooray, it’s time for a fight between Suzanne Moore and Liz Jones! Well, more of a swipe from Moore against Jones. Jones, the fashion editor of the Daily Mail (my god), has published a memoir of her miserable life, and Guardianista Moore doesn’t like it very much at all.

I have to confess that I’m fascinated by Liz Jones’s trainwreckery. First of all, because she’s a trainwreck, but secondly, Jones’s confessional writings destroy a certain lady-magazine lie–the lie being that if you keep your body in good shape and make sure to be pretty in a certain sort of way, then everything will turn out all right. Jones’s tragedy is that despite working in the lady-magazine industry, despite buying armloads of expensive clothes and slathering her skin with every potion known to humankind, she hasn’t achieved the other lady-magazine goals–a man, a baby, a house in the country, and so on. Her story is one of constant failure to live up to an impossible ideal that she doesn’t seem to really desire but strives towards nonetheless.

Moreover, she won’t even put on a happy face about her failures. Plenty of women write personal stories about the issues that Jones deals with–anorexia, sexual problems, dating woes–but they always keep open the possibility of a happy ending, or at least they learn a nice lesson from dealing with their problems or have a sort of group hug in the comment section. Not our Liz. The whole thing sucked, everything went wrong, and that’s it. The healing never begins; she is forever alone and forever angry. If women have a duty to be happy, Liz Jones is spitting on that duty and giving it both middle fingers. It’s refreshing in very small doses.*

In short, Jones is a unhappy, mean woman–and I doubt she would have it any other way, for at least she’s the best at being worst. There’s no prize for being semi-miserable, as Morrissey could tell you.

Moore’s piece is a bit sad, because it’s at once as prescriptive as Jones is (a real woman has tits and ass, she’s up for a drink and a fuck, etc.) and it’s oddly, well, hysterical about the effects of Jones’s writing. Why can’t Jones write about murder or depression? She may not do it well, but there’s nothing in her work that makes it dangerous to publish. Also, her editors don’t have a duty of care towards her, as she’s a menopausal woman, not a thirteen-year-old girl. Moore’s tone suggests that Jones is some sort of malignant psychopath who can spread her psychopathy through words alone, as if a female crank has a contagious mental illness and should be shut away before she infects the good girls.

I don’t want to be too hard on Moore, though, as she has her points, even though her insistence on What A Woman Is keeps me from caring very much about them. The real sexism here is that nobody has given Paul Dacre a full psychological thrashing for his evil ways and bad examples, despite the fact that he runs the whole misogynist Daily Mail shitshow and is a notoriously angry person. He also chose, out of all the many great and good people he must know, to be best friends with Gordon Brown, which seems more psychically unhealthy than Jones taking in all those poor abandoned ponies and dogs. But then again, Dacre has real power, unlike these women fighting in the shop window, and therefore he can do whatever he likes without worrying about mental stigma or “letting down the side.” This is patently unfair and dangerous to society–if Jones should be sectioned, somebody should consider taking Dacre into care as well because the Daily Mail in its entirety is an obvious symptom of a severe mental illness.

* Her columns are shorter than Anita Brookner novels, if nothing else.

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