What professional shit-spewer and disgraced former newspaper editor Piers Morgan knows about feminism could be written on the back of a Post-It Note that’s been ripped into tiny shreds and fed to the birds. And still there he is, so desperately trying to scream his way onto the dried vomit pile he considers the moral high-ground, all while insisting that us poor gals just don’t know what’s better for us. Indeed, we’d all be much better off if we listened to the true feminist idol of our times: The guy who got sacked from editing the Daily Mirror for publishing fake torture photos.
I wouldn’t usually give Morgan’s latest tirade the time of day since he so clearly thrives on the oxygen his outrage creates. He is the ultimate parasite in that regard, yet I find it tough to ignore the way he consistently targets women, simultaneously leering at them while condemning them for being what he considers indecently dressed or acting inappropriately. He spews misogynistic, transphobic, and racist bile under the guise of ‘telling it like it is’, and because my country is nothing if not masochistic, he has plenty of profiles to do so with impunity. There’s an entire ecosystem built around his Poundshop Trump act: Just look at every time his Good Morning Britain co-host Susanna Reid quietly sits next to him and rolls her eyes while he goes on his new rant, but never actually refutes or calls out his dangerous rhetoric. No, that would spoil the run and she has a ‘sensible straight woman’ act to keep up.
This week, Morgan returns to one of his favourite targets, actress and model Emily Ratajkowski, who did an admittedly daft photo-shoot involving rolling around in spaghetti. I wrote about her here, and tried to elaborate on my often complex feelings on what Ratajkowski represents as a public woman who talks of feminism in her daily life. I like to think what I wrote was measured, empathetic, and actually came from a place of, you know, giving a shit about feminism. I can safely say that Morgan doesn’t care about feminism: He just really likes having a new stick to beat women with.
He opens his latest piece with a smug rhetorical question of ‘What IS feminism’ and essentially admitting he’s excited to be accused of mansplaining ‘by hordes of enraged women’. While still focusing on how hot Ratajkowski is, he dismisses any claims she makes about finding empowerment in her sexuality, something many women do, and bizarrely claims, ‘Ms Ratajkowski could commit mass murder but so long as she found it ‘empowering’ then that would automatically make it an act of feminism.’ There’s a lot of ‘no true Scotsman’ going on here, and I can’t help but be grossed out by Morgan claiming he truly cares about impressionable young women having their ideals warped by women like Ratajkowski. If he was genuinely invested in the future of kids, he wouldn’t have gotten such joy out of making them cry when he was a judge on America’s Got Talent. He wouldn’t be so delighted to brag about his friendship with Trump. He wouldn’t consistently drag up sexist rhetoric and outdated gender roles to get a rise out of people, because shockingly, being ‘ironically sexist’ is still being sexist.
And then of course he tries to drag up the legacies of Emmeline Pankhurst and Emily Davison, the latter of whom threw herself under the King’s horse in protest of the British government’s stance on giving women the right to vote, and claims women like Ratajkowski and Kim Kardashian are letting down the pioneers of the feminist movement.
Okay, let’s unpack this.
You know what the first wave movement of feminism was? Pretty classist and hugely racist. We know this to be true. We know that various prominent figures in that period of the movement, contemporaries of Pankhurst, went on to become leading figures in the British Union of Fascists. We know how their American sisters treated Ida B. Wells and other black feminists. We know how the contributions of Sophia Duleep Singh were erased from many accounts of the era because they didn’t fit the white narrative. We know the eugenics arguments made by many women of this movement at the time. The incredible and necessary steps the first wave made were not a monolith of selfless sacrifices and wholehearted unity, and to pretend so is a massive cultural smudging that will only lead us to repeat our mistakes. To use them to batter women of the 21st century is bad enough, as much as Morgan co-opts the words of Pankhurst’s descendants in order to assert how he’s the genuine feminist here and not the women who are actually affected by sexism.
Feminism is no monolith, and nor should it be. If it does not evolve with the times, it does not work. We don’t stridently stick to the first wave because our needs have changed and we shouldn’t exclude anyone cased on their class, race or financial stability. The second wave was chock full of hugely transphobic figures (many of whom have dishearteningly high levels of clout in modern discourse), and the third wave still struggles with how to treat sex workers. None of these things are issues Morgan cares about. He only co-opts them to mock, deride and diminish the work of women who he personally doesn’t like. There are still many conversations to be had on the intersections of sexuality & feminism: How do we express ourselves in that manner without being co-opted by misogynistic ideals? Is that even possible? What about the intersections of feminism, sexuality and blackness, and how they’re appropriated by white women as attractive while black women suffer the societal consequences? How about trans women and their sexual agency in feminism, particularly given the large portions of trans women who have or are currently engaged in sex work? We’re still decades behind other nations regarding issues of decriminalisation of sex work, as well as sex education, work on body image, safe and cheap access to contraception and abortion, and much more. These are topics that can and do come up when we talk about someone like Emily Ratajkowski, and she’s been open in her support of groups like Planned Parenthood. Not that you’d know this if all you did was read Piers. While slamming women for showing off their bodies, he continues to reduce them to nothing but their bodies.
Not every act a woman does is feminist. I’ve talked before about my conflict over the contradictory nature of Ratajkowski and women like her, but I’m always in her corner when men like Morgan want to try and make examples of her. There is nothing to be gained, learned, or understood by pretending Piers Morgan is anything other than a narcissistic misogynist who positions attacking women for pleasure and profit. Honestly, I’ve dedicated too much of my time to him as it is, but I want everyone to understand that women’s rights and the debates that we as women have with one another about them are not his sandbox to shit in. Men may sit in on these conversations, but they do not have free rein over the megaphone, nor are their contributions the bedrock of our movement. I would be happy to talk to Emily Ratajkowski, the magazines that help shape her image, the team around her working to maintain it, and the groups she supports. I think those conversations would be worthwhile.
Piers Morgan can stay at home.
Our feminism is not his chew toy.