Being intelligent does not make you wise

by · November 4, 2010

Stephen Fry has quit Twitter. Some are saying that his tweet, “So some fucking paper misquotes a humorous interview I gave, which itself misquoted me and now I’m the Antichrist. I give up.” and his subsequent, “Bye bye” is a “hissy fit”.

Maybe. We’re all entitled to bad behaviour. I also wonder if it is a reaction occurring during a manic phase (Fry is quite open about his bipolar) when feeling piled upon. The only person who would know that would be him, and his doctor, but I have to say that’s how it comes across to me.

So, what was he supposedly misquoted in saying?

I think most straight men feel they disgust women. They find it difficult to believe that women are as interested in sex as they are. For good reason. If women liked sex as much as men there would be straight cruising areas in the way there are gay cruising areas.

I feel sorry for straight men. 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. They want a boyfriend and then they want commitment.

Of course a lot of women will deny this and say, “Oh, no, but I love sex, I love it!” But do they go around having it the way that gay men do?

Gay men are the perfect acid test. If they want to get their rocks off, they go into a park where they know they can do it.

I shouldn’t need to tell you that Fry is incorrect in his comments about womens’ sexuality. Plenty of women enjoy sex, plenty don’t. Numerous women find anonymous encounters satisfying and there are those who wouldn’t dream of having sex unless they were in a monogamous relationship.  The point is sexuality, whatever your gender identity, is complex and cannot be classified in any specific way.

Fry has copped a hell of a lot of criticism for this and I don’t think all of it is unwarranted, particularly since he has made these kinds of comments before. Even if it was intended to be taken in jest I think it missteps sufficiently for it to be considered sexist.


Do I think he should be vilified like he has been? No.  At most he’s (allegedly) tried to make a joke and in doing so has repeated a trope that is rehashed ad nauseum  by people who are ignorant of basic principles of equality.

I’m a feminist. Call me a bad feminist if you like, but I can’t agree that this makes him a terrible person overall or deserving of hatred. The comments are not forgivable, but neither are comments like this from Germaine Greer:

Stephen Fry is clearly under a delusion that he is an authority on female sexuality. Well, if he thinks that women are not interested in genital encounters with total strangers then he is absolutely right. But to conclude that we are therefore uninterested in sex is madness.

It is true that men have an interest in a kind of sex which women find infinitely depressing, and it’s true that women really don’t want to hang around toilets hoping that someone will come along and play with their bits. That is not what passion is about for us and we would be placing ourselves in mortal danger if it was.

Women have an idea of passion which men like Stephen can’t even begin to imagine. What women yearn for is intimacy. The fact that for women sex is an integral part of closeness doesn’t mean we are any less interested in it.

Responding to a generalisation about womens’ sexuality with another sweeping comment regarding the same, and including men for good measure is not how you fight sexism.

You fight sexism by educating, not seeing who can scream the loudest at the offender. No one is perfect, we may like to believe the people we admire are, but they’re not.  Stephen Fry is not excluded from that, despite the adoration many have for him.

Stephen Fry is a ridiculously intelligent man, but intelligence does not equate to wisdom or common sense. Am I disappointed that he made such comments? Hell yes. I won’t write him off for it, but my admiration has been taken down a few notches. That is what happens when we place someone on a pedestal. That is when disappointment hits hardest.

Cross-posted from The Red Pill Survival Guide

Filed under: feminism, LGBTIQ politics

Discussion10 Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    Oh I am so glad to have had you explain and put this in perspective for "us". Lots of disempowering terms, bit of name calling of passive/aggressive diagnosis and generalisations.A couple of points seeing as we are being general and apologetic et al.'We' don't call misogyny 'sexism' anymore, 'we' say it like it is. Now read this bit carefully – I'll make it into a question: have you ever heard of gay, white male misogyny before? Not saying this is the rule, nor an exception, just that it takes place. As for the lameness in your using Germaine Greer as a counter-argument. I wonder who might be more entitled (or even qualified) to talk on female sexuality? I do agree that her generalisations are problematic, but she does make a good point about it perhaps not being (as) safe (in our culture) for women to hang around toilets for a bit. Besides, if it's a certain time of the night they might be referred to as "strays".bscare @countrhegemony

  2. Ben Harris-Roxas says:

    Meh. I like your writing Michelle but this piece is just an example of dissonance reduction. That is, I like Stephen Fry, he said some truly terrible things, now I either (a) no longer like him, or decide (b) what he said wasn't so bad. Surely we're sophisticated enough that one can still like the guy but acknowledge he has repeatedly said stupid, sexist things.

  3. Michelle says:

    I never expected my opinion to be popular, but I think that I have been misunderstood. This is not a post apologising for Fry’s comments, just giving MY perspective on the situation. @countrhegemonyThere was no name calling, nor can I see any passive/aggressive comments or massive generalizations. As for disempowering terms – none.Sexism is exactly what this is. Do I think the comments were misogynist? No. At no point do I see the comments being reflective of a hatred of women, just a repeat of the standard argument made by those who don’t believe that women are full sexual beings.Yes, Fry has privilege. We all do, and it colours the opinions we have and the way we see the world. Gay, white male misogyny exists, but so does white, cis-gendered, white male misogyny, and there are also women who are misogynist. I’m not denying the existence of misogyny, but in this instance I didn’t feel it was appropriate.Greer has a tendency to make generalizations herself and as a “go-to” feminist she should know better than to counter an offensive generalization with comments that take that further. I could have talked about why some women don’t cruise for sex because of safety concerns, but that was not the point of my piece.@benFry did say some terrible things, I don’t deny it. And, as I said, it does make me like him less. We can never be in complete agreement with those who we like – I don’t expect my friends and family to agree with me 100% of the time, and I certainly don’t agree with them.

  4. Anonymous says:

    If I may comment as a heterosexual man . . . I am aware that having so identified myself, I risk being under immediate hostile fire, and, on reading through the original item plus the linked comments, I realise that in writing this response there are many areas in which I may offend. Nevertheless,. . . First, Stephen Fry himself. I rarely watch television. The only time I saw Fry was in one of his travelogues on New York, which,(having lived in the States & worked in television myself), I thought lazy & trite. I considered the BBC had overpaid a lot for very little.For me, Fry is just a TV journalist & performer. I do not "admire" him, as the original correspondent does, nor, of course, do I share "the adoration that many have for him".Indeed, the comments amazed me in that I thought readers of "left_flank" would be more thoughtful than to "admire" or "adore" any tv performer, given the degree of factitiousness in all performers' presentations. So, in commenting both on Fry's statement and reaction to it, my next observation would be: does his statement matter? My answer would be "not at all, use your energy to comment on something serious."Germaine Greer's response, with all its fake, laboured indignation and sloppy generalisations, is to me motivated solely by her P.R. desire to be "in the media". It cannot be taken seriously, either.As to Fry's statement in itself, he is, to quote the opening correspondent,"incorrect in his comments about women's sexuality." True, and he is also incorrect, ignorant and stupid about (straight) men's sexuality as well. And, as for gay men, I do not know, but would not think that all gay men "just go to a park and get their rocks off". So he has misrepresented various sexualities, but to get in a rage about this incorrectness is not a wise reaction. As an insulted heterosexual man, I take no notice of his comments as just those of a tv celebrity. Par for the course. Totally lacking in weight. Meaning nothing. Another point: Even if you do set some store by Fry's opinion, has no one the right to make a mistaken comment? Correct him by all means, but where is the need for hectoring and vilification? And consider, he may have been trying deliberately to be provocative. Now, having excused Fry for that, I'll risk being provocative myself. Could it be that the hostility to what Fry said has its ground in his admission/statement/boast that gay men often cruise for impersonal sex? Is this a "secret" that Fry as a gay himself is being punished for "revealing?"Just wondering . . . Innocent Male Heterosexual

  5. liz_beths says:

    Quite a bit of fuss this Mr Fry is causing! I should be absolutely unambiguous up front. I believe Fry's comments were sexist. However, I'm with our 'innocent-male-heterosexual' above in thinking these occurrences need to be put in perspective. To my mind, Fry was simply doing what I see many entertainers do – using stereotypes (in this case of women and gay men) to get a laugh. Stereotypes around race, class and gender abound in the world of entertainment and comedy. The fact we all were not laughing is beside the point really, as many would have and this is the real/bigger issue at hand for me. The issue is not Fry, but a culture of sexism that we cannot expect otherwise sensible people to always manage to stand outside of. Fry's ‘moment’ seemed much more as warranting a 'doh!' than a 'disgusting dickhead!' as a response. (And secondarily an awareness that any vitriol towards him would be lapped up by those who don’t particularly like the idea of fussy gay British men being so popular on ‘their’ TV screens.) There are things in Michelle’s post that do sit uneasily with me though – in particular the comment that sexism should be fought with education. If sexism was just about the ideas in people's heads, then surely sexism would be on the decline in Australian and Britain in the face of mass education campaigns since the 1970s? But actually the opposite is true when you look at contemporary advertising or fashion. We need to recognise the sources of sexism and homophobia – so very engrained in how society works and how it relies on privatised reproduction by the nuclear family. And we must be explicit about this. Before Michelle yells at me, I should state she may in fact agree with my view on sexism being a result of societal structure not just bad ideas circulating. But the point is, it is too easy for us (even the best of us like Michelle) to fall back into the saying that women’s liberation will be won through educating people with the right ideas. Or in the case of Fry, yelling those correct ideas at him until he runs away.Oh, and I really like his 'Last Chance to See' TV series for some unknown reason. So there!

  6. Michelle says:

    @ Innocent Male HeterosexualNo hostile fire, nor were you offensive.I make no apologies for admiring Fry. Not so much for his performances, but for his openness about his past, and his problems with acknowledging his mental illness and other problems he's had in his life. His actual acting performances are very much on-par with what I expect of most professionals; his travel documentaries are good, but nothing I get terribly excited about (sorry Liz!). Indeed, with his writing he can be rather verbose, but overall my admiration remains.I can understand why you think it is not a serious matter. To be honest, if it had been most other people I wouldn't have bothered. But with the reaction I observed on Twitter, and the multitude of angry pieces I saw written about the comments I wanted to give a somewhat different perspective.You are absolutely correct in saying he was also being insulting to men's sexuality, and I should have pointed that out, however I was focused on the women's perspective. An error on my part.I also think you might be onto something re the possible foundation of hostility. However I don't think it is much of a secret, at least, not in my experience. I think it could partially be because many people view anonymous sex as a shameful activity and that one should control ones urges, regardless of your sexuality.@ lizYou're right about the education. Sexism and homophobia are deeply entrenched in our society and education should be but one method in countering this. Jumping on a person and shouting them down about a comment they have made (or whatever) does nothing to get to the source of the beliefs and behaviours and I should have made that clear. I'd like to blame the fog of flu I was under when the post was written, but it's really about me making assumptions that people already have a core understanding of how I view things!

  7. Catbrain says:

    Not everyone is afraid to use the "m" word in relation to Mr Fry:

  8. Michelle says:

    At the risk of sounding reactionary and snide, for the last time I'm not afraid to call something or someone misogynist when I feel that is what has occurred.But in this case I don't see misogyny.I'll be writing a post later today about Mr Fry's blog post.

  9. Catbrain says:

    Perhaps Stephen Fry is not, at his core, a misogynist, but his words are. And Fry exacerbates this whole situation by referring to it so dismissively as "silliness".I await your response to his blog post.

  10. Ben Courtice says:

    "If sexism was just about the ideas in people's heads, then surely sexism would be on the decline in Australian and Britain in the face of mass education campaigns since the 1970s? But actually the opposite is true when you look at contemporary advertising or fashion." One would think that advertising and fashion constitute a fairly large education (or miseducation) campaign in themselves, which kind of negates the comment that sexism should be in decline? This does of course reinforce the notion that sexism is about more than the ideas in people's heads: it's about power structures as well.