'Woke' by Titania McGrath
Consider these two quotations. Firstly, ‘Nice guys rape, and they do it often’. Secondly, ‘I believe all women. All of them. Under all circumstances.’ On the face of it, one could say that each statement was written by a woman who really believed that it should be taken seriously. One of the women was Guardian columnist and ‘feminist’ Laurie Penny; the other writer was Titania McGrath, the Woke Twitterer invented by Andrew Doyle, to parody Penny’s brand of third wave feminism. We should at least be thankful that at least one of these quotations turns out to be the work of a satirist. Any guesses which one is bizarre enough to be comedy?
Titania McGrath joined Twitter in April 2018, and instantly set about imposing her ‘Woke’ views on followers (now 275,000 of them). Within a year her popularity led to her first book, Woke. Woke, to the uninitiated, means ‘waking up’ to social injustice, white male privilege and living in an oppressive patriarchal culture. Many followers instantly recognised Titania as a parody account, whilst others entered into long, self-defeating debates with her about injustice and (usually) male oppression.
‘I have words of wisdom for all young girls. No matter what you do in life, or how much you achieve, you will always be victims of the patriarchy,’
If Titania is anything she is indestructible. I don’t mean this simply because she herself is extremely privileged and powerful - educated at a private school and Oxford University (including an MA) no less. It is that her arguments are impossible to defeat when her entire world view is dictated by the idea that men are to blame for all female suffering: ‘I have words of wisdom for all young girls. No matter what you do in life, or how much you achieve, you will always be victims of the patriarchy,’ Titania writes. In believing that men always subjugate women any evidence to the contrary is dismissed by Titania as evidence fabricated by the patriarchy. In fairness to Titania, if there were a patriarchy, it probably would contrive evidence to perpetuate itself. It would have to pretend, for instance, that the British prime minister is (at the time of writing still) a woman.
For a male reader both Laurie Penny and Titania McGrath are incredibly liberating. Cast down as the reason for all social ills and female misery, damned as toxic, there is little to do for a man but enjoy your life: you cannot get worse and you are biologically unable to improve. For women on the other hand the burden of daily oppression, caused by such conspiratorial thinking, must be exhausting. Titania quotes Australian feminist Sheila Jeffreys in an aptly named ‘Fuck the Patriarchy’ chapter: a woman is ‘only collaborating with the patriarchal system’, according to Jeffreys, when she ‘reaches orgasm.’ Having sex with a man appeases patriarchal tyranny. Still, male authoritarianism doesn’t stop Titania from enjoying a side career on the slam poetry scene; her ‘poems’ are cited in Woke, and are perhaps the highlight of her work (but not for the reasons Titania would think).
As Titania gets into full, uninterrupted flow she starts to reveal the frightening logic of the Woke ‘movement’. Racism towards a person doesn’t count, for instance, ‘if that person is white’. Since Titania, a white woman, believes that straight white men have ultimate power and privilege, any discrimination against them is no more than ‘punching up’. Woke has been criticised for ‘punching down’, the taboo act of directing jokes at weaker, minority members of society.
She is the elite.
As Andrew Doyle has pointed out, Woke culture is actually driven by rich, privileged, middle class graduates. To mock their worldview is not punching down. This is why, I assume, Titania’s background seeps privileged: Oxford and privately educated, parents who are barristers and her acquaintance with members of the Royal Family. She is the elite. For all this, Titania describes her background as ‘typical’: whilst being intelligent and well-educated Woke representatives are very often not self aware. Titania's enviable education does pose the question, how someone so naturally gifted can think and write such utter nonsense?
For all the serious, political dimensions, the principle purpose of Woke, I think, is to make people laugh, something that Titania never does (at least not in her now iconic Twitter profile picture). Woke is full of great jokes. Not that Titania would recognise her own comic material. She is fundamentally angry, scathing in her description of Prince William’s wedding to Kate Middleton, for instance, where she tuned in only to ‘spit’ at the news coverage.
Like her ‘lefty’ comrades, the more privileged Titania gets, the more she sees oppression (and the more she swears).
It never fully occurred to me until reading Woke how the liberal intelligentsia (in which Titania sees herself) engages in such coarse language in public forums. The Liberal Democrats’ ‘Bollocks to Brexit’ campaign is an example of (quite reasonable) visceral language indicating real resentment. Like her ‘lefty’ comrades, the more privileged Titania gets, the more she sees oppression (and the more she swears).
Guessing game over. It is Laurie Penny who thinks that ‘nice guys rape…often’. The problem for Titania, which is really a problem for Andrew Doyle, is how does she stay one step ahead (or behind) the ludicrous beliefs of Guardian columnists and liberal elites. When the fictional Grange Hill, a popular television series during the 1970s and 1980s, eventually ended the reason cited was that reality was too dramatic for the writers of a show aimed at children. Life can become too outrageous for art. I wish Titania McGrath luck, but it seems to me that she has got her work cut out.
Woke by Titania McGrath is published by Constable