THE BLOG

Why I Can't Keep Schtum on Liz Jones

24/01/2014 13:16 GMT | Updated 26/03/2014 09:59 GMT

There are plenty of people who would love to shut Liz Jones up, but does she deserve vilification for having an opinion, or should we celebrate the fact she's allowed to air it at all?

It is with a degree of trepidation that I find myself coming to the defence of a woman who many believe is indefensible. In any case, under normal circumstances she can more than speak for herself. But watching Liz Jones grope awkwardly around in the Celebrity Big Brother spotlight, it's clear to me that she can't seem to help herself. An outsider, Jones doesn't actually say much in person, preferring to save her observations until she can put pen to paper. And watching her get voted out of the house by her fellow celebrities because she doesn't get involved much in the group reminds me of the difficulties I often suffer because I too am not that much of a joiner.

Liz Jones may be among the most outspoken (and well read) columnists in Britain, but she doesn't half have her foot in her mouth. Had we been living in been the 16th century, she would surely have been being burned at the stake, so much public outrage and vitriol does she engender. Her crime is to be a long haired, mildly neurotic older women who has an opinion and is not afraid to write it: the archetypal mad cat woman who rescues animals by their hundreds and no doubt rides a broomstick too, for all the comments section Daily Mail would have us believe; it is a crime that makes her the target, no, not of rotten tomatoes in the village stocks but the slings and arrows of vicious tweets in these days of trial by media, one in which she which she is a willing participant. Her rise to the top of the slippery pole of women's glossies as editor of Marie Claire, and then celebrity mouthpiece of one of the world's most visited - and most reviled - news portals, The Daily Mail, instead of being celebrated as pioneering has simply made her fair game. Her extreme principals regarding the eating of meat, and the treatment of animals do little to silence the angry mob, nor her public mental health battles with anorexia, OCD and depression, not to mention her disability that makes her seem so unapproachable - she's deaf, according to herself; ASD, if you ask me.

But because I know how it feels to sometimes find it hard to engage in the flesh, but to piss people off when I put pen to paper - because the problem with publishing rather than simply airing your opinion as most of us do day in, day out - thoughtlessly, transiently, in the flesh - is that it often comes back to bite you - I find myself identifying with her.

Although Jones has a career of which I can only dream, metal health struggles that far exceed my own, and I didn't have to steal any semen to produce my children, I can still understand what it must be like to feel so unliked. And because I can spark controversy, have written shamelessly about my relationships in a Sunday supplement and can be a tad navel gazing at times on my blog, I can't help feeling that she's given a bit of a rough ride for simply being allowed to speak her mind.

Of course, she's made it very easy for her readers to stick their pins in. It's a media pyre of her own making. Why else would she write about her love life in detail in a serialised diary, talk about her 'post menopausal beard' or go on Big Brother if she were not an attention seeking harridan ripe for the disapproval of the commenting classes?

Perhaps we should blame the media hades for chewing up and spitting out such an object of public scorn. As the mouthpiece of the Daily Mail, a newspaper as reviled as it is well read, she has the perfect platform from which to hang herself. Yet all of us are implicated in contributing to the rise of the the world's leading online 'news' portal with its click bait menu of body shaming, cult of celebrity and regressive viewpoints on everything from women to immigration. Yet we gobble her up and spit her out, like so many 'celebrities' who put themselves up for public consumption. She has, according to herself, a readership of 65 million. Her polarising viewpoint and the traffic it drives, is her raison d'etre and makes makes sense of her maverick stance on women that ostensibly doesn't fit with the Mail's retrograde ideals.

Her articles include, in amongst her more myopic rants, a diatribe on guileless Holly Willoughby: the pretty, popular, PR friendly This Morning presenter, who posted an apparently make-up free snap of herself on Twitter, a claim over which Jones took umbrage, attacking not Willoughby herself per say, but rather the 'selfie' culture, speaking up against a trend which is the epitome of passive aggressive vanity/ insecurity/attention seeking behaviour.

Yet it was this article got the public baying for her blood. In Jones' defence, if you read the damn thing, she is actually pretty nice about Willoughby, describing her as dewy and radiant- and bravely posting a pic of her own less-than-perfect morning face as a contrast, to make us all feel better about our rather more normal, crumpled morning faces. If you ask me, it is a bit rich, posting a pic of your professedly barefaced beauty in the public sphere particularly when in all probability there's a lot more than Nivea going on. But the retaliatory remarks from Willoughby's co-host and figurehead of stay at home mums and the layabout classes, Philip Schofield, were a call to arms, describing her, rudely as 'inconsistent, bitter, nasty and unhinged.'

And with her sunny nature, winning smile and legions of fans, Willoughby, who began her career posing in men's magazines, comes up smelling of roses, despite making snidey remarks in affluenza-inducing fashion bible Grazia about the state of Jones' mental health: "Goodness know what's going on in her head, eh? I'm not sure I even want to find out!" she exclaimed, stating point blank that she has no respect for her. I can't think what this bruising appraisal is but a clarion call to all the other 'playground bullies' out there on social media to stick the knives in poor a-typical Jones.

Perhaps it's Jones' apparent vitriol towards mothers that has left so many women with a bad taste in their mouths. Childless Jones, famed 'sperm stealer,' according to gossip monger Perrez Hilton, whose desire for a baby led her to bizarrely attempt to impregnate herself with a used condom of an ex boyfriend - thankfully it failed, but let's not be judgemental - even PR friendly Amanda Holden claimed in a Hello Magazine interview that she duped her husband into impregnating her with her third child by telling him she was on the pill - women will go to extraordinary lengths to have a baby when their eggs are on the broil... But Jones' failure to reproduce seems to have clouded her judgement against those who have.

Describing maternity leave as a 'holiday' during her editorship of Marie Claire, she certainly appears to lack empathy about motherhood, variously describing stay-at-home mums as non people, who have no feelings, no desires, no opinions.

And in taking a stance against mothers, particularity the stay at home variety, it's hardly surprising that Jones has offended the Mumsnet set (of whom I am among their number), who invited her to speak, perhaps controversially, at their annual Blogfest, in which it's fair to say she ruffled a number of feathers. Suggesting so-called 'mummy bloggers' might just as well be wearing burkas for the triviality of their content might not be nice, but the often twee and cosy world of the stay-at-home mother, or how many of us choose to present our lives on our blogs and social spheres, may well appear to be just as blinkered a viewpoint as Jones' own, when seen from the other side.

Despite being a mum of two, there have certainly been times when I can see where she's coming from. I chose, (or rather, was economically persuaded) to be the 'primary caregiver' to my children for the best part of the first five years, but during that time I certainly felt whitewashed as a stay-at-home mother - a sanitised version of myself that had to take an interest in things which previously I'd been rather disinterested, even revolted - nursery rhymes, onesies, my perineum.

I felt quite hamstrung in what I was able to do and say in case it offended the mummy set, who seemed, quite often, to lose their personality along with their placentas. When I finally went back to work, having lost most of my hair to the stress of working for tyrants - I mean, toddlers - it was notable how many female colleagues failed to have much consideration for what it meant to be a mother, even among those who were soon to become pregnant. Even once you've gone through the other side, it's easy to have little sympathy for those going through it, because when you were the one up all night with a sick kid, you were expected just to get on with it the next day too. We can hardly hold it against her for thinking motherhood is a walk in the park - that's probably the only place she - like many non parents - sees us.

And it's necessary to de-construct why she - and many like her who don't have kids - can have such a dim opinion of mothers. Jones' many years in the fashion industry - a hard, bitchy world with the pink mafia at its helm who generally balk at anything that leaks, where women are routinely appraised by their dress size, all of which no doubt coloured her vision against the necessary frumpiness that comes with pregnancy and its aftermath.

Like Jones, I began my career on a style magazine, a lowly sub, just like her . By where my career stalled to have children, hers went meteoric, single handed, no man in sight - she didn't have sex until she was 36, apparently, bless her.Yet we've end up in rather similar boats, perhaps, in that we covet what the other has. And this is why all her writing on mothers has such a bitter taste - she said it herself in the Guardian - it's jealously that drives it. But perhaps it's also jealousy that drives other women's hatred of Liz Jones. She's paid more than most of us :£500,000 a year, according to some observers, which must be some comfort when you are the nation's favourite voodoo doll. So rather than malign her, or even pity her, we should surely celebrate this gutsy, brilliant woman for smashing glass ceilings and when all is said and done, for having an opinion and being allowed to air it, which, if mummy bloggers, social media and the comments section of the Daily Mail are to be believed, is all any of us want from life anyway.