Clementine Ford’s Community Service

Clementine Ford, I’m pleased to report, has performed an outstanding community service. That isn’t a sentence one expects to encounter in the pages of Quadrant. I don’t mean, of course, that Australia’s most beastly feminist has undergone anything like an outbreak of civility or good sense. Nor do I suggest that her latest book— I Don’t: The Case Against Marriage, the fourth she has inflicted on the public—is in any way interesting, amusing, or even readable. In fact, it took a fair amount of manly courage on the part of this reviewer to get past the midpoint of chapter two, where the author takes an excursion into the post-Reformation era to detail the various punishments that awaited women accused of witchcraft. Although the nastier ones included whipping, crushing of bones, and slow roasting in an iron chair, they all seemed to me somewhat preferable to the prospect of reading this entire book.

Clementine Ford has always shown a talent for finding new ways of making a pest of herself. I Don’t: The Case Against Marriage is her most ambitious undertaking yet. At a minimum, she hopes to be cited as the cause of any forthcoming wedding cancellations and an uptick in the next round of divorce rates. Fortunately, she brings to her case all the qualities of nuance and thoughtfulness that we have come to expect. While the book’s weighty topics—relationship break-up and marital disintegration—may strike readers as a bit short on cheer, Ford offers this reassurance: “I also promise you a lot of mirth,” she writes in the introduction. “I am very funny, after all!”

“The patriarchy”—not exactly a thigh-slapper of a subject—is the spectre haunting both the institution of marriage and just about every page of the book. Like most dreadful ideas, the feminist conception of patriarchy comes from the academy, where it has acquired an almost supernatural status. According to this worldview, the patriarchy has embedded itself in every crevice of Western society, corrupting men, enslaving women, and creating only the illusion of moral and social advancement. Ford, like all miseducated Gender Studies graduates in need of new gripes, uses this misunderstanding to make her case against marriage, which is the patriarchal pyre upon which all married women find themselves, sooner or later. Accordingly, the sixteenth-century witch-burners and torturers are here transmogrified into—go on, have a guess—modern husbands.

In seeing the world this way, in defiance of patriarchy’s plans for her, Clementine Ford thinks she is one of the few women to be truly free. Well, she has certainly emancipated herself from her editor and the burdens of making lucid or even consecutive arguments. Instead, she bungs at the reader a series of viral TikTok or Instagram moments, in which, for example, a lovely wedding speech from the bride is followed by a rebarbative and oafish response from the groom. These experiences sound genuinely awful, and one can only feel sympathy for the women who get hurt and embarrassed. None of that means, however, that Ford has got at all close to making a convincing point, as she simply imputes to all men the loathsomeness of the miscreants she finds on social media. She seems to think that the worst examples of husbandly misbehaviour must be typical.

When Ford isn’t fishing for examples in the sewers of Twitter, she turns to fiction-writing. The chapters are padded out by fights with her invented antagonists—stand-ins, again, for all men—like “Mr Goofball” and “Rodney F***erbag”. Although Ford comes out on top, this isn’t the clever literary device she thinks it is, as none of these sods can quite match the charmlessness and vulgarity of their author.

In terms of the book’s structure, to put it charitably, everything is sort of held together as a collection of escalating tantrums about marriage, from its centrality in Christianity to its role in delaying the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism. Ford also gets huffy about—you can thank me, as this is an abridged list—the careful planning and the thrill of a proposal (“an act of entrapment”); films that celebrate finding one’s soulmate (“romance propaganda”); marriage as a forerunner to bringing babies into the world (“thinly coded racism” in the cause of white supremacy); and, if I have to pick a favourite, the innate human desire to live as husband and wife in matrimony (or, as Ford sums things up, “the heteronormative hellscape of marital aspiration”). No, still not a lot of laughs in this book, despite her earlier promise.

Ford’s depiction of married life may be grim, but for most, it’s either risibly exaggerated or unrecognisable. That doesn’t bode well for her goal of provoking mass break-up and divorce. In that effort, Ford is likely to remain, as usual, disappointed and unfulfilled. And yet, she still has greater and even more deluded ambitions. Her real purpose in I Don’t is to bring about the extirpation of both marriage and the family as social institutions. Calling herself a “marriage abolitionist”, she declares, with perhaps a touch of mania: “Marriage needs to be destroyed because it’s the linchpin in the maintenance of the patriarchal family unit.”

I can’t imagine a rush to enlist in such a cause. Clementine Ford can’t spruce up the prospect of a future society in which marriage is not an option, because the model of what that liberation looks like is, well, Clementine Ford. Still, she tries, principally by devoting a good part of the book to reputation management for the unfairly maligned cat lady and spinster. In the absence of vows, bouquet-throwing, and wedding receptions, Ford promises plenty more time and funding for self-love, profanity-laden imprecations against men, as well as more women-themed parties for job promotions and whatnot.

Ford has worked diligently at her misandry over the years, but what really stands out in this book is her contempt for women, particularly those who would fail to recognise the world of “patriarchy” she depicts. Such readers—if they haven’t flung the book aside long before—probably wouldn’t like being compared to “domestic animals” at the service of “agricultural masters” (their husbands). Ford extends this metaphor. On behalf of women everywhere, she writes: “Personhood isn’t something we claim for ourselves; it can only be identified by men, and men can and will only transfer some of its privileges to us if we perform as dutiful and subservient pets.” That kind of debased and dehumanising language is actually an example of Clementine Ford in one of her politer moments.

Despite these shortcomings of style and argument, I’ve decided to endorse I Don’t: The Case Against Marriage. I suspect that young, female readers are far more likely to arrive at the book’s conclusion with their marital dreams very much intact. In fact, those goals may even be bolstered, in order to dodge the fate of a feminist termagant like Clementine Ford. That’s why, at the outset, I offered applause for her good deeds and community service, and I stick by that, even if it’s only at her ironic expense.

And that’s just one way in which I’m spreading sweetness and light. This whole experience has made me even more committed to loving my wife, living a life of virtue and goodwill, and avoiding resentment and negative thoughts. Trust me, I’m working on that last one. The hours I spent reading and note-taking for this book I know I won’t get back, and the modest remuneration Quadrant provides for this review is totally inadequate to the torment I went through, and that’s fine. But I wouldn’t be able to do it all again. I’m convinced that this book, just one volume in Clementine Ford’s collected works, will be the exclusive material for an eternity of reading and discussion at the only book club in Hell.

I Don’t: The Case Against Marriage
by Clementine Ford

Allen & Unwin, 2023, 385 pages, $34.99

Timothy Cootes is a frequent contributor to Quadrant and Quadrant Online


6 thoughts on “Clementine Ford’s Community Service

  • Podargus says:

    Who really cares what raving narcissist twits like Clementine Ford think ? Navel gazing would be her chief occupation and amusement.
    Marriage is fundamentally about providing a stable and caring environment for the raising of children. All else is icing on the cake or, if hitched to the likes of Ford, a descent into hell.

  • Bwana Neusi says:

    A sad soul destined to inexorably deteriorate into lonely old age without ever achieving grace

  • Tasman says:

    Thanks for reading and reviewing this book for us Mister Cootes.
    Its a common enough trap to generalize about men and women.
    Being an ordinary sort of man I’ve spent the best part of my life married to a woman and I can recommend the experience.
    But in a way you don’t marry a man or a woman.
    You marry an individual and learn to love them and share life’s mutual burdens with them and not be as selfish as you used to be.
    Can’t help noticing how some authors intend to write about a subject but end up saying more about themselves.

  • Elizabeth Beare says:

    Well, I did, and then I didn’t, and then I did again and remain very happily done.
    Thanks for the review, Timothy. Herculean effort.

    Darling Clementine, you still have such a lot to learn about men and life and love. You ravening book is mere juvenilia in the scheme of things. Believe me, I appreciate how awful things were for women in past times when we consider the worst of it, things like the witch madnesses and their ilk, but that is like judging peace by what happens in wars. The history of women is so much brighter and the unitary thrusting patriarchy so much sillier as a concept if we take a more humanistic look at how women have fared throughout history (see the run through female historical time offered by Philippa Gregory’s latest book “Normal Women’). It’s also important to recognise that men may also have their complaints about their historical lot.
    From our first menstruation, girls have always known we had a mission different to that of men, because of motherhood, and because of men being fathers to our babies. Fact of nature, who will always have her way, the rotten old harpy. Feminism is only just now coming round to properly theorising that. Some of us were slow learners. Your stuff is pretty old hat now, Clem dear, all this man hatred, when really, time has shown me and most others of the post-war feminist generation that we really do need and like, indeed love, men quite a lot. Making a family is one of life’s joys. Diss it not. Diss the cult of belief in ‘the patriarchy’ instead. It’s a vile ideology which has caused immeasurable misery in this modern era, caused so much emotional pain and floundering, ruined so many children’s lives and led to so much loneliness. How can you want to promote more of it? Bring men and women together, not try to tear them apart.

  • Elizabeth Beare says:

    If I may, darling Clementine, let me tell you about a little tableau I saw on a Sydney ferry recently. In the foreground were a young couple of what you would demean as the patriarchal heteronormative sort (aka a statistically normal man and woman behaving as co-parents), no older than their early thirties, both attractive young people. The mother-as-Madonna sat with her eight month old baby (I can judge these things, Clem) clutched asleep to her chest, adoringly dropping down a kiss every now and then on the little sleeping head, relishing its baby smells. Meanwhile her little three-year old daughter, a cherub with curls, asked her dad to take her for a wee, which he did. After that he took their five-year-old son for a walk. On his return, the son enthused loudly to his mother that we went right up to the top of the boat, and she smiled her approval at the dad. When they got off, the dad helped to shepherd everyone off.
    This dad would have given his life in defense of his family if they were threatened.
    I have no doubt about that. Mull over that for a while, Clem dear. Imagine how the woman would have fared without this man beside her in times of danger. Extend that vision to the world at large.

  • Alice Thermopolis says:

    Impressive review of a controversial book, Thank you, TC.
    The modern gender war has been going on for quite a while, Who can forget Nancy Sinatra’s version of “These Boots are made for Walking” with her mini-skirted chorus? And so and so forth.
    It demolished the “romance propaganda” that once inspired couples and gave their commitment a sense of sacredness/ joy and much else, even at some level a sense of participating in the great drama of life.
    Perhaps no surprise, then, that today DV is allegedly spreading faster than COVID and is apparently more deadly, as least according to the countless funded agencies now struggling to deal with it.
    An institute of criminology study just claimed on the ABC that 20% of a group of 5,000 people surveyed actually admitted to being “perpetrators” of various “sexual abuse” crimes. Food for thought: has ‘romance propaganda’ been replaced by its opposite, DV propaganda, with far more harmful consequences?

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