Joan Smith

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Joan Alison Smith (born 27 August 1953) is an English novelist, journalist and human rights activist, who is a former chair of the Writers in Prison committee in the English section of International PEN.



  • [During the 1981 trial of Peter Sutcliffe, commonly known as the Yorkshire Ripper.] I remember having terrible nightmares during the trial, feeling that the police were misunderstanding things badly because they insisted that Sutcliffe had a moral stand. To me it was clear his crimes expressed a simple, virulent loathing of the female which did not need fancy explanations like those arrived at by the police. The thing is that most people in the book are not what ordinary people would describe as outcasts; they are ordinary men. That was why it was important to end up with the Ripper. Because what is important about him is that he is not different; it's only a question of degree.
    I don't go along with the idea that all men are rapists or that they are the product of Original Sin, rather that we have a culture which supports and encourages misogyny and what we have to face is that a sizeable number of men hold very strange and perverted views about women.
  • We live in circumstances which not only restrict our freedom but physically threaten us if we step out of line: in this culture, the penalty for being a woman is sometimes death. Yet it is extraordinarily unacknowledged. I think sometimes you have to define a problem before you start to find a solution and for years and years I've felt as though I live in occupied territory. My interest is in finding a way of constructing a path out of that territory.
    • Interviewed by Angela Neustatter "An everyday Guide to Misogyny" The Guardian (18 April 1989) p. 17
    • Published at the time Smith's book Misogynies: Reflections on Myths and Malice (Faber & Faber) was first published.


  • This has been a good week to be a republican. Strike that: it's been a fantastic week, as news organisations wake up to the fact that sentimental attitudes to the Royal Family are not universally shared. I've lost count of the times I've been asked to provide "a republican voice" by broadcasters, which is a very welcome change. But editors should have been warned by a YouGov poll earlier this month, which showed that more people in India than the UK were interested in the royal birth. Far from a nation panting for news, just over half of British adults (53 per cent) were uninterested, compared to 46 per cent who were "very" or "fairly" interested. In this context, any headline beginning "the country" or "the world" is bound to be wrong; I'm sure there were swathes of the Democratic Republic of Congo where the arrival of Prince George went entirely unremarked, but degrees of indifference were visible in London as well. When I arrived on Monday evening to do a TV interview outside Buckingham Palace, where an eager crowd had supposedly gathered to wait for news, I found what looked like the usual complement of tourists. There were dozens of film crews, but that's a different matter.
  • The harsh fact is there are not sufficient safeguards in place to identify and discipline police officers who abuse women, yet we are expected to trust the very same men to investigate crimes against the most vulnerable female victims. If women in this country are ever to feel safe – and it is something that should be ours by right – we urgently need a public inquiry into institutional misogyny within the police.
  • The last week has been a lesson in the difference between theory and practice. For several years now some feminists have tried to point out the risks posed by unquestioningly accepting claims about gender identity. When we pointed out that self-identification is unverifiable, and open to exploitation by sexual predators, we were shouted down and accused of transphobia. When we argued that vulnerable women prisoners should not have to share intimate spaces with men convicted of sex offences, we were told to think of the feelings of trans prisoners.
  • The slogan "trans women are women" admits no ifs or buts. If a man identifies as a woman, even if he has taken no steps towards transitioning, we are supposed to accept that his "gender identity" trumps biological sex. But if Bryson is genuinely trans, rather than a sexual predator gaming the system, this strikes down the claim that trans women never pose a threat to women and can be safely placed in the female prison estate.
    • "Why liberals keep being fooled in the gender debate" The New Statesman (30 January 2023)
    • An untransitioned trans women Isla Bryson (born Adam Graham) was convicted in Glasgow in January 2023 of raping two women (at the time of the crimes, the offender was unquestionably male), but began to identify as a woman after being charged. The individual was initially held in the Scottish women's prison.

About Joan Smith[edit]

In alphabetical order by author or source.
  • Smith’s book [Different for Girls] is, nevertheless, an acute and enjoyable analysis of misreadings and misrepresentations of women in popular culture. Put simply, her argument is that women are far less different from men than the media, religion, politicians, pundits and the fashion world would have it. And indeed there is a kind of ‘new woman’ abroad: a more androgynous, much tougher creature than the postwar or even Sixties model. The new woman, according to Smith, enjoys her own power, her own money, her own sexuality. She can play with self-image without burning her fingers. She is unimpressed by the ever-after promises of marriage (or of men, as it happens) and the easy seductions of motherhood. Smith has often written on the growing numbers of women – one in five, the most reliable figure – who refuse motherhood, and is particularly scathing on the patriarchal implications of infertility treatment.
  • The book review lined up to appear in next weekend's Sunday Times seemed to be, in all respects, suitable stuff for the pages of a quality paper. The reviewer: Nigella Lawson, whose copy had been ordered and delivered. The book: an interesting polemical work (Faber & Faber, £9.99), due out on Monday. The author: Joan Smith, a former Sunday Times journalist and, now, coming writer and novelist. So far, so good. Enter Andrew Neil, the editor, whose principled line on the suppression of information and the duty of a free press to publish first, argue afterwards has been ringing around the High Court recently. His foot came down no less firmly at the mid-week editorial conference. That woman’s book was not, repeat not, going to see the light of day in his newspaper. Quail, quail. An interesting example, you might think, of male power exercised over women and their works. By the way, what is Ms Smith's book called? Misogynies, as it happens.
    • Andrew Moncur "Diary" The Guardian (13 April 1989) p. 23

External links[edit]

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