Barbara Ellen is the Jan Moir that Twitter doesn’t seem to notice
The media has a duty to act responsibly. Excuse me while I break off from writing this column to laugh so much that I rupture my spleen. Newspapers in particular, whatever their stripe, deep down feel only one responsibility: the responsibility to get attention at all costs.
While Twitter revs itself up into a foamy mess whenever The Daily Mail yanks the left wing’s tail with some ill-conceived splash of bile and spite, The Guardian and The Observer employ just as many troll columnists. What’s worse is that they come from a position of even greater self-righteousness. At King’s Place, there’s a general feeling of doing ‘God’s work’, only in place of God put the simpering face of Our Lord and Saviour Alan Rusbridger.
Barbara Ellen is a serial offender. Her Observer column is frequently the locus of illogical, bitter, hateful shit. It’s made worse because she can actually string together a really good sentence when she can see clearly out of the cloud of utter bullshit that she seems to walk around in, blissfully tanked up on a good mixture of misplaced righteousness and ragingly disproportionate self-esteem.
Why do I want to shoot Barbarella Ellen into deep space today? Because her latest column went even further than I have ever seen her go before. Depression is a tricky subject, one that requires nuance, empathy and understanding. Those are all things that Barbara “Bateman” Ellen struggles to manage being so convinced of her universal rightness.
I have a dog in this fight. Not because I am a depressed father (the subject of Ellen’s nasty little rant) but because I have suffered from depression and may do again. Last year, for about 6 months, I was crippled by it and unable to write. Most of the time, I was incapable of doing anything. It was not a choice. I did not want to be a burden on my family and my girlfriend. I wasn’t well. I got better. It was hard.
Now with that declaration of self-interest out of the way, let’s talk Barbara Ellen again. I’m sorry but it needs to be done. The crux of her column was the issue of “postnatal depression in fathers”. Like the worst kind of debate wanker, Ellen focuses not on the meat of the issue but on picking at the scab of language. The entire column is an exercise in semantic dickery by a woman who has made a career of being a total arse.
Witness: “One notices more talk of postnatal depression in fathers. I use the word ‘talk’ advisedly, scientific proof being in short supply.” Ellen has read two studies she disagreed with and needed something to fill her column, so, hey, why not belittle depression and write off a whole gender because, fuck, men are all bastards and shit, aren’t they?
“…the 21st-century vogue for PND in men is another steaming bucket of terry nappies.” Dr Barbara Ellen, PhD in Nasty Shite Studies, has spoken. Only I’m not sure there’s a “vogue”. If you stop getting hung up on whether PND is the right term – which I don’t think it is – and instead consider the number of young men who kill themselves without ever asking for help, the idea that there is in any way a fashion for depression is vile.
The paragraph which should have got this column spiked and which The Observer should issue an unreserved apology for is this one: “I would have been more concerned that the mothers in question were having to put up with such exhausting narcissists as partners – men incapable of hiding their sulky self-absorption, even while being watched for researchers for a period of, wait for it, three minutes. Even serial killer Ted Bundy managed to look ‘normal’ for longer than that.”
Babs picks Ted as an example because they have a certain affinity, what with them both being psychopaths with the empathy of a shark gnawing on a surfer’s leg. Depression is not a choice. It is crippling and debilitating. It’s not the affectation of a narcissist, like a pocket square added to a suit in the hope of looking a little bit more Don Draper. That “sulky self-absorption” is more like a pall of unstoppable gloom that threatens to consume you and faking a smile for even three minutes can feel as impossible as mastering flight or developing X-ray vision.
Barbara Ellen sees relationships as a battle between two enemies forced to fuck to continue humanity. Women and men are from different countries, meeting at a safe house to screw before returning to their encampments to rage. “One hesitates to use the term womb-envy…” says Babs. ‘One’ hesitates? ‘One’?! Who made Barbara Ellen queen of the entitled, horrific doucebag column wankers? Oh yes, Babs herself in a little ceremony in front of her mirror.
I am sad and angry that The Observer saw fit to publish this vile little outburst from a woman so incapable of making an empathetic leap. Sure her column made an impact but in a very real sense it helps contribute to the further stigmatisation of people with depression, regardless of gender. Depression is a killer and those who suffer from it must not and should not see their condition trivialised by people seeking to make cheap points in the desperate hope that they’ll sell newspapers/get them a telly deal.
Ellen concludes: “It was a long, hard road for womankind, getting postnatal depression recognised as a condition…it seems to me that saying men can also get it is just cheapening this achievement.” Oh, we are so sorry Barbara, would you like a fucking merit badge?
Freelance journalist and writer