Hadley Freeman

Karen american-British journalist

Hadley Clare Freeman (born 15 May 1978) is an American British journalist based in London. Since 2022, Freeman has written columns and features for The Sunday Times. She also contributes to The Jewish Chronicle and, from 2000, wrote for The Guardian until her 2022 resignation from the newspaper.




  • An eating disorder is a mental illness. It is characterised by the sufferer's belief that they are too fat, that to survive on 500 calories a day is the norm, that doctors are trying to make them fat, that weighing more than seven stone is obese and unacceptable. So far, so paranoid.
    Yet the current culture of skinniness legitimises the anorexic's beliefs. That is where the danger lies. Once a person becomes severely anorexic, they are usually too locked into their own little world to care if Jennifer Aniston is now a size six, or to read about Jodie Kidd's protruding hip bones. But when they try to recover, it is very difficult to shake off these old beliefs when every other magazine cover seems to validate them.
  • The relationship between Britain and America, from Britain's perspective, has always reminded me of the one between Frasier Crane and his brother Niles: there's the big, brassy, embarrassing, famous and attention-seeking brother who hogs the spotlight, and then there's the smaller, sharper, more self-aware and overly self-conscious brother who is both scornful of his sibling's shallow fame but also faintly jealous of it and hides the latter beneath snarky jibes. Of course I get it: having lived in America and Britain I can see all too well how America's cheerful, unabashed tendencies towards arrogance, superficiality and shameless ambition grate against Britain's preference for self-effacement, awkwardness and grim failure. What I don't get is why folk in Britain bother getting wound up about it. Any hint of an American tradition coming to Britain – high-school proms, Daily Show-a-like nightly talkshow, will.i.am – and Radio 4 programmes and newspaper articles sprout up most self-righteously debating whether America is "taking over British culture". Come on, Britain, you're better than this. Make like Niles and take out your handkerchief, wipe away the germs and walk on past. It'll probably go away soon.
  • This week George Galloway took to his video blog, the apparently unironically named Good Night with George Galloway, to defend Assange.
  • It was, if memory serves, the Louis Vuitton fashion show and I was there in my very professional capacity as a fashion writer for The Guardian newspaper. But someone caught my eye who made me feel a little less than professionally excited. I grabbed my notebook and stepped down from my third-row seat to the front row. "Um, Kanye West?" "Yes?" he said, looking up at me through his sunglasses. "Could you sign an autograph for me? It’s for my niece," I said, handing him my notebook. "Sure — what’s her name?" "Uh, Hadley — that’s H, A, D, L ..." The US Vogue editor Anna Wintour, who was sitting next to West, looked up and raised a sarcastic eyebrow.


  • And speaking of wealthy, scary people, who should arrive but [Harvey] Weinstein himself. "Mr Weinstein, Hadley Freeman from the Guardian. What would you say are the essential ingredients of a good party?" I cry out like a drowning woman. Weinstein walks over to me and – slightly menacingly, one might say – takes my elbow.
    "Hadley," he says, his voice heavy with condescension, "enjoy yourself."
    The two men next to him laugh obediently. I decide to follow big Harvey's instructions. And so, with a final glimpse at the dancefloor, where Jessie J is dancing with one friend to Prince's Kiss, I take my leave and go home.
  • Taran-tara! A book is being published this month, and it has already attracted the kind of publicity that would make a JK Rowling novel look unheralded. Admittedly, the author is very prolific, having written more than 80 books, which have sold more than 10 million copies. And yet you’ve never heard of him, which is precisely why he’s getting so much attention.
    That goes against the grain not just of the modern publishing industry, where only writers who already get media coverage get more media coverage, but of this particular author's entire career. Because this book, you see, is called Confessions of a Ghostwriter, and it was written by a chap called Andrew Crofts, who has built a career on writing books for people more famous than himself.
  • What a strange, Alice-through-the-looking-glass time it is to be a liberal American Jew in Britain. When I was growing up in New York, it was a given that one supported Israel. Israel, like America, was a country made from desperate immigrants. It was where my great-grandmother lived after seeing two of her sons go to the concentration camps, and where the memorial for my great-uncle Jakob, who was murdered in Auschwitz, was erected. Israel was the Holocaust's happy ending, and you only have to look at Hollywood to know how much America loves simple happy endings. Israel = good, Israel’s enemies = evil antisemites. But to be honest, I always resented this. I dislike being told what to think, or people making lazy assumptions about where my loyalties should lie.
  • Jews are not Israel (something liberal Jews have been saying for years) but nobody – not a London theatre, not even Steven Spielberg – has the right to tell them what to think about it, or to ask them to prove their good Jewish credentials by either supporting or condemning it. Watch yourself, Europe. Some of your roots are showing.
  • I suppose I should be pleased to hear someone tell me how adorable they think Jewish people are and how cute they find Yiddish phrases, what with rising antisemitic attacks and what have you. But proving that you really can't please a Jew (it's part of our innate Jewness – chicken soup, good at jokes and irritating belligerence, oy vey!), I'm not. Instead, it makes me want to throw dreidels at the person's head. (Jews and their toys! Adorable!) There is something about someone fetishising me as part of a homogenous mass of their own reductive fashioning that makes me come over a bit broigus. (Look it up, philosemites – you love this stuff!).
    So I have found it to be a good rule of thumb that anyone who identifies as a philosemite is to be treated with the same amused contempt as anyone who says they love "the African people". Julie Burchill has probably been the most egregious example in Britain for some time, writing newspaper columns with her customary delicacy about her abject admiration of “the Jewish people”. (Are we chosen? Are we intelligent? Are we stoical? Why, I think we are.)
  • Nobody ever asks me what it felt like. They never ask what it was like to spend three of my teenage years in secure psychiatric units for severe anorexia nervosa; how it felt to be so undernourished I could hardly walk; how it feels now to be able to picture the doctors' and nurses' faces more clearly than I can those of my late grandparents; how it feels to have spent my formative years with young women who are now, in so many cases, dead; how this experience changed my personality for ever. No, no one asks that. Instead they ask why: "Why were you anorexic? Why?"


  • I appreciate that both of these men – or, more accurately, devoted fans of both of these men – will argue that these are not stylistic tricks; rather, these men have worn these items for decades because they're as true to their values as they are to their clothes. But that is precisely the point: their clothes have communicated this, and these men undoubtedly know that. After all, being anti-fashion is as much a style statement as being on trend. Now, personally, some of us think that [Jeremy] Corbyn could consider updating his ideas as much as his wardrobe, but I know how much criticism of St Jeremy upsets some sensitive readers, so let's not go there so soon after such a nice long weekend.
    So the style for leftwing politicians now (and, indeed, always) is to look as if you don’t care about your look while very much cultivating a look.
  • This kumbaya approach is an increasingly popular one. Why can't we ladies all just get along? Hakuna matata! Yet no one is asking why more women than men are raising objections here. Perhaps people think this is just what women are like: uniquely catty. Lifelong feminists, especially older ones, who express any reservations about eliding the experiences of trans and cis women are dismissed as bigoted ol' bitches – and maybe some are. But there are real ethical issues here, and they overwhelmingly affect women.
    Sport is one obvious example. Male-born bodies have had different testosterone levels and muscle distribution from female ones. No one knows what the solution is but pretending there isn't a difference is ridiculous. Then there are prisons. It's easy to cheer on Chelsea Manning, but should anyone with a history of crimes against women and girls really be in a female prison?
  • Intriguingly, some of the most passionate arguments I've had about this have not been with trans people, but with liberal men. I surely speak for all of us ladies when I say I love nothing more than when a man explains to me, at some length, what a woman now is. I only have 40 years' experience but, as we all know, experience is old hat now. There is something, shall we say, revealing about the way these "woke bros" take such glee in calling women (older ones, especially) who talk about their rights and bodies "terfs" – trans-exclusionary radical feminists – and insist they shut up or risk ostracism.
    Women have had to fight so hard for a place at the table, for the right to define themselves, for spaces where they feel safe. Any man who sneers at them now for worrying about the shifting paradigms, offering only meaningless platitudes or accusations of bigotry, is showing his male privilege.
    There is understandable concern about being on the wrong side of history. But I'll tell you what has never put anyone on the right side of history: shouting women down.
  • It was odd coming to Poland just months after President Duda signed a law making it illegal to suggest the country was in any way complicit with the Holocaust, despite its long history of antisemitism and survivors’ testimonies about Poles handing Jews over to the Nazis. At Auschwitz, the signs stress German responsibility and Polish victimhood. There is even a gift shop, in case a trip to Auschwitz should make you desirous of buying some "I heart Poland" merchandise. My father and I then visited his mother's home town, 18km away. Around the corner from the house in which she grew up was fresh graffiti: "Anty Jude." Not even having Auschwitz down the road made that person rethink their antisemitism.


  • Arguments about gender are now so vicious that most high-profile people would rather eat their hair than speak out. But sport, it turns out, is a more clear-cut issue to some than, say, prisons – where various groups have argued over whether trans women should be housed with female inmates.
    The current ideology is that gender identity is at least as important, if not more so, than biological sex. That is why an LGBT sports group like Athlete Ally can dismiss Navratilova's arguments about male skeletal advantages with a simple "trans women are women". The International Olympic Committee allows trans women to compete if they have been reducing their testosterone for 12 months; but, increasingly, female athletes are saying that testosterone is not the only advantage. Boys start growing bigger bones, muscles and greater heart capacity from puberty, and no gender switch will undo that. One can firmly defend a person's right to live in the gender identity of their choosing yet also look at photos of trans women athletes such as Gabrielle Ludwig, Natalie van Gogh and [Rachel] McKinnon standing alongside their strikingly smaller female team-mates, and think Navratilova’s arguments are worth investigating instead of dismissing with cries of bigotry.
  • [Tony] Slattery pretty much vanished from public life in the late 90s, and while 20 years will change anyone, he looks at least a decade older than his 59 years, and close to unrecognisable from his Whose Line days. Where once he was energetic and prickly, occasionally accused of grating self-satisfaction and gratuitous cruelty (he once said Jeremy Beadle should be "clubbed to death"), the man I meet today is like a lost, anxious teddy bear. Heavy-set and visibly nervous, he is still hyper-eloquent, with that familiar melodious voice, but the syllables sometimes stumble on his tongue. It is noon and there is a faint smell of alcohol about him, although he promises he hasn’t drunk anything today. "I made a special effort for you," he says with a sweet smile. As we walk through the office, I notice that he is limping.
    "I’ve got to get my leg sorted," he says, rolling up his trousers. His leg is purpled with vivid rashes and lesions. "It's some kind of cirrhosis," he says, unconcernedly. Whatever Slattery took out of life when he tore through the 90s British entertainment scene, life has since reclaimed its debt tenfold.
  • Not all celebrities who disappear retire into gated-community comfort in Surrey and, contrary to the lie we are sold, fame is no cushion against falling between the cracks. Slattery is charming company – sweet, solicitous, his brain somehow still sharp despite his best efforts to blunt the thoughts that tormented him. He gave up the coke around the millennium when his beloved mother found some in his flat and he was mortified into abstinence. He couldn’t afford it now anyway. When I ask what his plans are this week, he says: "Buy some food, because we've run out. But we're waiting for money to come in from jobs and that often takes a while. So just make it to the weekend." It is very hard to not measure the distance between what is, what was and what should have been. He does still drink and, yes, he knows it would be better if he stopped completely, but he doesn't think he has the strength to do that. I tell him I am worried that performing will make him drink more. "I've been quite strict with myself so far," he says. "But there have been times when I've thought: 'I can't go on stage, I need that half bottle of vodka right now.' I’m getting better, but there's still some way to go."
  • "Politicised", like its trendier, more modern version, "weaponised", is used by people as a means of discrediting an allegation or argument. When yet another school shooting happens in the US, Republicans dismiss anyone begging for more gun control by telling them they are "politicising a tragedy". Antisemitism, Jews were repeatedly told over the past five years, was being "weaponised" against the Labour party purely to destroy Britain's socialist future. And it is a flat-out certainty that this winter, when the effects of the coronavirus begin to bite again and people, shall we say, vent their displeasure at the government for not locking down cities sooner/failing to provide key workers with PPE/lying about the safety or otherwise of care homes, ministers will accuse them of "politicising" the virus. But just because it might be people who don't like [Julian] Assange, or guns, or the Labour party, or the Tory party who are making these points, it does not follow that the arguments are untrue. "Politicise" and "weaponise" does not mean an argument is invalid – it means someone else knows they can't argue against it.
    Disagreements are styled in such a black-and-white fashion these days: I am good, therefore anyone questioning me is bad. Are people really this absolutist, or are they just disingenuously pretending to be so in order to avoid awkward questions? Maybe both. But there does seem to be a general fear of ambiguity, or just a resistance to acknowledge grey areas.

House of Glass (2020)

House of Glass (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2020)
  • When I became an adult, I suddenly couldn't stop thinking of them. Moments I had barely noticed at the time, yet they made enough of an impact to leave a footprint in my memory, began to surface.
    • p. xx
  • How much of one's ancestral identity must one give up to live in the modern world?
    • p. 49


  • I know some people think I'm on the wrong side of history because I believe my gender is a feeling and my biology is a fact. This is known as a gender-critical belief and it is protected under the Equality Act. Nonetheless, I've lost at least a dozen friends over this – mainly from the US, but also in the UK, friends who have told me my beliefs are transphobic, even when I tell them that I support everyone's right to live the way they want. It's always heartbreaking, but also bewildering. Most of us are in the same political tribe, so when did differences of opinion become so unacceptable to so many liberals and lefties? Many of my friends supported Jeremy Corbyn, and even though I found his frequent proximity to antisemites truly upsetting, I didn't drop them from my life. I'm old enough to know there's a difference between denouncing bigotry and demanding everyone march in lockstep with you. If you're more interested in performing your own purity than understanding people's plurality, you're not looking at progress, you're looking into a mirror.
  • There's clearly some bias on my part. I'm drawn to Jewish comedy because it's part of my cultural shared language, which is a fancy way of saying that it feels familiar: the neuroticism, the self-deprecation, the self-aware hyper-verbosity. These are all family traits, because they're Jewish traits.
    But why *are* so many Jews comedians, given how relatively few of us there are? I’ve collected theories over the years.
    The most common one, inevitably, is that comedy is the natural response to all those centuries of persecution, which I guess is possible, although I don't remember hearing about too many comedy clubs in Auschwitz.
    Another popular one is that because Jews study the Talmud for meaning, we are used to looking at things from a different perspective, which is the most important quality to a comedian.
    I personally suspect it has something to do with our natural lack of athleticism: if you can't be fast in the playground, you'd better be funny. Hey, no one ever saw Mel Brooks jogging, right?
    And what has brought more joy to people’s lives, Blazing Saddles or running? We naturally brilliant Jews know the answer to that one.
  • I see left-wing feminist writers being funnelled towards right-wing publications, simply because left-wing ones are too anxious to stay on The Right Side of History to publish them. This makes it easier for the left-wing bullies to discredit them, but it does not make what they’re saying any less true.
  • I felt so hated for saying things — things that are scientifically, biologically and factually true — and so unsupported by people who I know secretly agree with me but are too scared to say so out loud.
  • I certainly feel no anger or animosity towards trans people [...] The only feeling I have towards them is compassion. Not to the point where I’m willing to give up all of women’s sex-based rights, no. But I do know I can only imagine the trauma and pain they have endured in their lives.
  • [Letter to Katharine Viner, editor in chief of The Guardian, on the transgender debate.] It is astonishing that the progressive media has handed such an own goal to the right, closing its eyes to concerns about the safeguarding out of fear that to do otherwise would lead to accusations of bigotry.
  • You have said that both sides in the gender debate are equally passionate — but only one side demands censorship. It seems to me that at The Guardian that side has won.
  • [From management at The Guardian.] I was told I wasn't to write about gender, and that actually women shouldn't write about gender, and suddenly things became very tricky for me.
  • [Management at The Guardian on why women should not write about gender.] because it gets too much of a kickback on social media [and] it should be done by the male specialist reporters, such as health reporters.
  • [On the change in atmosphere at The Guardian around 2015.] There did suddenly become this atmosphere of real fear at the paper.
  • [On a meeting discussing an editorial stating feminists had the right to query gender self-identification.] I was defending the editorial and various people, whom I considered friends, were being quite personally abusive and saying it was transphobic, like people saying a gay teacher shouldn't teach children.
  • I understand it's a subject that gets very heated. I've tried to be very calm and measured and look at both sides of it. And what you get from the other side, if you’re just trying to defend what is literally the law in this country, is to be told you're killing children, you're a bigot – this very violent way of talking.
  • I can take that – what I don’t understand is why upper management is scared to deal with that. It’s not just The Guardian. This has happened at a lot of progressive places, this feeling of fear that we can’t stand up against some of the claims that gender activists make.
  • [On Jeremy Corbyn's leadership of the Labour Party.] Honestly, what a dumpster fire that whole period was, to the point that it’s almost hard to remember what actually happened. But just off the top of my head, here is a list of things I remember lefty non-Jews saying to me back then:
    1. "I don’t think you should write about antisemitism because you obviously feel very passionately about it."
    2. "What, exactly, are Jews afraid of here? It’s not like Corbyn is going to bring back pogroms."
    3. "Jews have always voted right so of course, they don’t like Corbyn."
    4. "It’s not that I don’t believe that you think he’s antisemitic. It’s just I think you’re being manipulated by bad-faith actors. So let me explain why you’re wrong ..."
    5. "Come on, you don’t really think he really hates Jews."
    All of the above were said to me by progressive people, people who would proudly describe themselves as anti-racism campaigners. And yet. When Jews expressed distress at, say, Corbyn describing Hamas as "friends", or attending a wreath-laying ceremony for the killers at the Munich Olympics, or bemoaning the lack of English irony among Zionists, we were fobbed off with snarky tweets and shrugged shoulders.
    What we were seeing, they said, we were not actually seeing. You could not design an exercise more perfectly structured to cause madness. It was, to be blunt, gaslighting.
    Anyway, that’s all in the past now, right? Well it is for me, because I’m walking away. A lot of illusions were broken, and I lost a lot of respect for a lot of people I thought I knew, but it turned out I didn’t. Not really. Not at all. So I have left the garden. And it feels bloody great.


  • Gender activism has become the permissible face of misogyny for a certain kind of allegedly progressive man. It gives them latitude to call women derogatory names and make spittle-flecked videos, insisting that anyone who has a problem with male-born people in women-only spaces is on the wrong side of history. The effect is men’s-rights activism, but the energy is very incel — shorthand for people who are "involuntarily celibate". Incels rage online about women who selfishly refuse to have sex with them; gender activists rage at women who won't just bloody well shut up about their concerns about safety and say what the men tell them to say.
  • Here's an alternative: maybe adults could be actual adults for a minute. Instead of teaching children non-existent safe ways to strangle themselves and others, they could teach them not to do it, just as we teach them not to play with matches. Despite being frequently mentioned alongside "light spanking" and similar, choking causes brain damage and kills. It’s not like pulling someone's hair; it's like playing Russian roulette. And, of course, it is overwhelmingly women who are being strangled: the same study that found 58 per cent of female students had been choked said only 26 per cent of male ones had.
  • I had a couple of reactions to hearing that my views about gender might be too controversial for Sting. The first was: "I reckon Sting, Mr Tantric Sex God himself, is pretty clear on what a woman is." The second was: "So Sting once played a concert for the daughter of the former Uzbek president Islam Karimov, who was accused of boiling his political opponents alive. But apparently he can't bear to be interviewed by me because of my 'controversial views'?" Incidentally, these controversial views are — and buckle up, folks, because they might shock you — that trans people deserve compassion as much as anyone else, and a man has a penis and a woman has a vagina. Sting, send me your mate's number because I deserve to be boiled alive!
  • But it turns out many who march for a free Palestine believe, as Hamas believes, that Israel shouldn't exist at all. They see Israelis as "colonisers and settlers". But do you know why they had to settle there? Because they had nowhere to go after the Holocaust achieved what centuries of persecution had failed to do and wiped out most of Europe's Jews. Many, like my Polish family, couldn't go back to their home country because there were still — even after the fall of Nazism — Jew-hatred and pogroms there. So they went to Israel. This is the context: the Jews are there because they needed somewhere safe to live, and now their grandchildren are being killed for it.
  • Palestinians cannot live as subjugated citizens, and what is happening in Gaza now is an overwhelming tragedy.
  • On Monday I went to the Jewish Vigil for Israel opposite Downing Street. It was nice, but it was also strange, because everyone I could see there was clearly Jewish: the men wore kippahs and tallits, and everybody knew the words to Hatikvah, Israel's national anthem. Across town a pro-Palestinian rally was happening. I looked at the photos in the papers in the next day and was struck by what a mixed crowd it was. Young Muslims, older white people, everyone marching together in defence of — what? Pogroms? Meanwhile, the Jews just had themselves. Now we know.
  • Before Israel was founded, Jews were "rootless cosmopolitans"; now they're "settler colonialists". Antisemites sneer that Jews went "like sheep to the slaughter" in the Holocaust. But when they fight back against terrorists, they are too elite, domineering and sure of themselves. The prospect of a ground invasion in Gaza fills every Jew I know with dread. More deaths there, more antisemitism here. Even when we "win", we lose.
  • In 1937 the Peel commission said the argument between Jews and Arabs was "right against right". Israelis and the Palestinians are right against right, because both sides have a historical claim to the land — but Netanyahu and Hamas are wrong against wrong. That is how I see the conflict, and it astonishes me that so many supposedly intelligent people insist instead on childish binaries, in which one side is all bad and the other wholly good. Binaries that are — OK, I'll say it — steeped in antisemitism.

About Hadley Freeman

In alphabetical order by author or source.
  • There is a sense in which Hadley Freeman's Good Girls has been written by two authors: the anorexic teenager she once was and the recovered 44-year-old journalist with three children she now is.
  • Anorexics tend to be unreliable witnesses when in the grip of the illness and, at times, there is an oddity about this book, a curious sense of separation between the suffering younger self and the aloof older self, but Freeman is a brave, illuminating and meticulous reporter and uses her experience wisely.
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