If the image of the pundit-brained journalist has been crystallized anywhere, it is in the early satire of Chris Morris: shows like The Day Today and Brass Eye where his anchor character was constantly drawing wildly over-confident conclusions from nonsensical infographics, howling at unassuming guests that they need to solve absolutely everything that’s wrong with the world, right now, and smirking gleefully to camera at the possibility of instigating a war.
In response to the news that US writer Jeffrey Toobin has been suspended from his job for masturbating during a video meeting, Dr Jennifer Gunter pointed out on Twitter that “masturbating while on a work zoom/call is a choice. If Toobin was on mute he was still listening/watching the other participants and that’s still disgusting and violating. If the urge is so great, end the call. He knew that.”
There is some confusion over the precise circumstances: it’s been suggested that the writer was simultaneously having phone sex while taking part in the meeting, or that he was having phone sex during an interval between calls and accidentally rejoined the meeting too early. But whatever the explanation, his colleagues saw something they shouldn’t because he was doing something he shouldn’t have been doing.
As you’d expect, many women who’ve experienced sexual harassment have opinions on this. And I’ve already seen some of those women having to limit their Twitter accounts because of a backlash against the completely uncontroversial statement that you shouldn’t be masturbating at work or during video calls with people from work. I’ve been on social media for decades so I know I shouldn’t be surprised, but I’m seeing people – and of course, they’re men people – saying that there’s nothing wrong with having a surreptitious wank while talking to or listening to your colleagues. The only crime is getting caught.
I’ve written previously about the word “himpathy”, used by Kate Manne to describe the sympathy that’s extended to men rather than to their victims. That appears to be at play here, even though exhibitionism and masturbation are both well-known forms of sexual harassment.
As shocking allegations of egregious sexual misconduct continue to emerge, one form of harassment has become a recurring theme.
It isn’t a physical assault, and it doesn’t necessarily involve men using sexual language. Instead, a powerful man masturbates in front of unwilling women made to witness the act.
Gunter linked to this piece, by Lili Loofbourow: The Myth of the Male Bumbler. It’s about the way some people rush to excuse men for doing inexcusable things.
Male bumblers are an epidemic.
These men are, should you not recognize the type, wide-eyed and perennially confused. What’s the difference, the male bumbler wonders, between a friendly conversation with a coworker and rubbing one’s penis in front of one? Between grooming a 14-year-old at her custody hearing and asking her out?
The world baffles the bumbler. He’s astonished to discover that he had power over anyone at all, let alone that he was perceived as using it. What power? he says. Who, me?
It’s an act, of course. The men who claim to be baffled about what is and isn’t acceptable in the workplace, as if there’s no difference between complimenting a female colleague’s new hairdo and making her watch you masturbate into a plant pot, know exactly where the line is. They just don’t think the rules should apply to them.
There’s a reason for this plague of know-nothings: The bumbler’s perpetual amazement exonerates him. Incompetence is less damaging than malice. And men — particularly powerful men — use that loophole like corporations use off-shore accounts. The bumbler takes one of our culture’s most muscular myths — that men are clueless — and weaponizes it into an alibi.
Allow me to make a controversial proposition: Men are every bit as sneaky and calculating and venomous as women are widely suspected to be. And the bumbler — the very figure that shelters them from this ugly truth — is the best and hardest proof.
Breaking that alibi means dissecting that myth. The line on men has been that they’re the only gender qualified to hold important jobs and too incompetent to be responsible for their conduct.
…If you’ve noticed a tendency to treat girls — like the 14-year-old whom now-Senate candidate Roy Moore allegedly picked up at her custody hearing — as knowing adults and men in their 30s — like Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos and Donald Trump, Jr. — as erring youngsters, large sons and “coffee boys,” this is why.
This is how the culture attempts to normalize this stuff: by minimizing the damage to women and the agency of men.
…Economists have long and lazily attributed the exodus of women in various industries to their decision to bear children, but now this giant explanatory iceberg is floating up — this absolutely gigantic, widely denied story about how women are routinely driven from their industries because their male colleagues need to be free to use their professional power to indulge their sexual urges.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before. A bigot does bigoted things that reflect badly on their employer, they get the boot, and the Christian Legal Centre tries to make them a free speech hero. Said centre is then handed its arse on a plate by a tribunal judge who points out the bleeding obvious: you can believe what you like, but you can’t behave how you like.
This week’s case features Karen Higgs, who worked at her son’s Church of England primary school as a pastoral assistant and who was sacked for railing against the same school’s relationship lessons very vocally online. “THEY ARE BRAINWASHING OUR CHILDREN!” You know the kind of thing.
The reason you can’t do this kind of thing is because it brings your employer into disrepute.
Every employment contract I’ve ever signed had one of those clauses. It’s a standard bit of boilerplate that means that you can’t go around bad-mouthing your employer and expect to stay employed. For example, if you work for a restaurant and tell loads of people on Facebook that the food is shite and you hate the customers, you shouldn’t clear your diary for the next staff Christmas party.
The Church of England makes it very clear that its schools value “All God’s Children”, not just the straight cisgender ones with straight cisgender parents, and it has a very clear policy on anti-LGBT+ bullying and how staff in primary schools should discuss issues such as same-sex parenting and trans parents.
In particular it says that primary schools should “promote a strong anti-bullying stance that shows that HBT [homophobic, biphobic and transphobic] remarks and behaviour are unacceptable.” Posting homophobic and transphobic things online is of course in direct conflict with that.
In her defence, Higgs claimed that it was okay to rail against same-sex marriages because while “I am aware that same-sex marriages are now recognised under UK law… I believe that is contrary to God’s law”. But while they may be bound by God’s law in their head, they’re bound by UK law at work.
As school governor Stephen Conlan told the tribunal: “You can post your beliefs without posting this sort of language and it is perfectly possible to communicate your beliefs without using such strong language.”
I feel sorry for the people of faith who these clowns claim to represent. The people demanding “religious freedom” to defame and demonise others don’t represent anybody but themselves. They’re not devout. They’re just dicks.
One of the reasons so many left-leaning people were shocked by the election of Donald Trump was because to much of the left-leaning media, Trump was simply a figure of fun; not somebody worth taking seriously, let alone doing anything to try and stop.
I think they’re taking him a lot more seriously now. But they haven’t learnt their lesson. Boris Johnson was a national joke; now he’s a disastrous PM. Nigel Farage was a national joke who became one of the most significant political figures of recent times despite being almost unelectable. And now we have a new national joke, the deeply loathsome Lawrence Fox. The left-leaning press’s dismissal of him as a figure of fun is arguably just as dangerous as the right-wing press’s lionising of him. He may be a ludicrous, pathetic twat, but he’s a ludicrous, pathetic twat with influential backers and an increasingly large platform.
The right-wing media channels — not just papers but their talk radio counterparts and forthcoming TV channels — will give Fox acres and hours of coverage. He will be heard and he will be heard seriously by those outlets and the people who consume their output.
I take Fox seriously because he is a narcissist who wants desperately to keep getting the attention that acting has brought him and he will say anything to keep that spotlight on him. Fox, in the same way that mouthpieces like Darren Grimes have done, is allowing himself to be used as a megaphone by more publicity-shy bastards. In interviews, he has referred to his ‘policy people’… I wonder who they might be?
Fox is ludicrous and ludicrously stupid, but he has money, he has support, and he has a platform. That combination is a dangerous one.
How’s this for a TV show? We get a racist – a proper racist, ideally a knuckle-dragger from a really racist organisation such as the EDL or Britain First, someone who’s really loudly and proudly racist and spends loads of time being really racist to people on Twitter – and we pair him up with a nice middle-class Black woman. Then we get the two of them to sit down for a nice dinner and a chat and we film the whole thing.
Good, right? It’s a social experiment!
I haven’t even got to the best bit yet. It’s not just a chat. We give the racist guy a script of really racist things to say to the Black woman over dinner and we film her response. Maybe she’ll cry! Maybe she’ll walk out! Maybe it’ll go viral!
No? How about we pair a neo-nazi with a nice Jewish lady?
Of course not. Trying to get a fight for ratings is disgusting, as we saw with the Jerry Springer and Jeremy Kyle shows. But that doesn’t mean TV production companies don’t keep trying to bring back the formula, which is essentially hating for ratings. For example, an Irish TV company is currently sending this to various trans women (and to other marginalised groups, such as members of the travelling community).
As one commenter on Twitter translated: “We’re making a show where we have members of marginalised groups sit down with people who think they shouldn’t exist, for entertainment purposes. Also we’re suggesting that marginalised people are the enemy, in the title.”
Earlier this year Evgeny Shtorn wrote about the importance of storytelling in regards to minority and marginalised people.
Considering how powerful storytelling is, we cannot pretend that the infrastructure built around it by media and researchers is always ethical and respectful towards those who constitute those stories… journalists were rude to me, disrespectful and abusive. Using my words or ideas without quotes, giving erroneous interpretations and false promises. Trans and non-binary people, homeless people, other migrants, people of colour, people with disabilities and a lot of others who I shared my concerns with, told me that they often experienced similar treatment from journalists, but also from artists, researchers and other ‘supporters’. It is called ‘cognitive exploitation’, and this is exactly the opposite to the idea of the empowerment of the community through storytelling.
…The problem is that after such an interaction most people retreat into their closet and don’t want to tell their stories anymore, despite those stories being so important to tell.
There was an example of this in England the other day: trans person and poet Jay Hulme was invited on BBC TV to discuss the government’s response to GRA reform.
I was going to be on the BBC today having a chat about the GRA – but I pulled out yesterday, having been informed that it’s BBC policy to have a cis woman invited to speak on any segment about trans ppl – I’m not going on TV to be yelled at by a transphobe from the Daily Mail.
By “cis woman” the policy doesn’t mean a cisgender woman who’s supportive of trans people, even though such women are the majority (and were the majority in the GRA reform consultation too). It means the kind of woman trans commentator Shon Faye was expected to go on air with this week. Faye was one of several trans people invited on BBC Woman’s Hour to discuss gender recognition. At the last minute, the panel was expanded to include an anti-trans activist who has taken great delight in publicly misgendering her and who Faye says even shared a now-deleted defamatory petition implying she groomed children. Faye declined the invitation.
I have some experience of this. I’ve refused to go on multiple programmes because the approach was clearly going to be gladiatorial, not editorial; other contributors were not people with concerns about specific bits of legalese but members of groups who peddle hatred on social media. Taking part is therefore a trap for marginalised people: if you don’t robustly challenge the other contributors they get to lie, lie and lie some more; if you do, and worse still if you also dare correct the presenter, you’re dismissed as unreasonable and aggressive. And even the most innocuous appearance will have bigots descending on your social media.
It’s clear that the people commissioning and structuring these programmes are thinking about ratings, not the damage these narratives can do to marginalised groups. And they are doing damage. By presenting extreme views as mainstream, such as perpetuating the myth that the two sides of the trans debate are “trans activists vs feminists” rather than “most of the country vs a few well-connected bigots”, they’re fanning the flames of intolerance and positioning extreme views as if they’re mainstream. We’ve seen this before with the platforming of far-right views, of anti-vaxxers and of climate change denial.
The problem yet again is that the people making these programmes have no skin in the game. Their human rights are not under attack. Their safety is not threatened by the rise in hate crimes. Their ability to participate in society is not something producers think should be up for debate. To them, it’s just another item. To marginalised and demonised minorities, it’s our lives.
The “nocturnal ritual fantasy”—a term coined by the historian Norman Cohn in his landmark study of European witch trials, Europe’s Inner Demons—is a recurring trope in Western history. And it is often a politically useful one. Deployed by the Romans against early Christians, by Christians against Jews, by Christians against witches, by Catholics against “heretics,” it is a malleable set of accusations that posit that a social out-group is engaged in perverse, ritualistic behaviors that target innocents—and that the out-group and all its enablers must be crushed.
…Q adherents are perfervid Trump supporters by necessity, as Trump’s valiant battle against ultimate evil forms the spine from which the many limbs of the conspiracy grow. But a recent wave of émigrés into the Q landscape consists of New Age moms and influencers with previously vaguer politics, whose interests, during the strained days of the Covid-19 pandemic, have migrated from crystals and wellness to taking down a world-straddling cabal of demonic pedophiles.
The section on the “satanic panic” of the 1980s is particularly apt.
It was gospel belief in the media and among ordinary citizens that rings of sex abusers were everywhere. Satan and his blood-drinking minions were peripheral players, but the panic is usually referred to now, through the mocking lens of self-assurance, as the “Satanic Panic.” We in the twenty-first century could never be so naïve.
Minor celebrities: We must write an open letter to protest against online abuse of women!
LGBT+ folks: Like the vicious abuse some of your co-signatories and many supporters of your multi-millionaire pal have spent years dishing out to trans women, to the mothers of trans children, to cisgender women who say they support trans rights and to cisgender women who work in rape crisis centres and other trans-inclusive organisations?
Minor celebs: Not like that!
More than 50 public figures and anti-trans campaigners signed the letter published in The Sunday Times, which condemns the “insidious, authoritarian and misogynistic” opposition to Rowling on social media.
…the letter claims that Rowling “has consistently shown herself to be an honourable and compassionate person” – just days after the Harry Potter author promoted a website selling “f**k your pronouns” and “sorry about your d**k bro” badges mocking the trans community.
One of the signatories has been banned from social media for a years-long campaign of hate speech against trans women and any cisgender women who dared disagree with him, a campaign that cost him his career and his marriage; others have been criticised for making transphobic statements that were at best tone-deaf and at worst actively malicious. One of the signatories previously accused a gay journalist who supports trans people of being a “sucker of Satan’s cock”.
As Judith Butler said in her New Statesman interview the other day:
if we are going to object to harassment and threats, as we surely should, we should also make sure we have a large picture of where that is happening, who is most profoundly affected, and whether it is tolerated by those who should be opposing it. It won’t do to say that threats against some people are tolerable but against others are intolerable.
The Sun, 1984. Three decades later and it’s still singing the same song.
You’ve got to feel sorry for ageing conservative men who believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, that while they have all the power in this country they are nevertheless an oppressed minority. The latest media outlet pandering to their victim narrative is the soon to be launched GB News, which has poached the loathsome Andrew Neil from the BBC to broadcast to people who feel “underserved and unheard by their media.”
Not people who are unheard; people who feel unheard. People whose only representation is in The Times, The Telegraph, The Daily Mail, The Express, The Spectator, The Sun, The Economist, Spiked, LBC, The Herald, The Scotsman, most of the BBC’s current affairs output, every bloody phone-in in the country, all the right-wing US news sites that dominate news sharing on Facebook and so on.
I think it’s safe to predict that the dominant skin colour on GB News will be white and that its representation of minorities will largely be Eton alumni talking about how these days, right, if you say you’re English, they’ll arrest you and put you in jail.
The New York Times famously promised “All The News That’s Fit To Print”. Perhaps GB News should adapt it: all the news that’s fit for pricks.
GB News is the latest attempt to bring more Fox News-style partisan bullshit to UK broadcasting, and in a sane world OFCOM would make that very difficult. But this isn’t a sane world and the UK government has told The Sunday Times that it’s going to make Paul Dacre the chair of OFCOM. That’s Dacre of Daily Mail fame. If you haven’t already read it, this foul-mouthed evisceration of him in the London Review of Books by Andrew O’Hagan is masterful.
As many people on Twitter have noted, putting Dacre at the top of OFCOM is like appointing Harold Shipman as chair of Help The Aged.
But there’s more. The government also apparently intends to appoint former Telegraph and Spectator editor Charles Moore as head of the BBC. Moore is another loathsome figure with right-wing views; he has claimed for a long time that the BBC is packed to the gills with leftie agitators and he was famously fined in 2010 for not paying his BBC licence fee. It’s hard to imagine a worse candidate for the job except perhaps Paul Dacre.
It’s possible that with these leaks the UK government is throwing two dead cats on the table to distract us from its woeful performance over COVID and the increasing evidence of corruption and incompetence on a truly epic scale; maybe the leak is to soften us up so when two slightly less appalling people are put in place we’ll feel we dodged a bullet. But it does seem to fit with the wider movement within the UK government to take us further to the right.
For example, just this week it announced new guidance for schools that prohibited the use of resources “produced by organisations that take extreme political stances on matters”. One such stance is a desire to overthrow capitalism, something a certain Jesus of Nazareth had a few opinions on.
The most chilling bit for me was in the section on knowing the importance of respecting others “even when they are very different… for example physically, in character, personality or background), or make different choices or have different preferences or beliefs”. That’s clearly intended to foster a climate of mutual respect for people of other religions and none, of people of different backgrounds, genders and sexual orientation, but the UK government has turned it into a Spectator editorial.
Here’s the new guidance:
Our entire democracy is based on seeking to have people removed from their position of authority because we disagree with them. It’s called voting.
In that context, I’m disinclined to believe that Dacre and Moore are dead cats; I worry that instead, they’re dead certs.
I don’t want to go on too much about the UK government’s pathetic response to its gender recognition consultation, but I thought it was worth drawing attention to The Times and Sunday Times’ assertions that the consultation was “skewed” by an “avalanche” of responses by “trans rights groups” who twisted the consultation to say 70% of people were in favour of self-ID.
Here’s a blog by the GRA consultation analysis team.
We spent a long time with the data and employed a number of advanced analytical techniques to investigate the influence of potential campaigns on the consultation responses. However, we have seen little evidence that supports the view that the results were “skewed” by an “avalanche” of responses from trans rights groups. Furthermore, we are not sure where the reported figure of 70% in favour of self-identification has come from. This question was not directly asked in the consultation and this figure does not arise from our analysis.
What they did find, however, was that one anti-trans group was responsible for nearly one-fifth of all responses – and unlike the majority of responses from other sources, particularly trans rights groups, these were identical posts created by a one-click online form “which had a pre-populated set of answers”.
We would like to acknowledge the amount of care, attention and often depth of feeling that went into the submissions that we read, from people and organisations taking a range of positions. There were some long submissions – some over 5000 words – in response to one individual question, and it was apparent that a large percentage of those who completed the consultation spent a long time writing their answers. We were struck by many of the accounts that people provided detailing their personal experiences or those of loved ones. It is sometimes easy to lose sight, in the arguments that surround GRA reform, that at the centre of this are real people living real and often difficult lives. Due to the need to be brief in order to write a succinct report and the confidentiality required for ethical reasons, the specific stories that were contained within many individual submissions cannot be published. However, reading them, as we have been able to as a team, paints a nuanced and complex picture of the lived experience of people working through these issues in their own lives and the lives of their loved ones.