The Sun vs Women Everywhere: Round 1,567,982...
A never-ending saga.
Last week, Emma Watson made a bold speech to the UN on the importance of tackling sexual abuse in places of education. We wrote about it, talking about its important place in the wider conversation of rape culture. For the most part, the speech went down spectacularly. Whilst the high profile case of star swimmer turned sex criminal Brock Turner has dominated the overarching narrative of sexual violence at school, it’s important that a voice as compellingly powerful as Watson’s can be used to set out a tangible future. Everybody surely agrees that sexual violence at University must be fought tooth and nail. Right?
A writer brought in by The Sun thought otherwise. In response to Watson’s speech at the UN, catty columnist Rod Liddle couldn’t resist getting his claws out. Don’t know Rod Liddle? You might remember him from previous episodes of misogyny, like when he abrasively asked “Harriet Harman, then. Would you?” in a tirage on her “vacuous feminism” when she was deputy-leader of the Labour Party. Fans of his work from 2009 may also have enjoyed his casual use of the term “Muslim savages” in The Spectator. Ableist, transphobic, homophobic; all of these have been used in the past to describe Liddle’s perverse take on world affairs. Here’s what he wrote on Watson, in full, with short but sweet commentary from Matt Healy of the 1975. I hope you’re sitting down.
So where shall we begin? The patronising dismissal of Watson’s opinion to nothing more than a children’s fictional character? The sexist implication that famous women, coined ‘luvvie celebs’, should never be granted the opportunity to speak their mind? Or the insulting middle finger to victims of sexual abuse at University, arrogantly shoving the issue to one side as nothing more than “whining, leftie, PC crap?”.
I’ll repeat. To complain about sexual abuse at school is, apparently, “whining”.
How dare you, Rod Liddle? How dare you condemn victims of sexual aggression to silence? Because by mocking the voice of Watson, you are mocking millions of women who have do not have the platform to speak. One in three women worldwide will be the victim of physical or sexual abuse at some point in their lifetime, and yet you call it “whining”? In your own ‘civilised’ country, 31% of female students have experienced inappropriate touching or groping. Is this “PC crap” too? Is sexual abuse not an issue for the right wing as well as the left; a problem for everyone? Do you not worry for the safety of your own daughters, when you proudly wave them off on their own adventures in higher education?
Yet The Sun printed it. It cannot escape with a caution; it is a serial offender. Less than a week ago, model Gigi Hadid was manhandled by the same ‘prankster’ (I use that term lightly) that got a slap off Will Smith when he tried to kiss him on the red carpet last year. The same man was reported to the police this week by Kim Kardashian, as he attempted to grab her from behind. She defended herself, aiming a well timed elbow to the face of her attacker. The story was, essentially, ‘man physically picks up woman he doesn’t know and tries to drag her away.’ Textbook self-defence, surely? Not according to The Sun, who incredulously posted this headline:
— Rachel McGrath (@RachelMcGrath) September 22, 2016
Hadid was not happy with The Sun. Can you blame her?
and had EVERY RIGHT to defend myself. How dare that idiot thinks he has the right to man-handle a complete stranger. He ran quick tho 👊🏼😏🐱— Gigi Hadid (@GiGiHadid) September 22, 2016
Fan? On what planet? Conveniently in keeping with the status quo of rape culture, Hadid was assaulted, and then blamed for the assault. Watson talks candidly about keeping women safe and supporting them. Yet the headline in question takes one look at a situation where a woman’s safety is compromised, and then attacks said woman for defending herself appropriately. Hadid, the victim, is portrayed as the aggressive one. The Sun changed their headline twice after a torrent of online criticism.
Sadly The Sun is not alone. Just this week, The Daily Mail gave the brilliant Amal Clooney front page coverage. The international human rights lawyer has represented WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in the past, and most recently has taken on the case of Nadia Murad, one of many Yazidi women to have been kidnapped as sex slaves in an ISIS led campaign of genocide. You’d be forgiven for praising the Daily Mail for giving Clooney, wife of Hollywood actor George, the pedestal she deserves. But, of course, this was not the case.
The Daily Mail join The Sun in attacking Amal Clooney for having the temerity to highlight the plight of refugees while being well-off pic.twitter.com/1PTwjkTjdO— The Sun Apologies (@SunApology) September 26, 2016
Predictably, the Daily Mail chose a different direction. Clooney is taken to task on her wardrobe, pedalling the argument that her fancy fashion is “out of place” with her job fighting for worthy causes. The article even included a photograph of Clooney as a “drab” singleton as comparison with her lavish married self. The implication? Once again, that her success as a woman is dependent on her marriage to a famous man, and measured only by the superficial aesthetic of her appearance. Clooney has been targeted by the Mail often. Last week, inexplicably on the front page once more, she was blasted as a “bleeding heart luvvie” more concerned with her mansions than her missions. That very same week, she was named as “Amal (who)?” after she criticised Theresa May for not taking in enough refugees. Even May herself, when she was announced as Prime Minister, had to battle for space on the front page of The Sun with her own pair of shoes. Would David Cameron have had to deal with that? Would any man?
This is not OK. This is so very far from being close to OK. Columnists like Rod Liddle will routinely disempower successful women to hundreds of thousands of readers, and dodge accountability under the guise of 'banter'. Liddle's response to criticism from figures like Game Of Thrones star Sophie Turner was sarcastic and rude. "I was stupid enough to say nasty things about Hermione Granger" he says, "you know, that lass from Harry Potter who was good at spells and shagged Ron Weasley." He regarded one critic, who said that he "exemplified the sexism" touched on in Watson's speech, as an "airheaded bimbo".
Remember that it was only last year that The Sun scrapped printing daily photos of topless models in every issue, after a 28 month campaign waged by No More Page 3. Global readers might find it hard to believe, but it’s true: for 45 years, the first page you’d turn to would be a national advert for objectification. The evidence is everywhere, even in the most subtle of places. Last week, GQ wrote a climbing piece profiling "three premier (male) climbers and a couple of cute (female) friends". The photo response from Outdoor Research is a must-see. Reinforcement of out-of-date thinking is the first pillar of rape culture. Refuting gender equality is the second. A misogynistic media can damage the way men view women, and how women see themselves. Sexual aggression is the consequence of such mind management, and Watson is absolutely correct to prioritise it. Let’s be clear: ending violence against women is by no means a simple objective. Mainstream broadcasting of sexist worldviews are a part of the problem that can be surpassed, and must be overcome completely to achieve the fifth global goal: total gender equality.
Emma Watson responded to Liddle’s piece in The Sun the only way she knows how. The Queen of comebacks, she shunned her critics by releasing a short video online promoting gender equality. “Women and girls have always faced hurdles, but that’s never stopped us,” she says. “We’ve sacrificed, fought campaigns, succeeded, been knocked back, and succeeded again. In a race for justice, we’ve leapt over countless obstacles to win our rights.” Media misogyny is just another barrier that can be broken. And it will be broken, destructively, without any hope or chance of reconstruction. Women can look to voices like Watson and Clooney for inspiration, because they live the same life of scrutiny under a patriarchal gaze. Despite what is written by some sexist writers, sexual abuse at school is an issue of immense importance. The media may put up a fight, but they will lose. Our world depends on it.
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of Global Citizen and its partners.