Times Online indulges in a bit of ‘slut’ shaming

// 30 October 2008

Jonathan Ross has got himself suspended for three months, while Russell Brand quit his radio rob. But The Times is more interested in attacking Georgina Baillie – the butt of Ross and Brand’s joke. In this guest post, Amity Reed considers what it all means

Unless you’ve been living underground for the last couple days, you’ve most likely heard of the furore surrounding Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross’s prank gone wrong (in which they told 78-year-old actor Andrew Sachs over the telephone that Brand had fucked his granddaughter, Georgina Baillie) and the subsequent 30,000 complaints that have been filed by the public expressing their distaste at the two men’s actions. As soon as I discovered that Baillie was part of a dance troupe called ‘Satanic Sluts,’ I began counting down the moments until someone began picking her apart, questioning her career choices and sexual history.

Right on cue, Jenny Colgan, writing for the ‘Alpha Mummy’ blog at The Times Online, today asks: “When did feminism make it OK to be a ‘Satanic Slut’?”

When, she wonders? Well, Jenny, let me tell you. About the same time you earned the right to hold down a job, go where you please, wear what you like, sleep with whomever you fancy and say pretty much whatever pops into your head. In other words, when women obtained the right to make their own choices and be their own people. Feminism made all of that possible, let’s not forget.

Even if some women don’t identify as one (and I’m assuming Colgan doesn’t, since she clearly differentiates between herself, someone who finds Georgina Baillie distasteful, and the feminism that purportedly promotes “things like this’), there are scores of women out there identifying as feminists who are working towards ensuring that the freedoms we enjoy are protected and that ones still withheld from us are (hopefully) granted in our lifetime. I suppose that because Colgan doesn’t appear to understand what the movement is about, I should give her a break for getting it wrong. But since she also asks: “When, precisely, did feminism make this kind of nonsense OK? When did it become alright for those ‘porn star in training’ t-shirts, the ‘hot stuff’ printed on little girl’s knickers; beautiful teen heroine Billie Piper playing the rich gorgeous prostitute Belle de Jour?” I’ll assume she was genuinely looking for answers and break it down for her: It didn’t.

What she has done is confuse two issues – the expression of female sexuality by consenting adults (however unpleasant we may find it), and the exploitation and sexualisation of children for the purposes of commercial gain, social conformity and male pleasure. Trying to sell high heels to babies or bejewelled knickers with sexual messages to pre-teen girls is not what feminism is about. In fact, you’ll find that that is exactly the sort of thing that many feminists condemn and actively rail against.

What we are not in the business of doing (or shouldn’t be, anyway) is attempting to shame women who have chosen a lifestyle or career that others may deem inappropriate because it is not something ‘nice’. Freedom of choice means just that – the freedom to choose, whatever that may be. We can’t just dictate which decisions we will support and which we won’t according to our own personal tastes and boundaries.

Besides the “is feminism responsible” nonsense, there is more than a little whiff of superiority and “she was asking for it” here, by both the author and a number of the blog’s commenters, even if a disclaimer issued by Colgan claims that isn’t the case. And as if deriding Baillie’s lifestyle choices weren’t enough, Colgan informs us that she feels this way because she is a mother and that before she had children she would’ve supported Baillie’s right to do or be whatever she wants without derision. So not only do we have an element of slut-shaming here but the ‘mothers as moral guardians’ stereotype has been trotted out again too. How very tiresome.

Once again, something that should be about individual men’s actions (Brand’s and Ross’s) has turned into a passing of judgment on the woman inadvertently caught up in their scandal. It’s sad that Baillie has even been put in this position, having to explain her sexual relationship with Brand and defend her right to not be publicly humiliated by a celebrity trying to get a laugh. That other women can’t see how this hurts them too, hurts the advancement of women as a collective, is probably the saddest part of all.

Comments From You

JENNIFER DREW // Posted 30 October 2008 at 11:09 pm

Ah yes, Amity I too was waiting for that age old women blaming stance to once again be trotted out. Of course Ms. Bailie is ‘to blame’ because this neatly takes the heat off Messrs. Brand and Ross. We can dismiss their misogysntic and sluttish behaviour because they were only enacting appropriate masculine attitudes (sic). Whereas Ms. Bailie has apparently deviated from the ‘good little, obedient girl’ stance which patriarchy constantly demands all women to adhere to. Even better to let a woman do men’s dirty work for them – it smacks of patriarchy through and through. But not all women and some men too fall for this very old misogynistic trick.

Likewise it is always conveniently overlooked the age group which is constantly targetted by grasping greedy profiteers are pre-teen girls, because promoting the myth turning oneself into men’s sexualised commodities is supposedly feminist. Oh yes and the moon is really made of green cheese. Take a look if you don’t believe me – I assure you it is true!

Mephit // Posted 31 October 2008 at 10:29 am

This has seriously got my goat in the last few days.

All her choices are scrutinised and mostly pilloried, and she’s all kinds of sluts, but there’s no comparable judgement going on against Brand.

And the whole “joke” in the first place was based on the sexist notion of male ownership of his family members. Grrr.

Sophie Platt // Posted 31 October 2008 at 1:27 pm

Spot on! Thanks to Amity for clearing this up. My flatmate was very derisive about Ms Bailie in this whole matter, simply because of her association with a group named ‘satanic sluts’. This left me feeling uncomfortable, and your post has revealed why. As you quite rightly say, Feminism, above all, is about choice. This is her choice, whether you find it distasteful or not.

Cara // Posted 31 October 2008 at 1:29 pm

Exactly. Good piece. And what Mephit said.

Headey // Posted 31 October 2008 at 1:33 pm

The behaviour or personality of Ms Bailie ought to have no bearing on anything. Whether she’s “a tart” (as I heard in the pub last night) or as chaste as a nun is COMPLETELY irrelevant.

The appropriateness of the phonecall to be broadcast, is one issue the BBC need to address. The other issue is the purile nature of the whole idea of making the call in the first place. Brand and Ross ought to feel shame for ever thinking it was a good idea, particularly as the thing was broadcast some time after the act itself.

Kate // Posted 31 October 2008 at 2:20 pm

No comparable judgement going on against Brand? Are you kidding. He’s been hounded out of his job. This woman has signed with Max Clifford. I want to know why, as a feminist, my default sympathies should be with a woman who gets paid to humiliate people and sexualise death (because I am such a big fan of her posing as a “sexy corpse” at the moment)?

zooeyibz // Posted 31 October 2008 at 5:49 pm

I’m horrified by some of the comments (on blogs, news sites, etc) about Baillie I’ve read. One says: “why is such a big deal being made about the desperate nobody having the piss taken out of her, and pretending to be offended, the idea of stupid politicians wanting to defend her reputation, numnucks:

There is no apology to make, except directly to possibly Andrew Sachs, definitely not her.”

The sheer hatefulness of that — “a desperate nobody”. And the assumption that she *wanted* to have her sex life smeared on air and finally, the notion that only her GRANDFATHER deserved an apology because she is obviously so sub-human as to be beneath interest.

It’s the same blame the victim attitude that accounts for the UK’s appalling rape statistics. Depressing.

And poor Baillie. I would frightened….

julie webster // Posted 31 October 2008 at 8:46 pm

I cannot speak for what Russell Brand said or did not say, because we are only getting what was reported in the media. What I will say is that I do not believe that anyone should disclose on a public broadcast the name of someone they have slept with, unless of course that person whom they are naming has already declared it publicly before they did, so it is common knowledge. For example I.e. if Tony Blair declared on television yesterday that he had slept with his wife Cherie Blair, well that is common public knowledge anyway. If a woman is in a strippers group called the ‘Satanic Sluts’ that does not give anyone the right to disclose her sexual history anymore than a woman who works in an office. It is utterly wrong to use a womans’ sexual history as a way of treating crimes against her less seriously……. Ok that is the first point over, because there are two different arguments here:

I think the question ‘When did Feminism make it ok to call yourself a Satanic Slut’ raises an interesting point (I am not going along with anything else that may have been said in the Times newspaper, by the way). Amity Reed rightly says that feminism means women making their own career choices. However let us not pretend that the career choice is not shaped by the society that women (and men) live under. We live in a society where a sexist double standard still operates, ‘slut’ is still a term of abuse for a woman who admits to enjoying sex. Women still get paid less than men, and the last time I looked the anti-choice anti-abortionists were trying to restrict a woman’s right to abortion in Britain. There is NO equivalent word for men, and a man is judged positively for having loads of sexual partners. Trying to reclaim the word ‘slut’ by calling yourself one seems to me a concession to this double standard. Why not call yourself a ‘satanic maneater’ or a ‘satanic woman with a high, healthy sexual appetite.’ That would sound far more empowering than the phrase ‘satanic slut’. Amity Reed seems to be implying that the only thing wrong with wearing a ‘porn star in training’ Tshirts is if female children wear them. To that I respond: No, no , no. I would feel disempowered and undermined if millions of women were wearing these T-shirts in Britain. I would feel that the message would reinforce the idea of myself and every other woman being judged as a sex object. If women at work were wearing them, it would undermine my confidence. After all a female porn stars’ job is to imitate sexual arousal for the benefit of (usually) men. This type of t-shirt just sends a message that women are sex-objects to be consumed by men like a tin of beans in a supermarket. Now a t-shirt saying, ‘I am a woman who likes sex, on my OWN terms’ is miles more liberating than the slogan ‘porn star in training.’

Ala // Posted 31 October 2008 at 9:24 pm

I had almost despaired that this had gone unnoticed. Thank you, F word.

Aimee // Posted 1 November 2008 at 12:08 pm

It was obvious that she was going to be derided for her lifrstyle choices. One gentleman I was having a discussion with even went so far as to say that ‘her opinion doesn’t matter’ because she described herself as a voluptuous slut etc. I very much doubt that the incident would have even happened if the woman in question had been a doctor, or a secretary or something deemed accetable to our pseudo-puritanical palates.

Saranga // Posted 1 November 2008 at 3:48 pm

Thank you for posting this article, and thank you to all the commenters. This whole debacle has made me really pissed off and uncomfortable – why on earth do ppl find a female relative having sex an insult to themselves? HOW???

And that’s before you get into the later ‘slut shaming’ thing.

arggh *headdesk*

Hoagy // Posted 1 November 2008 at 5:06 pm

In the ’76 furore ,Grundy was the bullying sexist asshole and today its Ross & Brand fulfilling his role by attacking the Sachs Pistol.

A tour of left-liberal blogs (and some left-not-so-liberal sites who ought to know better) reveals some really feeble arguments offered in mitigation.

Two complaints at the time of transmission does not put the bullies in a better light, it puts the attitudes of the audience in an awful one. Anyone who has trouble understanding this should consider what their attitude would be if they heard a tirade of racist bullying being broadcast instead. How would that argument go down then? Could anybody even offer it up without being flamed to bits?

Ruth Moss // Posted 3 November 2008 at 11:47 am

“This whole debacle has made me really pissed off and uncomfortable – why on earth do ppl find a female relative having sex an insult to themselves?”

I do agree in principle, and I think the majority of the apologising should have been to Baillie, not Sachs.

However, I do still think he deserved *some* apology, not for the reasons that everyone is going on about, but for *exactly* the same reason as it would be rather rude of me to phone up my gran-in-law and leave her a message on her answerphone saying “I’ve fucked your grandson”.

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