The Sun's interview with violinist Nicola Benedetti was a masterclass in sexism

Why have words at all when you could use the space for derogatory comments and suggestive pictures?

Yesterday I stumbled across this "interview" with violinist Nicola Benedetti in the Scottish Sun, in which Matt Bendoris - ostensibly a grown man and not a fifteen year old Nuts columnist - gives a masterclass in female objectification.

In it, Bendoris tastefully focuses on Benedetti's appearance, not her music:

So I guess Nicola won’t be posing for the lads’ mags anytime soon. Pity, because she looks fit as a fiddle when we meet at Edinburgh’s plush Sheraton Hotel.

But Nicola doesn’t always take the bonniest photo — she’s beaky in pics sometimes, which is weird because in the flesh she’s an absolute knock-out.

The classical musician is wearing skinny jeans which show off her long legs. She’s also busty with a washboard flat tummy, tottering around 5ft 10in in her Dune platform wedges.

He also urges Benedetti's cellist boyfriend Leonard Elschenbroich to get her pregnant:

The one possession she never lets out of sight is her 1712 Earl Spencer Stradivarius — made by the legendary 18th Century Italian violin master Antonio Stradivari himself.

No wonder as it’s worth £2million and is on loan from American banker Jonathan Moulds.

Me: “Gie’s a shot.”

She gasps: “Absolutely not! No one gets to touch this baby.”

Talking of babies, she’d like those too.

Nicola says: “It’s eight years since I won Young Musician of the Year. In the next eight years I’d hope to be a better violinist and I’d like to have started a family. I’ll be in my early 30s so I would probably like a baby or two by then.”

Better get busy making sweet, sweet music, Leonard. Lucky boy...

After reading the article, I had a question for Mr Bendoris:

I guess there’s a certain skill in writing about a artist and focusing on their physical attributes instead of their art. It requires you to wilfully ignore all of that talent. Bendoris must have trained in the Sun’s cultural isolation chamber, watching endless streams of Big Brother repeats and reading nothing but his own previous columns. Two weeks later, he emerged sweating and crying, screaming “Art is dead”. He was ready.

It’s like interviewing David Hockney and writing about how long and thick his willy is, asking if viewers would enjoy "elitist" painting more if he’d tie a brush to his dick and shake it at a canvas. Except that wouldn’t actually happen cause, you know, every Sun reader knows willies are horrible - not like lovely boobies though, eh lads?

Why do they bother including words at all if they’re just pushing wank fantasy material? They’d get more suggestive pictures in without all that bloody text. There’s an irony in deriding classical music as "elitist" and then sexually objectifying one of its best modern proponents. It’s not the general public who are wrong for ignoring classical music; it’s Nicola Benedetti for arrogantly refusing to get her tits out and bringing it down to “their” level.

Bendoris’ retort was that he loved “folk who get outraged on someone else’s behalf” which is disingenuous. I’m personally outraged that someone would actually write this shit and try to sell it to me as news. I’m offended that a company thinks I am that stupid, misogynist and ignorant - and you should feel insulted, too. But you know, mostly I’m not offended. I’m just disappointed that in 2012 this passes for journalism and there are still numpties out there willing to defend it.

I don’t think most Sun readers are as lecherous and paleolithic as Matt Bendoris and his editor Simon Houston. I hope they vote with their wallet. Right, enough of this filth. Let’s have some nice classical music.

Alan Williamson is editor of Split Screen, where this post originally appeared. He tweets as @agbear.

Violinist Nicola Benedetti. Photograph: Getty Images
Garry Knight via Creative Commons
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Why Barack Obama was right to release Chelsea Manning

A Presidential act of mercy is good for Manning, but also for the US.

In early 2010, a young US military intelligence analyst on an army base near Baghdad slipped a Lady Gaga CD into a computer and sang along to the music. In fact, the soldier's apparently upbeat mood hid two facts. 

First, the soldier later known as Chelsea Manning was completely alienated from army culture, and the callous way she believed it treated civilians in Iraq. And second, she was quietly erasing the music on her CDs and replacing it with files holding explosive military data, which she would release to the world via Wikileaks. 

To some, Manning is a free speech hero. To others, she is a traitor. President Barack Obama’s decision to commute her 35-year sentence before leaving office has been blasted as “outrageous” by leading Republican Paul Ryan. Other Republican critics argue Obama is rewarding an act that endangered the lives of soldiers and intelligence operatives while giving ammunition to Russia. 

They have a point. Liberals banging the drum against Russia’s leak offensive during the US election cannot simultaneously argue leaks are inherently good. 

But even if you think Manning was deeply misguided in her use of Lady Gaga CDs, there are strong reasons why we should celebrate her release. 

1. She was not judged on the public interest

Manning was motivated by what she believed to be human rights abuses in Iraq, but her public interest defence has never been tested. 

The leaks were undoubtedly of public interest. As Manning said in the podcast she recorded with Amnesty International: “When we made mistakes, planning operations, innocent people died.” 

Thanks to Manning’s leak, we also know about the Vatican hiding sex abuse scandals in Ireland, plus the UK promising to protect US interests during the Chilcot Inquiry. 

In countries such as Germany, Canada and Denmark, whistle blowers in sensitive areas can use a public interest defence. In the US, however, such a defence does not exist – meaning it is impossible for Manning to legally argue her actions were in the public good. 

2. She was deemed worse than rapists and murderers

Her sentence was out of proportion to her crime. Compare her 35-year sentence to that received by William Millay, a young police officer, also in 2013. Caught in the act of trying to sell classified documents to someone he believed was a Russian intelligence officer, he was given 16 years

According to Amnesty International: “Manning’s sentence was much longer than other members of the military convicted of charges such as murder, rape and war crimes, as well as any others who were convicted of leaking classified materials to the public.”

3. Her time in jail was particularly miserable 

Manning’s conditions in jail do nothing to dispel the idea she has been treated extraordinarily harshly. When initially placed in solitary confinement, she needed permission to do anything in her cell, even walking around to exercise. 

When she requested treatment for her gender dysphoria, the military prison’s initial response was a blanket refusal – despite the fact many civilian prisons accept the idea that trans inmates are entitled to hormones. Manning has attempted suicide several times. She finally received permission to receive gender transition surgery in 2016 after a hunger strike

4. Julian Assange can stop acting like a martyr

Internationally, Manning’s continued incarceration was likely to do more harm than good. She has said she is sorry “for hurting the US”. Her worldwide following has turned her into an icon of US hypocrisy on free speech.

Then there's the fact Wikileaks said its founder Julian Assange would agree to be extradited to the US if Manning was released. Now that Manning is months away from freedom, his excuses for staying in the Equadorian London Embassy to avoid Swedish rape allegations are somewhat feebler.  

As for the President - under whose watch Manning was prosecuted - he may be leaving his office with his legacy in peril, but with one stroke of his pen, he has changed a life. Manning, now 29, could have expected to leave prison in her late 50s. Instead, she'll be free before her 30th birthday. And perhaps the Equadorian ambassador will finally get his room back. 

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.