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
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Justin Trudeau points the way forward for European politics

Is the charismatic Canadian Prime Minister modelling the party of the future?

Six months after Canadian election day, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party continues to bask in the glow of victory. With 44 per cent of support in the polls, the Liberals are the most popular party amongst every single demographic – men and women, young and old, and people of all educational backgrounds. 

While most European mainstream parties only dream of such approval, this is actually a small dip for the Liberals. They were enjoying almost 50 per cent support in the polls up until budget day on 21 March. Even after announcing $29.4 billion in deficit spending, Canadians overall viewed the budget favourably – only 34 per cent said they would vote to defeat it.

Progressives around the world are suddenly intrigued by Canadian politics. Why is Justin Trudeau so successful?

Of course it helps that the new Prime Minister is young, handsome and loves pandas (who doesn’t?) But it’s also true that he was leader of the Liberals for a year and half before the election. He brought with him an initial surge in support for the party. But he also oversaw its steady decline in the lead up to last year’s election – leadership is important, but clearly it isn’t the only factor behind the Liberals’ success today.

Context matters

As disappointing as it is for Europeans seeking to unpack Canadian secrets, the truth is that a large part of the Liberals’ success was also down to the former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s extreme unpopularity by election time.

Throughout almost ten years in power, Harper shifted Canada markedly to the right. His Conservative government did not just alter policies; it started changing the rules of the democratic game. While centre-right governments in Europe may be implementing policies that progressives dislike, they are nonetheless operating within the constraints of democratic systems (for the most part; Hungary and Poland are exceptions).

Which is why the first weeks of the election campaign were dominated by an ‘Anybody But Harper’ sentiment, benefitting both the Liberals and the left-wing New Democratic Party (NDP). The NDP was even leading the polls for a while, inviting pundits to consider the possibility of a hung parliament.

But eight days before election day, the Liberals began to pull ahead.

The most important reason – and why they continue to be so popular today – is that they were able to own the mantle of ‘change’. They were the only party to promise running a (small) deficit and invest heavily in infrastructure. Notably absent was abstract discourse about tackling inequality. Trudeau’s plan was about fairness for the middle class, promoting social justice and economic growth.

Democratic reform was also a core feature of the Liberal campaign, which the party has maintained in government – Trudeau appointed a new Minister of Democratic Institutions and promised a change in the voting system before the next election.

The change has also been in style, however. Justin Trudeau is rebranding Canada as an open, progressive, plural society. Even though this was Canada’s reputation pre-Harper, it is not as simple as turning back the clock.

In a world increasingly taken by populist rhetoric on immigration – not just by politicians like Donald Trump, Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen and other right-wingers, but also increasingly by mainstream politicians of right and left – Justin Trudeau has been unashamedly proclaiming the benefits of living in a diverse, plural society. He repeatedly calls himself a feminist, in the hope that one day “it is met with a shrug” rather than a social media explosion. Live-streamed Global Town Halls are one part of a renewed openness with the media. Progressive politicians in Europe would do well to take note.

Questioning the role of political parties today

Another interesting development is that the Liberal party is implicitly questioning the point of parties today. It recently abolished fee-paying, card-carrying party members. While this has been met with some criticism regarding the party’s structure and integrity, with commentators worried that “it’s the equivalent of turning your party into one giant Facebook page: Click ‘Like’ and you’re in the club,” it seems this is the point.

Colin Horgan, one of Trudeau’s former speechwriters, explains that Facebook is “literally a treasure trove for political parties”. All kinds of information becomes available – for free; supporters become easier to contact.

It was something the Liberals were already hinting at two years ago when they introduced a ‘supporters’ category to make the party appear more open. Liberal president Anna Gainey also used the word “movement” to describe what the Liberals hope to be.

And yes, they are trying to win over millennials. Which proved to be a good strategy, as a new study shows that Canadians aged 18-25 were a key reason why the Liberals won a majority. Young voter turnout was up by 12 per cent from the last election in 2011; among this age group, 45 per cent voted for the Liberals.

Some interesting questions for European progressives to consider. Of course, some of the newer political parties in Europe have already been experimenting with looser membership structures and less hierarchical ways of engaging, like Podemos’ ‘circles’ in Spain and the Five Star Movement’s ‘liquid democracy’ in Italy.

The British centre-left may be hesitant after its recent fiasco. Labour opened up its leadership primary to ‘supporters’ and ended up with a polarising leader who is extremely popular amongst members, but unpopular amongst the British public. But it would be wrong to assume that the process was to blame.

The better comparison is perhaps to Emmanuel Macron, France’s young economy minister who recently launched his own movement ‘En Marche !’ Moving beyond the traditional party structure, he is attempting to unite ‘right’ and ‘left’ by inspiring French people with an optimistic vision of the future. Time will tell whether this works to engage people in the longer term, or at least until next year’s presidential election.

In any case, European parties could start by asking themselves: What kind of political parties are they? What is the point of them?

Most importantly: What do they want people to think is the point of them?

Ultimately, the Canadian Liberals’ model of success rests on three main pillars:

  1. They unambiguously promote and defend a progressive, open, plural vision of society.
  2. They have a coherent economic plan focused on social justice and economic growth which, most importantly, they are trusted to deliver.
  3. They understand that society has changed – people are more interconnected than ever, relationships are less hierarchical and networks exist online – and they are adapting a once rigid party structure into a looser, open movement to reflect that.

*And as a bonus, a young, charismatic leader doesn’t hurt either.

Claudia Chwalisz is a Senior Policy Researcher at Policy Network, a Crook Public Service Fellow at the University of Sheffield and author of The Populist Signal: Why Politics and Democracy Need to Change