Richard Scudamore’s emails were misogynistic, not just “private banter”. Photo: Getty
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Why do misogynists deserve the “privacy” the women they abuse are denied?

From the case of Richard Scudamore to that of Justin Lee Collins, the lie that the public degradation of women is somehow a private matter for the men who perpetrate it has taken hold.

In the sturdy clichés of Venus and Mars, it’s supposed to be women who are good at multitasking. It’s an evolutionary inheritance, we are told by the sexists of faux-science, from the times when female humans had to pick berries and simultaneously stop children from getting eaten by wolves, while males just got on with the singular task of sticking spears in things. But if any gender really gets credit for being able to do two things at once, it’s not women. Public life is full of men with manifest habits of misogyny, but whenever this is challenged, one excuse is reliably rolled out: that was private, it doesn’t affect his job. Men, it seems, are the champions of doing two entirely contradictory things at the same time.

That’s been the consensus around Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore’s misogynistic emails. And yes, they were misogynistic – not just a bit sexist if you looked at them funny, not “private banter” (as the headline of India Knight’s Sunday Times column described them), but absolutely misogynistic: Scudamore discussed women’s breasts and described women as “irrational”. This is the language of someone who doesn’t even think women are people. In fact, Scudamore had so little respect for women that, according to Rani Abraham (the PA who leaked them), he sent these missives through a work email account that it was her job to monitor. One of the women discussed so crudely was a Premier League employee – and was copied into the emails. (Abraham says she left the job because she could not tolerate working for a man who used such language.)

Scudamore left no daylight between his professional life and his sexism. Yet it has been insisted in every outlet from the Times (Leader) to the Mirror (Carol McGiffin) to the Guardian (Marina Hyde) that emails sent at work, through a work account monitored by an employee, about and to colleagues should be classed as a private matter. (And yes, I noticed how many of those pieces were bylined to women. Maybe working in a massively sexist institution like a newspaper skews your sense of what is acceptable.) If these emails had been on any other topic, the idea of classing them as “private” would be laughable: it’s only because they’re misogynistic that people are anxious to separate them from Scudamore’s public role.

The hideous truth is, though, that you can do worse than call women “gash” and still have it tucked away as a private matter. In Kirsty Wark’s Blurred Lines documentary on the new culture of misogyny, Rod Liddle is shuffled out to provide the contrarian point of view, arguing (in the face of all evidence) that women experience no worse abuse than men, and what women do experience is neither specific to gender nor related to violence. Liddle has repeatedly attacked women for their looks in his Spectator column, so he’s certainly no neutral in the sex wars, but there’s also something even more concerning in his history – something which, I think, should permanently rule his opinions on the abuse of women out of contention.

In 2005, Liddle accepted a caution for common assault against his girlfriend, who was then pregnant. Liddle later denied wrongdoing and claimed he only accepted the caution “because it was the quickest way for him to be released”, but nevertheless, there it is: a man with a criminal record of violence against women, being invited to give his professional opinion on the abuse women experience. The caution was not mentioned by Wark. Presumably, it has been dismissed to the realm of the private where men are imagined to be capable of operating an entirely different – even contradictory – set of values to the ones we like to imagine they hold in the course of public decency. Wouldn’t it have been interesting for Liddle to address the relationship between his public journalism and his “private” record? Isn’t that exactly the kind of connection the documentary was trying to explore? But public men, it seems, must have privacy for such things.

That’s true even when the evidence of violence is thoroughly unambiguous – witness Justin Lee Collins’ return to public life after a two-year hiatus following his 2012 conviction for harassment of his ex-girlfriend, Anna Larke. Actually, harassment is too mild a term for what, frankly, amounted to campaign of emotional terrorism. The court heard that he forced Larke to write down details of all her previous sexual encounters, made her sleep facing him, and throw away DVDs starring actors she found attractive. He made death threats, and Larke recorded him in an argument calling her a “fucking slag” and a “dirty vile whore”. He demanded she give up her job. He admitted to slapping her. His debt to society for this torture? Repaid in 140 hours of community service and £3,500 of costs.

And somehow, all this was not enough to end his career as a performer. Collins is now back, hosting a show on a subscription digital talk radio station. He announced his return with a contrite interview with the Sun on Sunday in which he explained that he’s seeing a therapist to talk through the “toxic relationship”, as though his attacks were caused by some kind of noxious outside influence, rather than him being responsible for his own violence. I am all for second chances, but there are many ways to make a living which don’t involve the popular rehabilitation of an abuser, and his attacks on Larke were not just a matter of his “personal life”, as his Wikipedia entry glibly categorises it: they were criminal.

Every time the male degradation of women is classed as “private”, what we are saying is that men’s loathing of women is something beyond our scrutiny, something that cannot be challenged or discussed. Women are entitled to so little privacy that a man can talk about their genitals in his work emails, but men apparently must not be denied the privacy in which they exercise this hate. I don’t believe that men are such hypocrites that they can abuse women with one face, and treat female colleagues and acquaintances with perfect decency with the other. Misogyny is not private: it is about how women are controlled, contained, bullied out of the places where they can act as independent humans and sway the world. We cannot trade off a little hatred as the tax for bigger wins, as some Scudamore defenders have suggested. As long as we tolerate the pretence that abusing women is a merely personal matter, the world will never be safe or fair for women.

Editor’s note, 6 June 2014: This post originally stated that Richard Scudamore had used the term “gash” in reference to women. This was incorrect: the term was used in an email sent to Mr Scudamore. The article has been amended accordingly.

Sarah Ditum is a journalist who writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman and others. Her website is here.

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A swimming pool and a bleeding toe put my medical competency in doubt

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Sometimes the search engine wins. 

The brutal heatwave affecting southern Europe this summer has become known among locals as “Lucifer”. Having just returned from Italy, I fully understand the nickname. An early excursion caused the beginnings of sunstroke, so we abandoned plans to explore the cultural heritage of the Amalfi region and strayed no further than five metres from the hotel pool for the rest of the week.

The children were delighted, particularly my 12-year-old stepdaughter, Gracie, who proceeded to spend hours at a time playing in the water. Towelling herself after one long session, she noticed something odd.

“What’s happened there?” she asked, holding her foot aloft in front of my face.

I inspected the proffered appendage: on the underside of her big toe was an oblong area of glistening red flesh that looked like a chunk of raw steak.

“Did you injure it?”

She shook her head. “It doesn’t hurt at all.”

I shrugged and said she must have grazed it. She wasn’t convinced, pointing out that she would remember if she had done that. She has great faith in plasters, though, and once it was dressed she forgot all about it. I dismissed it, too, assuming it was one of those things.

By the end of the next day, the pulp on the underside of all of her toes looked the same. As the doctor in the family, I felt under some pressure to come up with an explanation. I made up something about burns from the hot paving slabs around the pool. Gracie didn’t say as much, but her look suggested a dawning scepticism over my claims to hold a medical degree.

The next day, Gracie and her new-found holiday playmate, Eve, abruptly terminated a marathon piggy-in-the-middle session in the pool with Eve’s dad. “Our feet are bleeding,” they announced, somewhat incredulously. Sure enough, bright-red blood was flowing, apparently painlessly, from the bottoms of their big toes.

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Often, what patients discover on the internet causes them undue alarm, and our role is to provide context and reassurance. But not infrequently, people come across information that outstrips our knowledge. On my return from our room with fresh supplies of plasters, my wife looked up from her sun lounger with an air of quiet amusement.

“It’s called ‘pool toe’,” she said, handing me her iPhone. The page she had tracked down described the girls’ situation exactly: friction burns, most commonly seen in children, caused by repetitive hopping about on the abrasive floors of swimming pools. Doctors practising in hot countries must see it all the time. I doubt it presents often to British GPs.

I remained puzzled about the lack of pain. The injuries looked bad, but neither Gracie nor Eve was particularly bothered. Here the internet drew a blank, but I suspect it has to do with the “pruning” of our skin that we’re all familiar with after a soak in the bath. This only occurs over the pulps of our fingers and toes. It was once thought to be caused by water diffusing into skin cells, making them swell, but the truth is far more fascinating.

The wrinkling is an active process, triggered by immersion, in which the blood supply to the pulp regions is switched off, causing the skin there to shrink and pucker. This creates the biological equivalent of tyre treads on our fingers and toes and markedly improves our grip – of great evolutionary advantage when grasping slippery fish in a river, or if trying to maintain balance on slick wet rocks.

The flip side of this is much greater friction, leading to abrasion of the skin through repeated micro-trauma. And the lack of blood flow causes nerves to shut down, depriving us of the pain that would otherwise alert us to the ongoing tissue damage. An adaptation that helped our ancestors hunt in rivers proves considerably less use on a modern summer holiday.

I may not have seen much of the local heritage, but the trip to Italy taught me something new all the same. 

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear