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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Who will win in Stoke-on-Trent?

Labour are the favourites, but they could fall victim to a shock in the Midlands constituency.  

The resignation of Tristram Hunt as MP for Stoke-on-Central has triggered a by-election in the safe Labour seat of Stoke on Trent Central. That had Westminster speculating about the possibility of a victory for Ukip, which only intensified once Paul Nuttall, the party’s leader, was installed as the candidate.

If Nuttall’s message that the Labour Party has lost touch with its small-town and post-industrial heartlands is going to pay dividends at the ballot box, there can hardly be a better set of circumstances than this: the sitting MP has quit to take up a well-paid job in London, and although  the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs voted to block Brexit, the well-advertised divisions in that party over the vote should help Ukip.

But Labour started with a solid lead – it is always more useful to talk about percentages, not raw vote totals – of 16 points in 2015, with the two parties of the right effectively tied in second and third place. Just 33 votes separated Ukip in second from the third-placed Conservatives.

There was a possible – but narrow – path to victory for Ukip that involved swallowing up the Conservative vote, while Labour shed votes in three directions: to the Liberal Democrats, to Ukip, and to abstention.

But as I wrote at the start of the contest, Ukip were, in my view, overwritten in their chances of winning the seat. We talk a lot about Labour’s problem appealing to “aspirational” voters in Westminster, but less covered, and equally important, is Ukip’s aspiration problem.

For some people, a vote for Ukip is effectively a declaration that you live in a dump. You can have an interesting debate about whether it was particularly sympathetic of Ken Clarke to brand that party’s voters as “elderly male people who have had disappointing lives”, but that view is not just confined to pro-European Conservatives. A great number of people, in Stoke and elsewhere, who are sympathetic to Ukip’s positions on immigration, international development and the European Union also think that voting Ukip is for losers.

That always made making inroads into the Conservative vote harder than it looks. At the risk of looking very, very foolish in six days time, I found it difficult to imagine why Tory voters in Hanley would take the risk of voting Ukip. As I wrote when Nuttall announced his candidacy, the Conservatives were, in my view, a bigger threat to Labour than Ukip.

Under Theresa May, almost every move the party has made has been designed around making inroads into the Ukip vote and that part of the Labour vote that is sympathetic to Ukip. If the polls are to be believed, she’s succeeding nationally, though even on current polling, the Conservatives wouldn’t have enough to take Stoke on Trent Central.

Now Theresa May has made a visit to the constituency. Well, seeing as the government has a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, it’s not as if the Prime Minister needs to find time to visit the seat, particularly when there is another, easier battle down the road in the shape of the West Midlands mayoral election.

But one thing is certain: the Conservatives wouldn’t be sending May down if they thought that they were going to do worse than they did in 2015.

Parties can be wrong of course. The Conservatives knew that they had found a vulnerable spot in the last election as far as a Labour deal with the SNP was concerned. They thought that vulnerable spot was worth 15 to 20 seats. They gained 27 from the Liberal Democrats and a further eight from Labour.  Labour knew they would underperform public expectations and thought they’d end up with around 260 to 280 seats. They ended up with 232.

Nevertheless, Theresa May wouldn’t be coming down to Stoke if CCHQ thought that four days later, her party was going to finish fourth. And if the Conservatives don’t collapse, anyone betting on Ukip is liable to lose their shirt. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.