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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.

Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore. Photo: Getty
Richard Scudamore’s emails were misogynistic, not just “private banter”. Photo: Getty

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.