View all newsletters
Sign up to our newsletters

Support 110 years of independent journalism.

  1. Comment
24 January 2024

The Joey Barton conundrum

Is it possible to condemn bullying without also enabling it?

By Emma John

From ancient mythology to comic books, there have always been monsters and villains with the ability to absorb their opponent’s strength. Hercules had Hydra; the Fantastic Four had the Silver Surfer. It’s a well-established dilemma from fantasy to sci-fi – how do you defeat an opponent that feeds on battle, that becomes more powerful the moment you fight them? Such is the problem the media and its consumerati face every day. When public nuisances spout hatred – be it a former president of the United States hoping for re-election, or an unappealing ex-footballer with a podcast to promote – how do we dismiss and disown them, without fuelling their very existence? 

A man whose name isn’t worth the search-engine hits it engenders – so let’s call him Brandon Joseph – tosses a sputtering little firework into the overflowing dustbin of social media. He is touting for publicity with some nakedly sexist jibes at female football pundits. The sports minister calls them “dangerous comments” and promises to voice his dismay with X, formerly known as Twitter, and Meta. “But I’m always slightly wary in these situations that these sorts of people want the oxygen,” warns the minister, whose own name is lamentably forgettable, “and I don’t want to fuel that.”

A pioneering footballer and commentator – her name is Eni Aluko – makes a stand. She has been one of the chief victims of the vicious and potentially libellous comments, and she speaks openly on Instagram of the hounding and fear she has experienced since the campaign of bile was launched against her. “I’ve felt under threat this week,” she says. “I’ve felt like something is going to happen to me.” Her words carry echoes of the threat of violence against other women in the public sphere – threats that have been acted on in the past – and they worry us. They should worry us.

Having once plied her trade as a lawyer at the magic circle firm Slaughter and May, Aluko is too smart to imagine that such a speech will cause a change of heart in either her antagonist or his followers. But then, that isn’t the point. Her announcement is never going to be a suffocating blanket thrown over her adversary’s heat-seeking objective. She is Red Adair, fighting fire with her own carefully controlled explosion. In this case, it is the announcement that she has taken legal advice on the words that have been used about her.

Inevitably, immediately, her tormentor hits back: his hyperbolic insults become targeted personal attacks.

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team. The best way to sign up for The Green Transition is via spotlightonpolicy.substack.com
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU

You don’t need a magnifying glass to identify the ugliness in the original posts – there’s nothing classy or clever in comparing people who commentate on sport for a living to serial killers or murderous tyrants. Then Joseph tweets about Aluko’s family and upbringing, scenting the trail for his followers with rancid bait. It’s all very well to put on a pair of Ryan Reynolds glasses in an attempt to pass as a thinking man with a keen eye on the world about you, but that disguise doesn’t hold up to scrutiny for long. The more Joseph acts, the more thuggish his behaviour is revealed to be.

The pile-on, of course, is the point. Emma Hayes identified that in her magisterial takedown of the affair back in December. “If you haven’t experienced systemic misogyny like lots of us have, you can’t for one moment understand how detrimental some of these conversations are,” she said. “Particularly on social media which, let me be clear, doesn’t take a lot for people to pile on women.”

Hayes herself refused to name the person she was talking about – “I’m not going to pollute or dilute that conversation by making it about [the] personality of individuals,” she said. Starve the fire-breather’s spitting flames of the oxygen of publicity and, we hope and trust, the issue may go away. The problem is that while the grown-ups in the room sit on their hands to resist fanning the flames, there’s always a carpet of trash to feed them, and plenty more mischievous hands that are happy to work the bellows. 

There is no easy answer. If there were, the world might not have been forced to endure a Trump presidency, or an Andrew Tate manosphere. But if ex-sportspeople trying to make a buck from their fading profile believe they can do it through misogyny, and if they’re providing cover for others who feel the same, they need to be challenged rather than ignored. It can never be wrong to call out a bully. His name is Joey Barton.

[See also: How the City of London keeps Putin’s oil flowing]

Content from our partners
Future proofing the NHS
Where do we get the money to fix the world's biggest problems? – with ONE
Labour's health reforms can put patients first

Topics in this article :
Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team. The best way to sign up for The Green Transition is via spotlightonpolicy.substack.com
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU