30 Jan 2019

Spiked believe men are brave and women have tantrums

The final article in Sian Norris’ four part series on Spiked’s representation of feminism asks whether the magazine is hypocritical in its calls for free speech.

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Sian Norris NewsMavens, Europe
Spiked believe men are brave and women have tantrums - NewsMavens
Brett Kavanaugh loses his temper at confirmation hearings, YouTube

Spiked repeatedly defends the rights of men to make sexist and inappropriate remarks -- bemoaning the new “sexual Stalinism” and “sexual Salem” that they believe has been caused by women raising up their voices to talk about sexual harassment. They also support (most men’s) right to repeat homophobic views, and voice ideas that attempt to link race with intelligence.

And while they show their support to women like Asia Bibi, their defence of freedom of speech is more likely to focus on the rights of white men to say whatever they want about women and minorities – even when racist, misogynistic and homophobic speech has a chilling effect on the rights of those groups.

This attitude suggests that freedom of speech is the preserve of white men who want to maintain their dominance and power, and no-where is this clearer than in Spiked’s treatment of #MeToo. They treat #MeToo as a movement that has “tarred all men with the same brush” and treated men as “inherently sexual predators.” According to Rachel Tripp, #MeToo has left men “walking on eggshells, fearing that any unintended misstep will be interpreted as harassment or even a fireable offence.”

This is the irony of Spiked’s portrayal of the #MeToo movement. Whether they are writing about Damian Green’s “hand on the knee”, comedian Louis C.K. (who was accused of flashing and masturbating in front of women colleagues), Aziz Ansari, or Brett Kavanaugh, the writers argue that women’s testimonies are “destroying” men’s careers. The impression is given that women aren’t held to account for making these allegations.

The opposite is true.

Women continue to be pilloried, publicly shamed, mocked, undermined and victim-blamed when they do come forward — just as Christine Blasey-Ford was, just as Rose McGowan was, just as the women in the Ched Evans and Belfast rugby rape cases were. It remains the case that it’s women’s speech and actions which are held to account, while the men they accuse are defended and protected from accountability.

And not only protected, but lauded, defended and praised. When writing about the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, Sean Collins praised the would-be Supreme Court Judge for his brave refusal to “follow the script”. Collins wrote that Kavanaugh gave a “strong and surprisingly emotional self-defence”.

This defence included crying, yelling, refusing to answer questions and making snarky “comebacks” to Senator Amy Klobuchar when she asked about his history of excessive drinking.

Kavanaugh’s behaviour would instantly be labelled “hysterical” if done by a woman. Indeed, the angry women who accosted Senator Jeff Flake in an elevator during the confirmation hearings were condemned by Spiked for "screaming" and having a “tantrum”. Their emotion at experiencing sexual assault was seen as hysterical -- while Kavanaugh’s emotion following an accusation of assault was “brave.”

#MeToo was, among other things, a movement for free speech. As women came forward with their stories about rape, assault, harassment, sexual misconduct, and discussed those difficult, painful, coercive sexual incidents, they were speaking up and shouting loud. Many women who had felt silent or silenced before October 2017 now had a platform from which to speak.

But this is not how the movement has been presented by Spiked. Instead, they portray women’s voices as an attack on free speech — characterising women speaking out on sexual misconduct  as a new “sexual McCarthyism”. Indeed, editor Brendan O’Neill bemoaned “the dire impact MeToo is having on freedom, justice and sex.”

In fact, it is sexual harassment that has an impact on women’s freedom. Rape myths have an impact on women’s access to justice. Misogyny has an impact on women’s sexuality and sexual pleasure. Again, the question needs to be asked: who is freedom for? Who is justice and sex for in Spiked’s world?


This is the last of four articles analyzing Spiked magazine’s representation of feminism.


Project #Femfacts co-financed by European Commission Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology as part of the Pilot Project – Media Literacy For All

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