Sexism is not the fault of career women who complain about it

Right-wing writers blame and defame a female barrister - proving her point


‘Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman’ – so sang the bard of Tennesee, though as she must have known at the time, this rather understates matters.

Working in more or less any profession, a person can turn to a female colleague (assuming they have any) and hear tales of regular harassment and abuse, up to and including threats of physical violence, from perfect strangers, simply for their being a woman.

The internet has amplified this problem, empowering every keyboard misogynist to say what they would be too gutless to say in person.

One such victim is Charlotte Proudman, a brilliant human rights barrister studying at Cambridge who I’m proud to count as a friend.

Sick of yet another message from a man she did not know, this time a creepy remark about her picture on networking website LinkedIn, from a male lawyer twice her age, she told him where to get off and shared the exchange on Twitter.

As she wrote: ‘How many women @LinkedIn are contacted re physical appearance rather than prof skills?’ The lawyer in question, legal partner Alexander Carter-Silk, issued an apology, claiming incredibly that all he meant was she had a very ‘professional’ photograph. (Nice try, Alex.)

After the story was picked up by the newspapers, our favourite right-wing columnists saw a case of political correctness gone mad (hasn’t PC gone mad enough to be sectioned by now?) and pounced.

In a full-page column previewed on the front of the Daily MailSarah Vine basically says women being reduced to their looks is no problem, accusing Charlotte of seeking publicity as a ‘short-cut’ to furthering her career. This defamation is compounded when Vine writes:

“Isn’t she supposed to be some hot-shot human rights lawyer? Well, go and defend some real victims of inequality, dear, instead of bleating about some slightly off-colour message.”

If Vine had done her own job, even a cursory look at LinkedIn would detail Charlotte’s work defending vulnerable women, campaigning against FGM and forced marriage, and taking on pro bono work in the Middle East, Pakistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In other words, it’s not either/or. She would just like to be able to work without being harassed by creepy men.

For this she is denounced as a careerist minx, uploading an ‘enticing’ photo then abusing a clumsy admirer for personal gain, on the front page of a national newspaper. How disgraceful.

Vine’s chosen term for women supporting Charlotte online, ‘Feminazis’ – a charming invention of right-wing US radio thug Rush Limbaugh – brings us on nicely to Limbaugh clone Rod Liddle in the Sun. 

As if seeking to prove her point, Liddle not only says it’s fine to comment on a woman’s looks, but goes on to exercise the right himself, by insulting Charlotte’s appearance. He adds:

“If you don’t want people to comment, you silly mare, then don’t put your picture up.”

No doubt Liddle thinks he’s being clever by writing a piece that dismisses sexism while expressing it, but as usual, he just looks a fool.

Odious as these columns are, they do an inadvertent service to the cause they attack, by proving exactly why Charlotte’s actions were necessary.

They show how many would still rather train their guns on the victims of sexism rather than the perpetrators: His career shouldn’t suffer, hers should.

The implication is that men are entitled to practice sexism, but women should refrain from complaining (or fighting back) – that is, if they know what’s good for them.

In other words, it’s her fault for being a woman in the first place.

The Mail’s news coverage, published next to Vine’s piece, leads with the Twitter jerks who say this episode might damage Charlotte’s career. In reality, any law firm worth working for would be lucky to have her.   

The take away question from all this ought to be not, ‘Who would want to hire a feminist?’ but rather: ‘Who would want to work for a sexist?’

Until that’s the case, the struggle for equal human rights will be disfigured, and our newspapers’ reflection of the world will remain the same ugly picture.

Adam Barnett is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow MediaWatch on Twitter

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