Sexist comments aren't just private banter

Richard Scudamore.

Richard Scudamore.

A few days ago, I posted a story on my public Facebook page about a young disabled girl whose underarms had been forcibly shaved by a teacher. A few hours later, I received a private message from a young man who wasn’t a friend of mine, but who’d taken the time to pen the following missive to me:

“Clementine Ford you’re an idiot. Women should shave their armpit [sic], whether you like it or not it’s part of life. This is the part where you will claim that women can make up their own mind because their [sic] individuals because your [sic] a stupid feminist. Seriously why don’t you argue for something which will actually improve the society we live in instead of making attention grabbing headlines.”

I screencapped the photo and posted it directly onto my page with a derisive comment about the young man’s elite private school. Fairly or not, he was ridiculed for his grammar and rigid views on what constitutes appropriate femininity. Within a few short hours, his friends had descended on the page to defend their school against such horrible charges of sexism by incorporating the language of horrible sexism (feminists are ugly, women are stupid, I’m a ‘just a plain bitch’ etc - no, the irony was not lost on me). Among their objections were the fact I’d shared what they called a ‘private’ message. It was unfair and hypocritical of me to do this, they thought.

Embarrassing leaks: Snapchat co-founder and chief executive Evan Spiegel.

Embarrassing leaks: Snapchat co-founder and chief executive Evan Spiegel. Photo: Getty Images

I thought it was a pretty keen insight into the potential for entitlement that’s felt by young men, especially those who attend private schools which have a financial interest in reminding them at every turn of their own superiority. The way these young prestigious graduates saw it, they had every right to pop up privately to abuse women, ridicule them and attempt to make them feel small while simultaneously expecting to be protected from being subjected to such treatment themselves.


Women, you see, are expected to absorb the impact of private abuse lest they be accused of being just as bad if not worse as those small, petty shits who take pleasure in imagining that the target of their derision has been reduced to a quivering ball who’ll think twice the next time she opens her mouth to speak.

It causes no small amount of fury then to watch as, once again, people fall over backwards to excuse the behaviour of misogynist men as either unintentional, humourous or - worse - ‘private’. A few weeks ago, English Premier League's Chief Executive Richard Scudamore, was exposed in the British press as the kind of man who thinks it’s acceptable to, among other things, refer to women as ‘gash’ and describe China’s one child policy as a helpful solution to preventing women’s increased irrationality after having children. Emails in which he’d used this language were leaked by his former PA, Rani Abraham, who believed she had a duty to speak out against Scudamore’s behaviour lest she be complicit in condoning it.

Critics have been quick to argue that Abraham was wrong in sharing Scudamore’s emails with the public, citing it as an invasion of privacy. As Abraham points out, the emails weren’t stolen but sent using Scudamore’s work account - an account she was responsible for monitoring and whose frequent language could therefore arguably be considered an ongoing example of sexual harassment.

But the privacy or lack thereof of Scudamore’s emails should be beside the point. As Sarah Ditum writes in the New Statesman, “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...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.”

Scudamore heads up one of the most profitable businesses in Britain, a country in which football and footballers are treated with the reverence reserved for Olympian gods. Private emails or not, isn’t it relevant that the Chief Executive to an organisation which has such a huge influence on British culture thinks it’s okay to use correspondence - whether professional or private - to refer to women as ‘gash’? Are we supposed to be reassured when misogyny is only practiced privately instead of publicly?

The founder of Snapchat has faced similar judgments recently after emails he sent while at a fraternity at Stanford were leaked on Valleywag. In the sordid exchanges, Evan Spiegel referred to sorority women as ‘sororisluts’ and joked about urinating on one of them. He now claims to be ‘mortified’ by the views he held as a freshman and says they in no way reflect his view of women now. Well, that’s great - but the fact is that misogyny still permeates on university campuses and is practiced to such an extent that 1 in 4 women will be a victim of sexual assault during her academic career.

As embarrassing as Siegel might find it to now have the repugnant views he held as a 19 year old old exposed for all the world to see, why should he be given a free pass because we like to believe that ‘boys will be boys’ especially when they’re young enough that we can excuse them from knowing any better? Women are rarely given the same leeway to make mistakes, with their behaviour instead being held responsible for sexual assault, harassment or the simple inequality they experience by ‘refusing to stand up for themselves’. And without intervention, today’s young and impressionable misogynists become tomorrow’s CEOs. Don’t want to be embarrassed by your grotesque misogyny? Don’t be a grotesque misogynist.

The horrible events of the Isla Vista shootings have helped shine a much needed light on the logical end point of misogyny and its dehumanisation of women. But all violence occurs on a continuum, and misogyny is no different. Dismissing the impact of what people would like to view as ‘benign’ misogyny then isn’t just distressing - it’s also dangerous. Now more than ever, it’s important to expose the language and actions of misogyny, from its daily microagressions to its more determined attempts to degrade and silence women. If that means that a few men in privileged positions of power have to suffer the embarrassment of having their views made public, so be it.

Because frankly, we’ve all been silent too long.