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Posts Tagged ‘misogyny’

Atheist horseman Sam Harris has denied being a sexist pig.

Having to defiantly declaim against a position you purport not to hold rarely ends well. In fact it’s usually a sign that things have started pretty badly and are only going to get worse (cf. 98% of all sentences ever composed which begin “I’m not racist, but”). And considering the umpteenth resurgence of interest, over the past week or so, in what a clusterfuck of prejudice and tribalism some corners of the atheist movement have turned into, you could be forgiven for expecting the worst.

But I don’t think this is anything like the train-wreck it might have been. I said on Twitter that I was around 85% in agreement with Harris in that post, and a day later I think that stands. He doesn’t seem to believe anything outrageous, and his stated position seems level-headed and pretty reasonable. I have a huge problem with the snide dismissiveness I’ve seen directed at people who disagree with this assessment and take greater issue with Harris’s words, but that hasn’t seemed to come from Harris himself. His cause is done no favours, though, by certain of his supporters, including the occasional “big name” of atheism who really should have learned to handle these pseudo-controversies more humanely and communicatively by now (naming no names, Professor).

One point on which I’m not wholeheartedly in support of Harris is his closing jabs against “a well-known feminist-atheist blogger” with whom he’s had some recent private correspondence over this matter. Now, it’s possible that he’s not talking about Greta Christina, but given her own public comments about engaging with him, it seems a reasonable bet. As I type this, she’s not had time to respond to Harris’s post in full, but has tweeted a link to this old post of hers as a relevant collection of thoughts in the meantime.

The piece is about the (apparently) common social justice slogan, “Intention is not magic”. This refers to the idea that, if you’ve caused somebody harm or offense, the simple fact that you didn’t intend to do so doesn’t magically absolve you from responsibility for the harm you did, in fact, cause. “It wasn’t deliberate” is only a partial excuse, and that’s as true for, say, using a term you weren’t aware was a slur against a minority, or naively parroting a false and derogatory stereotype, as it is for accidentally crushing someone’s toe.

It’s an important point, worth remembering when people try to excuse blatant sexism and racism as harmless banter. All too often, people get haughty and defensive when it’s pointed out that they’ve caused offense, and attempt to hide behind the magic of their intent.

But intent’s not the only thing that isn’t magic. And, in this case, something else seems worth remembering:

Your immediate gut reaction to someone else’s words isn’t magic either. And nor is the unfavourable interpretation you instinctively place upon them when you take offense.

Both these “not magic” rules have to be applied discriminately. Some things are viscerally appalling at first glance for very good reasons; obviously complaints of offense are often legitimate and should be taken seriously. But it’s not out of the question that someone saying “I don’t think I have anything to apologise for” is basically in the right. (Many atheists will have experienced religious folk being outraged and “offended” that they dare to assert their own lack of belief; even if my saying “God doesn’t exist” upsets you, I don’t think I owe you an apology.)

And as much as the sincere apology format that Greta suggests probably should be a much bigger part of general discourse than it currently is, it’s not automatically the only acceptable response to an accusation of harm or offense being caused. We’re not magically obliged to bow and scrape our way through an “I didn’t mean to, I’ll try and do better next time” every time someone else reckons we were out of line. And, in this case, I’m not at all convinced that Sam Harris is the prejudiced, hate-filled, unrepentant monster some folk really are making him out to be.

The world in general could surely use a good deal more honest contrition, of the kind that really listens to our interlocutor’s concerns, and doesn’t mentally put them into a box as “someone on the other side of the argument and who I will therefore always be in dispute with”. Even if this isn’t a case where that’s the best way to fix things, you won’t have to go far to find another where it will.

Try not to let these disagreements divide the way you see the world into teams, though. I’m not on Team Anyone here. I spent a while being wary and uncomfortable with a couple of good atheist bloggers because they were coming down on the wrong “side” of a Rebecca Watson-centric debate (I forget which one), and that was a ridiculous way to behave. Greta’s still cool, and you should read her book.

Dawkins is kinda just turning into a dick, though.

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So, this Reddit thing. (The internet’s mostly moved on from this by now, but I can still has opinions, even if it’s taken me too long to get around to expressing them.)

Reddit’s this place on the internet where people talk about stuff. I don’t really go there, so I don’t know much more about it than that, and you don’t need to. Anyway, in one bit of Reddit that’s set aside for talking about atheism, a 15-year-old girl posted a new thread about the Carl Sagan book Demon-Haunted World, an awesome primer on skepticism and critical thinking. Her “super religious” mother had bought her a copy of the book for for Christmas, and this girl posted a picture of herself holding the book up and smiling.

Which is pretty neat, as most of the internet’s atheisty bits agree. It’s a great book, which has meant a lot to a lot of people and helped them come to appreciate rationalism, and it’s great that someone young has been pleased to discover it. It’s also pretty awesome that, even though at least one of her parents is a religious believer, they’re still nurturing a healthy sense of enquiry and scientific interest in their child. Too often we hear of stories ending rather differently.

All of which was splendid, until some of the comments veered off in a different direction. Namely, the direction of how physically attractive some commenters found the girl in the picture, and how much they wanted to have sex with her.

The results ranged from banter about anal rape (“Blood is mother nature’s lubricant”) to contrived cosmology-themed double entendres (“I’d occupy her habitable zone”). There were many comments like this, and many more “upvotes” of those comments (Reddit’s system of determining which comments people find entertaining or worthwhile.)

Rebecca Watson was, it’s fair to say, particularly dismayed about this course of events, not least because the 15-year-old girl in question later posted elsewhere of her concerns that she’ll “never be taken seriously in the atheist/scientific/political/whatever community” because of her gender. Given a substantial chunk of the internet’s reaction to the girl’s attempt to interact with a community she wants to feel connected to – i.e., a number of them made references to her as a sexual being and nothing more – it’s easy to sympathise with her feelings.

Rebecca’s frustration has been shared by Hayley Stevens, Christina at WWJTD, Ed Brayton, Greta Christina, and many others. These are all writers I admire, and none of them is wrong to be concerned. Their criticism of these comments at Reddit is by no means illegitimate.

But there are some things emerging from the discussion which I don’t think are optimal.

Now, already I’m at odds with Greta’s post. Her whole point was about the tiresome inevitability of the “Yes, but” response to discussions of sexism or misogyny, in which serious problems are tacitly swept away by the reminder of some other complaint, which then takes dominance over the actual subject under discussion. For instance, when a bunch of men joke together about the hypothetical rape of a 15-year-old girl, and I come along and start complaining about the feminist response.

And to quite an extent, she’s right. It’s a truly problematic way in which people’s (often women’s) complaints are neglected, and it’s something that’s easily done inadvertently. I don’t want to do that, so I want to re-emphasise the importance, and the primacy, of the concerns raised by Rebecca and others.

There are other points, however, which I think are also worth mentioning – not to the exclusion or detriment of the points already made, but not wholly negligible either. I do believe that Greta’s condemnation of the “Yes, but” form of argument can be something of a thought-stopper, which people resort to before determining whether the purported change of subject actually does any of the things she’s concerned about.

It’s not that her concerns aren’t real and serious. And it’s a cliché that “I’m not a racist, but” is shorthand for “I’m about to say something massively racist”, so a lot of the “Yes, but” responses will inevitably amount to little more than a defense of unacceptable misogyny. But I don’t believe it’s never okay to bring up a tangential point in a “Yes, but” manner. It’s just something which merits very great care, when, say, you’re disagreeing with the people condemning those who joked about raping a 15-year-old.

None of this is more important than anyone’s original point. You should read all those posts I linked to above, and then consider this post of mine as a side note, an addendum, which neither overrides nor supplants anything that’s gone before. I want the place of my comments in the discourse to be very clear. Particularly when other people’s disagreement reads like this:

Go fuck yourself with a knife you irrational cunt.

We will continue to act as we please and you can continue to bitch and moan, but it’s just going to antagonize us.

That was genuinely directed at Greta, seemingly without irony. I don’t care how much you disagree with her point; that comment is unequivocally, totally wrong. In fact, this attitude and its ilk are the wrongest thing about any of this. You might disagree with the way someone argues her case, but if dehumanising abuse is the only response you can muster to someone’s sincere concern about misogyny in the face of rape jokes directed at a 15-year-old… well, I can’t even begin to relate to such a lack of empathy.

But here’s what I’m not supposed to say in the wake of Redditgate. All men don’t deserve to be hated because of what happened on Reddit. All atheists don’t deserve to be hated because of what happened on Reddit. Maintaining “nothing but contempt” for the “sickos” in question may blind us to the possibility of alternative approaches to something that does still need to be addressed.

The problem Greta was anticipating with facts like these isn’t that they’re untrue. It’s that they’re too often employed to supersede the original concerns about misogyny. I don’t mean for that to happen here, and you don’t have to let it. If it feels like the fundamental problem is being brushed aside, go back and read Rebecca’s and JT’s and Ed’s posts again, and consider my basic support for their concerns and frustration re-affirmed. I’m not trying to make any point so important that it overrides any of what they’re saying.

But. I reserve the right to say “but”. To suggest amendments, at an appropriate volume. Some people would do better to keep their contrary ideas to themselves, but not every tangential opinion needs to stay quiet for the sake of a proportioned discussion.

The internet will make a joke out of everything. You only need to check anyone’s Twitter feed after the news of a celebrity’s death is announced to learn that. And anal sex is by no means an exception. It’s become a cliché for comedians to refer to pedophilia to give a joke a certain shock impact, and a similar thing is going on in this Reddit thread. People are deliberately crossing bounds of good taste, and referencing memes, and making puns, and being “meta”, and doing all the things people on the internet do when they want other people on the internet to think they’re funny.

The important fact they’re missing, of course, is that they’re responding to a 15-year-old girl who didn’t ask for any of this. The possible negative impact, beyond providing their own peer group with amusement, is something they’ve reprehensibly chosen to ignore. But just labelling them all as monstrous scum is too easy a response, and ignores the more interesting questions about what makes people think saying these things is a good idea. Why, in this context, has wanting to have sex with a child become the focus of one-up-manship?

Remember, that’s what was going on there. A bunch of guys telling internet jokes on the internet, not wanting to be left out of the group by failing to break a taboo with a hilarious description of child rape. Nobody was making any serious threats to do anything to her for real. The fact that nobody was every going to physically harm anybody should have some impact on our assessment of what happened.

But, of course, it doesn’t mean there was no harm done. To clarify once again: the minor ways in which I think people have misinterpreted what went on here are not nearly as severe as the way certain Redditors missed the point, when the fact that a 15-year-old girl was reading all this stuff being said about her, and likely feeling increasingly disturbed and uncomfortable, got completely forgotten about amidst all the fun they were having. They might have known they meant no harm, but she can’t see inside the heads of random strangers on the internet, and her discomfort ought to trump whatever was motivating anyone else in that discussion.

They were just making jokes, but that’s not meant as an excuse. It’s a problem that they seemed to think the “just a joke” defense would excuse it, rather than – at the very least – deciding to save the overtly sexual humour for a more private context, where it wouldn’t have any kind of a negative impact on an innocent audience.

So. When you’re on the internet discussing things like rape, or how much you want to have sex with children, you really need to be careful to place that kind of thing in a context, and consider whether lashing out furiously when somebody protests is really something that a non-asshole would do. And although I’ve mostly used this post to take up opposition to some of the things they said, Greta, Rebecca, et al. are much less wrong about everything than people who joke about raping 15-year-olds. And far less wrong again than those people who respond to their understandable frustration with inane personal abuse.

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Right, I’m finally not too lazy to write about this interesting new collaborative blog I’ve been enjoying.

The phrase “What about teh menz?” has an odd place in gender-related and feminist discussions. It refers to the way that, in the middle of a feminist conversation about something presumed to be a feminist matter, the plight of men will sometimes be injected into the discussion, often unwelcomely.

When women are talking about rape, for instance, it’s possibly for a man to unhelpfully steamroller in and complain that everyone’s ignoring how men can be raped too, you know. If someone new to the debate starts acting as if this omission is the gravest injustice of the whole topic, as I’ve seen happen, this can be frustrating for women trying to discuss a serious matter without being told that they’re the insensitive ones.

When Giles Coren tried to discuss the ways society can be unfair on men, the mocking cries of “What about teh menz?!” were flying thick and fast, as people of both genders characterised his views as a needy whine with no relevance to the important sexual discrimination going on in the world (i.e. that against women).

The thing is, though. There are male victims of rape and sexual assault out there. And there are gender-biased assumptions that do men no favours. There is some serious injustice against men which deserves to be addressed.

But it seems to have been historically extremely difficult to support one side of the debate without, inadvertently or deliberately, disparaging the other. There has been a tendency for men to bring up male victimhood in a way that shuts down or hijacks women’s conversations: sometimes “What about teh menz?” really can be an unwelcome whine.

At the same time, the stereotypical idea that men’s rights don’t need to be defended is one that a lot of feminists seem happy to propagate, and there’s a great deal of unfair antipathy to the very idea that there might be biases against men which should be fought.

But there’s no reason these two schools of thought should be antithetical. If we can avoid being outright dismissive of either, we might be able to actually make some worthwhile progress toward proper gender equality.

Which is why it’s good to see a blog asking: No, Seriously, What About Teh Menz?

Anyone who’s been paying attention will be familiar with my rambling cogitations about feminism, and whether it’s worth pursuing, or worth adapting, or just too nebulous and variable to really mean anything. I’d all but abandoned use of the word, as being too laden with baggage, but the FAQs on this blog offered an interesting clarification. Here’s a snippet:

Where feminism seeks to improve gender equality with a focus on issues affecting women, masculism seeks to improve gender equality with a focus on issues affecting men. Taken together, these two (complementary!) movements form “gender egalitarianism.”

There are ways in which women are unjustly worse off than men in our society; this deserves to be addressed by anyone who values fairness. There are ways in which men are unjustly worse off than women in our society; ditto. Highlighting the importance of one cause doesn’t need to downplay that of the other. And whether the specific thing you’re talking about seems more like a feminist or masculist issue, you should probably be thinking about it in the context of making things better for everyone.

If I’m going to be a feminist, I’m damn sure going to be a masculist too.

Actually, maybe being a humanist will cover both bases just fine.

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I am in favour of the objectification of women.

Okay, that might be a little misleading, but if I said I was against it then that wouldn’t be controversial or edgy at all.

Either way, I should clarify my position a little.

Objectifying women isn’t always a good thing. Nor is it always a good thing when it happens to men. Transfolk probably bear the worst of it. But gender-based degradation of women is no small deal.

Strip clubs and pornography exist, (predominantly) for the enjoyment of (also predominantly) heterosexual men. We like being able to lust after and fantasise about women explicitly, and these things give us a chance to do that in a way our hormones crave but society doesn’t often allow us. There’s a vast industry which relies on exploiting and reinforcing the role of women as objects of men’s sexual desire.

And it’s not outrageous to imagine that these attitudes might spill over into other areas of human interaction. Women have a hard time being taken seriously by some people in many areas of business – the corporate and political worlds are still predominantly white and male.

There’s a degree of imbalance and inequality between the genders (let alone among people who don’t fit neatly into one category or the other) which nobody should wish to see perpetuated.

But if your intent is to be a critical thinker, a skeptic, a rational humanist – in other words, if you give a shit about people and you care whether what you believe is actually true – then you should be open to criticism of the ways you might think this imbalance ought to be addressed.

In particular, I think the sexism debate could do with much more emphasis on building up than dragging down.

Take strip clubs. Some people – mostly women who identify with a particular definition of feminism – think these are awful places, and want to see laws passed against their very existence. They don’t want men to be encouraged to see women as pieces of meat on show for their enjoyment, and they don’t want women to feel pressured into having to take a demeaning job as the best way of supporting themselves financially, because of the sexist attitudes this perpetuates.

Rather than doing anything to support or encourage women, this seems only to assume that men can’t be trusted and will inevitably behave with deplorable incivility if offered the slightest prompting to do so.

Some men fail, or refuse, to act as if women are ever anything more than sexy pieces of meat. That’s undoubtedly a bad thing – it’s a pretty crappy move to write off most of an entire gender’s potential like that. But it’s not clear that this behaviour will be diminished even slightly if you remove the venues where men get to enjoy ogling the sexy meat with impunity. It’s not going to stop men noticing that women are sexy and they are made of meat, or stop them behaving in ways inappropriate outside of allocated zones like a strip club.

However… this also isn’t to say that there’s not a problem worth addressing here. The fact is that men often do take the “sexy meat” attitude to women beyond reasonable bounds. Most women I know have had direct experience of being made to feel as if their physicality is all they’re good for, in a way that wasn’t appropriate and which they didn’t enjoy.

But there’s no contradiction in letting people know what’s inappropriate and what isn’t in the majority of human interaction, while also letting people earn a living through sex work or a related industry.

There’s an automatic connection in many people’s minds between a person earning a living in the sex industry, and that person being diminished in the perception of the rest of society. But that’s a problem with society and its hang-ups, not with the industry itself.

Some people are generalised about and de-individualised, because of their gender or gender identity – something of which both men and women can be both objects and perpetrators. Some women find that the sex industry provides the only means through which they can financially support themselves. That’s a problem with the economy and the job market, not with the one profession offering them a life-line.

I understand some people’s frustrations at the “freedom of speech” counter-argument. Josie Long has tweeted in the past about how little she appreciates the way she’s sometimes stereotyped as a woman, and sees strip clubs as a part of the problem. She appreciates the importance of freedom, but has tried to explain that it’s an unhelpful thing to use as a conversation-stopper.

Freedom’s important, but a lot of people still aren’t happy, and there might be something we can do about that even if we don’t agree on what we can do about it straight away.

Banning the burqa was an attempt to address an illiberal cultural tradition by means of an illiberal national law. I think passing legislation against strip clubs is a similarly bad idea, but re-emphasising the importance of people’s personal freedoms doesn’t solve the issue of the oppression of women within Islam, or of the bidirectional gender discrimination in the rest of society.

Giles Coren didn’t solve any of those problems either, but he was right about a few things. Misandry deserves to be given proper consideration, and men can be victims of just about every injustice that can befall women. But the two distinct problems don’t need to be placed in competition. We don’t need to bring attention to the suffering of men by playing down the hardships faced by women, and we don’t have to decry the evils of the sex industry if we think women deserve a greater societal respect. (How much respect does it show for the men and women in the sex industry, if we insist that they and their profession must be eliminated before we can make any progress?)

Some women want to have sex for money. Some women want to be treated more like an actual human being around the office. Both of these are fine aims, and we only need to make sure we’re giving each issue a reasonable amount of attention, without letting any one side of the conversation become stifling.

By which I mean: Let’s not get so hung up on the issue of freedom in the sex industry that we ignore the plight of women who feel inappropriately sexualised and objectified by men – but, let’s try not to focus on sexualisation as a bad thing, to such an extent that people in the sex industry feel marginalised or demeaned themselves.

Let’s not sneer at any attempt to raise the subject of misandry in a sensitive discussion about gender discrimination – but let’s also not be so persistent or strident in bringing it up that women always feel like they’re being shoved aside so that men can talk about their own problems.

Yes. Let’s all just follow my advice and everything will definitely be fine.

(If the comments below happen to go feral again, do try to keep things civilised.)

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I seem to have made a serious mistake.

Apparently this is what feminism is. And I’ve been doing it wrong all this time.

I’ve been calling myself a feminist for years, but apparently the philosophy I was expressing my support for wasn’t feminism at all.

I’m not sure what it is called, the thing I’ve been aspiring to and championing in my own small way. But it’s that other thing, which is sort of like feminism, but which isn’t patronising and illiberal bullshit.

As perhaps is evident, I’m being more than a little glib here. This sort of nonsense being pushed as modern feminism makes me understand what Elly has been complaining about all this time.

Even in a country like the UK, where explicitly demeaning women as inferior to men is socially acceptable almost nowhere, it’s true that there are serious issues of bias and prejudice that need addressing. There are attitudes and assumptions engrained in our culture which are not conducive towards equality, and which need to be addressed.

But Bidisha sees sexism like Americans see Jesus in bits of toast.

She describes a pyramid of misogyny, in which the various ways for men to verbally abuse women are layered according to severity. In the very top layer – among those at the absolute pinnacle of degradation possible between the sexes – is the word “cougar”.

If you’re not familiar with the term, this refers to a woman aged upwards of around 35 or 40 who seeks sexual involvement with younger men.

Down at the lower end of the pyramid, less severe but still branded as “Just Plain Sexist”, are things such as “commenting on a woman’s appearance”.

That’s when you use words to address a woman and describe some physical aspect that you notice about her. Examples may include “Your hair looks nice” or “That top looks great on you”, and other such phrases known to send women into paroxysms of fury and rage at being so objectified.

Yep. That’s the bottom – but still sexist – section of the pyramid of misogyny.

As an aside, there are places in the world where women aren’t allowed to go outside without being escorted by a man. That’s not on the pyramid.

Heresy Corner has plenty to say on the subject of Bidisha’s sense of proportion. I have two observations which I think I find even more glaring.

The first is that she apparently fails to make any distinction between inadvertently perpetuating damaging stereotypes about women, and actually hating them.

This is genuinely troubling. She cites plenty of examples of men using unflattering terms to treat women in a dismissive and contemptuous way, but apparently fails to see that the underlying attitude is the real problem here. Sure, sometimes dismissing women as simply being “hysterical” or “man-hating” can be a sexist way of avoiding a complex issue. But sometimes the feeling and intent behind such words – and certainly behind “commenting on their appearance” – isn’t anything like hatred.

The extent to which she misses this point if typified in the suggestion – delivered with no discernible irony – that 90% of the planet’s human population be slaughtered, leaving only the “non-woman-haters” who have never dared utter any such unforgivable slurs as mentioned above.

The second observation is that it’s unclear to me just what Bidisha is trying to achieve.

The problem, it’s made very clear, is men. Men and almost everything that men do. And yet I really don’t believe that an article which nags and lectures and scolds on such a scale as this will possibly persuade men to change their behaviours in ways the author would find more acceptable.

I can’t imagine many men reading this and thinking “She’s right, I won’t ever judge anyone female to be aggressive ever again,” or “Gosh, have I been grossly offending women by complimenting them on their appearance all this time? I shall stop at once and endeavour to maintain a respectful silence in all future cross-gender communications.” Which seems to be what she wants.

I can, however, imagine a lot of men reading this and thinking “Oh, pipe down, you humourless cow.”

Which is a shame, because I’m not thrilled about men being encouraged or inspired to think about women in those terms.

Even when they have a point.

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Today’s frenzy of Twitter outrage was a good’un.

If you’re not from the UK, there’s almost zero chance you’ll have any idea who Danny Dyer is. That’s still a reassuring thought. Wikipedia describes him as a “media personality“, which makes it sound like even the entire internet working together can’t figure out what it is he does. (Aside from occasionally getting punched in the face.)

But one of the ways he apparently spends his time is writing (or possibly having ghostwritten for him) an advice column in British men’s magazine ZOO. “Men’s magazine”, if you’re not familiar, translates more or less to “tits, cars, tits, contrived puns and innuendos that might be called ‘jokes’ by someone whose mental age is just barely breaking through into double digits, and tits”.

It’s a job that would seem to suit Danny Dyer well, being the sort of blokey, laddish, emotionally and intellectually stunted twat he is. But today the collective forces of the interwebs decided that his blokey and laddish tone – usually so charming and relatable – had gone too far.

The exact moment this was decided was when Danny Dyer advised a young man seeking help coping with a break-up to take a knife to his ex-girlfriend.

Not a joke.

The exact advice offered was:

You’ve got nothing to worry about, son. I’d suggest going out on a rampage with the boys, getting on the booze and smashing anything that moves. Then, when some bird falls for you, you can turn the tables and break her heart. Of course, the other option is to cut your ex’s face, and then no one will want her…

So. A few things.

First, it’s clearly not true to say that this guy has “nothing to worry about” if, when the frustration and grief of losing his beloved gets too much to bear, the path he takes for advice and spiritual guidance is a page in Zoo magazine written by Danny fucking Dyer.

Secondly, there’s a nugget of decent advice buried way, way down deep in there somewhere. The letter-writer, Alex from Manchester, describes himself as “23, not a bad-looking bloke with a decent job”. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to suggest, as Danny comes close to trying to do, that he’s a young vibrant lad with his best years ahead of him, and who seems to have life on his side, and so taking solace in the company of his friends while engaging in some carefree leisure activity might be beneficial and uplifting, as one of many steps in the process of moving on from a difficult relationship break-up.

However, he gets virtually all of the details wrong. Encouraging vandalism is bad enough, but finding emotional catharsis by breaking the heart of “some bird” he meets while on this drunken destructive “rampage” is a flawed notion from the start. While I can’t empirically rule out that women who find that kind of behaviour in any way attractive may exist, quite how creating new emotional pain and severing potential new relationships before they begin is supposed to help ease this chap’s pain is quite beyond me.

But then it goes really off the rails. Then he suggests that Alex consider severely physically mutilating his ex-partner, with no discernible goal except malice and vengeance, and with nothing in tone or context to suggest humour, ending with that ominous, rather creepy ellipsis…

And at that point, Danny Dyer can fuck right off and go to hell.

Look, I am hugely in favour of free speech. And I know that probably has an inflection of “I’m not a racist, but…” and sounds like I’m about to illiberally try to crush whatever speech I disagree with today, but I honestly mean it. I’m not crying for censorship here. Other people are calling into question the legality of inciting public violence like this, but I’m leaving that to the legal experts.

I’m just looking at this ethically. And from a moral standpoint, whoever wrote that piece of advice and decided to publish it in a magazine is a total cunt.

This may not have been Danny Dyer. There was always some doubt amidst the furious Twitter discussion as to how much of his page he actually writes himself, and he’s apparently saying he was “completely misquoted“. (If this is the case, there’s a suggestion that he may be able to sue after having these words attributed to him.) But somebody did write it, and somebody else decided it was okay to print this in a magazine.

The line the magazine’s editors are going with is that this was a “regrettable production error”. Maybe someone with some experience in the publishing industry can comment on how easy it is for a simple and innocent a slip to result in something reprehensible and offensive being inadvertently written, copyedited, published, and put on newsagents’ shelves around the country like that.

As you might guess, I’m skeptical. Everything about the column in question seems to be entirely in line with Danny Dyer’s general persona, i.e. exactly the kind of caricature of an idiot you get a mental image of when you read words like “blokey” and “laddish”, and who is otherwise hard to describe without swearing (hence I haven’t bothered). It’s not obviously implausible that this was all entirely deliberate, and simply very badly judged.

If it was just a mistake, though, are Zoo magazine actually going to do anything about their supposed stance against violence? Being “against violence” is not simply defined by the words you say. Publishing an advice column telling some guy he should cut his ex-girlfriend’s face and then apologising for it doesn’t really count as positive activism.

I don’t imagine the editors of Zoo have ever really cared about protecting people from violence before. They didn’t seem to in the past, when Danny Dyer suggested setting a woman on fire. I suspect they just know that passing this off as a stupid mistake would be better for their PR than letting people think that Zoo magazine is actually made by people who think it’s fine to jokily suggesting cutting your ex-girlfriend’s face.

Ah, yes. “Jokily”. It was probably just a joke. They don’t actually want anyone to be knifed in the face. What’s all the fuss about?

Yeah, that doesn’t work for me.

Danny Dyer is not Al Murray the pub landlord, and he was not casually repeating stereotypes about the occupants of another country. Danny Dyer is not well established in the public consciousness as a comic character. Well, maybe he sort of is, but not deliberately. He’s not a fictitious construct. He’s a real person with real opinions, and when there’s absolutely nothing in any of the surrounding context of this remark to suggest humour or ribaldry, you can’t shrug it off with claims of “just a joke”.

And if it was a joke, maybe it was a fucking offensive one. And not just the way Frankie Boyle is offensive, or Jerry Springer The Opera, where people have religious or personal objections. This is actually doing harm.

Even if you don’t read it as directly advocating violence, and so can’t counsel a policy of censorship, it’s the kind of “joke” that reinforces and fosters a deeply unpleasant and dangerous attitude toward women, and toward violence. It normalises the idea that this is the kind of advice that youthful men share with regard to relationships, and obscures the fact that actually useful sex and relationship advice does exist out there and is something people can talk about like grown-ups.

Some are actually coming to Dyer’s defence over this. And fine, if you know the guy and his work better than I do, and think that this was an isolated misjudgment made by a basically alright bloke who doesn’t deserve to be called a cunt quite as often as this in one seriously long-winded rant, then I’m willing to hear you out. But some people are getting really quite angry at the people getting angry, and are spitting venom at anyone having the gall to be upset or offended by an explicit threat of violence.

People. Get some perspective.

There are essentially two parties involved in this drama. Danny Dyer (or Zoo magazine) said: “This guy should consider cutting his ex-partner’s face so as to physically disfigure her”. The mob said: “Hey, we’re not okay with that.” Even if you disagree with some of the response, and think Dyer and Zoo don’t deserve so much vitriol as they’re getting, remember how it started. Remember that the people getting angry and calling Danny Dyer names are doing so because, according to Zoo magazine, he said that maybe Alex from Manchester should take a knife to his ex-girlfriend’s face.

You want to think hard before deciding huge swathes of people are idiots for getting upset over something like that.

It takes some quite staggering arrogance and/or a complete lack of compassion to decide that every woman who’s been upset by this “joke” is wrong, and you’re so much cleverer than all of them to see its true meaning, and this correct interpretation is so clear that you don’t even need to bother acknowledging that, if someone were to take this advice seriously, it would be awful.

What was said was obnoxious and should be actively reviled, even if you think this instance of free speech shouldn’t be coercively suppressed.

And I’m done.

Ow, my fingers.

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Lightning round!

Okay, fingers on buzzers, quickfire answers, no conferring:

Which is better for breathing: oxygen or gravy?

It’s oxygen! Ten points for anyone who got that right.

Who is the current president of the United States: Barack Obama or Dangermouse?

It’s Barack Obama! Another ten points.

Last one. Which is the more abhorrent and “shameful” thing you can do to a teenage girl: pay her millions of dollars to act in a series of blockbuster movies, or murder her by burying her alive as punishment for a trivial infringement of an appallingly misogynistic interpretation of religious dogma?

Ha! Trick question. They’re both the same.

Yep, I know, it’s surprising. I’m pretty sure I’d have got that one wrong. It’s one of those funny, counter-intuitive things that always causes Alan Davies to set off the klaxon in the last round of QI. Luckily Liz Jones of the Daily Mail is here to correct this particular nugget of general ignorance in a truly impressive article, headlined:

LIZ JONES: Honour killings? What we’ve done to young Emma is just as shameful

I’m putting that there so you know I’m not exaggerating her point.

She asks whether the West can really “claim the moral high ground when it comes to condemning these ‘honour’ killings”. I know it’s meant as a rhetorical question, but sometimes those deserve to be answered anyway, so I’m going to take a stab at this one.

Yes. Yes we fucking can.

Any worthwhile commentary that might have been brought to any of these subjects is completely buried under the mounds of overpowering stupid. Liz Jones’s main concern seems to be that Emma Watson – who is 19 years old and physically very attractive – has made more money in this particular year than Meryl Streep or Helen Mirren, two older but very well respected actresses, who just happen not to have featured prominently in one of the most lucrative film franchises in history lately. This is the best example that Liz Jones can find of the deplorable way that we Westerners objectify and degrade women.

And because of this, it’s hypocritical of anyone in the developed world to criticise another country’s routine ritual murdering of teenage girls.

You know, she sort of veers somewhere in the general direction of making some kind of sense, in places. She brings up the issue of violence against women in Britain, for instance, which is a real problem that merits serious attention.

She also points out that, when President Obama spoke to the EU in Istanbul last year, he urged them to accept the country of Turkey into the union, and did not bring up that country’s especially terrible record on women’s rights.

Now, I don’t know if that particular speech would have been really the right time to bring it up – I have no idea of the context in which it was made – but maybe it’s something Obama should be talking about more. I’m willing to hear someone make that case.

But if you’re going to bring up some truly horrifying details about “honour suicides” that women are being forced into, and criticise Obama for concentrating instead on “the far less controversial issue of global warming”, it really doesn’t help when your very next words are:

But let’s look at Emma Watson for a moment.

Sure. Okay. Let’s do that. We’ve talked about women in Turkey being locked in a room with a noose, a gun, and some rat poison, and ordered to kill themselves to protect the “honour” of the group, but that was paragraphs ago, so now let’s have a good natter about how terrible it is the way lots of people are interested in a glamourous young female movie-star.

And after that, we can go to the Holocaust Memorial and get ice cream!

I had thought I wouldn’t get much writing done today. Thanks to @badjournalism for the link, and to Liz Jones for the bullshit to get angry at.

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