Bullies are lurking around every corner

Speaking of the difference between saying insults and violence are the same thing and saying they are related…Eve Wiseman at the Guardian starts a piece on Jo Brand with that subject:

It was early in November and, responding to a headline about an MP taking his personal trainer to the cinema, Ian Hislop had chuckled: “Some of this is not ‘high-level’ crime, is it?” But Jo Brand, hosting, didn’t smile. The temperature changed quite suddenly. “If I can just say,” she began, “as the only representative of the female gender here today – I know it’s not high-level, but it doesn’t have to be ‘high-level’ for women to feel under siege in somewhere like the House of Commons. Actually, for women, if you’re constantly being harassed, even in a small way, that builds up, and that wears you down.” There was a pause. Then the audience started cheering.

See how that works? She doesn’t say they’re the same, and she says that doesn’t mean they don’t both matter. Too bad Katie Roiphe can’t see that not very obscure point.

Today, Brand, a woman who refuses to be described as a national treasure, preferring “national disgrace”, says she didn’t plan to say a word. “I’m a real hectorer usually – it was lucky I didn’t shout, because otherwise it wouldn’t have taken the wind out of everyone’s sails in the same way. It had an impact.” She says this as if it was a surprise but, of course, Brand, now 60, has been making an impact for decades, first with her monotone standup about men and weight (“I read that book Fat Is A Feminist Issue, got a bit desperate halfway through and ate it”) and today for her dry contributions to primetime TV where, as well presenting the sister programme to The Great British Bake Off, she is often the lone woman on a panel of men.

I hadn’t heard of her before. Clearly a big mistake.

One of Brand’s small pleasures is an hour on Mumsnet. Partly because of the usernames. “My favourite is ‘EatShitDerek’. I’m dying to know the story behind that one.” Partly because she’s a mother, of two teenage girls. And partly because she feels it’s a good reflection of people’s attitudes to controversial topics. “I understand the generational gap in feminist thinking, but the problem comes when the conversations are shut down – they need to be discussed. As a nurse, for instance, I learned that five times as many black people were diagnosed as schizophrenic than white people, and I wanted to know why. You can’t explore difficult questions without offending some people. So I had to admit I was coming from a point of ignorance, and then start a conversation.”

She worries about “no-platforming”.

“If older feminists’ opinions are suppressed, where do we go next? They did a lot of work to move women forward, they can’t be forgotten. But the anger that appears when people do try to talk – even around something as gentle as Caroline Criado-Perez’s plan to put a woman on the £10 note. She got death and rape threats. Who are these people threatening her, and why are they so angry?”

One evening, she was compering an awards ceremony, and a single advertising agency was winning every prize. When they inevitably won the final award, Brand rolled her eyes into the microphone, and tutted: “Not them again.” The crowd laughed, but when the agency’s CEO arrived on stage to receive his trophy, he whispered in her ear: “I always knew you weren’t funny, but I never realised what a cunt you were.”

“He did it to humiliate me, and it worked – I felt like I was shrinking. But then I took the microphone back and told the audience what he’d said. And I’d never heard 1,500 people gasp before. These bullies are lurking around every corner, but it’s worse when they’re anonymous online – at least in print you know where it’s coming from.”

Huh. What was that again about how “cunt” is not a misogynist insult in the UK? The CEO doesn’t seem to see it that way, nor does Jo Brand, nor does that audience of 1500 people.

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