Wednesday, 4 April 2012
Why the Samantha Brick backlash missed the point
This is not a post about my views on the piece. Of course it was awful, although no worse than Brick's previous efforts for the Mail. With standard and incredibly tedious woman-hating, Femail-fodder headlines like 'I use my sex appeal to get ahead at work... and so does ANY woman with any sense', 'Would YOU let your husband dress you? Samantha does and says she's never looked better', and 'My husband says he'll divorce me if I get fat', I think it's pretty safe to say that I'm not missing out by refusing to give them a thorough reading. I couldn't care less about Samantha Brick's musings - they're typical of the Mail's 'women's interest' offerings. State that women are backstabbing bitches. Talk about how much better life is when men are in charge. Criticise women some more. Pit them against each other and encourage 'cattiness'. You know the score.
This is also not a smug post berating all of you for heading over to Mail Online in order to read it, retweeting it and talking about it because it's just giving the Mail what they want, people! More hits and more publicity! Again, I couldn't care less. And yes, I am succumbing to the hype and giving in and blogging about it. Hate if you want.
This is a post about the way people react to stories like this. If you search 'Samantha Brick' on Twitter and look at what people have been saying about her for the past couple of days, if you look at any comment thread about her on forums or on Facebook or even the 5000-strong comment thread on the article itself, you'll see a theme emerging. People are desperate to give their personal opinions on whether Brick really is attractive or not. The issue at hand: she think she's stunning, people want to take her down a peg or two and point out that she's 'average' and 'nothing special', going right down to 'ugly' and 'looks like a man'. You can't escape people's judgement on Brick's appearance.
For me, the issue that needs to be discussed is not the way Brick looks. It's the way that the Mail exploits women writers to further its misogynist agenda, holding on to its crown as the newspaper most widely read by women. Who knows if the article has much to do at all with Brick's true opinions of herself? It's been well-documented that the Mail can't resist putting words into women's mouths and publishing misleading stories about them, even if this means that their lives are pretty much ruined as a result. Two examples can be found in Anna Blundy's account of being stitched up over a feature, and Juliet Shaw's tale of how the paper completely fabricated facts and quotes for a story about her, leading to her taking legal action.
The Mail has no qualms whatsoever about publishing features like those found when you search for 'Samantha Brick' on its website; indeed it's almost gleeful in the way it offers them up for people to hurl abuse, and for commenters to write vicious responses. Hadley Freeman is spot on when she says that the paper 'simply threw Samantha Brick to the wolves'. The way it uses writers like Brick is so predictable - the stories about deferring to men, bitchy women, weight and women in the workplace form a steady stream of hate.
But people, in general, don't want to talk about this. They want to pass judgement on the woman's appearance, thinking that this is what really matters because they're conditioned to believe that this is what's really important: having the last word on a woman's looks - because that's what women are here for. To be hot - or not. A woman's worth lies in what people think of the way she looks, what men claim they would like to do to her, how many women are secretly envious of her. And everyone has to weigh in with their views on the matter. If it's not her looks, it's her opinions of herself. She needs to be set straight. Who does she think she is?
Last year I wrote about the drama provoked by the way Scott Schuman (aka The Sartorialist) described a woman he'd photographed as 'sturdy'. What annoyed me just as much as the stupid post and Schuman's stupid reaction to it, was the way the discussion became framed around what people really thought of this woman's body type. Was she thin? Was she fat? Was she curvy? Was 'curvy' an offensive way to describe her? You know how it goes. It's a familiar scenario in comment sections. Has she really got good boobs? Is she 'worryingly thin' or 'fuller figured'? Does she actually look good in that outfit? Wherever there is deeper discussion to be had, you can guarantee that people will reduce it to their personal opinion on her appearance. And is there any wonder, when the media continually encourages us to critique, compare and contrast women based on 'who looked the best', 'who wore it best' or 'who has the best beach body'?
Unlike the rest of Twitter, my feed wasn't full of people calling Samantha Brick 'ugly'. Today, of course, it was full of people bemoaning the fact that those people had given the Mail exactly what it wanted because Brick wrote a follow-up piece, gloating over the number of hits Tuesday's article had received and claiming that the backlash she received just proves that she was right when she said that women hate her because she's attractive. And so it began again.
People: stop playing the game. Stop falling into the trap of judging a woman's worth by your opinion of her looks. Stop reducing every discussion about a woman in the public eye to whether you think she's hot. Stop equating looks with power and success and sneering at those who don't, in your eyes, measure up. Stop treating confidence as something to be torn down and trampled upon. Stop perpetuating the lie that women are by nature 'catty' and 'bitchy'. Stop defending the roadblocks on the highway to equality and giving people like Samantha Brick fuel for the fire as she churns out more articles bemoaning how nasty other women are.