Times Online indulges in a bit of ‘slut’ shaming

Jonathan Ross has got himself suspended for three months, while Russell Brand quit his radio rob. But The Times is more interested in attacking Georgina Baillie – the butt of Ross and Brand’s joke. In this guest post, Amity Reed considers what it all means

Unless you’ve been living underground for the last couple days, you’ve most likely heard of the furore surrounding Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross’s prank gone wrong (in which they told 78-year-old actor Andrew Sachs over the telephone that Brand had fucked his granddaughter, Georgina Baillie) and the subsequent 30,000 complaints that have been filed by the public expressing their distaste at the two men’s actions. As soon as I discovered that Baillie was part of a dance troupe called ‘Satanic Sluts,’ I began counting down the moments until someone began picking her apart, questioning her career choices and sexual history.

Right on cue, Jenny Colgan, writing for the ‘Alpha Mummy’ blog at The Times Online, today asks: “When did feminism make it OK to be a ‘Satanic Slut’?”

When, she wonders? Well, Jenny, let me tell you. About the same time you earned the right to hold down a job, go where you please, wear what you like, sleep with whomever you fancy and say pretty much whatever pops into your head. In other words, when women obtained the right to make their own choices and be their own people. Feminism made all of that possible, let’s not forget.

Even if some women don’t identify as one (and I’m assuming Colgan doesn’t, since she clearly differentiates between herself, someone who finds Georgina Baillie distasteful, and the feminism that purportedly promotes “things like this’), there are scores of women out there identifying as feminists who are working towards ensuring that the freedoms we enjoy are protected and that ones still withheld from us are (hopefully) granted in our lifetime. I suppose that because Colgan doesn’t appear to understand what the movement is about, I should give her a break for getting it wrong. But since she also asks: “When, precisely, did feminism make this kind of nonsense OK? When did it become alright for those ‘porn star in training’ t-shirts, the ‘hot stuff’ printed on little girl’s knickers; beautiful teen heroine Billie Piper playing the rich gorgeous prostitute Belle de Jour?” I’ll assume she was genuinely looking for answers and break it down for her: It didn’t.

What she has done is confuse two issues – the expression of female sexuality by consenting adults (however unpleasant we may find it), and the exploitation and sexualisation of children for the purposes of commercial gain, social conformity and male pleasure. Trying to sell high heels to babies or bejewelled knickers with sexual messages to pre-teen girls is not what feminism is about. In fact, you’ll find that that is exactly the sort of thing that many feminists condemn and actively rail against.

What we are not in the business of doing (or shouldn’t be, anyway) is attempting to shame women who have chosen a lifestyle or career that others may deem inappropriate because it is not something ‘nice’. Freedom of choice means just that – the freedom to choose, whatever that may be. We can’t just dictate which decisions we will support and which we won’t according to our own personal tastes and boundaries.

Besides the “is feminism responsible” nonsense, there is more than a little whiff of superiority and “she was asking for it” here, by both the author and a number of the blog’s commenters, even if a disclaimer issued by Colgan claims that isn’t the case. And as if deriding Baillie’s lifestyle choices weren’t enough, Colgan informs us that she feels this way because she is a mother and that before she had children she would’ve supported Baillie’s right to do or be whatever she wants without derision. So not only do we have an element of slut-shaming here but the ‘mothers as moral guardians’ stereotype has been trotted out again too. How very tiresome.

Once again, something that should be about individual men’s actions (Brand’s and Ross’s) has turned into a passing of judgment on the woman inadvertently caught up in their scandal. It’s sad that Baillie has even been put in this position, having to explain her sexual relationship with Brand and defend her right to not be publicly humiliated by a celebrity trying to get a laugh. That other women can’t see how this hurts them too, hurts the advancement of women as a collective, is probably the saddest part of all.

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