This is a guest post by Rebecca Reilly-Cooper. Matt Bendoris conducted an interview with violinist Nicola Benedetti for the Scottish Sun.
Dear Matt Bendoris,
I am not a regular reader of the Sun or the Scottish Sun, and had never heard of you or encountered your work prior to your interview with violinist Nicola Benedetti. Contrary to your suggestion on Twitter, I don’t think it follows that I am not entitled to criticise your work, or that my indignation about the piece must be ‘mock outrage’. My concerns about your work are not grounded in prudishness: I am not offended by the idea of men lusting after women.
Nor are my objections primarily motivated by concern for the feelings of Nicola Benedetti. To be sure, your treatment of her was demeaning and insulting, and if I were her I would feel – justifiably – angry and humiliated. But I am not claiming to speak for her: she is more than capable of fighting this battle on her own, should she so choose.
Rather, I believe that articles like this are profoundly damaging to all women, and to relations between people of different sexes generally. The harm caused by journalism like this extends far beyond the hurt feelings of the subjects involved or those who read the Sun. Much as I wish it weren’t so, the Sun has the largest circulation of any newspaper in the UK, and therefore its influence is significant. Millions of men and women read it every day, unavoidably imbibing its ideology and attitudes. In articles like yours, they are told on a daily basis that women do not possess equal social standing with men; that our primary, if not sole, function in society is as wank fodder.
In your interview, Nicola Benedetti’s work, achievements, and ambitions are barely mentioned as you describe her physical appearance in lengthy, lecherous detail:
I guess Nicola won’t be posing for the lads’ mags anytime soon. Pity, because she looks fit as a fiddle when we meet…
Nicola doesn’t always take the bonniest photo — she’s beaky in pics sometimes, which is weird because in the flesh she’s an absolute knock-out.
The classical musician is wearing skinny jeans which show off her long legs. She’s also busty with a washboard flat tummy, tottering around 5ft 10in in her Dune platform wedges.
This is not an interview with a glamour model, or someone else whose work revolves around their physical appearance, so that such detailed and lascivious descriptions might (just about) be appropriate. This is an interview with a talented and hard-working violinist, who presumably agreed to the interview on the understanding that you would talk about her work. Yet so determined are you to reduce her to masturbation material that her attempts to discuss her music are, with grim inevitability, used as sources of sleazy innuendo by you:
She does fear falling foul of the law at her London apartment which she shares with German cellist boyfriend of five years Leonard Elschenbroich.
She sheepishly admits: “So many of our neighbours have moved out — I’m worried about getting hit by an ASBO because we’re practising all the time. I have a cut-off point of about 10pm, but Leonard will go on all night if I let him.”
I bet he would.
The Carry On attempts at laddish banter do not render any of this less noxious. The attitude oozing from every sentence is one of disrespect and contempt, for the subject of your piece, and for women in general. In the world of your writing, women’s roles, identities, talents and achievements count for little, if anything. What matters is that they look ‘fit as a fiddle’; that they are considered fuckable by you. In this world view, women are reduced to commodities and served up to other men; objects to be shagged if you’re lucky, masturbated over if you’re not, and then cast aside. What else could explain your bizarre, perverse refusal to talk about her music – what she is known for?
The reproduction and promotion of such a world view is damaging to women as a group, and to relations between people of different sexes. Women applying for jobs, fighting for promotions, going on dates, hell, even just struggling to have our voices and opinions taken seriously, come up against people who have absorbed these ideas about women and our place in society.
Your responses to critics on Twitter openly and proudly acknowledge the sexist nature of your writing. So I have to ask: given that you deliberately and self-avowedly wrote such a misogynist piece, do you indeed hold the values it embodies and promotes? Do you deny that their prevalence is harmful to women? Are you proud to contribute to society continuing to view women first and foremost as sexual objects and marketable commodities?
I look forward to your response.
Rebecca Reilly-Cooper is currently a lecturer in Political Theory at the University of Oxford. When she isn’t teaching, she writes about a number of topics in moral and political philosophy. She tweets at @boodleoops.
Picture of Nicola Benedetti shared by g_cowan under a Creative Commons licence.