Cruel speech isn’t progressive, it isn’t constructive, and it isn’t okay. Sorry Milo, but you aren’t the first to be cruel for cash, and you won’t be the last. We need to address this culture of normalising those who are disturbingly cruel for the sake of provocation.
Rod Liddle is not a very emotionally inept man. And that’s what makes his behaviour so disturbing. This is the man who wrote hundreds of speeches for the Labour Party across decades. A man who knows how people think and feel. Rod Liddle is, in my opinion, a deeply, deeply unpleasant man who appears to get his kicks out of acting maliciously, calculatedly, and with a disturbing level of almost sociopathic cruelty. Rod Liddle has, and this may surprise you, pissed me off.
I’m on the Eurostar reading his article ’What I did on International Women’s Day when I am so filled with British fury that I mutter ‘bastard’ under my breath and go slightly pale. I’m not an aggressive woman, but that’s the level of unpleasantness I was confronted with in the most intelligent misogynist hit piece I’d ever read. And I’ve been sent Breitbart articles.
I’ll give you a rough outline of this diatribe to illustrate my point. Rod Liddle, former Labour speechwriter, wrote this. I’m not paraphrasing or adding anything to this. A man, writing about International Women’s Day, did willingly and with intention write the following:
“It was International Women’s Day on Wednesday.The Guardian had enjoined its readers to send in reports of what they had done to advance their struggle, or how they had in some way been oppressed by men-perhaps raped, or talked to as if they were stupid, or looked at a little coldly when they squirted breast milk over fellow diners…”
Yes, you read that right. Rod Liddle thought it would be funny for readers to listen to his little sarcastic, lighthearted remark about rape and breastfeeding. You don’t need to be a feminist, or even particularly bothered by sexism, to be left feeling surprised by that.
Rod, I’m asking you as a woman who, like thousands of others, was raped: how do you think I feel, reading your belittling commentary? I’ll tell you what I think. I think your lack of empathy, not to mention your resentment towards women taking about the sexual violence and abuse they experience, makes me shiver.
I’m not offended, I’m amazed and horrified that this callousness is accepted in the UK. This isn’t Tehran. Your lack of empathy is not amusing, it rips open our polite society and shows her bitter decaying carcass. It gets worse from here.
“I instead tried to show solidarity by spending a substantial amount of time on IWD looking at a photograph of Emma Watson’s tits. The actress is a radical feminist campaigner…Emma got her tits out for Vanity Fair. I heartily approve. They seemed to me attractive and exquisitely English breasts…modest, but not too modest…”
I won’t bore you with the next three paragraphs discussing what Rod Liddle thought about Miss Watson’s breasts. What hilarity, objectifying a leading feminist on Women’s Day through her nudity. That’s not misogynist, it’s ironic, I’m laughing so hard I have tears rolling down my face. Or not. The irony here is in the fact that this piece isn’t so much satirical as stinking of sexism.
But, I’m aware, as you are, that he didn’t write this innocently thinking about what japes we’d have agreeing with him about the size and shape of mammary glands on Women’s Day. He wanted to provoke and he got it.
Which brings me, quite possibly, to my least favourite sentence to be uttered by anyone since my lecturer told me I had to write a ‘balanced’ essay on salafism:
Don’t feed the trolls.
This is ridiculous on two accounts. The trolls, however misogynist Old-Labour they may be, are humans, not trolls. They are usually sad, pathetic lonely people with sadistic attention seeking tendencies. These people need to be called out for what they are: a) unpleasant b) sadistic.
I present an alternative rule:
2. Stop accepting the trolls.
Stop calling them trolls! It reduces what they are to some au fait commentator. To take away their power, we need to call the Katie Hopkinses, Milo Yiannopouloses and Rod Liddles of this world out when they behave abhorrently. Take them seriously. Make them publicly engage with what they’ve said. Make them see that we do not tolerate cruelty-for-cash in a progressive dialogue. De-normalise cruelty.
Just say it. Not ‘but freedom of speech’ not ‘entitled to their opinion’. They are getting a kick out of hurting other people and I’ll be damned if I’m going to politely sip my tea and ignore it while what they say becomes the new normal. No? Still too hung up on regressive liberalism? I’ll say it.
Mr Liddle, I believe you to be a cruel, misogynistic individual who got pleasure and money out of mocking women who came forward about their rape or assault on International Women’s Day, and in doing so you behaved with appalling sadism.
How is this progressive to the debate on gender equality? How is it satirical to talk about a woman’s breasts for a whole column on feminism? It’s not, not after 1962 anyway. You aren’t a troll. You are, in my opinion, a disgusting, disgraceful man.
There. That’s my freedom of speech. I can call out someone who has behaved cruelly by using theirs. I’m not censoring you, Mr Liddle, I am responding. Freedom of speech is not freedom from criticism. You behave with cruel intentions, and you will be responded to accordingly. I’m not wrong or hysterical for responding to you, I’m someone who recognises the abnormality in your lack of empathy.
And I encourage anyone who sees genuinely sadistic commentary from any individual, whether Erdogan, Sarsour, Rod Liddle or Dave from Stockport, to stand up and criticise them. What authoritarian world are we living in if we can’t call out the wolves among the sheep for fear of upsetting our liberal values?
Don’t feed the trolls. Bop their rhetoric on the head.
Posted by Peter P
23 March, 2017 at 9:44 pm
Brilliant, concise article Madelaine. Freedom of speech is not freedom from criticism is a much needed position in society. Too often fellow liberals react with equal bile and vitriol as that dished out. Standing up to the bullies and haters by calling them out with well thought criticism has to be stance we progressive individuals must take.