British footballers, privacy and gender

Wayne Rooney’s infidelity exposes law’s misogyny | Media | The Guardian

This week it was announced that Mr Justice (David) Eady, is being replaced as head of the Queen’s bench jury and non-jury lists, which made him responsible for a lot of the UK’s libel trials and allowed him to pass judgements which effectively gave the UK a privacy law based on the Human Rights Act. He was known for giving injunctions banning publication of material which invaded the privacy of various famous people; his replacement, Mr Justice (Michael G) Tugendhat, is regarded as being more media-friendly, having lifted an injunction banning publication of details of the footballer John Terry’s indiscretions. The above article argues that current application of the right to privacy is aimed at protecting men who harm women.

Gill Phillips explains:

There is a much deeper moral danger about these orders and that is that the courts in granting them are allowing men to treat women like chattels – they are not just condoning these celebrities’ conduct but also creating the impression that it is acceptable to behave like this and not to tell your wife or partner what you have been up to. This is where the real vice lies. It is not about stopping the tabloids exposing sexual misconduct – I have no desire to read about Wayne Rooney’s latest infidelity – it’s about perpetuating and protecting a view of society where men can behave like Neanderthals and then be told by a court of law that it is absolutely fine to treat women like lumps of meat. The real harm of these orders is not that they gag the press – it is that they stop the wives, partners and families from finding out about the bit on the side.

In 2009, some of these orders appear to have been obtained by men who were seeking to cover up a variety of affairs. Guardian News & Media was notified on 10 occasions of injunctions granted to individuals whose identity was protected by anonymity, and eight orders so far this year. It is also of concern to me that the vast majority of the orders are given by male judges in cases where these male celebrities are represented by male barristers. I worry we are missing a really serious issue – little or no regard appears to be given to the rights of women in these cases, whether the “other woman” or the wounded wife or partner.

The effect of the court’s willingness to grant these orders is that they seem to condone the treatment of women by these celebrities – a woman can gratuitously be called a tart and a slag without any opportunity to defend herself publicly, and all credit in that regard to Vanessa Perroncel for speaking out.

She goes on to observe that much has been said about how distressing it must have been for Rooney’s wife Colleen to find out about his infidelity in the papers, when Rooney could have saved her that by not playing away in the first place; after all, ordinary people cannot use the courts to stop them finding out. The problem is that the newspapers are not interested in what ordinary people do behind their wives’ (or husbands’) backs; they are only interested in Wayne Rooney because he is famous. It’s unreasonable to expect that a person should just accept that their private lives become public property as soon as they become well-known, and we are talking about men who cheat on their wives here — not men beating up or raping women.

It just so happens that the cases we know about involve men — men who cheat on their wives or engage in titillating sexual behaviour involving prostitutes who fake German accents. If it were a woman being discovered playing away, doubtless Gail Phillips would be railing against the “slut-shaming” she might receive in the Daily Mail, and any attempt she made to prevent the details getting out would be supported. A few years ago, the Canadian singer Loreena McKennit won a legal action to prevent publication of a book by a former member of her entourage which “covered personal and sexual relationships, McKennitt’s feelings about her fiancé, who drowned in 1998, as well as details of her health and diet, her emotional vulnerability, and information on a property dispute” (see here and here).

Some might say that wives have a right to know in case their husband infects them with some illness, but they are not thinking of the wives’ feelings or health, after all — they are doing it just to make money. The papers are generally not all that scrupulous about making sure that what they print is accurate, often circulating claims by “close friends” or similar who actually do not exist. Any law which limits this kind of intrusive journalism must be welcome.

* * *

Boys will be boys, some say — the British TV presenter Chris Tarrant, after his wife found out about his affair a few years ago through a private investigator and dumped him post haste, insisted that “playing away” was something that boys do. There is a school of thought that insists that men and women are somehow hard-wired to do certain things or behave in certain ways, or can’t do certain things or behave in certain ways, and that there’s really nothing we can do about it. This nonsense has been common currency for years now — the “Venus and Mars” books and “Why Women Can’t Read Maps and Men Don’t Iron” — but I got referred to this photo-essay by Louann Brizendine, author of pop psychology books “The Male Brain” and “The Female Brain”, which contains one outrageous generalisation after another.

“The male brain is a lean, mean, problem-solving machine”.

“He thrives under competition and is driven to improve his rank in whatever hierarchy he’s in. His bravery is fed in his teen years when a massive increase in testosterone makes him perceive other people’s faces as more aggressive than friendly. And as he matures, he’s wired to let his guard down a little and show his softer side more often.”

“He can’t read your face well enough to see the tears coming. He’s not wired for it, so cut him some slack.”

“He goes zero to fist fight in an instant. Don’t feed into his angry rants. Yelling back at him or taunting him when he’s already angry is like whacking a bee hive with a bat.”

I heard someone on the Vanessa Feltz show call this stuff “neuro-trash” (a pun on Euro-trash, for my American readers), and the first I heard of Louann Brizendine was in Natasha Walter’s book Living Dolls, which refers to other scientific evidence which exposes Brizendine’s theories as pseudo-science which rings true with the public because it matches (some of) people’s personal experience. The “zero to fist fight in an instant” is particularly offensive. It’s not the first time I’ve heard it said that “boys will be boys” and that this includes violence, and that we can’t do anything to change it, and shouldn’t try.

It’s nonsense. Men that fly into a rage in an instant are men who have problems with their temper or are bullies, and if a woman notices it she should really be concerned. For that matter, the same should be true if a female friend behaves in this fashion. Nobody should tolerate “angry rants” from any man, especially not his female partner if she is (as is usual) smaller than he is.

Of course, some of the recent determinism is a reaction to past attempts to smooth out the differences between the sexes, particularly by “encouraging” boys to play in a less masculine fashion with less gun-play and more of what their female carers think is constructive and co-operative. Perhaps even that was over-stated in the caricatures peddled by the corporate press, but in my opinion anyway, young boys playing cowboys and Indians or cops and robbers doesn’t lead to boys turning into thugs later on — let’s face it, when men or teenagers fight, they don’t point two fingers at each other and say “bang bang, you’re dead”.

Considering that men and women are individuals and that each individual is shaped by his own or her upbringing and circumstance, and has his or her own individual characteristics, has become unfashionable: it’s all boys are this way and girls are that way, to the extent that toys are often far more firmly aimed at one sex or another than they were before, with products aimed at girls seemingly designed to turn them into ready consumers of fashion. (Of course, dolls have always been much more of a girls’ toy along with fashion toys and the such like, but there is no real reason why Lego should be aimed firmly at boys.)

If a woman can’t read a map, it’s just because she’s a woman, and not because she has never bothered to sit down and learn. If a man doesn’t iron, it’s just in his chromosomes, not just because his Mum always did it for him and his wife does now. (In my family, my Dad does most of the ironing and when I was younger, I used to as well, using it as an opportunity to listen to a record or watch TV, so that’s that theory out of the window.) If a man doesn’t listen, it must be just because he’s a man and men’s brains are somehow wired differently — not because he’s used to other people listening to him and to getting his own way, or because he wasn’t brought up to particularly value women’s opinions, or because he’s so sold on this particular idea that he isn’t up to listening to anyone. And if a professional (male) footballer just can’t resist “playing away” when he plays away, it must be his testosterone and not the fact that he’s ill brought-up, or doesn’t love his wife enough to be faithful, or isn’t minded to resist when he’s egged on by his mates in the bar, or is immoral … there are quite a few explanations, actually. After all, we all have hormones and we don’t all behave in the manner described above.

All this pop psychology simply justifies the worst kind of lazy, conservative thinking and behaviour. It absolves us of examining the way we deal with things and making an effort to change our behaviour, or to challenge others’ behaviour, if necessary. Nobody is suggesting that there are simply no broad differences between male and female behaviour and thinking, but it’s not an excuse any more than one’s genes or one’s horoscope, and it’s not beyond individuals’ power to change it.

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