Sexism, social ineptitude, and Samantha Brick

Whenever a Daily Fail story suddenly explodes all over the Internet. there is one thing I try to remember: The Daily Mail lies. Articles published in the Daily Mail may or may not be based on the facts: they will be heavily sub-edited and the subject of the article may well have been distorted out of all recognition.

My name, image and brief details of my life had been used to fabricate a story which bore no resemblance to me or my life, then presented as fact, said by me, in my own words. It was damaging to me, my children, my friends and had a significantly negative impact on my life.

I emailed the other three women who’d been interviewed for the article – I found their addresses on an email the journalist had sent about the photoshoot. They each confirmed that they’d been horrified by the article, that it bore no relationship to anything they’d said and that they too had complained to Associated Newspapers and been similarly stonewalled.

The Daily Mail is no more a newspaper than The Sun. It is a daily means of selling advertising and boosting the personal fortune of Viscount Rothermere, who is registered as “non-domiciled” in the UK and so doesn’t have to pay his taxes. (Associated Newspapers is owned by the Rothermere family. The company has weathered the recession quite well – primarily by making thousands of the people who used to work for them redundant.)

Juliet Shaw, quoted above, made the mistake of allowing herself to be interviewed by the Daily Mail for an article which then used her name and clearly identified her, but told a series of fabrications and damaging lies about her. When she sued them for defaming her:

the Daily Mail brought a claim against me citing that I had no prospect of success and proposing that my claim be thrown out. This meant that instead of Associated Newspapers responding to my grievances, I was forced to defend myself to them and prove that I had been wronged. They also applied for me to pay their costs.

It took two years of legal wranglings before the claim was finally heard in front of Mr Justice Tugendhadt in the Royal Courts of Justice in London.

I won’t go into detail of his summing up – I’d have to go down to the cellar and sift through boxes and boxes of paperwork to do that, and I’ve already spent two years of my life on this. (You could probably double that if you included all the time I spend jabbering on about it to people I meet at parties.) But Mr Justice Tugendhadt ruled in my favour, and gave me leave to proceed to a full defamation trial with jury. The two or three points he didn’t allow weren’t on the basis that he believed them to be true – it was because although it was accepted they were fictional, I couldn’t prove that my reputation had been harmed as a result of them being in a national newspaper: technicalities. He also declined Associated Newspapers application for costs against me of around £24,000

The Daily Mail then offered to settle: and eventually Shaw accepted their financial repayment of the monetary damage done to her by their “journalism”.
As Shaw noted in January last year:

In the five or so years that have passed since my claim was settled, things have got much, much worse. The huge growth in the Mail’s online presence has meant that its search for content becomes ever more desperate, and it gleefully prints pictures of 15 year old girls in bikinis – “Hasn’t she grown up!”- while whipping the nation into an outraged frenzy by falsely claiming Muslims insist extractor fans are removed because they’re offended by the smell of bacon, or that schools are being forced to teach ‘gay maths’ to corruptable young minds. But the majority of the people the Daily Mail tells lies about won’t do anything about it. Bringing a libel claim is prohibitively expensive, and there’s no legal aid. And for those who have the time and inclination to take the law into their own hands, it just got a lot more difficult.

The same judge that ruled in my favour, Mr Justice Tugendhat, ruled in June 2010 that in order to bring a claim for libel, claimants must prove that they have been substantially affected by the offending article, rather than simply being able to demonstrate an adverse effect of publication. The ruling was made in response to a claim against Lynn Barber and the Telegraph Newspaper Group over a book review, and applauded by journalists and news organisations as a step forward for press freedom.

Nor is this particular kind of “journalism” something which Leveson is looking at: it is the kind of defamation which ought to be handled by sensible libel laws, rather than – as in the UK – a system which allows a hugely wealthy corporation to defame ordinary people to sell papers, and does not allow those defamed any means of holding the corporation culpable. The only means of hurting a corporation is by a large scale public boycott – such as shunning which still holds in Liverpool, 23 years after The Sun defamed the survivors of Hillsborough – and notably, while Rupert Murdoch was willing to force Kelvin MacKenzie to privately apologise, Murdoch would not permit a public acknowledgement of The Sun‘s lies: just as he had rather shut down NotW than admit any wrongdoing over phonehacking.

When Samantha Brick (and #SamanthaBrickFacts, some of which have been genuinely funny) started trending on Twitter, I didn’t go read the article. I gathered it was by an attractive woman who was getting slammed for writing about how attractive she was. I had never heard of her before.

There is a classic catch-22 for women, and it goes like this. Women are supposed to make themselves attractive for men. A woman who is not attractive to the man observing her is vilified. A woman who is attractive to the man observing her is vilified.

The “not attractive” woman is vilified because she’s not doing her job, obviously – I’ve sat in a lecture theatre at Napier University, listening to two male students behind me discuss how inappropriate it was for the lecturer (Doctor Alison Crerar, one of the most seriously brilliant teachers either I or they had ever had) to be wearing trousers and a sweater – they felt it showed she “lacked respect” for the class.

But the “attractive” woman is vilified because she doesn’t belong to the man who is attracted to her – and the man knows there is no chance she ever will.

Does it seem like men feel kind of entitled to sex? Does it seem like we react to rejection with the maturity of a child being denied a toy?

Well, you have to keep in mind that what we learn as kids is really hard to deprogram as an adult. And what we learned as kids is that we males are each owed, and will eventually be awarded, a beautiful woman.

We were told this by every movie, TV show, novel, comic book, video game and song we encountered. When the Karate Kid wins the tournament, his prize is a trophy and Elisabeth Shue. Neo saves the world and is awarded Trinity. Marty McFly gets his dream girl, John McClane gets his ex-wife back, Keanu “Speed” Reeves gets Sandra Bullock, Shia LaBeouf gets Megan Fox in Transformers, Iron Man gets Pepper Potts, the hero in Avatar gets the hottest Na’vi, Shrek gets Fiona, Bill Murray gets Sigourney Weaver in Ghostbusters, Frodo gets Sam, WALL-E gets EVE … and so on.
(5 Ways Modern Men Are Trained to Hate Women |

No, I wouldn’t say all men are like this. But enough are that the phenomenom has a name: the “Nice Guy” (who may develop into a fullblown pick-up artist (PUA)). The “Nice Guy” is convinced that he deserves the woman he wants. So convinced that when he doesn’t get her, he’ll get justifiably angry because how dare she not give him what he’s earned: sexual satisfaction.

Ah, the Nice Guy®. Pity the Nice Guy®. No, please, pity him. He desperately wants you to. And while you’re pitying him, would it kill you to give him a mercy fuck? Whether or not he ever asks for it? Because, if not, he’s going to become an angry, embittered Nice Guy®, and that…well, that’s just pathetic.

I read four articles with Samantha Brick’s byline yesterday. (Whether they were actually written by her, representing what she wanted to communicate, is another matter I’ll deal with later.) One of them was how she’s used her personal charm to get promoted/get salary hikes at work:

For 16 years I worked in television. While women dominate many of the senior roles; it is men who are the gateway to million pound budgets, to salary hikes, to whether you succeed or not. Like it or not, the reality is this: they hold the purse strings of the broadcasting industry. Whether you are working for a guy in London or LA, they are one and the same.

They adore being flirted with, love to have their egos stroked and — above all else — they yearn for the attention of an attractive woman. I learned very early on in my career how to clock within seconds who the important male was in any room and pandered to him accordingly. And it paid off.

I have to admit that at this point I lost sympathy for her. She’s not a straightforward victim of Mail lies like Juliet Shaw and other “interviewees” over the years, nor of random snoopy journalism such as Hugh Grant described in December at the Leveson enquiry. The only person who has been made to look a prime fool by these “Samantha Brick” articles is herself.

But how far did she actually write the two articles? (Yesterday’s was about how being beautiful (which is to say: thin, white, blonde, and charming) has given her so much help from men and bile from women: today’s was about how the outpouring of hate from women just proves her point. The article didn’t mention that many of the negative and nastiest tweets were from men.) The photographs of Samantha Brick I have seen (and the latest one of her husband, in camouflage clothing and carrying a rifle) are all to a Daily Mail standard:

Of course, the spike meant that I didn’t get to the next phase of feature writing for The Mail – being styled and photographed. There is a tacit understanding (whether true or false in actuality) that the editor of The Daily Mail doesn’t like women to appear on the pages of the paper wearing either trousers or dark colours. Last time I was styled for them someone came round with a rack of red and purple evening dresses and lots of matching satin shoes. Just have a look at the paper and you’ll see that this is something of a theme.

If her style of behaviour towards men and towards women is as she described it in the bylined article about pandering to important men, most of the negative attention she’s received in person has probably been from other women. Not because of her good looks. But because she’s taking the sexist bias against hiring, promoting, and paying women and twisting it to her advantage by having herself stand out both as a woman who is potentially available (so not subject to vilification for being inaccessible) and not like these other women. The temptation of being re-categorised as better than an ordinary woman is one even a feminist can feel:

There are the insidious assumptions guiding our interactions—the supposition that I will regard being exceptionalized as a compliment (“you’re not like those other women”), and the presumption that I am an ally against certain kinds of women. Surely, we’re all in agreement that Britney Spears is a dirty slut who deserves nothing but a steady stream of misogynist vitriol whenever her name is mentioned, right? Always the subtle pressure to abandon my principles to trash this woman or that woman, as if I’ll never twig to the reality that there’s always a justification for unleashing the misogyny, for hating a woman in ways reserved only for women. I am exhorted to join in the cruel revelry, and when I refuse, suddenly the target is on my back. And so it goes.

One of my first jobs was with a company that had eight female employees and forty men. Everyone on the board of directors was a man: the most senior woman in the firm, the head of accounting, who had been with the company since it had been founded, shared an office with the receptionist and had never been invited to become a director. I was warned by one of the other women in the office which three women were having affairs with directors – the woman who was having an affair with the CEO regarded herself as the senior woman in the company, and I found would give instruction masquerading as “advice” on what the other female employees should wear and how we should behave.

A few months after I started working there, one of the directors sent a company-wide email: he had “scored last night” and there were cakes to celebrate in the second-floor office. I didn’t go. I found out later that he had “scored” with one of the other five female employees – and now she was, as a co-worker pointed out, “in” with the board of directors, invited to their Friday evening meetings in the boardroom that were half-party, half-film night.

At a company day out, the four of us women who were not having affairs with the board of directors got ourselves an hour’s sailing away from the rest of the group. I still remember how the fifth woman tried to get a place in the boat with us and we hastily told her there wasn’t room and went off without her. On the one hand: it was mean of us to leave her behind. On the other: we none of us wanted conversations about work to be overheard by someone who was now part of the office hierarchy. Put simply: we no longer trusted her. My guess is: Samantha Brick’s co-workers didn’t trust her, because they perceived her as siding with the boss – the “most important man in the room” – against them.

The net gain to the Mail of those two articles is considerable. The damage done to Samantha Brick is incalcuable. Undoubtedly they benefited more by hosting them than Brick did by writing them. But how far did she write them?

The quote above about Mail photography is from Anna Blundy’s experience. She writes further:

I won’t drag anyone else in here, but I have lots of journalist friends who have been invited to stitch themselves up, expose themselves far beyond what they intended and make themselves look stupid in words and pictures all for a bit of book publicity and a few hundred quid. I am not denying that we do this to ourselves, but the process is designed to produce an article that we did not initially know we were writing. It is a very complex deception. I now know that what they wanted from me was a piece saying; ‘How dare Janine di Giovanni and Alex Crawford leave their poor children to go away to war. They are women and should stay at home with the children.’ That’s not the piece I intended to write but that would have been the essence of the headline.

I am acutely aware that I will no longer be on the receiving end of that few hundred Associated Press quid and very welcome book publicity, but I have started to think that we shouldn’t do it and we shouldn’t keep quiet about it.

Just because our phones aren’t being hacked, doesn’t mean we haven’t been exposed and embarrassed in the press – we do it to ourselves without quite allowing ourselves to notice.

Another online friend noted that it seems to her (from reading through the same array of articles as I did, though she may have gone a bit further) that Samantha Brick is simply socially inept. She has never learned how to work with office politics or make friends. Brick references being teased and hurt as a child for being “fat”: regular targets of bullies find it difficult to form ordinary social relationships when they are constantly anticipating being bullied. By this estimation, Brick has never needed to learn normal methods of social relationships because she has always been able to manipulate “the most important man in the room” – she’s never felt she needed friends, buddies, workmates, support from co-workers, and has attributed this to her good looks rather than her social ineptness. It may be that she really didn’t realise what the effect on her reputation would be by having these articles published. Or that she didn’t realise exactly what the Daily Mail planned to do to her.

The Daily Mail wants your money, of course (and your clicks on its website by which it gets advertisers’ money) and despite the second article having the appearance of having been written in reaction to the response to the first, my guess is that both articles were planned from the start. The Daily Mail intended to expose and embarrass Samantha Brick and, having succeeded in doing so, came back for another go with the second article. And, insofar as I participated, I feel ashamed that I did.

Amanda Marcotte wrote in a response and critique to the article:

But I think misogyny is rooted in something else, something Wong does hint at before scrambling away to make more jokes about how women can’t know what it’s like to really feel sexual desire. It’s hard to talk about, because it cuts right to the bone in something humans don’t like to talk about, but it’s about the will to dominate. I think men become misogynists not because their intense horniness short circuits their brain. It’s because they feel entitled to have women in a submissive position to them. They want to live in a world where women are considered automatically dumber, where women are expected to clean up after them, wipe their brows, and kiss their asses, all with a smile on our faces and without asking much more in return but an occasional bit of jewelry and a door-opening, which is just as much about the man feeling more powerful as it is about being nice to the woman. They want to control women sexually, not because they’re more horny, but because sexual control is just one more form of control.

It’s not that the Daily Mail hates women. It’s just that misogyny sells.

Update: Other good responses

Update, 4th July

Samantha Brick on This Morning:

“I’m not a prude. I live in France. France is the home of erotic literature. In France if you refuse to give his conjugal rights to your husband you can be sued.”

Samantha criticised the widespread availability Fifty Shades of Grey, saying supermarkets and high street giants shouldn’t bbe selling explicit content where children could view it.

“Madonna released an explicit book in the Nineties that was sold on the top shelf of the supermarkets in a special cover. It was sealed and there was a warning on it.” …. But there is nothing stopping children and young teens picking up Fifty Shades, she said.

I’ve never read Fifty Shades of Grey but I have listened to Mark Oshiro reading from FSoG and it sounds hilarible. (WARNING. DO NOT LISTEN TO THIS AT WORK. NOT EVEN IF YOU HAVE HEADPHONES IN. MAY CAUSE UNCONTROLLABLE GIGGLING.)

Though Samantha Brick’s objections to porn readily available to 6-year-olds does not appear to extend to the newspaper/website that pays her:

Now look at this TWO page feature on side boobs in today’s Daily Mail (I no doubt expect it’ll appear in the Mail Online at some point):

I’m assuming this isn’t an article on breast feeding and the importance of?

The Daily Mail and Mail Online also continue to exploit paparazzi shots of females in bikinis, skin-tight leggings, crotch shots, the works. Soft porn, hard porn – who cares? Porn is porn. The Mail – and Dacre – cannot continue to support such a campaign without at least either: (a) dropping all articles which feature soft porn for middle class, (b) get all their publications listed in the online porn filter.

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Filed under In The Media, Women

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