Grace Dent Bites Back

It is a truth universally acknowledged: when a man insults a woman’s looks, the woman’s only safe response according to the cultural mores is silence. She isn’t supposed to defend herself by pointing out that she’s not ugly, nor that women are valued and judged by appearance in a way that men aren’t: she’s not supposed to have any self-defense move at all. If someone (especially a man) overhears the insult, it’s acceptable for a male friend or partner to step in and defend the woman himself: but if no man does… well, open season on her.

Last night Grace Dent (who breakfasts like a champion) was seen on Have I Got News For You by a young man, Mufadal Jiwaji, who has worked as a graduate trainee at Public Relations firm Hill+Knowlton Strategies since January 2012. One of the H+K clients is Grace Dent.

Now you understand this if you’re a man: you see a woman on TV, you judge her by her appearance, and you feel free to express yourself in whatever terms occur to you. There should be no comeback for doing this. It’s your natural right as a man.

The Twitter exchange in which Mufadal does not apologise
Note that it does not occur to Mufadal to apologise

What’s not fair is that you might have to consider that you now work for a Public Relations firm. Indeed your twitterprofile describes you as a PR professional. Therefore it’s probably not a good idea to take advantage of your male privilege to judge women and call a woman you don’t like an “ugly horse” – still less to copy her in, just for that brief bully-buzz it gives you that she might actually see your insulting her appearance and know that you, a man, judged her, a woman.

The woman you insult might be currently a client of the agency that employs you. (Or, ahem, they might be influential bloggers with over 150,000 followers on Twitter.) A young man who makes a mistake like that deserves our sympathy.


Sue Keogh at WallBlog asks dryly:

So should Jiwaji keep his job? On one hand, it was a throwaway, off-duty remark. On the other…well would you feel happy if one of your staff was sending abuse to one of your clients? As someone on the graduate scheme at Hill+Knowlton, if he didn’t know much about PR before he’s about to get a good lesson…

This Week suggests quite kindly that it could be Mufada just didn’t understand:

Perhaps not being as au fait with the medium of Twitter as he claimed – by sending a tweet with Dent’s Twitter handle at the front of it he ensured it would arrive in her Connect inbox – Jiwaji certainly wasn’t expecting to receive the following response from the writer minutes later:

“@Mufadal Hi there Mufadel. How much do you like your job at Hill and Knowlton?”

Which appears to have given Mufada a thoroughly bad night, and doubtless a very nasty half an hour with his manager the next morning. He will either change twitter accounts to something more anonymous or become a better man.

There is no evidence that Grace Dent actually did get in touch with his employers – her response this morning was:

“hello- late Sunday I had a small war of words with someone. For us, it blew over v quickly. He apologised, I saw the silly side…

…Not a lot more to it We both moved on+ saw the humour in it 24 hrs ago. There’s not really any more story…

…sorry not to explain sooner. I was working all day yesterday and so was he. Gxx”

I do understand the awful worry that Mufadal Jiwaji must have lived through last night. (Though I noticed he was sufficiently together to tweet self-pityingly about Milton.) Fear of losing his job and his newfound career in PR just because the woman he insulted turned out not to be the usual passive target of his hostility.

Thinking about him with all the compassion and human feeling I can muster: I hope he was absolutely terrified.

But if you’re a man comfortable in your certainty that a woman ought not to be able to make a man desperately afraid just because he insulted her, your reaction is:

Tut, tut, Grace. Next time a young man abuses you, remember you’re supposed to take it like a woman.

But from all of us who’ve been there:

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Filed under In The Media, Unanswerable Questions, Women

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