It’s not often I get the opportunity to defend Lloyd Russell-Moyle, least of all from attack by a woman. Usually, it’s quite the other way around.
Journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer has unfairly suggested that Laurence Fox’s recent sexist rant on GB News against journalist (and Sussex University alumna) Ava Evans was no worse than Lloyd Russell-Moyle’s criticism of Suella Braverman’s speech about multiculturalism. In fact, Russell-Moyle’s comments were typically aggressive but, at least on this occasion, not misogynistic.
Calling a woman “a nasty piece of work”, as he did, is very different from the sex-specific insults and demeaning sexual comments used by Fox.
The first is rude, the second is sexist and, particularly in respect of Fox’s reference to “incels”, a potential incitement to violence, or at least harassment. Due to Fox’s remarks, Ava Evans has been subjected to a very predictable misogynist pile-on, involving threats of rape and other forms of violence. GB News was right to sack him.
Laurence Fox and others like him may huff and puff about free speech but I notice they are very careful not to break the rules on, for example, racist and other hate speech which for some while has had the potential to draw the attention of the police.
These men and their enablers, particularly at the BBC, present themselves as brave and independent free speech warriors but in truth take few real risks. They attack women and girls, knowing full well that criminal law does not protect them from sexist insults, public humiliation and even threats.
This is why comedian Russell Brand was able to flourish untouched for so long. And why he and his supporters now cry foul at a public backlash that has started to change media attitudes and perhaps suggests blatant sexism is gradually becoming socially unacceptable.
One of most unpleasant aspects of the response to allegations of sexual abuse against Russell Brand is that the complainants have been “slut-shamed” and “victim-blamed” by his apologists.
Journalists who should have known better, have criticised women for not informing police at the time of the alleged incidents, or have pontificated that the meticulous work of the investigative journalists should not have been published until a criminal a conviction had been secured. Others have sneered that some incidents were not sex crimes at all.
There are two major problems with this. The first is that it is extraordinarily difficult for any woman to make a successful complaint about major sexual crimes such as rape, still less more “minor” forms of insult or harassment.
Victims know that, however bad the assault, they are unlikely to be believed, will be put through a humiliating process of investigation and in the unlikely event of a case reaching court, will probably not see their abuser convicted.
Our deeply misogynistic policing and criminal justice system ensures that perpetrators are rarely punished.
The second major problem is that our society finds it easier to interpret male attacks on women as sexual rather than sexist, individual examples of sexual bad manners rather than deliberate acts of aggression towards a group of people abusers consider subordinate.
Most male attacks on women and girls, whether in private or in public, express contempt and are designed to humiliate and control. Sexual language and acts may be the means, but the purpose is the exercise of power.
If any other social group with “protected characteristics” were similarly targeted, these attacks would be acknowledged as hate crimes. However, women have no such redress.
In the UK, females are the only group whose immutable physical characteristics routinely put them at risk of discriminatory insult, harassment and assault, including homicide, by a physically different and stronger social group.
This being the case, it is extraordinary that hate crime legislation fails to acknowledge the threat to females, still less a need to develop strategies to protect them. As a consequence, sexism and sexist abuse flourish.
Successive governments have done little to effectively address male violence against women – and the attitudes of contempt which underpin it. Sex remains a protected characteristic under equalities legislation but, along with sexism, is given little if any attention in policy documents and equalities statements.
As the general election approaches, I call on our councillors, as well as local Members of Parliament, to acknowledge the terrible influence of sexism on our society and to develop anti-sexist strategies to combat it.
In addition, I hope they will do all they can to make sexist harassment, threats and incitement to sexist violence the crimes they should always have been.
Jean Calder is a campaigner and journalist. For more of her work, click here.