Sunday, 4 March 2012

Run-of-the-mill?

A recent report by Stephen Evans on the Radio 4 “From our own correspondent” programme made me think about women and hate speech. In a piece on the strained relations between Greece and Germany due to the controversial bailout package, he mentioned an incident concerning Angela Merkel and a Greek radio presenter, which resulted in a 25,000 Euro fine. Evans’ take on the events, however, seemed to question whether it was really all that bad.

According to Evans’ introduction, the abusive term was “something which ought to be pretty unbroadcastable” (Radio 4 2012, min 25:10-25:13) which immediately makes the listener wonder whether Ms Merkel might have unduly kicked up a fuss. If the word (although we are never enlightened as to what ‘it’ actually is) had been truly offensive, it surely would have been presented as ‘should be’ or simply ‘is’ rather than ‘ought to be’: “used to refer to possible, rather than actual, events” (OD 2012) and ‘pretty’, as in ‘fairly’, unbroadcastable after all.

This line of reasoning is further encouraged as Evans goes on: “if your mother were called it, you might square up for a fight” (Radio 4 2012, min 25:13-25:17). This both diminishes the importance of the abuse by bringing it down to a childlike (or more correctly: childish) level as well as excludes all women, whether they are mothers or not, from taking offence on their own behalf. It is not she who ‘might square up for a fight’ but ‘you’ in defence of her honour. And even such recourse seems hardly expected, as ‘you’ (the boy child?) only might, but not necessarily will, put up a fight.

But what about Angela Merkel herself? How does she feel about the abusive term directed at her? Does she feel anything at all? Or is she just like Evans: “rather relieved that it was just a run-of-the-mill sexual slur and not a true no-no referring to the Nazis” (Radio 4 2012, min 25:17-25:29)? But what exactly makes a sexist slur ‘run-of-the-mill’? Are sexist slurs run-of-the-mill for women too, or just for men (such as Evans)? And why is referring to the Nazis ‘a true(r) no-no’? What is the difference between the two? Is not all hate speech just that: hate speech?

It seems (even on Radio 4!) hate speech directed at women is nothing much to shout about, especially not by (this) male correspondent(s). However, only those unconcerned by its implications have the luxury of considering it ‘ordinary’ – for those it addresses it is an entirely different matter after all. Until sexism is no longer considered ‘run-of-the-mill’, maybe it’s callous male commentary on women’s treatment that should be the ‘true no-no’ for a start.

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