Posted by Galatea
[Image description: A GIF file of Professor Quirrel from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone running through the Great Hall screaming ‘TROLL! IN THE DUNGEON!’. This is possibly my favourite GIF ever.]
An opening caveat: if you happen not to have already read the article by Samantha Brick that was realeased on the Daily Mail website on Tuesday, do not, repeat, DO NOT go over there and read it. I mean it: sit on your hands, step away from the computer, install Kittenblock (a handy piece of software that re-routes all Daily Mail links to pictures of tea and kittens) if you have to.
The reason that I tell you this is because the Daily Mail are being trolls, fol de rol LOL, and we are all falling for it. My Facebook page and Twitter have been falling for it all week, I’ve had several heated arguments about it today and yesterday, and now apparently, courtesy of me, the Lashings blog is falling for it too. The reason I’d prefer you really didn’t go over there because of me is because the Daily Mail is getting advertising money for each person who clicks on their site – a total of £19 million in the year to October 2011 according to this Guardian article – and I really don’t want to be furthering their economic growth.
If you do really want to read the article for whatever reason, a cached version of it that will NOT give hits to the Daily Fail is available here: http://www.freezepage.com/1333534875NBQAQDMZOF (if it appears not to work, click on the first line that reads ‘Samantha Brick on the’).
(Courtesy of Annalytica: Here are some other ways of preventing giving ad revenue to the Fail)
Basically, it’s a story that was written by a journalist named Samantha Brick describing a) the ways in which she feels that she has been judged, bullied and put down by other women because of her attractive appearance, and b) the gifts, special attention and general happytimes that she feels she has received from men because of her attractive appearance.
This has led to an epic commentsplosion (followed by linksplosions, Tweetsplosions, and no doubt other types of outcry that I can add the suffix '-splosion' to to follow), dominated by commenters calling Brick out for being shallow, smug and not, in their (the commenters’) opinions, as attractive as she perceives herself to be.
Several rather good reflective pieces have already been written on this shitstorm:
As Lindy West at Jezebel points out, this is not just trolling, but divide-and-conquer on a grand scale:
The Daily Mail is a large-scale professional troll, and this article is troll-bait of the highest order—a master stroke of carefully orchestrated misogyny. It basically screams, "HERE, TROLLS! DON'T YOU HATE THIS AWFUL BITCH? LOOK, SHE THINKS SHE'S BETTER THAN YOU BUT SHE ISN'T EVEN PRETTY!" It begs women to go all mean-girl on her (every woman I spoke to succumbed to the temptation immediately), gives men a pass to comment on the relative value and fuckability of her body, and encourages both sexes to eviscerate, body-shame, and judge Brick with impunity because her ideas are so repellant.
However, I’m not just interested in this as a one-off piece of nastiness (and I'm so, so very not interested in whether anybody thinks Brick is attractive or not), but as part of a larger pattern that I’ve been observing in the Daily Fail. I will now confess to being somewhat fascinated with the oeuvre of one Liz Jones (here is a link to her Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liz_Jones), who wrote/writes very similar stories – in Jones’ case, revolving around issues such as her dislike of children, her attempts to steal her partner’s sperm (yes, srsly; no, I don’t get it either), and occasions when the poor people around her countryhouse in Exmoor were nasty to her (all clean links via DailyVeil). As a friend observed today on Facebook re: Brick, why would someone write articles in which they themselves come off so badly? Why would a newspaper publish them?
Well, in light of the hit-revenue that’s being generated, the answer seems fairly obvious from the newspaper’s point of view – we are forwarding this stuff around to one another as fast as our fingers can press ‘Share’, after all. With regard to Brick and Jones themselves and why they would choose to write about themselves in this way, I’ve heard lots of people attempt to frame answers in psychologised terms – particularly with regard to Jones, who has been open about her experience as a sufferer of an eating disorder. The narrative seems to go that writers such as Brick and Jones are in some way deluded or affected by mental illness in a way that prevents them from being fully aware of what they’re writing, that they don't know what they're doing, and that the Daily Mail is being actively exploitative (of them as ill individuals) in publishing their writing. Deborah Orr, for example, refers to Jones as a ‘very gifted writer and apparently very flaky human being’. This narrative makes a lot of intuitive sense, and may very well be quite close to the truth – although it also swims unpleasantly close to pushing the idea that people with mental illnesses cannot ever be held responsible for the things that they say and/or should not be allowed to publish their work in public fora.
However. I’d also like to consider the possibility that Brick and Jones may know exactly what they are doing, or at least may be more aware of what they’re doing than the ‘flaky human being’ hypothesis necessarily suggests. Jones, at least, was deputy-editor of the Times lifestyle magazine in the 90s, and briefly editor of Marie Claire, and it tends to be difficult to get to either of those positions if you genuinely demonstrate the lack of insight that her writing for the Mail suggests (I’m less sure about Brick, as I don't know much about her beyond the lack of professionalism of her website). If we move away from considering the confessional column as a strictly autobiographical format, then (to my mind) the personae that these two writers create suddenly become a lot more interesting. To what extent is the ‘Liz Jones’ seen in her Daily Mail columns – needy, complaining, frequently hateful, apparently unable to recognise why she is disliked by others – a reflection of Liz Jones the human being, and to what extent is it a fictional construct created to make a point, to convince us, the readers, of something?
And what do Brick’s and Jones’s columns convince us of, exactly? That the 'Jones' and 'Brick' being held up for our inspection are, erm, not very nice people? Yes, certainly. But also, potentially, that their voices don’t need to be listened to – that they are delusional, ‘crazy’, ‘sad old women’, all of which are terms I’ve actually read people using to describe Jones over the year or so I’ve been following her career. That the choices they have made were somehow wrong choices, and that they thus deserve both their own unhappiness and our opprobrium. This... worries me. It worries me because of the relative lack of input from women of around Brick and Jones’s age in public discourse in general, and the easy way in which I can picture others being painted with the same brush. It worries me because if you're female, any choice that you make will at some point be considered a wrong choice by somebody.
(Re the intersection of ageism and sexism, BTW: I fully expect that the day I stop being a silly ditzy little girl whom nobody should listen to will be the selfsame day that I become a stupid ugly old bat whom nobody should listen to. If I’m really lucky, possibly I’ll even get some overlap.)
I can also imagine that having Jones and Brick to use as stalking horses is probably a very useful thing for anyone who’s interested in defending the status quo – Jones’ unhappiness in having chosen her career over the possibility of children confirms the stereotype of the ‘bitter old spinster’, Jones’ status as ex-anorexic plus her negative comments on her own and other women’s bodies confirms the idea that people with mental illnesses are ‘broken’ for life and cannot ever hold reliable opinions, Brick’s latest provides 'evidence' that other women are indeed 'our own worst enemies', irredeemably bitchy to anyone who is prettier than ourselves... all of these things would be gifts to anyone looking to shore up prejudiced or misogynist ideas, and I’m sure they already have been. As Mary McGill comments, 'Aren't women just so catty? Thank goodness there aren't more of them in government!'. And of course, a lot of people have indeed been having considerable fun taking pot-shots at Brick's appearance – after all, she's the one who put the issue on the table! any nasty comments are therefore her own fault! – in a way that seems to ignore the fact that unsolicited commentary on one's face and body is the rule, rather than the exception, when any woman gives an opinion in a public forum.
So. I don't know which idea troubles me more – Jones and Brick as pitiful individuals who are actually as unhappy, hateful and full of self-loathing internalised misogyny as their writing suggests, or Jones and Brick as reasonably self-aware but deeply evil professional writers who are deliberately constructing and selling their images as 'awful bitches' in order to earn money by providing the Fail with what it wants: a narrative providing evidence that women (especially older/single/childless ones who have opinions) are basically Appalling Human Beings. Without knowing either Brick or Jones for myself, I certainly can't say one way or the other for sure. I *would* really, really like to know how much the Daily Mail is paying them and other similar columnists for their work, and to what extent they are being encouraged to play up the ‘delusional’ sides of their confessional writing – not merely because it translates into website hits and book deals, but because providing a voice that actively devalues women’s contribution to popular discourse is actually a very valuable service to the patriarchy.
For these, and a whole lot of other reasons, once more, I beg you... the next time someone links you to such a thing, please don’t click through to the Daily Fail!