Of Fences: Those Who Live In Glass Houses

Right off the bat, let’s make one thing clear. I can’t think of a single situation in which I’d ever shout “fuck her right in the pussy” on the air; I wouldn’t even prank or sabotage a news broadcast, which is what this bizarre stunt was at heart. (At worst, it’s a misogynistic meme.) That said, Shauna Hunt works for an industry that does, from time to time, invades people’s privacy and says offensive things. The only difference is that they’re a for-profit organization, whereas the offenders in this instance were a bunch of drunken soccer fans. (Not for nothing are extreme fans overseas known as “hooligans.”)

Now that we’ve gotten that cleared up, here’s the article. Note the update toward the start that changes the entire context: the note that one of the men was fired from his job (as well as the potentially more injurious notice that the stadium had decided to ban them from future games). I don’t like where this precedent is heading. 

First off, even if you agree that this was an instance of sexual harassment–and I don’t, as it was directed at the gender-neutral camera, not the female reporter–we should perhaps consider the severity. It’s not an actual crime, but if you did look at it that way, this would be, at worst, sexual harassment in the third (or maybe even fourth) degree, first being an intentional act, designed to cause harm and which did indeed cause serious physical harm; second being an act that caused serious harm, regardless of intent; and third being an act that caused minor harm.

Second, even if you find that this is a serious offense, do you really want to allow businesses to hire and fire based on disgust or morality? Wouldn’t that allow them to actually further discriminate against women? It’s one thing to ask that employees behave themselves during office hours and within the office space; it’s another to hold them accountable for a Facebook picture in which someone has scribbled a penis on their forehead while they were passed out. What mater s most is whether they showed up for work ready and able to perform their duties in a respectful fashion.

Third, isn’t there something hypocritical about a stadium selling (for a massive profit) liquor to its fans and then punishing them for getting unruly? If they truly believe that everyone ought to be on their best behavior, they ought to use their stadiums only to organize massive drum circles. I thought one of the understood uses of sports was a means for people to transfer and release their aggression in a harmless way: why punish someone for getting a little bit carried away?

Finally, even if none of this bothers you, what about the fact that the man fired didn’t actually say “fuck her in the pussy,” but was merely one of the frat-pack of drunkards egging his friends on? Is he a misogynist by association, or because he defended his friend on the air? Hunt’s entitled to her opinion, but then again, so are the boys, and when she asks why they’d insult her and is told that it wasn’t directed at her, don’t we simply have to agree to disagree, or do we have to concede that if Hunt–or any woman–is offended by anything a person says, they must apologize for it? “It has nothing to do with you,” insist the men. “It’s disrespectful and degrading to me,” she insists. One of the men pipes in: “I don’t care.” Why is that not a valid response? Must we all care about everything?

Which brings me back to the start of this purposefully offensive think piece: Newspapers run plenty of pieces that are disrespectful and degrading to individuals (most recently, the New York Post took some flak for calling out the “loudest couple in Brooklyn“) and in panel interviews, they often cut off or ignore what their guests are saying, which is essentially an empowered “I don’t care.” However, when someone turns things around on the media–when they’re offensively pranked in a public space by members of the public–it’s the average guy who gets fired. When the paparazzo keeps pushing a celebrity until that person lashes out, it’s the celebrity who has to settle a lawsuit.

So let’s make sure the punishments fit the bill. Those who are rude in public should be publicly shamed (even though two wrongs don’t make a right): they should not end up one label over from a sex offender and in need of a new job. If there’s a context of constant catcalls that make this more of a trigger for some people, so too should there be a context in which we understand that drunk people sometimes make poor decisions and perhaps shouldn’t be goaded into conversation on live television. We should be trying to start a conversation with these uncivil people when they’re sober, and we should absolutely be making sure that they understand the pain this causes some people, even though that’s actually what eggs some of these people on (see: schoolyard bullies). The only thing I can guarantee that’s happened in this case is that a person who may or may not have been a misogynist before almost certainly now is, and isn’t likely to learn anything to the contrary. And here I thought the news was supposed to help educate people.

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