The differing responses to the Tony Jones and Stephen Colbert incidents has me wanting to take the keyboards away from the outrage police.
Sometimes I wish the outrage police could just take a day off. I’ll admit the Rebecca Judd thing doing the rounds on the internet was weird.
(ICYMI: TV host wishes weathergirl well before she chuffs off on maternity leave, when second TV host wanders in, attempts to do the same but adds a peck on the cheek and is rebuffed by weathergirl who seemingly wants nothing to do with him.)
It was weird, okay. Tony Jones looked awkward trying to kiss her and Rebecca looked awkward – and yes, a bit rude – in trying to avoid it. And yes, it’s her prerogative to say “I don’t want your lip print on my cheek” without being labeled cold, but at the same time, it did look pretty cold. Jones looked embarrassed, Judd was chastised by the anti-PC brigade, feminists got in her quarter and chastised the chastisers, and essentially it was your typical nutso day on the Internet – over what looked like the TV equivalent of an awkward dad trying to kiss his mortified daughter goodbye after dropping her off at the school gates.
With lawmakers, mostly male, still trying to tell women what they can and can’t do with their own reproductive systems, there are completely legitimate reasons for women to demand control over who touches their bodies. With domestic violence at a crisis point in this country, there is even more cause for women to tell blokes exactly where they can stick their hands or any other appendage. And there are legit reasons for women to cry foul at men being creepy in a professional context. Sexual harassment in the workplace runs the gamut from the pervy guy in IT to a full-scale Roger Ailes shitshow.
I don’t know what Rebecca Judd’s relationship is to Tony Jones. Maybe it’s the former, but I doubt very much it’s the latter.
I suspect it’s neither.
This wasn’t Chris Gayle level inappropriate or Sam Newman level misogynistic. It looked exactly like what it probably was: a colleague from one generation attempting to wish another colleague from a different generation well as she goes off to prepare for an exciting new chapter in her life.
I find it tricky, I guess, because my Dad is a kisser. He’s of a similar vintage to Tony Jones and I’ve told him, on occasion, he’s got to watch it because times have changed. He’s not pervy, he’s certainly not interested in controlling another woman’s body – he’s just affectionate by nature. He kisses women hello whether they’re my brothers’ girlfriends, his sister-in-law or a colleague. Some might find it inappropriate but it’s not meant that way, it’s meant as a sign of warmth and respect. I know this because I know him.
Plenty among us might feel it’s presumptuous of men like my Dad to think he has a right to kiss them on the cheek or pat them on the arm, that their bodies belong to them and they will decide who will and will not touch them. And yeah, essentially they’re right. But for men like Tony Jones, or my poor father, who has never disrespected a woman in his life, it all seems a bit much, doesn’t it?
It’s good that we question things that don’t smell right… But not all banter is sexist, patronising or inappropriate. Sometimes it’s an honest generational misunderstanding.
Whilst acknowledging that absolutely we have a culture of misogyny in this country, can we not – just occasionally – give a bloke a break? Sometimes the creep factor is maxed out 100 percent. But sometimes it’s just that someone is slightly – innocently – out of touch. Not every faux pas demands a write up from the outrage police.
The truth is, we don’t seem to care when the shoe is on the other foot.
Last week, White House Press Secretary CJ Cregg – I mean, actress Allison Janney – straight up stuck her tongue down Stephen Colbert’s throat on The Late Show. It was a sexy snog, lasting almost ten seconds, and it leaves Colbert lipstick-stained and utterly speechless, much the same as he was when Helen Mirren and Sally Field planted big wet ones on him earlier this year. But when Mirren admitted “I’ve been dreaming about kissing Stephen Colbert for fifteen years” there was no outrage, just cheers from the thrilled audience. Perhaps it’s because, as women of a certain age, Janney, Mirren and Field are deemed non-threatening, so it becomes sexy and empowering that they could have their way with a man.
But isn’t that idea equally insulting? Because whilst it is fun to watch a woman like that dominate a hapless bloke, it doesn’t change the fact that on all three occasions the kisses were unasked for and Colbert isn’t a character – he’s a TV host, (and FWIW a practicing Catholic,) as well as a married man with three kids. Where was the outrage for Colbert’s right to his own body? Or James Corden when Janney did the same thing to him when he presented her with a Critics’ Choice Award. By male standards, Janney would be labelled a serial pest, a creep. And if a man admitted to dreaming about kissing someone for fifteen years like Mirren did, we’d think he was an obsessive perve. Janney’s not a pest and Mirren’s not a perve: we recognise this absolutely, because when it’s a lady doing the manhandling we think it’s fun; we somehow manage to not lose our effing minds in a cacophony of political correctness.
It’s good that we question things that don’t smell right. If we can’t flat out kick misogynistic morons like Steve Price, Sam Newman and countless others to the curb, the least we can do is keep them in constant check. Because there are plenty of them around, these men who cry “banter” when they’re really being dickheads. But not all banter is sexist, patronising or inappropriate. Sometimes it’s an honest generational misunderstanding and sometimes it really is good, clean, fun – for both sexes. I’ve dealt with plenty of dickheads. And I’ve met a bunch of nice blokes who genuinely misread my vibe. Mostly I’ve had great relationships with men (professionally and personally) where we both knew the rules and we both pushed the boundaries – respectfully – on occasion.
As a society, we’re not there yet, but it’s what we should be aiming for. Because frankly, if women want to keep sticking their tongues ad hoc down Stephen Colbert’s throat (which, let’s face it, we do), then we need to give and take a little. Give the outrage police some time off…with Trump heading for the White House, a plebiscite on the way and Chris Gayle (maybe) coming back for another Big Bash, I guarantee it won’t be long before we need them again.