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bang on brand.

I can only ever be myself. In the past, this has got me into trouble. On the whole, society doesn't like gobby women. It prefers its women tame. Biddable. Good sports, preferably photogenic with perky tits. And this preference for intellectually spayed women extends to women themselves. We tut at those sisters with things to say, experiences to share. We're viscerally angered by those sisters who try to warn us about men who would harm us ~have harmed us ~ viewing them as opportunistic little spoilsports who can't take a joke.

So colour me spoilsport.

To say I have been dismayed by the continued support for arch-manipulator, wannabe cult-leader and self-styled sex-pest Russell Brand is one thing. To note how many of these supporters are bright, engaged, socially aware, big-hearted WOMEN, chills me.

I had coffee with one of the best people I know, Liz, the other day. I felt trepidatious bringing the subject of Brand up, but I found my peace of mind ruffled by the situation all week. Noticing how his follower numbers on socials hadn't even taken a dip, conscious of the fact that I often wrong-foot myself by seeking debate on subjects that are, by unspoken consensus, closed to it, I wasn't sure how my upset would be received.

Now, you may be thinking why. Why does something which has nothing to do with me stoke my ire quite so much? Simple. I'm a feminist, so it has everything to do with me. But it's fair to ask if I'm just another dupe, a dumb muppet devoid of reasoning power who believes everything the mass media tells her.

I like to think not. As I've said before in a previous post, I'm a marketer's worst nightmare ~ immune to flattery, hysteria, sound bites and soft focus. It's an upside of my suspected autism, as is pattern spotting, and it doesn't take Grayson Perry to notice Brand's pattern of abuse had a very short repeat.

Notice I use the past tense. Seemingly, Brand's predations all took place at the height of lad culture in the 00s. Phew, so that's all right then. No need to hold him to account ~ he was only acting in accordance to standards of a bygone era. Just as long as those applying this reasoning go as easy on those deeply offensive Boomers and members of the Silent Generation who still fuck up their pronouns or bring cheese to a vegan picnic. We'll just have to cancel 'em until they learn, right?

Yet, on social media at least, there seems to be strong resistance to Brand's cancellation. Despite extensive footage of him enjoying the public discomforture of women, despite a message sent from his own phone apologising for being "crazy and selfish" (the new definition of rape, in case you were wondering), despite him being labelled Shagger of the Year on more than one occasion, none of this is enough for well-educated, liberal-minded people to call time on this bewigged shark of a grifter. It feels as if actual deliberate sexual assault against multiple women over many years isn't as offensive as accidentally misgendering someone once on a night out.

Perhaps these independent thinkers are operating from a place of right and proper rage against trial-by-media. I too feel the weariness. I too get a flutter of anxiety when I see democratic processes crumbling under the undue process of the court of popular opinion. Innocent until proven guilty, right?

Which brings me to Phillip Schofield.

"I'm puzzled," I said to Liz. "Other than consensually shagging a lad at the icky far-end of a relationship age-gap, what was he guilty of? What has he actually done?"

We refilled our coffee as we gave things a good think.

"Er. He didn't tell us?" Liz offered, at length.

"So-o-ooo. Formerly beloved telly presenter is comprehensively cancelled, thrown under the bus by his "best friend", ditched by his management, screwed over by his production team, driven to the point of a mental breakdown, seen his career reduced to confetti, because he had an affair without telling anyone? I mean, is that not rather the whole point of an affair, the not-telling bit?"

"Oh, and he pissed off Eamonn Holmes."

"Holmes has a bad back, he's always crabbit. Okay. Schofield could be tricky to work with, had an affair. Anything else?"

Liz shrugged.

"Oh, come on," I urged. "There must be something more. Something that could ... I dunno. Stand up in a court of law?"

"Suede chelsea boots. With everything."

"Serious, yes, but enough to ruin a man? Surely there's at least one rape accusation? An unasked-for fingering? Tell me there's historic evidence of emotional abuse, public humiliation and bullying broadcast by mainstream media outlets and replayable for evidential use should this open secret of sexual abuse ever come before a judge?"


"So, then ... Are we saying Schofield was cancelled for being gay?"

"And not telling anyone," Liz repeated, now feeling on solid ground. "Apparently, he lied about the affair."

"On account of it being no one's business."




Whether you're a fan of Schofe or not, however you cut it, what happened to him was a homophobic witchhunt dressed up as "the public's right to know". We all know that's a crock of sticky stuff, that actually it has nothing to do with truth and integrity and everything to do with mouthwatering Victorian prurience. Titillation. And an absolute, fucking disgrace whipped forward by the media and our own insatiable appetite for gossip.

In view of this, a reluctance to engage online with the hoo-ha surrounding Brand makes sense. We're tired and anxious. Nothing seems reliable anymore. We want the culturally firmer footing we had pre- social media and the voracious 24/7 news cycle eating its own tail. It's this lack of certainty that's driving us to become ever more polarised. We're in a perpetual search for solid ground, ground in which we can stake a flag and be relatively confident it won't shift until we decide to move it for ourselves.

But. Remaining a follower of Brand is the wrong hill on which to plant that noble flag of self-determination. Why? Because anyone with an ounce of cognitive ability cannot fail to watch the Channel 4 Dispatches Russell Brand: In Plain Sight documentary and come away other than thinking "There's a man who has no concept of what 'no' means. Allegedly." Because that's important, that. Allegedly. The documentary is full of actual footage showing Brand making women very, very allegedly uncomfortable. There's even that text ~ confirmed as sent from Brand's phone, remember ~ apologising for allegedly raping one of the claimants.

It's curious to me that the whole innocent-until-proven-guilty mantra doesn't wash if you're one of the victims ... Sorry, alleged victims. For the comments on Brand's social media accounts make it blisteringly clear that these women are filthy with the guilt of:

  • lying

  • seeking their ten minutes of fame

  • money-grabbing

  • being unable to take a joke

  • acting the vengeful bitch

  • being frigid

  • all of the above.

And we don't need proof to know that this is true, because in some of the documentary clips we can see women laughing along and having quite the splendid time as Brand leers and paws at them with his trademark priapic speculation. Gosh, how they giggle! Their delight in bagging this Top Trumps dinner party anecdote! Only, ladies, we know don't we? We know what happens when we don't chuckle.

One evening after school, in my mid-teens, I went to a classmate's house. I say classmate, because at that particular time I didn't have anyone I could call a friend ~ I hadn't yet worked out how to make that happen outside of a happy accident. This social naivety made me susceptible to being used, and so it turned out on this occasion.

While I thought I was there to hang out, the real reason for my presence became clear. To my dismay, this classmate had invited her boyfriend too. I was there for no other reason than to be a human prophylactic in a Harrington jacket for the benefit of her parents. Even more wretched, her boyfriend had brought along his mate. Oh, the horror! This type of surprise is never, ever, welcomed by me in any context ~ I need a heads-up for surprise guests attending a coffee morning, you can't just spring them on me and expect a smooth social experience or, worse, gratititude.

Yet there is an expectation when such introductions are made, that a woman should be pleased at the prospect of filling the next few hours managing her body language, monitoring her tone, being funny but not too funny, clever but not too clever, and generally pandering to the entitlement and assumptions of the spotty male foisted on her to make up numbers. As was the case here.

It was a firm no from me. This lad ~ let's call him Adey, which may or may not have been his real name (it was) ~ swiftly became hostile when I failed to respond to his mating ritual of shoulder barging and insulting me as a "titless womble".

Let's take a breather here. Right now, from the vantage point of menopause, I'd give anything to be a titless womble; it would be lovely to wear fitted shirts again. As a 50-something who's put up with some shit name-calling over the intervening years, I feel I've gained enough space to award this silly little boy a grudging seven out of ten for originality and factual accuracy as was. As a teenage girl, however, I felt only the threat of him creeping into the short, fine hairs on the nape of my neck.

I should have laughed. Been excessively admiring. Defused the situation somehow. But I didn't know I had to. So Adey's jokes went unapplauded, his pokes and prods unappreciated, while his friend stoked his grievance by messily snogging my classmate as performance art. Eventually, poor Adey took the only recourse open to him and punched me in the side of the head, very hard indeed.

I guarantee that most women have warded off the bad outcome of a man's unwanted advances by smiling as if her life depended on it, which of course it does. How does the catcall go? Ah, yes. "Smile, love, [then] it may never happen." We might like to watch the Russell Brand documentary again with that in mind.

By continuing to support Brand, whether by subscribing to his platforms or following him on social media, we're perpetuating the misogyny with which society still views women despite a by now well-practised lip service. This wait-and-see approach while lofty in its aims, while seemingly just and appealing to our self-identity as calm, rational and wise, looks more and more like good people doing nothing. It looks like classic Establishment behaviour, rather than the radical action that "free-thinker" Brand espouses.

These days, it's hard to find an act more radical than supporting women, so wouldn't it be revolutionary to recognise our inaction not as the neutral decision we may believe it to be, but as Brand's tacit acquittal in the court of public opinion that we're so keen to distance ourselves from? A neutral stand would be to suspend public support, unfollow, refuse to feed the algorithmic beast of polarisation. Think about it. By genuinely withholding judgement in this way, we could bring about anarchy.

So let's not express our resentment of feeling controlled by a self-serving, deeply corrupt government and a morally devoid Fourth Estate as support in the form of likes, subscription and follows for a narcissistic predator. Two very different things that we need to be mindful of conflating.

I appreciate Brand has a type of messianic charisma some find appealing. Everyone loves the hope afforded by a glow-up, and it's hard to beat the messaging delivered by a switch from black denim and leather to linen in light, neutral tones. It's right out of the Damascene Conversion Handbook, though being supported by prominent figures from the alt-right perhaps less so.

Let's be clear. Russell Brand is no different from any other abuser the wellness industry attracts. Bikram, Jois, Desikachar, Bhajan, Desai, Vishnudevananda, for example ~ the yoga world is a reliable factory for producing handsy cult leaders. These people hide behind their "spirituality" in the same way Brand hides behind his breathless shtick of stringing long words together. The speed of delivery, the almost euphoric urgency ~ anyone listening has the air punched from their lungs, leaving them too stunned and doubting their own intellect to respond. It's not dissimilar to the loud flash and bang used by magicians to distract their audience from seeing what's really happening.

Call me an old cynic, but to me this seems blindingly obvious.

Look, I clearly don't like Russell Brand. I never have. Every fibre, every instinct in my body has always seen him as something dangerous, an opportunistic vampire bold enough to hide behind Top Shop crucifixes and a hail of silver rhetoric. However, that's personal. I'm not asking folk to believe Brand is guilty. All I'm asking is that we suspend disbelief of his victims' claims, that we bestow upon these women the exact same grace of innocent-until-proven-guilty we bestow on self-confessed sex addict Brand.

Here's the thing. If this goes to court and Brand is found innocent, his reputation will recover. Men never fall for long. And if people are fretting that his income may be unfairly hit in the meantime, I'm sure this anti-capitalistic multi-millionaire will have enough down the back of the sofa to keep him in baked beans until his acquittal.

Remember. Let's not conflate our well-placed fear and distrust of deeply problematic structures of culture and society with the self-serving conspiracy theories of a deeply problematic man.

So endeth the lesson.

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