Belfast Telegraph

Society still far too tolerant of sexist attitudes toward women

By Joan Smith

Every time a public figure is exposed as a sexual predator - and it seems to happen with alarming frequency these days - the condemnation that follows is swift and merciless.

Men such as Rolf Harris and Jimmy Savile have been transformed overnight from popular entertainers into "perverts" and "paedophiles", heaped with as much calumny as they previously received plaudits.

The latest big name to undergo this process is Adam Johnson, who was characterised as a "Paedo in his Speedos" on the front page of a national newspaper last week, next to a picture of the disgraced footballer in a pair of swimming trunks. Whether it was an appropriate image to publish the day after Johnson was convicted of a sex offence against a 15-year-old girl (he was cleared of another charge) is another matter.

It is not clear whether the use of an explicit image was intended as mockery of Johnson's pride in his physique, or a reference to his reputation as a stud. But as is often the way, today's no-holds-barred condemnation of Johnson feels like an unconscious attempt to compensate for past ambivalence - to put it mildly - towards the player and his sexual history.

I am not defending Johnson, who was described by his own QC, Orlando Pownall, as "immature, arrogant (and) promiscuous", but not for the first time I am disturbed by an inexplicable (to me at least) tolerance of predatory attitudes towards women and girls.

Sunderland FC's officials dealt with Johnson every day. "The only time he had to fend for himself was on the field, cheered on by thousands of adoring fans," Pownall said during the trial.

Didn't the club notice his immaturity and arrogance, especially where sex was concerned? And weren't they worried by the vile misogyny of some Sunderland fans, who responded to news of his arrest in March last year as though it was a tribute to his sexual prowess?

Sunderland suspended him for all of two weeks, then allowed him to go on playing (and earning almost £3m) for the best part of a year. Only days before his trial, he was photographed signing autographs for young fans at the club's Stadium of Light. Johnson wasn't sacked until the first day of his trial, when he pleaded guilty to the two lesser offences.

Officials say that was the first they knew of his intention to enter the guilty pleas, but Durham police insist the club's chief executive, Co Armagh-born Margaret Byrne, was told at the time of his arrest that he had allegedly texted and kissed the underage girl.

The club knew a year ago about the serious nature of the charges, and it knew Johnson had a devoted following, including very young girls."I absolutely idolised Adam," his victim said in a statement after the trial.

Few teenagers are mature enough to understand that hero worship can be dangerous, which is why organisations such as football clubs have a responsibility towards fans. Johnson's victim has been viciously attacked on social network sites; she has been described as a "slag" and a "slut" and accused of trying to make money out of the player.

It's very similar to the abuse heaped on the woman assaulted by Ched Evans, the former Sheffield United player and Welsh international, who was convicted of rape four years ago. Evans has always maintained his innocence and his case has just been referred back to the Court of Appeal, but nothing can excuse the shrill misogyny of the campaign against his victim.

What lies behind all this, I think, is an inexcusable tolerance towards attitudes that demean women and are distasteful to more thoughtful, modern men.

Bragging about your sexual prowess - as Donald Trump did in a TV debate last week - isn't illegal and it doesn't make someone a sexual predator. But the fact that it didn't instantly destroy his credibility as a presidential candidate shows that primitive versions of masculinity still appeal to alarming numbers of people.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph