Harriet Walker: Roll up, roll up, the Samantha Brick saga shows that woman-baiting is back in fashion

Samantha Brick is a puppet for a male hegemony that derives its power from the myth that women don't like each other

Share
Related Topics

Journalist Samantha Brick reportedly made more than £30,000 for the Daily Mail on Tuesday, and made herself a laughing stock in the process. An article she wrote, describing the cattiness and isolation that she, as an attractive woman, had experienced at the hands of her less fortunate peers, became an internet sensation: boggled at over breakfast, tittered at on Twitter, gawped at and googled.

More than 1.5 million people read it, and thousands poured forth their scorn and contempt on social media platforms, while the newspaper raked in the cash from the extra clicks. (Taking all ad revenues into account, pundits estimate the Mail may have picked up £100,000 from the tumultuous exposure.) And it recommissioned Brick for a second piece yesterday, selling her subsequent grief in all its body-con, cap-sleeved glory on the masthead, drawing us all in again while cunningly allowing the circus to repitch its tents and lay into her once more. "The beautiful backlash", they called it. But it's more like communal whiplash.

A glutton for punishment perhaps; woefully misguided, certainly. Doing it for the money? You bet. But Samantha Brick's message and martyrdom go right to the very heart of a patriarchal culture that we normally just put up with, one that makes everyone a little less well-disposed toward one another. Bear-baiting and cockfighting might be illegal, but woman-baiting is not, and certain institutions are content to cynically set up and sell ringside seats to the most horrid and vitriolic of catfights.

Samantha Brick's rather bald assertion of her own beauty wouldn't have gone down well over a glass of wine with her friends (who have all deserted her because of her "lovely looks" anyway, she claims), let alone across the worldwide web. But that was precisely the point. We didn't used to have so specific a term for how the Daily Mail operates, but now we do: it's trolling. The internet is full of trolls, lurking on messageboards and in the "comments" sections, leaving little titbits of poison for others to become enraged by and react to. Normally they come out in response to an article, but this time Samantha Brick trolled us all first, and we trolled her right back. And the newspaper raked in the cash.

Women don't take well to other women with a superiority complex. Men don't like it much either. Somewhere between the double-bind of false modesty and fragile self-perception, the code that has emerged is one where you bat away compliments as if they were venomous mosquitoes and you never, ever big yourself up. This is the way it works – and it's actually one of the few arenas in which female received behaviours match those of men. It's simple manners, it's sprezzatura: be nice to other people and don't go on about how great you are, even if you're personally convinced of it.

Brick is clearly an insecure and socially inept sort of person; she's also patently not as beautiful as she thinks she is. But that's the point: Brick is a witless puppet for a male hegemony that derives its power partly from the myth that all women everywhere are endlessly patronising and hurting each other. That women don't like each other, especially if one happens to be more attractive, is "a taboo that needed shattering", says Brick. But the real maxim begging to be flouted here is that women – both the bullies and the bullied in this scenario – are set up for this kind of fall again and again.

Men don't tend to write about themselves in newspapers. They ponder the state of the nation and the ways of the world, all the books they've read and the music that they listen to. With women, it works rather differently. Female writers often look to their own lives and experiences rather than sounding off about abstract concepts. And many women in the media tend to become personalities, their articles extensions of that. Fashion editors get dressed up and pose every week, mothers write about their children, Liz Jones tell us about her own rather singular existence, which becomes more bizarre with every sentence she pens.

They're much more likely to be subject to character assassinations because of this – but that has become the system we work by, and we don't question why the men aren't getting the same sort of flak. "Why must women be so catty? Men wouldn't be bothered by this, I'm sure," snorted one commentator on a radio chatshow about Brick. Yet many of those who were most acerbic about her on Twitter were men: public figures, comedians, TV stars and the like.

Generally though, men are immune to this kind of baiting; they are not subject to anywhere near as much scrutiny as women are, either in terms of their appearance or the way they relate to each other. If a woman is sloppily dressed or fat, she can't be taken seriously; if she's beautiful, she's a harpy; if she's sexy, she's up for it. The constraints are so embedded now that we take the bait without realising it's a trap. And the newspaper that perpetuates it all rakes in the cash.

h.walker@independent.co.uk

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£16000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SEO Executive is required to...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £38,000

£16000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to continued expansion, an ...

Ashdown Group: Senior .Net Developer - Kingston Upon Thames, Surrey

£65000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A long-established, tech...

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Election catch-up: It looks more and more as if we should get used to Prime Minister Miliband

John Rentoul
 

i Editor's Letter: Most powerful woman in British politics

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders