Despite the ongoing election campaign and escalating impeachment hearings in the United States, one story really gripped the nation this week: Prince Andrew and that Newsnight interview.
Newsnight’s lead presenter Emily Maitlis conducted a veritable masterclass in interviewing as the Queen’s third child – and purported favourite – blithely and obliviously told the world “his side of the story” in relation to his friendship with the late paedophile Jeffrey Epstein. In what could hardly be described as a heated exchange, he managed to ignore Maitlis’s various attempts to draw out any semblance of regret or contrition. Instead, there were no words of sympathy or sorrow for Epstein’s victims and not even the slightest bit of remorse for the friendship in the first place. All in all it was a complete and unadulterated disaster.
Reaction came thick and fast: the show’s viewers took to Twitter in their droves to marvel over his various quotes, each more preposterous than the last, from his memorable March 2001 trip to Pizza Express in Woking to a physical inability to sweat. Over the ensuing days, the Duke of York subsequently lost various charitable patronages and several big brands withdrew their support from his Pitch@Palace initiative for entrepreneurs. He has even stepped back from public life. However, by far the most baffling of the various reactions to the interview came from writer Toby Young.
In his regular column for The Spectator magazine, Young opined on the fact that Prince Andrew’s calamitous on-camera conduct was in fact due to his choice of wife. No, really. Young’s point is that his own wife is an excellent sense-checker for his own male ego and sharp tongue, which have often proved to be a lethal combination. That Prince Andrew isn’t married to “someone level-headed and sensible”, like Toby Young is, should not deprive the man of exercising some degree of better judgement than that on display throughout the course of last week’s interview. It isn’t for women to “get men to be better”.
Men should be able to do that all on their own. As Grazia’s Rebecca Reid put it: “We’re supposed to look after men, to the point of saving them, and if they cannot be ‘saved’ then that’s our fault.” The independence that women show, any sense of individuality, can be used to blame women for what men do. Particularly, what men do to them.
Take the horrible case of the Grace Millane murder trial this week. The legal team for the defence attempted to get the jury to believe that because Millane was interested in BDSM, she was somehow a willing participant in her own murder.
It is just the latest example of a woman’s sexual history – indeed, a woman’s audacity to be a sexual being and to even have sexual preferences – being used against her. Natalie Connolly’s death at the hands of her boyfriend John Broadhurst in 2016 led to the creation of the We Can’t Consent To This campaign, which records a current tally of 59 women killed by partners who claimed it was as a result of a sex game gone wrong.
Along similar lines, a regular refrain about women who are the victims of sexual violence has been that “she was asking for it”. That some men seem to think a woman’s sartorial choices indicate that she’s up for a battering or even death is what needs to be examined and pored over in detail – not the woman’s sexual behaviour and preferences are an indication of her desire to risk death. I think it’s safe to say in the vast majority of instances, her preference would be to stay alive.
But we also need to examine another other prevailing attitude in our society: that men are so easily led into all of this trouble by these Medusa-like manipulating seducers.
(Wouldn’t that be great if women actually had the ability to get men to do their bidding? Just think of all the equilibrium we would see in the world: all employers would understand the importance and value of considered parental policies where no one’s career would suffer as a result of the birth of their child and the fight for equal pay would be a laughable debate of the past.)
The woman should have stopped him from doing this, should have made him see sense; shoulda woulda coulda. The fact is that Prince Andrew is a fully grown adult male: he alone is responsible for his actions, his words and his decisions. As a working royal he also had a team of advisors to talk about that interview – although his most senior adviser quit after his plea for the prince to not do the interview was ignored.
We will never know if the Duke of York’s fate would have been different if he’d had a wife at the time of the Newsnight interview – if this fantasy woman would have kept him on the straight and narrow.
At the end of the day, even though a bloke messed up, people are still talking about how really it was up to a woman to prevent this catastrophe. Why can’t it just never be about the man and his own shortcomings?
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