It might just be me but has anyone else noticed that Rebekah Brooks’ hair gets redder and redder, even when it’s just file footage? I’ve been wondering about this. It feels symptomatic of something being not quite right about the whole phone hack, Sun, News of the World scandal. The giddy urgency with which NewsCorp and Brooks are being pursued is distasteful to me, especially in light of the NSA doing much the same thing on a grander scale. One conspiracy is pursued by a ginormous private institution and one conspiracy is pursued by a ginormous public institution: the difference is not much, perhaps only that one conspiracy has a red headed woman to direct blame toward, while the other is mired in the foggy separation of powers and might involve bagging Barack Obama.
The eagerness with which Brooks is reviled and denigrated as being Rupert’s girl is more than distasteful; it is a practice of everyday misogyny that lies at the heart of our understanding of how the world works. Plenty of good people have turned their legitimate objections to Newscorp (and, obviously, Rupert) into a banal representation of the scarlet woman. That Brooks had an ongoing relationship with Coulson might be evidence of something in court but in the news it is just another means by which professional women are rendered tools for men’s rhetoric, and objects for their gaze.
Plenty of right thinking people cheered as Julia Gillard stood in Parliament and justly savaged the then Opposition Leader for his “misogyny, sexism, every day.” Plenty of blokes watched and cheered and slapped their thigh as if watching a good game of footy while Julia Gillard laid it out bare. Plenty of those same blokes will tell you of the shocking chauvinism they know is out there and they’ve seen at work and at home and at the beach and the gym and how vile and unfair it is. But then when they see Rupert and the Newscorp in their sights it’s like “oh, that’s an evil woman, of course she’d deny it, you can’t believe her, she’s probably fucked them all.” If calling Rebekah Brooks a slut will bring down Rupert then doing exactly that is regarded as a lesser evil.
This targeting of convenience is not unusual, the recent bout of schadenfreude regarding Sophie Mirabella and her loss in Indi demonstrated as much. The shouts of elation heard the loudest were from those who were pursuing the rubberneckers’ pleasure at watching Mirabella’s downfall (from a safe distance, with a covering respect for process as long as it is the Liberals who get it in the neck). The deployment of loathing is almost always going to provide a suitable conduit for misogyny, and because the loathing is foremost the misogyny is not only obscured but excused. I think this is what Rebekah Brooks’ hair has come to represent. Loathing rolled out as politics is a Trojan horse for every type of disrespect: the redder her hair, the greater the disrespect.
The subterranean, almost subliminal, nature of the disrespect is its own alibi. Addressing misogyny means not addressing the loathing; talking about the water and not about the pipe; talking about the content and not about the structure. In its own way this ruse is about denying that the personal is political while still getting full value from their connection, or perhaps (even more awfully) suggesting that for women the personal is political, while the men deal with only the political. Men are core, women are non-core. Worrying about misogyny is personal politics, women’s business, while real politics, the business of states and laws and parties and dollars, is men’s business. Loathing is the business of men; rage is the business of men.
I am not certain that Rebekah Brooks’ hair is being touched up in the footage, or the file photos. It might not be the case, though it does appear that way to me. But even if it isn’t the case it also appears very clear to me that getting, convicting, or humiliating Rebekah Brooks does not for one second impede the institutional and avaricious goals of NewsCorp, any more than Sophie Mirabella’s sudden retirement assists the Labor Party. These are not outcomes that make things better, they make things worse. They entrench the underflow of sexism and deny the capacity to change it. But I hope to make things better, I hope to change things, some things at least, and maybe noticing the framing, in one sense anyway, of Rebekah Brooks will assist that.
As it happens, I was tidying up in Dr Sternlove’s study the other day and I found a little scrap of paper under a bookcase. It was perforated by now absent thumb tacks and had a quote printed on it. Not wanting to dispose of it I took the slip of paper and put it in my pocket. Later, at work, I reperforated it and put it on my cubicle wall. I have found myself staring at it, believing it, placing hope in it. The piece of paper says:
“Hope must be tempered by the complex reality of the times and viewed as a project and condition for providing a sense of collective agency, opposition, political imagination, and engaged participation. Without hope, even in the most dire of times, there is no possibility for resistance, dissent, and struggle. Agency is the condition of struggle, and hope is the condition of agency. Hope expands the space of the possible and becomes a way of recognising and naming the incomplete nature of the present”
Henry Giroux, interview, 2004.