Sunday 17 February 2019

There's a case for 'political correctness'

Let's consign 'grumpy old fart' radio to the entertainment schedule, it's not current affairs, writes Gene Kerrigan

By Tom Halliday
By Tom Halliday

When the online petition popped up on my screen, calling on Newstalk to sack George Hook, I was sorely tempted. My finger toyed with the button for a moment, then I moved on without clicking.

Primarily because I didn't trust my own motives.

Some people, no doubt, clicked the button because they were stung by Hook's reckless, cruel words about rape victims. Others, I suspect, gave less thought to the matter than they give to voting someone off a TV talent show - but that's the nature of the technology.

Online petitions can usefully reflect public feeling on an issue. But they're no way to decide who gets to work and who doesn't.

That's up to those who run the radio station - and those who hired Hook to be grumpy about current affairs have, I believe, some questions to answer.

I don't know George Hook, I've never met him, but I can't stand his public persona - his politics, his attitudes, his incessant need to present himself as "a character".

I never saw the point of Hook until an interview he did some years back. There were protests against electricity pylons - on health and environmental grounds. Hook interviewed Pat Rabbitte, then minister with responsibility for such issues.

As the interview progressed, Hook growled about those ugly structures, looming over the landscape, turning round and round and round.

Pylons don't move. They simply hold up the electricity wires, as they're strung from one area to the next.

Deadpan, Rabbitte made a remark along the lines of, "I believe those are wind turbines you're thinking of, George".

Hook growled again, shrugging off his own ignorance. Pylons and wind turbines - totally different matters of concern, but Hook didn't give the impression that the difference mattered. It was all something to grumble about, something to fill the airtime.

After all, a chap shouldn't be expected to always know what he's talking about, as though he was one of those David McCullagh types.

Now, there's a place, perhaps, for this kind of nonsense, but not in public discussion of current affairs. The "angry old fart" shtick is entertainment. Grumpy George is a bit of a laugh, a man's man, a lad. He taunts those denigrated as "politically correct". And he pleases those who glory in the term "politically incorrect".

Such people feel it fine to say whatever pops into their heads - it all comes under the label: banter.

Top man, George.

And, that's fair enough. The people who move their lips when they think - sure, they need entertainment, too, and Hooky does the job.

But there are serious issues to be discussed in the public arena - and Hook should never have been allowed near them. Keep him for rugby and golf and party politics. Maybe get him to talk about fashion, or fishing, DIY and astrology. I'm sure he'd be terribly amusing.

Rape is one of the things he shouldn't be allowed near.

We know this, because he had a go at it a couple of years ago.

On that occasion, a woman named Niamh Ni Dhomhnaill had been raped by her boyfriend, while she slept. He was subsequently convicted of rape.

George didn't seem to understand this.

"Now you're sharing a bed with somebody," he mused in an interview with Ivana Bacik, "sexual congress takes place on a regular basis because you're living with somebody. Is there not an implied consent therefore that you consent to sexual congress?"

Of course, Hook pointed out he was merely "asking the question".

Now, before 1990, a man in Ireland could legally rape his wife. In discussing Ni Dhomhnaill's case, Hook was harking back 25 years. Why? Was it to suggest that rape with "implied consent" was once legal, and therefore not as serious as "real" rape?

Mind you, I'm merely "asking the question".

The abolition of the right to rape was part of the feminist surge of the 1970s and 1980s. Among those who fought against domestic abuse was Nuala Fennell, later a Fine Gael TD. Today, Fennell would, I think, be regarded as too uppity for Fine Gael. The party has latterly, though, used George Hook to sell its message.

After the Ni Dhomhnaill episode, Newstalk saw no reason to curb Grumpy George. As its managing editor, Patricia Monahan, said in a statement yesterday: "We fight for audience share in every quarter hour of every day, as if our lives depend on it. And the truth is, our livelihoods do. That is the commercial reality of our business."

And Grumpy George has a loyal following.

In the tech geek phrase: Hook's "politically incorrect" behaviour is not a bug, it's a feature.

Rape is first and foremost a crime committed by an individual. But, it's more than that. Most rapes are not committed by strangers who hide in the bushes, waiting to pounce on a passing female. They are committed by men that women know to a greater or lesser extent.

Rape is committed within the context of society and its norms - for which we're all responsible.

When supposedly responsible elements of society accept that rape can involve "implicit consent", that the victim may be somewhat to blame, when how the woman dresses or who she had sex with, and how often, are considered relevant, we bolster a rape culture.

This involves spreading the blame, implying that the woman has "put herself" in a position where rape might be expected. She might have been saying "No", but to the rapist her behaviour supposedly implied consent.

In this culture, women are reluctant to report rape, the rapist can go on to rape again.

It is right that in court it's difficult to convict for rape - as it is and should be for any serious crime, and evidence is paramount. Chat shows can't meet courtroom standards, but they should not endorse a culture that tells a man that "No" means what he decides to think it means.

In Newstalk's current controversy, a woman in the UK had consensual sex with a man she met that evening, and was allegedly raped by the man's friend. Hook deemed the alleged rape "awful", then said that if you "look deeper into the story, you have to ask certain questions".

Hook didn't "look deeper". He asked just one question: why does a woman have sex with a man she just met? "She has no idea of his health conditions... no idea of what dangers he might pose... then, is surprised when somebody else comes into the room and rapes her... is there no blame now to the person who puts themselves in danger?"

We warn our children against possible dangers. They will, though, have to make judgments and act on them. If they judge wrong, and expose themselves to danger - by having sex with someone without - as Hook implies - going deep into their character and examining their medical records - do we partly blame them for the rape?

"Politically correct" is the derisive term used by some to denigrate the movement that helped civilise us. It was used in yesterday's statement by Newstalk's managing editor, in a dig at RTE.

"Political correctness" says, don't use terms you know hurt people; don't add to the pressure young people feel when sorting out their sexuality; be careful with the vulnerable, we're all sometimes vulnerable; don't punch down, punch up; don't add to the isolation of minorities.

There's nothing "snowflakey" about it, it's just manners and fellow feeling.

It comes from the same place we find a reluctance to click a mouse and put someone out of a job.

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