I’ve been away while this particular storm has been raging over in Ireland, but I’ve been following it on social media, and reading the opinions in the newspapers. I’ve read the transcript of Hook’s original comments, and his apology. Then I managed to make myself listen to them both – steeling myself first because I knew I would find them difficult. Still, I was lucky – I had had the trigger warning beforehand, unlike rape survivors who heard Hook’s bluster live.
Many of you will already be aware that George Hook made very offensive comments about rape victims on his show ‘High Noon’ on Newstalk radio on Friday, September 8th. In referring to a woman who was raped by a man in the UK, after having consensual sex with another man, George wondered aloud what she expected. ‘Is there no blame now to the person who puts themselves in danger?’
This is what we call ‘victim blaming’ and it is an inherent part of rape culture. Blaming the victim shifts the focus of blame for a rape or sexual assault from the perpetrator to the victim. It implies that victims could – and should – have done something to prevent their assault. This puts the blame for the episode on the victim, and presupposes a non-existent situation where there is equality of power between the rapist and the rape victim. It presupposes a relationship where a woman can say ‘no’ and have that ‘no’ respected. It presupposes a relationship where consent is sought, and the response to that request is respected. Unfortunately, as those of us who have been raped, and otherwise sexually assaulted know too well, such a relationship does not exist.
Blaming a woman for being raped is the same as blaming a pedestrian who is waiting for the lights to change so they can safely cross, for their own injuries when a drunk driver mounts the pavement and ploughs into them.
From his place of privilege and power, Hook refuses to see that. He does not like to have his views challenged, and he is not open to having his opinions changed. He believes he is right all the time, about everything. Put bluntly, George Hook is an arrogant old boor of a man. But men like this have a special place in Irish society – they are tolerated by most, indulged by others, and revered by some. People refer to him, and people (usually, though not always, men) of his ilk as ‘harmless’. The ‘harmless’ man who says and does what he likes and gets away with it is an interesting character in Irish society. Their outrageous statements are greeted with a shrug of acceptance and the utterance that ‘Shur, he’s harmless; there’s no badness in him.’ It is an invitation – or admonishment – to shut up and leave the man alone. To let him say what he likes because he doesn’t mean any harm.
Few people dare to publicly call George Hook out, because when they do, they are accused of attempting censorship. Here’s the thing, though, it is not a call to censorship when a person calls for disgusting views and opinions not to be shared on the national airwaves. Yes, George Hook is entitled to his personal opinion on any- and everything under the sun. What he is not entitled to do, however, is to spew that opinion publicly. He, and his employer, have a duty of care to listeners. That duty includes not spreading hate, or putting a group of people in danger. Saying that rape victims bear responsibility for the fact that they were raped does both.
While we talk about Hook, and those like him as ‘harmless’, and while it may be true that he ‘means no harm’, the effect of his words is harmful. By saying what he does, and being allowed to say what he does, his views are endorsed and given legitimacy. They become an accepted narrative, they become seen as reasonable points of view. Not everyone is a critical thinker; not everyone is analytical. Many people will take their lead from a voice on the radio and think that because they agreed with one opinion a particular person set forth, that person is always right; and will find themselves accepting that broadcaster’s stance on any and every issue.
Imagine, for a moment, if George Hook had said ‘All Jews are filthy money-grubbing bastards, and Hitler was right’, or if he’d said ‘All Travellers are duplicitous monkeys who smell like shite,’ would people still be falling over themselves to say that he was entitled to his opinion, and to voice his opinion, and that any attempt to silence him was an attempt at censorship?
And if you want to talk about censorship – let’s talk about how women are censored on the airwaves of Ireland. Our voices, for the most part, aren’t even allowed on said airwaves. Think about that for a second.
Sure, Newstalk’s Managing Editor, Patricia Monahan, in a piece in the Irish Times last Saturday went to great lengths to remind us all that she is a woman, and that most of the producers in Newstalk are women. Her piece misses many points, however. One of them being that women who are in the minority take on the characteristics of the dominant culture – which, in the case of Newstalk is male. Just because a person has a vagina doesn’t make them a champion of women’s right. Sadly. It takes a minimum of three women on a board, for example, to effect real change within an organisation.
Monahan poses the question ‘Do I not qualify as female representation because my voice is not heard on-air?’ – and, my answer to that is sadly, no, you don’t. I have worked in media in enough countries to know that the on-air voice has the final say (literally and figuratively). If that voice is male – which it is for the most part on Irish radio – then the fact that the researcher, producer, and even the managing editor are female makes no difference to what goes out on air.
George Hook was forced to apologise for his victim-blaming comments the Monday after he made them. I wonder, though, if his employer would have insisted he apologise if their bottom line wasn’t hurting? George Hook is a misogynist and his comments often reflect this, but Newstalk has never had the backbone to make him read out an apology before. I think the only reason they did on this occasion was because advertisers and sponsors had withdrawn their financial backing, and Newstalk was trying to claw back some credibility.
It is worth noting that Newstalk only suspended George Hook a full week after he made these comments. If they had any spine, he would have been suspended immediately after he made them. The fact that it took a week for him to be suspended (not sacked, mind you, just suspended) means that his employers don’t have any difficulty with George’s comments. If they had, they would have sacked him years ago.
When a sphincter muscle is touched it contracts. Those who have reacted in George Hook’s defence remind me of sphincter muscles. They have bunched up and contracted in reaction to his being challenged on his victim-blaming comments, talking about how he’s not the worst.
Ciara Kelly, a colleague and friend of Hook’s wrote a piece for the Journal calling George one of the most ‘gender blind’ people she’s ever worked with. All I can say to that is that Dr Kelly must not have worked with many people, ever, because people aren’t gender blind, any more than they are colour blind. The only example of this alleged ‘gender blindness’ she pointed to in her article was to mention how George has always championed her. And she’s a woman. That’s great. But she’s also his friend. People generally champion their friends. It’s human nature. It doesn’t mean they’re gender blind, or colour blind, or sexual-orientation blind, or religion blind, or that they have any other kind of blindness.
George Hook is not a monster – of course he’s not. He is human, and humans are not cartoon characters – either hero or villain. People are not this or that; they are complex, and our feelings about them are equally complex. It is absolutely possible for a person to be kind to animals, yet beat their own children. It is absolutely possible for a person to be rapist and make wonderful art. It is absolutely possible for a person to be good at his job and have raped his sister for years (like two of my own brothers). One fact does not make the other untrue. Nor does one fact make the other excusable.
I’m all for personal responsibility, but that extends to George Hook. He needs to be held personally accountable for his comments to victims of rape. And, yes, maybe I am taking this personally – after all, I was raped by family members, strangers, acquaintances and both my former husbands. But those experiences mean that I am more aware than most of how damaging George Hook’s comments are, and how grateful I am that he no longer has a public platform from which to air them.