5fm DJ Gareth Cliff is not known for thinking before he speaks. The list of Bloody Stupid Things Gareth Cliff Has Said is a long and varied one. There was the “interview” with Jesus:
That one generated a storm of criticism from those who felt it was disrespectful to the deceased and to her family.
But a few days ago, Cliff really topped himself during an interview with Aids activist Angela Larkan. When he heard that she began her work at the age of 22, he came up with this gem:
Live on the air, Larkan apparently clearly hesitated before going on to respond politely to this remark. Other listeners were less tolerant. There has been much column ink spilled about this matter, and at least one petition for Cliff to be sacked. A DA councillor has also referred the matter to the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of SA.
Cliff responded to the public outrage with the following statement on his website: “I accept that some sensitive people may have felt the comment offensive, but who (unless they were described by it) would consider themselves so described if there were no truth to the insult? I refute the allegation and consider it insulting in turn to be called sexist. The reason I had Angela on my show is because she is precisely the opposite of the kind of girl I am alleged to have offended.”
Read Jennifer Thorpe’s Thought Leader blog for an excellent unpacking of Cliff’s response, into which he manages to pack even more misogyny than was contained in his original statement.
When I first read about Cliff’s faux pas, I must admit I felt the same visceral sense of shock and offence.
Then I started to think.
Let’s imagine if Gareth Cliff had directed his comment at men instead of women. Obviously he couldn’t have phrased it in exactly the same manner because men don’t usually have sex on their backs with their legs in the air, unless there’s some new sexual position I haven’t heard of yet.
So, mutatis mutandis, let’s imagine what Cliff might have said to a male guest on his show:
Inappropriate? Certainly. Crude? Oh, definitely. But I venture to suggest that it wouldn’t have produced anything like the same degree of public outrage that his comment about 22-year-old girls did. And why is that, exactly? Why is it offensive to say that a woman is promiscuous, but not offensive to say the same thing about a man? Why are even feminists so utterly outraged by the idea of young women being called promiscuous?
I believe it has everything to do with the value that is still placed on the notion of female virtue in our society. That is the last great inequality that we as women are facing in the 21st century – our sexual morality still has residual value as a currency, whereas male sexual morality has always had none.
When I ran this notion past Twitter a couple of weeks ago, I received a number of replies along the lines of: “male sluts are just as bad as female sluts, and all promiscuous people are equally bad.” And while it is true that there are some who pay lip-service to this notion, it has never had any real traction in our society. The sexually virtuous man has never been prized in any community.
But the sexually virtuous woman continues to be prized in all societies around the world. At one extreme, you have communities that stone women to death for having the poor taste to be brutally raped and assaulted by a total stranger. And at the other extreme you have communities in which ardent and apparently enlightened feminists scream for a disc jockey to be fired for calling young women promiscuous – as though that is still a description that has the power to hurt women.
But the fact remains that we do still live in a society in which the ‘promiscuous’ label has the capacity to hurt women, and women only. What Cliff said WAS insulting, but it is pleasant to imagine societal norms changing to such an extent that the expletive ‘slut’ no longer has the power to hurt women.
For me, that is exactly what the Slutwalk movement is all about. It’s about taking the ‘slut’ label and stripping it of all power to insult women. Only when female sexual virtue has exactly the same societal value as male sexual virtue - which is to say NONE AT ALL - will women really be free. Only when the life of a prostitute is as precious in our eyes as that of a virgin will we finally have achieved gender equality.
And in order for that to happen, we as women have to stop collaborating in the patriarchal value system that has us acting all offended when our sexual continence is called into question.
Yes, yes, I know one can say that it’s all about objectifying women and reducing them to vaginas, instead of human beings and blah blah. But the fact remains that men don’t generally mind being reduced to their penises. In fact many of them are rather proud of it. The epithet ‘dickhead’ has far less insulting force than the epithet ’cunt’.
It’s time for that to change. A woman with a high sexual drive should no longer have to hide in the shadows of shame. It’s time for women to start being proud of their sexuality too.