Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Modern-day 'Madwomen in the Attic': Kyle Sandilands and Sam Newman

It's always puzzled me how certain misogynist male celebrities, like radio host Kyle Sandilands and AFL Footy Show presenter Sam Newman, don't get dumped from their respective programs when they continually spout misogynist abuse. It's particularly surprising given how much bad publicity these outbursts usually attract, and the fact that their views are generally considered unacceptable.

Take Sandilands' latest gem, last Thursday: he called a female journalist a 'fat slag', declaring, 'You haven't got that much t*tty to be wearing that low cut a blouse', among other abusive threats. http://www.news.com.au/breaking-news/youre-a-fat-slag-i-will-hunt-you-down-kyle-sandilands-radio-rant-at-female-journalist-over-review-of-his-show/story-e6frfku0-1226203313542

One sponsor, Holden, has officially dropped Sandilands' program, because of the incident, but the radio station has given no indication that it will axe the show, or discipline its offending host. It's just like Newman's many offences, such as when he stapled a picture of respected football journalist Caroline Wilson's face to a skimpily dressed mannequin, then groped its crotch and fondled its breasts while (ostensibly) attempting to change its outfit. (I've written about the incident in The Australian Feminist Law Journal: http://search.informit.com.au/documentSummary;dn=254048597938454;res=IELHSS)

These cases are the ones that attract a strong backlash. However, they're really only exaggerations of the roles these characters typically play on these programs: to create controversy. They're actually employed to be routinely misogynist, and it's only when they take it 'too far' that they attract media attention. In the incidents that aren't extreme enough to attract media attention, their co-hosts will often suggest that Sandilands and Newman should 'settle down', or make some vague comment that the 'ladies' might not like what they say, and don't participate actively in the ranting. They are cast as figures outside the mainstream - the 'clown' or the 'shock jock' - so that their views are (somewhat) distanced from the other presenters.

My theory on why these characters persist is that they function as 'Madwomen in the Attic', to borrow Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar's excellent phrase. (I'm sure both Newman and Sandilands would love to be called madwomen!). In The Madwoman in the Attic, Gilbert and Gubar argue that 19th century women writers used marginalised, monstrous, mad characters, like Bertha Mason in Jane Eyre, to express emotions and ideas that were socially unacceptable, and could not have been acceptably expressed by their heroines. So these 'men' can say what their co-presenters (producers?)would like to say, but can't, because they're marginal figures. Clowns, shock jocks, and kind of nuts.

It's for these reasons that networks can get away with keeping them on. Enough viewers actually support their views, and many of those who don't can follow the other presenters in distancing themselves from him. 'Oh, that's just Sam. He's crazy (the madwoman in the attic...?)'.

There's no 'just' about it. Misogyny is misogyny, no matter how 'mad' the person who spouts it.

(Madwoman is a great book, by the way, and I highly recommend it: http://books.google.com.au/books?id=3oxf7_BsD_sC&dq=madwoman+in+the+attic&hl=en&ei=2cnVTpTgLeWJmQWkkdha&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CDMQ6AEwAA)


  1. I do like your link to the madwoman - it helps explain a trend that has been puzzling me and is also most ironic and funny for that! It's also a great twist on the evolution of the concept. I'd love to see this as an editorial!

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  3. Cheers! It's something I've thought for a long time, but haven't had a forum to publish it in. Do you think any newspapers would be happy to print that Kyle Sandilands and Sam Newman are madwomen in the attic...?