Thursday 20 November 2014

a response to robyn malcolm

yesterday i had a brief exchange on twitter with robyn malcolm regarding roger sutton, and you can see the whole exchange from this tweet:

twitter is unfortunately not a good medium for a detailed discussion of the issues, so i wanted to give a fuller response here.

i really do understand the desire to support a friend who is going through difficult times.  from the twitter exchange, it appears that she knows mr sutton well and considers him a good friend.  i know it must be difficult to watch your friend go through something like this in such a public way.  and i'm sure it's difficult to see people saying some very negative things about him.

supporting a friend who has done something wrong is not an easy business.  but i don't think you do your friend any favours by dismissing what he has done or by ignoring the complainant in this case and her suffering.  sure, make the point that your friend is generally a wonderful person who has achieved some very important things for the community, but also acknowledge that in this instance he stuffed up.

the best example of this would be owen pallett's facebook statement on hearing of the allegations against his friend jian ghomeshi (for details of that case, see my post here):

At no point here will I ever give my friend Jian’s version of the truth more creedence than the version of the truth offered up by three women. Anonymity does not mean these women do not exist....

...Jian Ghomeshi is my friend, and Jian Ghomeshi beats women. How our friendship will continue remains to be seen.

now i'm not for a minute implying that mr sutton's actions were at the level of mr ghomeshi's.  however, that doesn't mean that mr sutton's actions should be dismissed, ignored or in any way treated as not important.  of course other people do worse things, that's not the point.  the things that mr sutton constituted serious misconduct, they were not trivial matters.  i don't believe you can do a friend any favours by embedding a view that he has been unfairly treated when there is no evidence that this is the case.  in fact the whole "look over there, that thing is so much worse" is the richard dawkins "dear muslima" defence, one which he has since apologised for.

ms malcolm has known mr sutton for 20 years.  but what if she had known the complainant for 20 years?  what if she had watched the complainant go through the harrowing process of the investigation, sat by her while the complainant suffered through that press conference & the resulting aftermath?  would ms malcolm's response have been the same?  mr sutton is struggling but he is the one who has behaved wrongly in this case.  that doesn't make him a terrible person overall, he's not some kind of monster.  but he is in the wrong and that can not and should not be overlooked.  the impact of his behaviour can not and should not be overlooked.

the best way to support a friend who has done something wrong is not enabling a view that his wrongness isn't so very bad.  rather, it would be to say to the person: "what you did here is not ok.  you are still my friend and i still really do care for you and will stand by you.  but you need to change this particular behaviour because it isn't acceptable".  that's my opinion anyway, for what it's worth.

[EDIT: i did want to say that i am a fan of robyn malcolm's, not so much of her acting as i haven't watched any of her shows, but of her political activism.  i love how she stood up and made her voice heard on the union dispute with peter jackson, & i have also admired her stance on other issues.  the fact that i deeply disagree with her on this issue doesn't change that.]


Peony said...

It seems premature to say that Sutton is not a monster, frankly. I am not really inclined to give him much credit at this point. The same for claiming he is "not as bad" as Jian Gomeshi. What is to be gained from this kind of weighing up of one abuser against another? They are both men who abused women who they had power over. That's all we need to know.

I once had a friend who I thought was a good person. I learned that that friend sexually harassed women. That person is no longer my friend, for that reason and that reason alone. If people want to stay friends with an abuser and a harasser, it's on them. I feel that my decision to end the friendship was the right decision for me and the right decision for my former friend's victims. I owe more to women who have suffered than I do to some abuser. Why should I help some abuser just because I made the mistake of making a personal connection to them? We need to view abusers as people who abuse, first and foremost.

I am sick of all this "But I must support him, because he's my friend" crap. I don't care if you played mini golf with him or whatever. If you insist on seeing him as your mini golf buddy first and an abuser of vulnerable women second, that shows where your priorities lie.

Kotukutuku said...

Disappointing, Robyn. He has been found guilty of serious misconduct (and I doubt that calling women honey and sweetie would reach the threshold for serious misconduct) and then chosen to breach a privacy agreement so that he can downplay what happened and try to come across as a good guy. The facebook poster (and Robyn through supporting the post) saying "This is a complete outrage", calling him "inspirational" and saying "don't you dare let anybody change you" is not showing humanity, she is defending him and victim blaming.

MeToo said...

fyi - Sutton and Robyn Malcolm are family - he is married to her sister.

stargazer said...

@ MeToo, yes i have since found that out, but i don't think it changes any of the points i've made. one can still support a family member without making things more difficult for the complainant & without diminishing the impact of the offending behaviour.