Misogyny at work on the Twitter machine after Michaella’s interview

Every year thousands of Irish parents wave off their precious darlings as they indulge in what is now a kind of ‘rite of passage’ (and not a hugely useful one, in my opinion) –  the 6th Year Holiday.  Our teens travel in packs, descending like a flock of over excited parrots on some Spanish or Greek resort while their parents at home spend the week praying that all those years of parenting will pay off and their juniors won’t get themselves into any kind of serious trouble.

When they eventually return the same parents breathe a huge sigh of relief, offer prayers of thanks to all and sundry and carefully avoid asking in too much detail about their holiday, just glad that it’s over and they all seem to have survived.

Perhaps it was the fact that in just over a year’s time I will again be that poor parent as the second of my darlings will probably take flight south, that I found the Michaella McCollum interview compelling viewing.  Yes, I guess I watched it very much as a mother.

Of course I had previously read about Ms McCollum but as I began watching the RTE interview on Monday night the main question for me remained unanswered, namely how did a young Irish woman get herself involved in a major drug smuggling operation within a relatively short time of arriving in Ibiza?

As I listened to her talk I formed a picture of a young, naïve, vulnerable and possibly silly women who left Ibiza on a whim (although in the interview she made reference with being made to leave Northern Ireland – and this wasn’t followed up) with seemingly no plan, no friends and no money.

The drug gang who ‘hired’ Michaella must have been delighted.  She was just the kind of young woman they were looking for.

The huge surprise however was how out of synch I seemed to be with the wave of anger and almost totally negative commentary the interview generated on Twitter.  Comments ranged from how she seemed to be auditioning to be Peru’s next Top Model, to the fact that she must have been coached thoroughly beforehand, to comments about how life must be great in Peruvian prisons because she looked great.  She and RTE were also accused of ‘glamorising drug trafficking’.  People tweeted that she was a liar and they didn’t believe one word she said.

What were these people seeing that I wasn’t I wondered?  On what basis were they making these judgements?  And time and again when I queried this on Twitter the commentary returned to her appearance.  That seemed to really make many people very angry.

What the hell were they expecting?  This was a young woman, who had done some work as a model, of course the very first thing she would do on release from prison to have her hair done.  Even I would do that and I ain’t no model.

Did people not buy into her remorse because she looked too well, too glamorous?  It seemed to me that many commentators were disappointed that we were not confronted with a broken woman – both physically and mentally.  Surely if she was truly remorseful she wouldn’t have bothered with her appearance?  And the comments were from as many men as women on my timeline.

Was this some kind of misogyny?  The unconscious bias we often hear about particularly in relation to gender equality.

Recently two homeless women, Lyndsey Robinson and Erica Fleming appeared on the Late Late show to talk about their predicament.  Again there was much Twitter commentary that criticised these women because their appearance was also not in keeping with how homeless women should look.  These women had nice hair and make up and were dressed too well altogether.

It seems that the problem of judging a woman first and foremost by her appearance is alive and well still.  We may have learned that it’s not really PC to make such judgements about ‘respectable’ woman but the rule just doesn’t apply to a remorseful criminal who is continuing to serve her punishment.  Her appearance is fully open to comment and ridicule.  As were Lyndsey and Erica’s clothes and make up considered fair game.

Back to Michaella and it is interesting that I hadn’t seen one tweet mentioning the drug gang behind this huge haul of cocaine.  Seriously?

But what really struck me was that after the interview, RTE broadcast a Would You Believe special called Atonement.  It was about convicted IRA bomber Shane Paul O Doherty, a man who received 30 life sentences for his bombing campaign in London.  Mr O Doherty served 15 years for his crimes and has now found God and is now an author working with the homeless.  Twitter was strangely silent on this programme.  There was no querying why a programme was being devoted to this criminal, no charge of his glamourising violence.

Which leads one to wonder why it is that we can seemingly forgive a criminal who inflicted such violence on all kinds of innocent people and yet we seem to have no empathy for a young woman who failed to smuggle drugs out of Peru?  The only difference is that Michaella committed the sin of looking too well.  Of course Shane Paul O’Doherty’s appearance wasn’t commented on at all.

Meanwhile on the island of Ibiza a drug gang are no doubt recruiting another lost young woman into their evil trade.  We have completely missed the point.

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3 Comments

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  1. I’m afraid I have to disagree on at least a few points. After initially claiming they had been coerced into acting as mules, on foot of threats to the safety of their families, the Peru Two recanted and pleaded guilty. Therefore, there was no trial, so none of their claims was subject to any scrutiny. They have admitted they made up the threat to their families. As things stand, then, we simply have no idea whether they were forced into their actions or simply volunteered. For whatever reason, the interviewer chose not to ask this most fundamental question; instead, without any corroboration, the narrative said they were ‘targeted’ by the drug gangs. No proof of that at all.
    The absence of a trial also left them in the position where they did not have to name those who sent them. Michaella McCollum Connolly says she wants to forge a new life warning other girls not to get into the position in which she found herself. The easy way to do that immediately would have been to volunteer the names of individuals in Ibiza to the Peruvian authorities, to share with Spanish police. Again, she was not asked if she had done this.
    Yes, I agree her appearance came under scrutiny, but again, the presentation made that inevitable. The interviewer was dressed like, and had the demeanour of, a college professor meeting one of his students. He should have worn a suit and interviewed her across a desk, but no, it was beautifully lit in studio or rented venue that, within a 10-second turnaround, could have done duty for a Nigella cookery show, or a jewellery sale on QVC.
    In short, the whole thing was presented as a Dr Phil-style show about misdeed and remorse. Well, I suspect we’d all be remorseful if we were caught.
    I agree there was a level of misogyny in some of the tweets, but there was a fundamental sexism at the core of the entire programme. If the Peru Two had been young men with shaved heads, tattoos and strong Dublin accents, they would have been nowhere near primetime television on a Sunday night.
    I didn’t see the programme afterwards so I can’t comment on that, I’m afraid!

    • Thanks Philip for your thoughtful reply to my blog post. I agree with you that this was a very soft interview – it was very odd in fact but I was interested to note the points made by Colette Browne in her column this morning in the Indo, namely that some topics may have been off limits due to the fact that Michaella is in fact still serving her sentence albeit on parole. I also agree that she lied and committed a very serious crime. I have no problem with her being arrested and serving her time.

      The point I was trying to make was that to me it seemed that the fact she didn’t appear on our TVs looking like a broken woman was the thing that seemed to really exercise people. That I believe is sexist. It was the same kind of sexism that allowed people to also criticise the women in emergency accommodation on the Late Late Show for their appearance.

      Was she only interviewed because she was attractive? I am not sure. I think this story was of huge interest to the Irish public and has been ever since their arrest. But if it is the case that she was only on TV because she was pretty – well that is sexism too!

      Thanks again

      B

  2. Hi Barbara,

    I’ve just read your post and thank god for it.

    I watched the programme in it’s totality also and found myself engrossed. I’m the parent of two girls who went through that “blow out” phase and like you, I was thankful they both returned unscathed, but a lot more mature. They are both now married and parents and laugh about those times. I am thankful for that.

    As you watched it as a mother, I watched it as a father and remembered what might have been for either of my own girls. However, although not on Twitter last night I was in predominately a lot of male company this evening enjoying a few jars and good conversation. That is, until I raised Michaella’s interview. Well that changed the tone of the conversation instantly! I was assailed by such vitriol towards the girl, I was temporarily taken aback. Not one single person showed any empathy toward how a young, innocent and troubled 19 year old girl could find herself embroiled in the trauma that was to be her fate. All comments ignored the case in fact, and concentrated on her appearance almost exclusively. “How dare she come through that and look so well” was more or less the common theme. “Well she doesn’t exactly look starved” and “Not too many whip marks on her” were other snippets of the male perception audible in the hustle of testosterone. I was horrified.

    I didn’t accept this categorisation and argued resolutely about the genesis of their arguments. Until the female partners started arriving I was on a hiding to nothing and thankfully they caught my drift and the hemales began to fall silent.

    It was both a frightening and enlightening. Your article tonight is inspiring.

    Keep up the great journalism,

    Liam,

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