OPINION - Russell Brand has shown us women that we have made far less progress than we think

Allegations made against Russell Brand have been reported in the media (PA Wire)
Allegations made against Russell Brand have been reported in the media (PA Wire)

Georgina Baillie of Sachsgate fame has given many interviews over the last week, including to this newspaper. I’m sure she’s relieved to be finally given the platform to tell her story, which is, from every angle of a paparazzi lens, salutary.

It seems bizarrely anachronistic that back in… just 2008, when it all happened, the whole story was told from the perspective of the stained honour of that dim-witted Spanish waiter from Fawlty Towers, rather than the woman who it actually happened to. Shame on all of us. Marina Hyde wrote a mea culpa in The Guardian a few days ago regretting the dismissive tone in which she and most media pundits treated the roundly slut-shamed Baillie back in the day.

I’ve been intrigued by Baillie as a morality tale, mainly because she is a fascinating vector through which to view ever-evolving attitudes to women. Her story is useful because it allows us to see how far we have come as changing societal attitudes, post #MeToo, have brought the ugly patterns of her story in the kaleidoscope into focus, and allowed us to realise we were all complicit.

Russell Brand openly wrote in his idiotically titled memoir that he spat in one woman’s face after sex and smashed a sex-worker’s phone for only providing ‘half-hearted’ sex. He never disguised himself, far from it, so we are to blame, too.

Shamefully in a column last week Nadine Dorries didn’t go for Brand, but his innocent pregnant wife

As much as people rail against it, woke culture is improving things, for women, and we should be grateful for some of it – though, of course, we’re not all evolving. Shamefully, in her Daily Mail column last week Nadine Dorries didn’t go for Brand, she went for his innocent pregnant wife.

What is worrying, though, is that while we all commend ourselves that we no longer victim-blame women (slow clap), the big problems are all still there. Rape convictions, abuse, unequal pay, a vanishingly small presence in positions of real power.

One thing I always find telling is how women being interviewed still feel they have to sexualise themselves. When the shadow education health secretary Bridget Phillipson was interviewed recently in a serious publication, she did so in a revealing black tie ball gown, a big slit down her thigh.

It’s depressing to see female celebrities still treating themselves like chattel at the meat market on red carpets and at film premieres with everything out on display, while men look on demurely in suits; and find me a female star over 60 who hasn’t destroyed her face with surgery.

We can’t just blame men either.

Childbirth. Breastfeeding. Promiscuity. Getting fat. Working vs stay at home mothers. There’s nothing we haven’t weaponised in our endless quest to judge each other.

When we see a picture of Kate Moss looking 60 with a fag hanging out of her mouth, we all click. So much for the sisterhood.

So it’s a big thank you to Georgina Baillie as her gift to us is showing us not just how awful we were but what progress we have made, and how much there is still left to do.

Opportunity knocks no more

I’m excited about Sarah Lucas’s big new show at Tate Britain. Her work, exploring the brilliantly messy complexity between the body, gender and sex, has always fascinated me. The story of how she came to be an artist is compelling, too.

She grew up in Holloway, the daughter of a milkman and a stay-at-home mum, left school at 16 with no qualifications then studied art at the Working Men’s College and the London College of Printing before a degree in fine art from Goldsmiths.

In an interview at the weekend she acknowledged how lucky she was to start out in an age of free and plentiful education, when it was possible to live cheaply and find affordable warehouse space to work in Shoreditch, and said she didn’t think she’d be able to make it now. How could she?

In the annual British Social Attitudes survey the number of people who see it as “very difficult” to move social class has nearly doubled since 2005 to 32 per cent.

We’ve taken the ladders away for talents such as Lucas to thrive, and we’ll all be poorer for it.

Anna van Praagh is the Evening Standard’s Chief Content Officer.