Hey Russell Brand, You Don’t Have to Sexually Harass Women to Make a Point!

800px-Russell_Brand_Arthur_Premiere_face_2Actor Russell Brand bitch-slapped the Internet into paying attention this week after a riotous and raucous appearance on “Morning Joe.” His antics careened from funny to offensive as he gave the hosts a dressing-down for disrespecting him by speaking about him in the third person and continually bringing the conversation back to his appearance. The clip has gone viral and a number of outlets, including “The Atlantic” and the “Los Angeles Times,” have applauded the job he did on embarrassing the “Morning Joe” crew (sans Joe) for their unprofessional behavior.

Missing from the conversation so far, though, is the scolding Brand deserves for the sexist tactics he employed to steal the show. Straight off the bat Brand made sexually inappropriate comments to the host, Mika Brzezinski.

“Be careful because that’s a low-cut dress,” Brand said, after Brzezinski leaned over to help realign a piece of the desk Brand had jerked out of place. “I’m only flesh and blood, I’ve got instincts.” Note to the reader: Brzezinski’s dress did not even reveal a sliver of cleavage.

“I’m sorry,” Brzezinski replied instinctively, having done nothing wrong but now appearing uncomfortable and off-kilter.

Later in the show Brand went from inappropriate to lewd calling Brzezinski a “shaft grasper,” suggesting that she was basically jerking off her water bottle and, therefore, “grasping for the shaft.” Unwilling to let go of his fictitious claim that Brzezinski was somehow inappropriately handing the water bottle Brand told her to “lose that ring” because “it means nothing to ya.”

Ill-equipped to deal with the sexual assault, because hey, that’s what it is, Brzezinski was left tongue-tied unable to successfully wrap up the show to plug Brand’s upcoming stand-up tour, the Messiah Complex.

I know what you may be thinking: This is Russell Brand, legendary Lothario and shock jock extraordinaire. This much should be expected if you invite him on the show. However, Mika claimed later she didn’t know who Brand was (I’m guessing she’ll do more homework next time).

But the thing is this — Brand went far out of his way to state that this in fact was not a comedy show where such artistic license should be permitted. He shut down guest anchor and BBC journalist Katty Kay when she asked for a 30 second preview of material from the tour and criticized the newsmakers for letting superficial items, such as his exposed chest hair, drive the agenda as opposed to real substance.

And ironically, given his liberal dishing of sexually inappropriate and offensive remarks, he complained about being casually objectified.

Brand did have a reason to be frustrated: Brzezinski and team made themselves look like idiots exhibiting an astounding lack of knowledge about their guest. Kay actually called him Willy, three times (maybe she was thinking of Willy Brandt?), until Brand himself had to point out her error. And co-anchor Brian Shactman uttered some ethnocentric verbal diarrhea about his struggle to understand Brand’s accent on the radio.

But none of that justifies making sexually derisive comments to the hosts, especially when your fundamental message is that news program needs to stay focused on the substance.

Over at “Think Progress,” Alyssa Rosenberg argues that it shouldn’t surprise anybody at this point that Brand has intelligent things to say. In the wake of Amy Winehouse’s death, he wrote a thoughtful tribute about the way society perceives addicts and how best to provide them care, she notes.

Rosenberg has it right, Brand is very smart: he doesn’t need to rely on cheap sexist tactics to make his message clear. And he shouldn’t.

Eliza Krigman is a journalist based in Washington, D.C. She writes about the intersection of technology and national politics as well as lifestyle and culture issues. Previously she worked as a staff reporter for Politico and the National Journal. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, Slate and the Atlantic.


Image via Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons License/Eva Rinaldi

  • Hitting on and insulting women is a tactic he has long used in his interviews, starting from his time on MTV, which is why I’m not a fan.

  • So, a few things in full disclosure.

    1. I’ve seen and shared this video.
    2. I am, from what I’ve seen, a Russel Brand fan and have enjoyed both his books.
    3. I consider myself pretty sensitive to the nature of sexism in media.

    I’ve seen this point trying to be made a few times, and each time, I sat there wondering why I didn’t pick up on it. Why the comments you’ve highlighted didn’t jump out at me when they happened, changing the tone of the show from standard trainwreck to sexual trainwreck.

    I work in new media, I held journalism internships in college, I am a news junkie. Why was I missing the tone shift? And then, after re-watching it again, I think I figured it out.

    Russel Brand didn’t set the tone, the hosts did, in a way. From the opening sentence, comments about disrobing, having an open shirt, his kinky boots… intentional or not, I think the tone for me, as a viewer, was set to flirty and playful off the bat. I didn’t find his comments about her bending over to be crass at all, but more an attempt to be funny and shift away from an awkward moment, because really, it was an awkward moment.

    I’m not entirely disagreeing with you, because I feel like saying, well she was flirty so he said inappropriate things is a very “blame the victim” sort of thing, and it feels skeevy.

    But, instead, maybe offer up a moment of devil’s advocate here. I feel like his comments were more reactionary to the situation, which, by all accounts, was a disaster from start to finish, an that the sexual tone was uncomfortable from both ends.

  • Kim Place-Gateau

    I think he went too far, and I agree, he’s far too intelligent for that. I’ve been blown away by his insight a time or two;here’s a terrific example.

    Though I think he’s a thought-provoking, entertaining guy overall, I think where he sometimes fails is in his apparent inability to determine the appropriate behavior for his surroundings. He’s always on, I’m guessing, and I rather doubt he’s getting much encouragement to change that.

    I was actually ok with his comments on the hosts’ appearance—they went there first, and right out of the gate. And I sort of love his ability to put people on edge, and to bring out unexpected reactions from the people he’s chatting with. But I completely agree with you that the shaft grasper comment and his remark about her ring were WAY out of bounds. Having said all of that, though, the interviewers were a disgrace, and I’m glad he made them look stupid. “Apparently he is a big deal, I’m not up on pop-culture”? Unbelievable. They richly deserved the drubbing they got.

    Did you see the green room interview after his on-air appearance?Here’s how a real interview, with someone who knows who he is, and who asks sensible questions, rather than remark on his chest hair and refer to him in the third person, goes.

    And just a friendly observation: I’m intrigued by your use of the expression “bitch-slap” in an article where you take issue with someone’s sexist behavior.

  • Rob Hough

    Well written article but I feel I must divert somewhat from the point to address a ‘niggle’ that’s been bugging me concerning your antagonism towards Russell’s ‘Sexual harassment’. This doesn’t just go for him, it is a something that is very divided among feminism and generally men and women everywhere. Feminism, is to how I understand it (a 20 year old lovey-dovey-lefty male) about gender equality. About how for years in our society, Men have treated women like 2nd class citizens in many areas of socio-economic situations (from equal pay, objectification to the lack of free speech and the right to abortion). I am under no illusion that this is still an institutionalized and serious problem that needs attention.

    However, what I do object to is a small-grouped opinion in ‘third-wave feminism’ which I think belittles and takes out the need for equality from the cause. I’m talking about the antagonism towards men and any sexual interactions from them. I feel, along with many, many feminists (from Bell Hooks to members of my Student Union’s feminism projects) that feminism is about “gender-equality”. For too long, feminism has allowed it’s self to believe that “This is a mans world. Femininity is weak. Women must be as tough, powerful and demeaning as society expects men to be”. This is folly. We should seek to allow anyone, man or woman to be loved for who they are and want to be. Expressing there archetypal masculinity (power, dominance, strength, honor, wisdom) and femininity (love, compassion, forgiveness, intelligence) as both sexes posses both of these traits. What has happened is that it has become seemed sexist to find women sexual. Why?

    For instance, Russell Brand is expressing his “feminine” side by being vulnerable, open, loving but his masculine side by having a power seat in the conversation. It is not sexist to sexual-ize women this way. Alas, the individual herself may how found his forwardness and his openness too offensive but if Russel was gay, I imagine he would be just as forward and openly sexual towards him (he isn’t gay and is still openly sexual towards men but that’s “by-the-by”). Women are sexual creatures. Men are sexual creatures. We have primal, biological urges to want have sexual, loving connections with each other. Fact.

    Women shouldn’t have to quiet their sexual desires towards men or other women because they could be called out on it (insulting terms like slag or whore) and men shouldn’t have to be seen to treat women or men like they don’t care about their feelings (which is a popular expectation for males).

    What my problem is, we should be looking at genders as treated EQUALLY but we are still different and individual. Embrace everything and everyone. Russell here is a flirtatious, cheeky chappy and many of people my age are too. There are some people who find this refreshing and entertaining and some people who don’t.

    We should be trying to break down the walls of ‘ALL women you have to want, expect and be this. ALL men you have to want, expect and be this.’ We’re all human, we’re all looking for love, kindness and companionship. Please do not discredit a man which embodies all these which are so rarely found within people in his line of work just because that lady on TV was absolutely gorgeous and he has a penis.

    I can’t imagine it something Emily Davidson would have put at the top of her list.

  • Mel

    Foemeanism should not have published such a disgusting,demonic book called “scum” thats what this womens movement they are all pieces of that. They will burn in hell for that one publishing such an evil piece of work. Its also hateful and disrespectful to call compliments “offensive” hassling which its not because your just going only on what your imagining not what you actually know. Its also stupid and shows a loss of intelligence to call whistling “street” “irritation” another lie from Lucifer. Women should not femeanist books like Valerie the lowlifes book is evil and disrespectful what it says how men should be shot and killed is a form of harassment towards men by making shallow threats they cannot carry out by insinuating that there should be fewer men in the world. These are very mean and disrespectful words to say in any book that they will be in hell because of this as will everyone who passes judgement on those who give compliments will be in hell with Lucifer and his demons to.

  • Ellie

    Hey Russel,

    Stop being sexist. You are not your dad. It’s a pretty serious flaw in your argumentation.. You must know this, surely Time to do something about it if you truly want to speak for us all.

  • Rachel

    I don’t think anything he said was “sexist” and I’m a flaming feminist.

  • Paulie Abque

    Omg if people don’t stop getting offended at every little fucking thing we won’t have comedians anymore. If you don’t like it TURN THE CHANNEL and stop expecting everything you watch to have your overly sensitive feelings as the focus!!

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