5 min read

Russell Brand and the bystanders: how to say enough is enough

Tiffany Bluhm is a speaker and the author of Prey Tell: Why We Silence Women Who Tell the Truth and How Everyone Can Speak Up. She speaks and writes at the intersection of justice and faith for conferences, churches, and companies.

When calling out misogyny, low standards are expected of men. Tiffany Bluhm assesses the ‘Say Maaate’ campaign and explores bystander intervention. Part of the Problem with Men series.
Three young men sit on a couch. One is leering at a phone while the others look on hesitantly
The 'Say Maaate' interactive video encourages users to pick a moment to act.
Mayor of London.

 In the wake of headlines filling our news feed reporting a story, yet again, of a pop culture icon taking advantage of women, be it Russell Brand or “That 70’s Show” star, Danny Masterson, we’re quick to say “enough is enough,” but perhaps the question to ask is “how do we stop it?” What standards are we expecting of men as individuals and as a collective whole? How will they self-edit their interactions with women? What do we expect of men in the workplace, at the gym, at church, or in the public square? We know what we don’t want them to do, leverage their power, privilege, or platform at a woman’s expense, but that’s an undeniably low bar. What could they do to stop each other before their actions get out of hand? 

Before heinous stories of sexual violence are aired on the BBC or CNN, we’re holding the communal line of what we’ll accept from men. 

After learning of the ‘Say Maaate’ campaign—a public information campaign inviting male mates to call each other out when they witness misogynistic tendencies toward women without jeopardizing the friendship thus jeopardizing the influence on each other—I recognized its brilliance lies in its interception of misconduct before it gains momentum or is considered high stakes. Before heinous stories of sexual violence are aired on the BBC or CNN, we’re holding the communal line of what we’ll accept from men, be it sexist jokes or public harassment. This endeavor, which includes bystander intervention, where those within eyeshot or earshot will attempt to distract and intervene in a potentially hazardous situation when men assert unsolicited dominance or advances toward women, is so successful that it’s employed by the United States military and countless higher education universities and colleges in the States. It puts the onus not on the woman impacted during the encounter, but on those around her, to step up and intervene at the first sign of a power imbalance, ranging from a man standing too close, to a woman darting her eyes to avoid eye contact, to outright sexual and verbal harassment. 

Bystander intervention invites the bystander to disrupt the moment, and after the moment has passed, confront the antagonist with either the benefit of the doubt, “maaate,” if deserving, or a “Man, she didn’t like that, read the room.” Lastly, it beckons the bystander to check on the woman who was the recipient of unwanted harassment. Bystander intervention provides much-needed boundary reminders of what we will and won’t accept in a society where the moral arc of the universe desperately needs to bend toward justice. This practice refuses to normalize women’s subjugation or sexualization, it offers a lifeline where there hasn’t been one before, with women left to their own defences against men with no intention of respecting them.  

I feared the ramifications of speaking up against a man with more clout than I. 

Interestingly, men with power—financial, organizational, political, celebrity—perceive themselves to be more attractive, assume women want them, and sexualize interactions with women. In a world where women are often playing by men’s rules, this makes for disastrous outcomes. Far too many women fear they’ll lose access to their place of perceived or actualized power if they speak up for themselves, or other women, who’ve been maligned, even slightly, by men with power and poor intentions. In my own experience, I feared the ramifications of speaking up against a man with more clout than I. How would this affect my social and professional standing in my community? Would others perceive that I have an axe to grind when that wasn’t the case? Would they frame me as prudish? Would they assume I asked for it? Would they assume I’m trying to unnecessarily take down a “good guy.” Instead of speaking up when the stakes were small, after an off-handed comment, sexist joke, or a lingering hug, I assumed this is just how it is, boys will be boys. If I want to get by in this world, I must put up with it. 

If only the men listening would have thrown him a “maaate.”  

Research shows that this pompous approach men exhibit toward women starts on the playground in primary school, gains steam in the locker room in secondary school, cements itself in university culture, (what Americans refer to as “frat culture”) and before we know it, twentysomething men are carrying this toxic idea of what it means to engage women into adult life, and further, it’s celebrated, as was the case of Brand’s public persona. Too often harassment and misogynistic tendencies of any sort equate to validation of masculinity. In this line of thinking, the subtext is that women exist to be dominated, harassed, or taken advantage of for the sheer pleasure of men. This is the genius of bystander intervention; it swiftly reckons with the subtext of a culture hellbent on letting men get away with whatever they want and whoever they want. 

He addresses her harassers, beckoning them to examine their own lives rather than fixate on hers. 

While the Christian church is no stranger to sexual trysts or infractions by men of the cloth, the ethos of Jesus regards women as worthy not of subjugation nor sexual harassment, but respect and dignified engagement. He modeled this respect and casts a vision for women to find solace and safety in men, never harm. 

A great example of bystander intervention in history starts with pious religious leaders attempting to trap the counter-cultural rabbi Jesus by throwing a woman at his feet, alleging she engaged in adultery, a crime, at the time, worthy of public stoning. A clear imbalance of power, with a woman’s life as collateral for trapping Jesus, the religious leaders wondered if he might keep allegiance to the law or break from it. They made the encounter about Jesus; Jesus centered the encounter on protecting the woman who’d been dragged to the public square. Jesus first intervenes by writing in the sand as his answer to the question posed by the leaders. Her physical safety is of utmost importance as evidenced by his actions. Then, he addresses her harassers, beckoning them to examine their own lives rather than fixate on hers. Finally, he checks in with the undoubtedly traumatized woman, a mere prop in an attempt to trap a man who modeled equality and respect between the sexes. 

If bystander intervention was effective 2,000 years ago to protect and uphold women’s dignity and safety, and has modern success in the military and on university campuses, maybe there’s room for the men in our community to prevent harm before it happens? Maybe we can right cultural wrongs? Maybe before learning of Brand’s misconduct, we’ll learn of a bystander who stepped in before a sexist slur was accepted in everyday conversation or intervened when a woman was uncomfortable. Since the issue is not weak femininity but toxic masculinity, maybe men can learn to say, “Enough is enough.” 

4 min read

De-coding the hidden messages in Christmas carols

Ian Bradley is Emeritus Professor of Cultural and Spiritual History at the University of St Andrews.

Beyond the festive imagery, some carols hint at rebellion and even revolution. Ian Bradley tells their stories.
Dressed in Victorian clothes, a group of carol singers stand and sing amid Christmas foliage.
Mario Mendez on Unsplash.

Carols are one of the best loved features of Christmas celebrations and one of the most effective means of spreading the good news of the birth of Jesus, the Saviour of the world. In addition to their clear proclamation of the doctrine of incarnation, that God has taken on human form and come to dwell among us, some of our most popular carols may also have been written to convey further hidden messages. 

Take ‘O come, all ye faithful’, for instance. On the surface it seems a straightforward hymn of adoration to the newborn Christ but in fact historians suggest that it may well have been written in its original Latin form, ‘Adeste, fideles,’ as a coded message to rally Jacobites to the cause of Bonnie Prince Charlie on the eve of his rebellion against the British crown in 1745. The man generally reckoned to have been its author, John Francis Wade, was a fervent supporter of the Jacobite cause who seems to have written it while he was plain-chant scribe at the English Catholic college in Douai, France where a weekly Mass was celebrated for the return of the Stuarts to the British throne. 

Half hidden Jacobite images, including Scotch thistles and the Stuart cypher, appear in the earliest manuscripts of the carol. Its call to ‘the faithful’ may have had a double meaning and been intended to alert the supporters of the ‘King over the water’ to Charles James Stuart’s imminent arrival in Britain from the  continent. Similarly, its reference to ‘Rex angelorum’, translated as the King of the Angels, could also be taken to mean the true king of the English in contrast to the Hanoverian incumbent, George II. In its original Latin form, the carol seems initially to have been sung only in Roman Catholic places of worship, notably in the chapel of the Portuguese Embassy in London and its tune was long known as the Portuguese Hymn. 

Another well-known Christmas song may contain similarly coded messages. It has been suggested on the basis of letters from Jesuit priests attached to the English college in Douai, France, that that ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ was written to teach the elements of the Roman Catholic faith to children during the period following the Reformation in which it was officially proscribed and suppressed in the United Kingdom. In this reading, the twelve drummers drumming are the articles of the Apostle’s Creed; the eleven pipers piping the faithful apostles; the ten lords a-leaping the ten commandments; the nine ladies dancing the fruits of the Holy Spirit; the eight maids a-milking the beatitudes; the seven swans a-swimming the seven sacraments of the Catholic church; and the ‘five gold rings’ the five wounds of the crucified Christ.  

A hidden message of a rather different kind may be lurking in another popular carol, ‘Angels from the Realms of Glory’, which first appeared in a radical Sheffield newspaper entitled The Iris on Christmas Eve 1816. Its author, James Montgomery, the paper’s editor, was twice imprisoned for his support of the French Revolution and reform riots in Britain. The original last verse, which described Justice repealing the sentences of those sentenced to imprisonment and Mercy breaking their chains, was regarded by the authorities as too polemical and subversive did not find its way into any hymn book when the carol was taken up and sung in churches.  

A carol with a more overtly contemporary message is ‘It came upon the midnight clear’. Its author, Edmund Sears, who claimed descent from one of the original Pilgrim Fathers, was a Unitarian minister in Massachusetts with a deep commitment to social reform and the promotion of peace. He wrote it in 1849, following the violent revolutions in Europe and the bloody and costly war between the United States of America and Mexico in the previous year. These conflicts were undoubtedly in his mind when he wrote ‘O hush the noise, ye men of strife, and here the angels sing’ and expressed his heartfelt longing for a future age of gold ‘when peace shall over all the earth its ancient splendours fling’, sentiments which we can certainly echo this Christmas. 

The German carol Stille Nacht (Silent Night), which regularly tops the list of the world’s favourite Christmas song, underwent several adaptations through the twentieth century expressing the changing political mood in Germany. A Socialist version entitled ‘The Workers’ Silent Night’ which circulated widely around 1900 highlighted the prevailing poverty, misery and distress and ended with an appeal to wake up to social action rather than sleep in heavenly peace. It was considered subversive and banned by the German Government before the First World War. During that war, German soldiers on the front adapted Stille Nacht to express a sense of homesickness and in the period of rampant inflation that followed in the 1920s Weimar Republic a social democratic version asked plaintively: ‘in poverty, one starves silently,/When does the saviour come?’. A 1940 Nazi adaptation turned the song into a celebration of the fatherland and traditional German family values. More recent parodies of the English version have tended to focus on the commercial aspects of the festive season, like the American author Chris Fabry’s send-up of last minute Christmas shopping:  ‘Silent Night, Solstice Night, All is calm, all half price’. 

The tradition of adapting traditional Christmas carols to contemporary events has a long pedigree in Britain. ‘Hark, the herald angels sing’ has proved particularly appealing to parodists. During the abdication crisis of 1937 a version circulated which began ‘Hark the herald angels sing, Mrs. Simpson’s pinched our king’ and a group of journalists (of which I was one) heralded the birth of the SDP in 1981 with ‘Hark The Times and Guardian roar, Glory to the Gang of Four’. It is rarer to hear parodies of carols nowadays. Perhaps in our troubled times we just want and need to focus on their message of the coming of the Christchild and of God’s kingdom with its promise of a more peaceful and joyful world.  

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