Fired For Supporting Violent Sexist Rhetoric
Hydro One is firing a Sunshine List* employee involved in the vulgar incident with CityNews reporter Shauna Hunt at Sunday's Toronto FC game. - The Hamilton Spectator
Please watch this short video. I want to talk about the people in it and the responses and consequences that followed its release.
In the video a dudebro says "F*** her right in the pussy" while CityNews reporter Shauna Hunt is interviewing some fans following a football match. She stops the interview to address the comment to the crowd of men.
At first I thought the person fired for the vulgar comment was the person who said it. But he's not. That comment came from the guy with the goatee, pseudo-mohawk, black jacket with red trim with a cigarette in his hand. He says it to the guy being interviewed, then slips away. That guy, circled in black, was not the one fired. (Although he might have been since the story ran last week.)
When the reporter has finally had enough of this, she stops the interview and wades into the crowd. Because pseudo-mohawk guy disappeared she engages the dudebro in the red shirt. He admits that a group of them were waiting to do this, because "Where else are you going to do it?"
When she asks, "You would humiliate me on live television?" Red shirt says, "Not you." He implies that he wouldn't have said it to HER (as opposed to other nameless women who might not call him on it.) That's because he's face to face and has enough residual brain cells to realize he's not anonymous and starts backing away from supporting an offensive comment.
After his blurry eyes spot the cameraman he asks, "Are you actually filming this?" He goes from, it's all a goof to, "Holy crap, this could get me in trouble! What am I supposed to do again!? Oh yeah, condemn the practice, make an exception of the person I'm talking dirt about, try and prove I'm not really a jerk."
Of course when he condemns the practice it's in a perfunctory, sarcastic tone that conveys, "I am just saying this because I've been busted, but I'm not really sorry."
The third person, the guy in the yellow Fly Emirates shirt, is Shawn Simoes. He defends the phrase as a joke. "it's f***ing hilarious" and tells Hunt "You're lucky there's not a vibrator in your ear like in England." He is the one who was fired.
Why did Shawn Simoes get fired but not the red shirt guy, who also defended the use of the phrase, or Mr. Black Jacket, faux hawk guy who actually said it? I don't have all the information on these people, but here is some more behind the scenes details about this clip.
What Good Is a Social Media Related Firing If The Real Culprit Walks?
Social media and video gives us a newer, broader way to interact with the rest of the world. Some people use it hoping to modify others' behavior and/or to hold people accountable for their words and actions. Other times it's used as a blunt object to harass or punish people with mob justice.
If you want to use social media to change behavior it helps to know what you actually can change vs. what you hope you can change. It also helps to know who you are appealing too.
I've written about how to use social media as a weapon, and taught people how to use it to defund right-wing media. It has resulted in the loss of 100's of millions of dollars in revenue for some media distribution companies. Because of its use people have been laid off, failed to have their contracts renewed and been outright fired. Lawsuits have been filed, tears shed, people lives and careers have been impacted (both negatively and positively).
Now we are seeing how social media and video are being used to drive accountability for certain actions or remarks in the general public. Politicians and people in power have had to deal with this for decades, and know some of the tricks to evade, retract, "walk back" deny or contextualize their comments or actions. Normal people haven't learned those skills yet.
Social media can be mis-used and/or used against you. You don't have to be famous first. It's important to understand this. This is why I have always tried to give people a chance to clarify what they have said or done before unleashing the the emails of awareness, the birds of twitter or the dogs of war.
Not everyone will do that, but it helps when it comes time to defend your own actions when you are working to leverage some video, audio or text. Plus, you can avoid comparisons to James O'Keefe's dishonest editing.
Why was Red Shirt given a pass? Maybe because in this video Red Shirt pulls back his support, but Yellow Shirt keeps digging. Here's the deal, Yellow Shirt is not a trained company representative, but he is an adult. He works for a company making more than 100K a year*. They have a clearly written code of conduct. He has been there for more than 6 months, so he should be aware of it.
Someone knew that when the video when public, all the employers would need to respond. Some comments would have been a "career limiting move" (as they used to say in Silicon Valley) but for some it appears it wasn't. I don't know if whomever did the follow up on Yellow Shirt, also found out about Black Jacket's and Red Shirt's employment or allegiances. Maybe they were self employed, maybe their employers didn't care, maybe they weren't found. But Yellow Shirt's employers were found and did respond, big time.
Some people worry that an employer having this much power over what someone says outside of a work environment is a problem. I hear that, it is a concern for me too, but if someone wants to start setting expectations for social norms regarding sexist verbal harassment it makes sense to look for who has the authority and power to enforce them.
In other times a code of conduct that someone would listen to, internalize or be concerned about breaking, might come from a church, community or family.
If Yellow Shirt's family gave him grief for his comment on TV we might never see it. What if the leaders of his church objected? Would they issue a statement? "Today we have excommunicated Mr. Yellow Shirt for failing to abide by our tenets of respect for other genders."
Businesses and brands today are forces as powerful as religion and culture, in some ways more powerful. If you understand this, you can use this. That is why when I was contacting advertisers about the violent rhetoric on right wing radio I always looked at their code of conduct or vendor relationship agreements before I wrote my letters.
It's hard for a company to say yes to violent sexist rhetoric when 50 percent of their staff and customers are women. It's also hard, but not impossible, to ignore what they say to their vendors and employees about their expectations of how they interact with others. You just need to remind them of these facts and place the evidence of the transgressions in their view.
I knew the radio hosts didn't care what someone outside their target audience said, they only cared what people whose opinion they believed mattered, and those who paid the bills. The people paying the bills had power.
After watching the video and reading the article I, gasp, read the comments. It was a mix of replies I've seen before. Some identified with the guy who was fired, others focused on free speech, saw the the phrase as humor, or wondered if the punishment fit the crime.
At the time I didn't see too many women dropping in to engage the defending commenters.
I often read and hear about the desire to hold people accountability for their words and actions. This need for justice (or fairness) runs deep for many people. Telling people, "Life ain't fair." is a nice STFU to people, but it fails to address the question, "Okay, Mr. Cynical Pants, what can we do to make life less unfair?"
It is tremendously frustrating, and sometimes rage inducing, when people aren't held responsible for their illegal, destructive, harmful or morally repugnant actions. So when we see someone actually paying the price for something repugnant like this many cheer. Others ask, "Is this response fair? What about the others who participated or did worse and weren't punished?"
Of the three men in this video, who do you think will change their behavior in the future? Will it also change their attitude? What about the men watching in person at the event? What about the dudebros, waiting at future live events to interrupt a newscaster? Dudebros at home watching on YouTube? What will they learn? Will they go back to "Ba Ba Booey, Howard Stern Rules!" or some new catch phrase?
"But Spocko," you say, "You can't change drunk dudebro's sexist, obnoxious attitudes! I don't like what they say but, Free Speech! Don't waste your time mud wrestling with a pig, they won't change and they like it. You are overreacting, it's comedy. Stop being uptight and politically correct, remember Lenny Bruce!"
My reply is, "Thank you for your comments. Now I'd like you to stop and ask yourself, 'If you put yourself in the position of the female reporter--who is also aware of all the issues that you brought up--what would you do?'
To do this requires full-senses empathy. It also requires you to think of solutions. And I don't mean straw-women answers. Too often I see people throw up their hands when it's solution time, "That's censorship!" Or, "Just ignore them and they will go away."
Something can be and should be done. The actions that came out of this video are a start. If that answer makes you nervous, explore why. Maybe you are justified or maybe you are going down a slope that is not really a slippery slope. Maybe you are buying into a straw-woman path, I know that I've gotten into that mode in the past, and I needed to educate myself and people on my side that the Spocko Method was NOT censorship.
Send Your Message to the Right People
In the above video there are multiple people who say, agree with and defend the vulgar, sexist comment. But, as of now, it appears that only one will feel the consequences for his comment. But it's more than just that one.
Think aboutthe impact Yellow Shirt's firing will have on the employees and management at Hydro One.
Top executives sent a message to the rest of the company, "We are serious about this, it's important." I can imagine both relief and fear for employees (and managers.) "Finally! Now my male manger will get what's not okay and I'll be heard when I point out obnoxious sexism." Or, "Oh, crap, I can get fired over this? Am I doing it? I better change my behavior or hide it."
Now think about the impact Shauna Hunt's actions, management support and the subsequent stories will have on the other employees at her company.
The broadcasters know you can't stop jerks from being jerks so they develop coping mechanisms like delays, fewer live events, and even limiting female broadcasters from live reporting where a crowd might gather. But promoting this story and running it shows they at least understand there is a problem.
Some believe that violent sexist rhetoric is not that big of a deal, especially compared to other problems. Others think that there really isn't anything that will make any difference. Others fear it will get out of control and lead to censorship and backlash. I get that, I really do.
But one attitude about accountability for sexist, violent rhetoric that we can change is ours. There are things we can do, and we can make a difference. It starts with not ignoring it when we see or hear it.