The top solicitor Alexander Carter-Silk has been made to look a bit of a plonker by human rights barrister Charlotte Proudman.
Ms Proudman is an accomplished barrister, an academic and a successful, albeit amateur, politician (she is an active member of the Fabian Society). She is also a beautiful woman.
He sent her a private Linked-In message complimenting her on her profile picture.
Charlotte, delighted to connect, I appreciate that this is probably horrendously politically incorrect but that is a stunning picture !!!
You definitely win the prize for the best Linked In picture I have ever seen
Always interest to understand people’s skills and how we might work together
It was indeed horrendously politically incorrect.
Her reply was very terse:
I find you message offensive. I am on Linked In for business purposes not to be approached about my physical appearance or objectified by sexist men. The eroticisation of women’s physical appearance is a way of exercising power over women. It silences women’s professional attributes as their physical appearance becomes the subject.
Unacceptable and misogynistic behaviour. Think twice before sending another woman (half your age) such a sexist message.
Not content with ticking him off privately, and with reporting him to the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority, Ms Proudman took to Twitter to publicise the exchange, which was then enthusiastically taken up by the national press. Needless to say the Daily Mail led the way, unkindly pointing out that Mr Carter-Silk was a “married father of two.” The Guardian ran the story in a very Guardian sort of way, by not including any photograph of Ms Proudman, lest it be taken to endorse the eroticisation of her appearance, while the Evening Standard reported Ms Proudman as saying
I’m on there for business purposes and I thought he may be interested in my skills and experience as opposed to my body.
People are treating LinkedIn like Tinder, I’ve received many messages based on my physical appearance, but this one was from a senior partner.
His response was to say that:
“… my comment was aimed at the professional quality of the presentation on linked in which was unfortunately misinterpreted.”
That doesn’t really wash. In fact, if washing is what he’s after he’d be better off going on a weekend refresher course in reputation management.
There’s nothing very special about the photograph, as a photograph. I’m no expert on these things but it looks professionally taken: at least the lighting looks cleverly done, and it’s in focus. But that’s about it. It doesn’t really deserve much attention for its technical merit. Much the same could be said about any number of Linked In pictures, including his own, which shows off his craggy good looks to excellent effect.
It’s pretty obvious that Mr Carter-Silk was not commenting on the “professional quality of the presentation,” but on Ms Proudman’s appearance: her delicate porcelain skin, her limpid eyes and her cheeky gamin haircut, perhaps; who knows. I don’t know what particular features he found so captivating but that’s why he correctly anticipated that his observation would be regarded as “horrendously politically incorrect.”
Moreover, despite the suggestion that he might like to “work together” with her, it seems improbable that he was seriously thinking about doing so professionally. She works in the chambers of the “radical” barrister Michael Mansfield QC. Her professional interests, as her Linked In profile make clear, are ending female genital mutilation and family law. She recently worked with “vulnerable women seeking legal support having undertaken pro bono work in the Middle East, Pakistan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.”
Had he delved a little deeper he would have discovered that she is a fierce feminist. As she put it in a recent article for Left Foot Forward:
“I am a feminist and I do not strive for equality. I support liberation.”
She explains why she does not approve of equality:
“To be equal, women have to show they are strong enough to live up to men’s standards in a man’s world. Backers of equality cheer as women enlist in institutionally discriminatory police forces, join the military in invading other countries and committing war crimes, train for the roughest of men’s sports whether its dangerous and cruel horse racing, or life-threatening cage fighting.”
If he had read on, gulping as he did so, he would have read her uncompromising views on those who advocate mere equality:
Once women have joined male dominated areas of work, nobody asks why anybody regardless of gender would work in these repressive institutions. The crux of the matter is that men live and work in a brutal society, which is maintained through stratified social order based on ritual humiliation, gentleman’s clubs, fights, rites of passage, sexism, and banter.
When women enter the male realm whether law, politics, or a construction site, they find themselves in a repugnant world in which their only means of survival is by undergoing a fundamental transformation leaving them with little opportunity to make any change. We see this manifested in descriptions of women professionals as harsher than men. Assertive women are seen as aggressive bitches.
Mr Carter-Silk on the other hand, according to his firm’s website, is “a litigation heavyweight in the resolution of complex high value disputes.” He has “25 years of experience advising on contentious and non-contentious IP and technology matters and has particular strengths in the licensing, sponsorship and franchising of IP rights, and the protection of copyright, design rights and trademarks.”
Somewhat ironically as things have turned out, enough one of his other interests is “reputation management.”
There is nothing on her Linked In profile to suggest that she would have had any interest in getting involved in any of his “high value disputes.” It is true that she is obviously better at reputation management than he is, but he wasn’t to know that when he contacted her.
At the risk of myself facing an angry response from Ms Proudman, I think she was unwise and perhaps just a little unkind to humiliate Mr Carter-Silk by making their exchange public.
His offence was not a great one. He didn’t come leering over her shoulder, or rub himself against her in a crowded tube. He didn’t pinch her bottom on the train. He didn’t, as seems to be the custom these days, send her a rude photograph or even make any remotely indelicate suggestions to her, unless perhaps the suggestion of “working together” could be so construed.
He was not abusing a position of power over her: he could have no influence, or at most only a tiny amount of potential influence over the future of her career, should she decide to move away from human rights work and into the very different worlds of intellectual property and reputation management.
He simply, and rather clumsily, said, or implied, that the picture, which she herself had chosen to put on Linked In, looked very beautiful. For this she denounced him for “objectifying her” and “eroticising her physical appearance.” No doubt Ms Proudman will put me right, but I don’t see why a comment on her physical appearance “objectified” her (presumably as a sex object), any more than a comment on the quality of her work would “objectify” her as a mere barrister, rather than the fully rounded person that she is. And if Mr Carter-Silk found her picture “erotic” (which is anyway bit of a jump from saying it was “stunning”), he wasn’t “eroticising” her appearance, he was simply telling the truth about his own feelings. Men like beautiful women.
We don’t what Mr Carter-Silk would have done had she replied with a flirty come-hitherish selfie, but the message he actually sent didn’t invite her to participate in a “ritual humiliation,” or to join him for luncheon at the Ladies Annexe of the Athanaeum; he did not ask her to accompany him to a “cruel and dangerous horse race,” still less to a “life threatening” ladies’ cage fight. Yes, he is twice her age, but so what? She is an adult and was clearly well able to decide what sort of a relationship, if any, she wanted with Mr Carter-Silk. Most 27 year olds would probably not want to get involved with him, some would. Was it that wicked to try to find out if she was in the minority?
I am not a great lover of Linked In. I have a profile with a single description: barrister. I never use it, except occasionally to look at other people’s profiles. I find the way it then tells me who has been looking at my profile slightly creepy (though not half as creepy as the way Facebook constantly suggests I message people I have forgotten that I ever knew). Obviously Ms Proudman prefers to keep her profile entirely for business purposes, but it seems over the top to denounce Mr Carter-Silk because he thought she might have a broader use for it.
She likes to keep her work and her private life separate, which is fair enough, but not everybody does. Plenty of people fall in love at work. Quite possibly, these days, some people have fallen in love with a Linked In profile, or if not quite that, they have been inspired to contact a future romantic partner by a Linked In photograph.
Some time ago I wrote a blog about a solicitor in Bolton who called himself “The Rt Hon. Lord Harley of Counsel,” and called me an “ignorant cretin.” I won’t bore you with the details now, you can read it here if you want to know more. Lord Harley had the most extraordinary Linked In profile in which he claimed all sorts of qualifications – starting with his peerage – which seemed rather hard to believe. It was a popular post. Soon, poking fun at Lord Harley, which I had started, became popular with lots of other people. I’ve left the post in place, but I sometimes wonder whether I should have done so. To me it was a light-hearted piece, although it did at least have the serious point that one should be careful about lawyers who look, on paper, “too good to be true”. But I am troubled, at least slightly, by the thought that Lord Harley may have been punished by an online reaction that was out of proportion to his actual offence.
I don’t know whether Mr Carter-Silk will face similar punishment. The wrath of being tagged an #everdaysexist for a day or two is probably something he can shrug off. But being the hate figure in a twitterstorm – it might almost be called a ritual humiliation – is not a pleasant experience.
Of course he has brought it on himself, but people often bring terrible consequences on themselves which they don’t really deserve. For telling Ms Proudman that she looks stunning, I doubt whether he really deserves it.