Clint Eastwood reminds us women don't have to do much to be branded a 'slut'

Arwa Mahdawi

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Scoops for sex

Want to make a name for yourself in journalism? It’s easy really: just get your kit off and sleep with a source. Female reporters do it “all the time” in order to get exclusive stories, according to the sentient jar of hair wax otherwise known as Fox News host Jesse Watters.

Watters made this disgusting, and completely ludicrous, claim on Wednesday while discussing the backlash to Clint Eastwood’s new movie Richard Jewell. The film is based on the real-life story of an eponymous security guard wrongfully accused of planting a bomb at the 1996 Olympic Games and portrays a female journalist sleeping with an FBI agent in order to land an exclusive story.

Here’s the thing though: there appears to be absolutely no evidence that the journalist in question, Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) reporter Kathy Scruggs (played by Olivia Wilde), slept with her FBI source in order to break the story that Jewell was a suspect in the incident.

Let’s just recap that shall we? Warner Brothers made a movie about a man whose reputation was unfairly ruined by a careless FBI and a media ecosystem more interested in rushing out a good story than establishing the truth. And, in order to spice things up, they casually besmirched the reputation of a female reporter. Because, as we all know, women aren’t three-dimensional human beings in the same way men are. Their reputations don’t matter. Their stories don’t matter.

What makes all this even more infuriating is that Scruggs isn’t even around to stick up for herself; she died in 2001. The AJC, however, has staunchly defended her and asked Warner Brothers to add a disclaimer to the film acknowledging the whole sex-for-information thing was a fictionalization. Warner Brothers has refused to do this, issuing a statement saying it was “based on a wide range of highly credible source material”.

I’m highly skeptical that there is any credible evidence that Scruggs slept with her sources. If there was, then I reckon it would already be in the public domain. After all, there’s nothing the world loves more than slut-shaming women. Just look at Katie Hill. Just look at Monica Lewinsky. Just look at Janet Jackson, whose career suffered for years after the world caught a glimpse of her nipple at the Superbowl.

The conversation around Richard Jewell, and Watters’ sweepingly sexist comments, serve as yet another reminder that women are damned if they do and they’re damned if they don’t. They don’t get excused for their sexual transgressions in the same way men do; they get branded for life. What’s more, women don’t even have to sleep with anyone to get labelled a slut or accused of using their sexuality to get ahead. As the editor of the AJC has noted, the idea that women sleep their way to the top is “the worst kind of trope”. And not only is it sexist and insulting, it’s nonsensical. After all, if women everywhere are cynically sleeping their way to the top, wouldn’t there be rather more women at the top?

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