Blackwell’s attacked for hosting ‘sexist’ Bond villain

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The Broad Street bookshop Blackwell’s has been subjected to criticism from the Oxford University Women’s Campaign for hosting the launch of actor Steven Berkoff’s book, Sod the Bitches!, amid claims that the book is “misogynistic” and “a sustained rant against women”.

Published by Urbane Publications, the book will be the first novel written by the 77 year old Steven Berkoff, widely known for villainous roles in films such as Rambo: First Blood Part II and, notably, General Orlov in the James Bond film Octopussy.

Details for the launch event on Blackwell’s website refer to the book as “powerful, divisive and honest”. 

A statement released to Cherwell by the Oxford University Woman’s Campaign committee explained, “WomCam is extremely disappointed that Blackwell’s has invited Steven Berkoff to launch his book in Oxford. Books like his, which appeal to a certain demographic of men, normalise and celebrate misogyny.

“The title of his book is offensive, and the novel itself is littered with slurs, and has rightly been called a ‘sustained rant against women’. There are many authors to be celebrated: Berkoff is not one of them. We condemn Blackwell’s for inviting him to Oxford and giving a platform to his hateful views, as well as encouraging people to buy this misogynistic book.

“We hope that in the future they refrain from inviting sexist speakers. It is a shame that Blackwell’s thinks that this book in particular is worth celebrating, but also that it thinks that such a speaker would receive an audience here in Oxford.”

Berkoff is known for being outspoken in his opinions. In a recent interview with London’s Evening Standard, he referred to Caitlin Moran as an example of “women saying things about men in a jokey, cynical way, [when] the reverse would be regarded as offensive”. In 2013, he was also fined £400 after being found guilty of knocking over a pedestrian while “driving without due care and attention”.

Zool Verjee, Deputy Manager of Blackwell’s bookshop, told Cherwell, “Blackwell’s hosts a vast range of events week in week out, a total of around 250 events per year encompassing just about every subject under the sun.

“We give platforms to a very wide spectrum of speakers with a variety of perspectives and viewpoints and wherever possible we don’t think it is right to censor or restrict speakers when they talk about their books, whether their works are fictional, as is the case here, or non-fictional.

“In this case, Steven Berkoff is a widely respected actor, director and playwright who has written a novel which we understand might be provocative but whose creative viewpoint we do not believe should be prohibited.”

Blackwell’s also came under fire last year for its ties to UKIP, as it was revealed by Channel 4’s FactCheck in 2013 that Julian Blackwell, owner of the Blackwell’s publishing group, was the second largest donor to UKIP since 2001, having donated a total of £175,000 in 2007.

In response to the disclosure of Julian Blackwell’s donations, the Oxford Activist Network organised a “Books not Bigots” protest on Broad Street in May last year. In a statement given at the time to the Tab Oxford, Julian Blackwell denied having donated any money to UKIP since 2010, telliing the Tab Oxford, “For the 2010 election I personally, from money I had made outside Blackwell’s, did support UKIP as I liked the then leader and believed in what UKIP was trying to do. I have given no further funds to UKIP since 2010.”

Steven Berkoff was unavailable for comment.

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