Just want to be explicitly clear about something if I have not been already.
I receive all manner of threats and verbiage in the comms box, which is why, if you have the inclination, if you trawl back through the archives, you’ll see I was asking for advice on setting up the spam filter.
I do get what seems to be an inordinate amount of sexual abuse, which I thought was the norm. Is it because I’m a female, or is it because I very deliberately have a photograph of myself on this site, in order that people may put a face to the name. One of the reasons I am not anonymous and believe me I’ve dallied with the idea on quite a few occasions, is in order to take ownership and responsibility for my words. When I make mistakes (like referring to Evan Harris in less than complimentary terms, I publicly apologise and try to move on).
I spoke to Helen Hasteley Lewis because she was specifically looking for a right-wing blogger and and my name was suggested to her. I oscillate wildly between left and right, but I think it’s certainly fair to say that I am conservative with a small c. Helen wanted to show that it was not just people like Laurie Penny who were subject to online sexual threats. This was then followed up by Richard Roberts in today’s Observer.
As I said in my previous post, in some ways, perhaps because I’m hardened, I don’t know, but though I find the stuff vile, (I had no idea what some of these terms meant) for a multitude of reasons that Freud and every single pop psychologist could have a field day with, I find the sexual stuff easier to deal with. I had one hilarious comment from a chap who gave the impression that he was in his late 70s who suggested that I implement a “spanking contract” with my husband. Yes, apparently there is such a thing, there are whole reams of websites devoted to domestic spanking and being “taken in hand” and he suggested that this might be the best outlet rather than blog and would ensure “ruddy good sex”. It was a scream.
Why do I get this stuff? Let’s be honest, it’s because I’m an attractive sensual woman with a certain joie de vivre. Or at least that’s what I’d like to think anyway.
But when I periodically check the spam filters which are programmed with certain words to catch these sorts of comments, I am shocked by the sheer volume and at times, yes it does shock, frighten and intimidate me. I am bawdy, but not coarse. I don’t tend to swear unless really pushed and if you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know I’m often a bit “naughty” but never ever sexually explicit. I hate expletives and rarely use them, so it’s quite nasty to see that level of stuff. It’s not even “comment”, it’s just people with their own issues.
I am not a feminist by any contemporary definition, but I am what I would consider to be a feminist. I believe that true emancipation lies in men accepting women’s fertility and not attempting to suppress or override it. I think women have been sold an absolute lie in terms of myths about contraception and abortion, but let’s leave that aside for now.
Some of the nastiest, most insidious, most hurtful comments have been from women. The two people who have caused me the most online grief over the past year have been women. Their motivations are complex, but the stuff from the woman has been more threatening (the death at the hands of the rusty scissors comment was a woman) and more personal. It is WOMEN who have been spiteful, it is WOMEN who have threatened to carry this forward into real life and it is WOMEN who have thought it acceptable to drag my children into this debate. It is WOMEN who have said “your baby makes me want to be sick” and WOMEN who have gone off on crazy vendettas.
The men tend to tell me how much they would like a good f*ck and then move on.
When I have blogged about the women, I have been accused of being on a pity fest and writing long rambling “woe is me posts”. Now I’ve added my voice to the getting in the neck from the men brigade, those who have accused me of being full of self pity are suddenly the epitome of concern and those on the other side are either disbelieving of me or think that all of us women who complain about this should “grow up”.
My faith and my husband help me to cope with all of this. Other people perhaps do not have the same support structures. I’m able to put the sex stuff into perspective partly due to my marriage, but my husband is a protective chap and it breaks his heart and deeply offends him when he sees the sort of stuff that falls below the line. How would men feel if that were their wives or partners being sexually threatened by complete strangers? No-one should have to put up with it.
I don’t think it’s because of what I say necessarily, although that’s the hook. I think it’s because of the following
- I’m a woman blogger
- I promote orthodox Catholic views
- I’m outspoken, there’s a perception I can take it
- I’m attractive
- I’m a (former) vicar’s wife thus “interesting”
- The internet is full of dodgy perverts
Sexual threats are uniquely awful and unacceptable. But so are other kinds of threats, such as death threats, threats to publicly libel your family and attempt to put your husband out of a job . They were all equally vile and horrible and caused so much hurt and distress.
In January, my father had a massive heart attack which very nearly killed him. My mother was struggling to cope with caring for my father and her 98 year old mother who had lost the use of her legs and required 24/7 nursing. My daughter was suffering from a neurological condition which we still haven’t got to the bottom of. We had moved to a completely different area and lost our main social point of focus and community. My husband was in a temporary job on minimum wage. I’d had to defer my degree because of pregnancy related illness. Our house was a mass of unpacked boxes. Meanwhile life had to go on, I had a then 6 year old and a 14 month old. We didn’t know what the future held. Looking back, I am not quite sure how I managed to hold it all together.
In the midst of all this disruption came streams of threatening unsolicited email and libellous blog posts. The women concerned were well aware of my circumstances, I explicitly outlined this in an email to one, begging her to leave me alone. You would think that a feminist would exercise pity and compassion and leave a struggling heavily pregnant woman alone. She did no such thing and later alluded to the fact I’d had a hard time as being definitive proof of how very ill I allegedly am.
But that doesn’t fit the narrative so well does it? Women being nasty to women? Feminists determinedly going for the jugular of a heavily pregnant woman, because they think she hates gay people and because they don’t like her religion or her support of it.
For those who are cross with me for perpetuating what they believe is a myth, all I can do is relate my experience. I don’t want to go into the realms of misandry but yes, I do identify with Laurie Penny and anyone else who attracts vile sexist comments. It feels like a verbal assault.
I don’t want to legislate for sexism as being yet another specific hate crime – our freedom of speech is under enough threat as it is. There is no such thing as a right not to be offended, and I also believe that current anti-stalking and harassment laws are sufficient.
I don’t want to make this out to be a purely man versus women issue either. As I’ve said repeatedly, women have been every bit as vicious, but it’s a narrative none have wanted to hear.
Toby Young had a brief twitter spat that he blogged about last week. During the course of it he was called every expletive under the sun and jokes were made about his appearance. In response to a tweet from John Prescott that corrected his grammar, he jokingly suggested that he would “kill himself”. Some tweeters expressed disappointment that he would not take them up at their word and said that they were likely to urinate and dance on his grave.
Because it’s Toby Young, who is a man and therefore perceived to have a thick skin, those sorts of comments were deemed just banter.
We’re all human. When pricked we all bleed. What have learned from all this? That Satre had a point. None of the abuse has been pleasant, wherever it has emanated from. Let’s not get into pity-wars. But let’s also be clear, that those responsible for causing additional stress to a heavily pregnant, low-rent, non professional blogger, those who were threatening to take things into real life, who couldn’t get things into perspective and who were endlessly spying on my twitter feed, were women.
Let’s all play nicely. You wouldn’t greet a real life person with “you’re an ugly cow who needs a sh*g”, or “you’re a moron who knows very little about anything”. So don’t do it on the internet either. Proprietors and editors of the national press have their part to play as well. As long as Johann Hari stays on board at the Indy, we know that they don’t take online abuse seriously.
Logs and beams. It’s very easy to announce that online abuse should not be tolerated, so make sure your own house is in order. Ensure sites are swiftly moderated in order that abuse may be promptly removed and don’t employ columnists who are happy to endorse bitching, trolling and sniping, just so long as it’s not done by men.