Emma Barnett gets lots of sexist abuse online, and she got a couple of sexist online abusers to call in to her weekly radio program to explain why sexist abuse is a good thing.
First troll up was Peter from Whitechapel. He was quick to deliver some clichés – such as if Criado-Perez can’t stand the heat on Twitter, then she should get out of the kitchen.
But not content with his trite and quite frankly misplaced advice, I pushed harder and whoah – then the real Peter emerged.
“She was asking for it,” he told me. According to this nitwit, if you campaign about issues such as keeping a woman on English banknotes, you should “expect to receive rape threats”. I delved further.
“If you put your head above the parapet, like she has, then you deserve this type of abuse. It’s what you get when you are a woman shouting about something,” Peter told me, starting to get a little irate.
Of course. We already know this. It’s what we’ve been told over and over and over again in our own particular corner of the internet. “If you are a public figure, you have to expect abuse.” I’ve been told that, in those words, many many times. I’ve been told it with one or two words changed another many many times. “If you write things, you will get pushback.” “If you can’t handle abuse you should stop doing things that attract abuse. You should get offline.” “You should stop talking about the abuse you get, because women aren’t victims.”
I haven’t seen the claim about deserving it so much, though. That’s another step, that Peter takes. What I see is the claim that it just will happen, it’s inevitable, it follows public writing the way mildew follows rain. I don’t see the claim that we deserve it because we are women shouting about something. I think that is the underlying belief, or not so much belief as hatred in the form of an assumption, but I think most people are shy of putting it like that. It’s interesting that Peter isn’t shy in that way.
Then Gary from Birmingham decided to call in – and while the experience was quite vile, I can only thank him for his horrible honesty. Because while Peter was a good starter troll – Gary provided the full-fat version of what it is to be a woman-hating internet troll.
Gary, a deep-voiced menacing-sounding man, sat in an eerily quiet home, told me in no uncertain terms that “feminists like Caroline were undermining what it is to be a man” and needed “sorting out”.
“Men are predators,” he explained calmly. “And this [rape threats] is what we do.”
Do I detect a fan of vulgarized evo psych?
Regrouping, I then asked him how he would feel if, like Criado-Perez, his mother (you hope the one woman he may respect for creating him, so he could you know, fulfil his male predatory purpose on earth and all that) received 50 rape threats an hour?
His first answer was genius: “She wouldn’t because my mum’s not a feminist.” Right.
I asked the question again and his reply defied belief: “She would know these men wouldn’t actually come and rape her. They don’t mean it. Rape is a metaphor.”
Well, no, it doesn’t defy belief, not to me. Maybe that’s because of Garry Trudeau. Did you know that in the very early days of Doonesbury, while Trudeau was still an undergraduate, he did one in which after an argument with Nicole (the resident feminist at the time) Mike turned to the “camera” and said, “I should rape her for that”? It’s true. I remember it – I can even visualize it, maybe partly because the drawing was still so crude then. It’s so obscure though that it’s hard to find it even mentioned on Google. I found a mention in an interview in 2000 though.
Arlington, Va.: Mr. Trudeau —
Do you ever look back at strips from years past and wince at things that are no longer humorous or what you now think are wrong-headed? I recall looking at your original Yale cartoons and seeing Mike making a joke about rape that would be considered absolutely beyond the pale today. Given that you can’t take individual jokes back, are there any characterizations or situations you wish you hadn’t done, like Phuong as the lovable Viet Cong or maybe some of Duke’s foreign exploits in countries that later became more generally known as tragedies?
Garry Trudeau: Many of the early strips from college make me cringe, especially the one you mention, which I deleted from subsequent editions of the book.
Yep. I must have had that early edition of the book, or I wouldn’t remember that “joke.” Funnily enough (or not), I thought it was absolutely beyond the pale then. I was amazed by it – no doubt another reason I remember it – because Trudeau seemed so generally good on those things. He was sympathetic to Nicole, he gave her good, funny lines. I loved the one where she’s explaining feminism to Mike and he slowly catches on and ends up saying “I get it, you’re saying women are as good as men,” and she says “No, I’m saying we’re better than men” and gives a wicked smile. It’s always been one of my favorite feminist self-mocking jokes. (The others all come from Dykes to Watch Out For.) The rape “joke” seemed wildly off – and was, or it wouldn’t make him cringe now.
Anyway, it doesn’t defy belief, to me, to say that the rape talk thrown at women online is mostly figurative rather than literal. But it doesn’t need to be literal to be abusive. Telling Jews you want to put them in ovens wouldn’t have to be literal to be abusive. Telling someone, in anger, you’d like to beat her or him to a bloody pulp doesn’t have to be literal to be abusive.
(There’s also the fact that sometimes people take threats to be figurative and they turn out to be literal.)
Gary from Brum is playing with a very nasty toy.