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Sep 04 2013

Your garden variety sexist communications

Caroline Criado-Perez gave a talk at the Women’s Aid conference; she talked about cyber harassment.

I’d like to start off by giving you a bit of background into what led up to the harassment I received for over two weeks in July and August, because I think it’s important to see how little it takes to provoke this kind of abuse – it’s important to face up to how much of a problem we still have with widespread misogyny against any woman who dares to use her voice in public.

I don’t think of it as “still” – I think of it as new. That’s because I’m a lot older than Criado-Perez, so I didn’t grow up with the internet, so I remember a time when there was no real way for misogynists to call women bitches and cunts in a public, archivable way. Norman Mailer couldn’t go on the Dick Cavett show and call feminists bitches and cunts, because he would simply have been bleeped. One of the many novelties the internet makes possible is noisy, repetitive, unabashed misogyny and harassment.

So some of you may have heard of a campaign I ran from April to July this year, asking the Bank of England to review its decision to have an all-male line-up on banknotes. (Note to media, I really didn’t campaign for Jane Austen’s face on a banknote, please stop saying I did, thank you!) The campaign received quite a lot of media attention, and I spent much of my time rehearsing arguments about the damage a public culture saturated with white male faces does to the aspirations and achievements of women and young girls.

She could have put that last bit better. It’s not the saturation with white male faces, it’s the lack of other kinds of faces. The point isn’t to say white males get out, it’s to say white males aren’t all there are.

As a result of this media attention, throughout the campaign I had been on the receiving end of your garden variety sexist communications. The sort that call you a bitch, a cunt, that tell you to get back to the kitchen. The sort that tell you to shut up, stop whining, stop moaning – to get a life.

Then the Bank of England made its decision, and the real harassment got going. She gives details; lots of details.

One of the saddest things about the abuse I suffered, was the fact that it wasn’t just from men. Some women joined in on the act too – although the majority of the malicious communications I got from women were of the victim-blaming variety. Stop attention-seeking, you’re a media whore, a fame hag, bet you’re crying your way to the bank over this. If you were really bothered you would just keep quiet. You’re not silenced – look at you all over the airwaves. Why should we care about you, you’re not perfect, you’re no mother Teresa. And at its worst and most blatant: “you’re no victim”.

Not even a professional one? They missed a trick there.

The psychological fall-out is still unravelling. I feel like I’m walking around like a timer about to explode; I’m functioning at just under boiling point – and it takes so little to make me cry – or to make me scream.

And I’m still being told not to feed the trolls.

I can’t begin to tell you how much I hate that phrase. That phrase takes no account of the feelings of the victim – only of the feelings of a society that doesn’t care, that doesn’t want to hear it, that wants women to put up and shut up. It completely ignores the actions of the abuser, focusing only on the actions of the victim – because that’s what we do in this society. We police victims. We ask “why doesn’t she leave?” instead of asking “why doesn’t he stop?”

Why doesn’t she just say “no thank you” to more wine? Why didn’t she go to the police? Why should we believe her? Why would any skeptic ever believe any report of harassing behavior? Why do you hate skepticism?

Victims have to be allowed to stand up and shout back – they need to be allowed to ask for support, without being accused of attention-seeking. They need to be allowed to draw the attention of the world to what so many women go through on a daily basis, and make it front page news. Because, make no mistake. Not talking about this is not going to make abuse and misogyny go away. On the contrary, it will help it to thrive.

So many women got in touch with me when the story broke to thank me for speaking out about it, for making it front page news for so long. They had been through the same, they said. And the police had not helped them. The police had told them to lock their accounts, to stop tweeting controversial things – in one case, the controversial thing being tweeted about was racism. A black woman was being told she could not tweet about racism, because there was nothing the police could do about the ensuing rape threats.

Yep. If you don’t like being harassed, get off Twitter – that’s what we’re told. If you don’t like people ranting about wanting to kick you in the cunt, stop writing and talking in public. It’s easy. It’s simple. Just shut up, and the problem is solved.

Except that that is the problem – women being bullied into shutting up is the problem. Women being bullied into shutting up can’t be the solution to the problem of women being bullied into shutting up.

 

 

19 comments

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  1. 1
    screechymonkey

    If you don’t like people ranting about wanting to kick you in the cunt, stop writing and talking in public. It’s easy. It’s simple. Just shut up, and the problem is solved.

    And then if anyone comments on the lack of women writing and talking in public, they’ll be reassured that it’s just a guy thing.

  2. 2
    A Hermit

    Also this…

    …this free speech I’ve discovered, the free speech of women, is under attack. And it’s under attack as much from people who tell us not to feed the trolls, to stop attention-seeking, to keep quiet and not be controversial, as it is from men who send us rape threats every time we open our mouths, or those who call us Nazis for objecting to this.

  3. 3
    smhll

    @1 Good one!

  4. 4
    sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d

    “Some women joined in on the act too”

    How does Caroline Criado-Perez know?
    Given the curious and obsessive characters of many of the people involved in campaigns of abuse, it seems likely that such people would create fictional characters- male and female- to increase their entertainment.

  5. 5
    SallyStrange

    SC_numbermess:

    Why does it matter how she knows? Do you have some compelling reason to think that women are never misogynist, that they never participate in enforcing patriarchy?

  6. 6
    sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d

    What matters is whether Caroline Criado-Perez knows at all. Some of the men involved in abusing her have been identified as men. However, how many of the supposed women have actually been identified as women? As I said, given the possibility that some identities have been created purely as personae, then the apparent identity- every aspect of identity- of people who have only appeared and commented a few times on the same topics is open to question.

  7. 7
    Bjarte Foshaug

    “Some women joined in on the act too”
    [...]
    Given the curious and obsessive characters of many of the people involved in campaigns of abuse, it seems likely that such people would create fictional characters- male and female- to increase their entertainment.

    These are not mutually exclusive claims, though. Given the sheer volume of abuse, it would be quite remarkable if none of the abusers were wbmen. Most of assholes who have been harassing Ophelia and other feminists in the atheoskeptosphere are also men, but there are some known women who do an awful lot of naval gassing among them.

  8. 8
    sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d

    Given the sheer volume of abuse, it would be quite remarkable if of the abusers were wbmen.

    Yes, but I think it likely that not all of them are women though. I’d also wonder whether all the apparent men are men. I wouldn’t guess about numbers or percentages, but people who play nasty games like that want to create confusion.

  9. 9
    iknklast

    I suppose if I never left the house, and never went on the Internet, never watched a movie or read a book, never took a phone call, never chatted with a neighbor, then…and only then…could I reasonably request that I not be made a victim of sexism. At least, that’s what it sounds like they’re saying. Stay on your back in bed, except for occasional trips to the kitchen to get your man a glass of wine, and you’ll be fine, we won’t bother you.

    A virtual burqua.

  10. 10
    AsqJames

    @sc_UUID,

    Is your question re. the real gender of some of the abusers she identifies as women merely a casual aside, or do you actually think it’s important? And if it’s the latter, could you perhaps explain WTF difference it makes?

  11. 11
    Wowbagger, Designated Snarker

    Yes, because the exact proportion of the harassers’ genders is by far the most important aspect of this issue. That’s definitely what we should be concentrating on.

  12. 12
    A. Noyd

    AsqJames (#10)

    And if it’s the latter, could you perhaps explain WTF difference it makes?

    I think they’re trying to play the “it’s mostly sockpuppets, so it’s not a big, widespread problem” game.

  13. 13
    Al Dente

    sc_numbers @6

    What matters is whether Caroline Criado-Perez knows at all.

    Why does it matter? Do you think Criado-Perez is lying? Are you claiming that 100% of all misogynists are men? Should sexist women be treated differently than sexist men? Or are you trying to derail the thread with hyperskepticism?

  14. 14
    sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d

    Criado-Perez said “One of the saddest things about the abuse I suffered, was the fact that it wasn’t just from men.”, which suggests that she thinks it is important that “Some women joined in on the act too.” It isn’t as important as being abused at all, but that doesn’t make it unimportant.
    What people do on the internet is important, I think, as are their motives for what they do- including abusing and attacking people- on the internet If we don’t know how many people do something, who they are and why they do it, it’s difficult to find ways to stop them- both stop them actively abusing people and to stop them wanting to abuse people.
    I think that the way the internet works and peoples’ expectations of it have something to do with it: if some of the identities attacking Criado-Perez are personae, how far do their creators regard Criado-Perez herself and what she says as a persona and not a real person? Do people perceive ‘truth’ differently on the internet? Is ‘truth’ different on the internet, even? These are interesting questions and they derive directly from the abuse Criado-Perez has suffered and her response to it.

  15. 15
    Wowbagger, Designated Snarker

    These are interesting questions and they derive directly from the abuse Criado-Perez has suffered and her response to it.

    They might be interesting questions given the correct context. This isn’t it.

  16. 16
    Pen

    It’s not the saturation with white male faces, it’s the lack of other kinds of faces. The point isn’t to say white males get out, it’s to say white males aren’t all there are.

    Just a detail but there’s only so many banknotes so in this case (and many others) women in really does mean men out. In other areas there’s plenty of room for more people of all sorts.

  17. 17
    leebrimmicombe-wood

    SC,

    The statement that SOME women should have been involved in the abuse should be uncontroversial. After all, we know from experience that some women are involved in harassment of women and feminists within the wider skeptic community. This doesn’t seem like an extraordinary claim.

    That is, unless you are making the claim that NO women were involved in the Criado-Perez abuse, in which case the onus is on you to demonstrate that.

    Unless you can do that, kindly stop derailing. This thread is not about determining the extent of sockpuppetting amongst abusers. It’s sufficient to note that some women are complicit.

  18. 18
    Minnow

    “I didn’t grow up with the internet”

    It’s not really the internet though, is it, but specifically Twitter. There has never been anything like it before and it is very hard to see what can be done without killing off the things that make it unique (and valuable if you think it is). I know other internet forums attract a lot of idiots too, but they are all fairly easy to manage if you choose too. But Twitter? What is to be done?

  19. 19
    rnilsson

    Yep. If you don’t like being harassed, get off Twitter – that’s what we’re told. If you don’t like people ranting about wanting to kick you in the cunt, stop writing and talking in public. It’s easy. It’s simple. Just shut up, and the problem is solved.

    Sorry to say, this is in a nutshell what “my” woman said to me the other day. I did not quite agree.

    Except that that is the problem – women being bullied into shutting up is the problem. Women being bullied into shutting up can’t be the solution to the problem of women being bullied into shutting up.

    Which is what I should have replied. Except, for some reason, none of us is on Twitter. Or Facebook for that matter. At least here I can give some little support to someone who may need it, or so I hope.

    Oh, to sleep! Perhaps to dream? (TM) Or maybe just grow a little bit wiser day by day of living. While we do.

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