Woman speaks out, woman gets threats – this is my response


Caroline Criado-Perez has been having quite a week.

After a three-month campaign, that began after I saw a news story about historical women being wiped off banknotes, the Bank of England finally capitulated. Mark Carney announced that not only would Jane Austen be the face of the new tenner, but that a review process would be instituted to ensure that banknotes reflected the diversity of society.

I was overwhelmed. We had taken on a huge institution, a bastion of white male power and privilege, and we had won. I looked forward to future banknotes featuring Mary Seacole and Rosalind Franklin. I looked forward to these notes very publicly: on TV; on radio; and in the papers.

Predictably, humans will find a way to ruin anything. This includes undermining the campaign and, for some goddamn reason, sending Caroline threats.

1. “There is a woman, silly girls!”

When people found out about the campaign, months ago, and its success, many “reminded” Caroline and her supporters that there was indeed a woman on the bank notes: Her Greatness Special-Blood Super Better-than-you-because-genetics Queen Person! Come on.

Doh! HOW COULD THEY HAVE FORGOTTEN. ALL OVER THEN. LET’S MOVE ON.

Except these people missed the point. Unlike other (male) figures, the Queen hadn’t done anything except “be born” to warrant her place. People – sorry, the common people – had to work and deserve such an honour of appearing on the British notes.  But, of course, no matter how many times this was pointed out, Tweets kept coming… and coming… and coming.

2. “Aren’t there more important things to worry about than women on bank notes?”

DAMMIT CAROLINE! Y U NO CURING CANCER? Y U WORRY ABOUT PICTURES OF GIRLS ON PAPERS?!

Too many people are under the impression that changes in societal attitude, rectifications of grievous – and often institutionalised harms (such as poverty, sexism, etc.) can be undermined by a Great Revolution: any sliver of progress is dismissed as meaningless, as diverting attention away from the great Feminist Uprising, the Great Equality Overturning, the Great Race Undermining.

Those on the front-line of these important campaigns opposing sexism, racism, homophobia, etc., know these things take time. Progress is progress: how many realised the problem with having men on banknotes and only one woman? Consider, too, that this campaign has made a powerful institution begin a review process that will be more representative of British people.

It’s annoying and in itself a derailing tactic to say “There are more important things to worry about”. It’s annoying because, in some instances, it’s true.

And it’s annoying because, actually, right now, that’s not the focus.

Finally, we can do many things at the same time. Those finding a cure for cancer don’t suddenly drop their needles and bottles and unicorn blood in cauldrons – I don’t know how science works – and focus only on bank-notes; those fighting for women to get access to medical facilities that could save their lives, like abortion clinics, don’t cease their fight; Bill Gates and Warren Buffett don’t drop their giant money-bags with a huge $ on to focus on other campaigns, etc., etc.

Also, it depends on your ability. Presumably you don’t want me in an HIV/Aids lab, presumably you don’t want the world’s least eloquent but most brilliant scientist writing about why science matters, etc. We each have different skills, abilities and such, and we can and already do various things – either as individuals or as a society.

3. “Twitter threats : It’s not all men!”

Since winning, people have discovered Caroline is on Twitter. And therefore deserves to know their opinion about her, her body, and what they’d like to do to it.

It seems some people didn’t like [the campaign’s success]. Among the streams of positive and supportive responses, this one cropped up: “this Perez one just needs a good smashing up the arse and she’ll be fine”. And that was just the beginning. Soon, I was overwhelmed in a very different way.

“Everyone jump on the rape train > @CCriadoPerez is conductor”; “Ain’t no brakes where we’re going”; “Wouldn’t mind tying this bitch to my stove. Hey sweetheart, give me a shout when you’re ready to be put in your place”; “So looking forward to titty fucking you later tonight”, wrote a variety of Twitter users.

Many of us expressed solidarity with Caroline as she faced this torrent of abusive messages. Of course, there were several other kinds of responses.

People told Caroline and those supporting that they should insert “some” into their Tweets saying “men are threatening/hating/etc.”

First, no one said “all men” but OK.

Second, I agree, we must be careful with language. Language matters a great deal. Yes, some terrorists who kill are Muslims but it makes little sense to say “Muslims killed these people”. That’s not the defining aspect: It’s that they were radicals, that they were terrorists. We are trying to undermine the idea that all Muslims are terrorists (let alone falsely equating Arabs with Muslims and Arabs and terrorists). After all, we don’t say a two-eyed person killed. We find something that at least relates to the killing or crime or whatever.

However, there is good reason to think that doesn’t really apply in the case of rampant misogyny; also why, in fact, we should be OK with writing “men threaten women” or “men hate women who speak out”, as what happened with Caroline.

Considering how vast, how constant, how vicious the undermining of women is, I think the burden of proof is on us men who respect women, who support them, to constantly show that; I don’t get offended by the use of “men” because I already know I’m not part of that category of men. No one is saying “all men” and I would agree if they did say so – but they’re not and presumably women know it isn’t all men.

Furthermore, playing politics, it helps show others that when women use this category how true it is. It’s not bad guys or evil supervillains doing this: it’s someone’s son, it’s someone’s husband. Ordinary guys. These are the men doing it, who become Mr Hydes when they get drunk enough, when they’re anonymous enough, when they’re on Twitter enough. And even then, during the day in the street, doesn’t stop them.

What we’d have to be careful about and what I’m struggling with is how to be OK with saying “men threaten/hate/women” but not OK with saying “Muslims are terrorists”. Perhaps we can formulate an argument that it is the specific characteristic of being male that primarily drives them to act so horribly, just as it’s the radicalism (not the Islam or being Muslim) that drives them to commit terrorism. But even then, I think there are problems. (For example, if you are convinced Islam is inherently violent in what its holy book says, etc.)

I don’t know how to work that one out just yet, but I suspect one could build a case like that.

4. “Twitter threats : It’s not real threats!”

Many people are telling Caroline to simply ignore the threats. I don’t think she should and I’m glad she isn’t.

First, by making a public deal out of this we are seeing who these people are; we are knowledgeable about not sending our daughters, our friends, our sisters, to meet such men. “Oh, you told a stranger you wanted to fuck her tits. Sorry, I don’t think we should meet”. Also, good luck with your employees.

Second, and more importantly, it forces up the support. We witness how many men are supportive, how many are opposed and hate this. It might make many realise there’s a problem and want to take more action. Just as something seemingly small – like putting a woman’s face on a banknote – has made a powerful institution reconsider its policies of representation, so these kinds of threats force men to realise how deep this kind of misogyny is; how common, how vile, how horrible. That being blind and silent means that “men” come to be represented by the worst aspects, forcing us to raise our voices to show, in fact, these are not our representatives; that we actually care about others, of different sexes, races, sexual orientations.

We don’t silence them, we just do better than them.

I ignore quite a lot of unnecessary hate from social media and internet comments (I actually don’t get a lot and I think it’s because of my smile). But that’s me and that’s a case-by-case basis. As an ex-Muslim, I would be worried if someone with a Muslim name started threatening me and my family on Twitter. I’d be worried they wanted to harm me and my loved ones and were declaring it. Being an apostate is a reason many have been targeted and will continue to be.

Similarly, as a woman, Caroline has every reason to think publishing her address, trying to find it, threatening her is worth being concerned about. Women are targeted for being women. Telling her to ignore the threats also helps to give the cover-up that sexism and misogyny seems to have: Women are just so used to threats, to come ons, to street-harassment, that many forget that it’s not OK. It should never be OK.

No, we take a stand when someone’s done something wrong.

This doesn’t give us a licence to act how we want: We don’t send death threats or threaten with violence back. We respond in a way that is actually effective and will help the wider cause of protecting women and undermining the view they’re not really people.

Conclusion

As you can tell, I don’t like women being threatened. I don’t like the way they get treated and poked and assessed. I know – I know! – the white knight card will be brought up. That is, the idea that I’m defending women because (a) they can’t do it themselves and (b) I want sexual favours.

I shouldn’t have to but I probably should point out I’ve written in defence of homosexuality, about those wanting to die, about people with disabilities, sex workers and other people who I am not and don’t myself identify with.

I do however identify with them in the sense that they’re persons worthy of respect. I do identify in the sense that they’ve done nothing wrong and deserve to have solidarity and respect and dignity displayed.

If you’re going to call people like us a “white knight”, you’d need to find the same bizarre dismissive term for opposing homophobia, opposing stigma of people with disability, and so on.

According to the “white knight” card logic, I want to have sexual relations with anyone that isn’t a white heterosexual male.

Simiarly, we would get nowhere as a species if we’re only defending “our own”. Can I point out that “our own” could include almost all people; include our animal brethren? I’m not denying there probably are people who defend a particular group because of insidious reasons but to accuse everyone who is not that group but defending them of insidious reasons is a logical failure.

So I’ll continue to defend Caroline and gays and lesbians and sex workers and people with disabilities and men and women and whites and Indians and models and nerds and geeks and jocks and Americans and South Africans and feminists and truck drivers and prisoners and patients because I can care about more than one thing at a time, because they’re persons and because we should never let bullies win.

 

Comments

  1. MrHolbyta says

    I realize this isn’t the main idea of your article, but it is an area I’m currently wrestling with as a white, middle-class, American male trying to live post-colonially, but also valuing the positivism of evidenced-based reasoning strengthened by my recent decision to own my atheism. A serious conflict then for me becomes how to let people have their own experience and meaning while also asserting that empirical data contradict some of the ground for those meanings. As Al Franken said on the floor of the US Senate, “You are entitled to your own opinions, but you aren’t entitled to your own facts.” So, that is a bit about my current lenses for experiencing the world and the tension I find myself in.

    I don’t take the position that all Muslims are involved, directly or indirectly, with terrorism or violence against women and apostates. There are moderate Muslims and even liberal Muslims. (Reza Aslan comes to mind.) Most of the vocal critics of Islam I see in the atheist community, which has challenged my post-colonial views (ironically, I found them easier to hold when I identified as a Christian), also acknowledge that even the majority of Muslims have nothing to do with the violence frequently associated with Islam.

    The difference I see between Islam & Judaism or Christianity as practiced today is that while the latter have scriptures that call for violent acts, those who adhere to those passages as having literal value are a tiny, marginal group. By contrast, surveys show that something like a quarter of Muslims in Britain, let alone Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia, think violence is sometimes appropriate as a defence of Islam or when directed at ‘dishonored’ women and apostates. This is hardly a marginal group. Additionally, while certainly radicalized, is it not appropriate to take terrorists at their word when they say Islam or Jihad was their motivation; likewise, governments who govern with Sharia Law. To do otherwise seems to rely on the No True Scotsman fallacy.

    Indeed, aren’t those Muslims who take a more moderate or liberal view simply doing what moderate or liberal Christians and Jews are doing, i.e. pulling away from those parts of their religious teaching which conflict with their humanistic values? Are not those who practice ‘honor killing’, execution of apostates, and violent Jihad adhering more rigorously to the tenets of the Quran and Hadith? I find myself further agreeing with those who suggest that moderate and liberal practitioners of religion lend legitimacy to the extreme elements within their religious tradition.

    I truly value your insights on this, because I recognize that I am largely dealing with this from a position of ignorance and privilege: a deadly and oppressive combination. In general, I try to balance my positivism and post-colonialism by taking the tack that there are objective facts about reality (which we can access to varying degrees empirically), but each person experiences that reality in their own way. I can argue for my perception, but don’t need those who take other positions to agree. I really struggle with finding a balance when discussing Islam, though, with naming the facts about what it claims and what a nonmarginal minority of its followers practice and/or believe on the one hand and Islamophobia on the other hand. Especially in the environment in the US, it feels like a very fine line to walk.

    • Kathryn says

      As we’re speaking of ‘facts’ – would it be possible to provide some links to these surveys looking at Muslim people and their attitudes toward violence?

      Thanks.

  2. Pen says

    About point number 3: it probably would be better to say ‘some men’. On the one hand, you’re reading it as ‘some men’ and that’s what makes you feel ok about it. On the other hand as you say, the phrase ‘Muslims are terrorists’ causes all sorts of problems. Not only do some non-Muslims buy into it, but for some people who are Muslims, speaking out against terrorism can cause extra difficulty in navigating their relationship with Islam, with other Muslims and with non-Muslims. Some men say this type of generalising about men causes them problems. I don’t like generalisations about white people when discussing racism. Speaking out against terrorism/rape threats/racism and other social ills should be uncomplicated, whoever you are.

    The other thing is that some people have raised the possibility that these ‘men’ are teenage boys or some other sub-group of men. Perhaps it’s men who are exposed to some particular influence/of a particular age/a certain social background who tend to this behaviour rather than men in general. It would be useful to find out what that context is, so we have to start by imagining there could be one.

    And another thing (sorry): saying ‘men did this’ makes it possible to conflate everything any man does that might be open to criticism for the attitude it reveals to women. It makes it possible to talk as though there is no difference between thinking it’s unimportant to put women on banknotes and thinking women who engage in public life should receive rape threats. And from there, it’s a short cry to speaking as though either of those things is equivalent to actual rape. There is a relationship between these things in terms of undervaluing women but the first is an opinion, however mistaken in the opinion of others. The second and third are deliberately and unambiguously malicious acts, with negative effects but with rather different degrees of seriousness.

  3. says

    @ Pen

    Slight problem there – we’ve yet to find a subgrouping of men who are significantly less likely than other groups to engage in misogyny. If you’ve found one, let me know.

    • Tauriq Moosa says

      Yeah, hence”it [being ok with term “men”] helps show others that when women use this category how true it is. It’s not bad guys or evil supervillains doing this: it’s someone’s son, it’s someone’s husband. Ordinary guys.”

    • hatch22 says

      I’d just offer the group “Men who are not misogynistic”. I think it’s missing the mark to state or imply that men from many (or all) creeds, races, etc display misogyny and therefore all of these groups are tacitly supporting or promulgating misogyny. I agree the problem appears to cross all the artificial boundaries we use to categorize people, but I still believe we ought to avoid saying “men do this” simply becuse some men do it.
      Put another way, I believe this is a human problem and male humans can and should avoid prejudice. Whether we’ve found a “subgrouping of men who are significantly less likely than other groups to engage in misogyny”or not, prejudice should be avoided.
      In the end I suspect misogyny is the result of a basic human tendency. To wit, humans tend to dislike, dehumanize, or disregard others who are unlike themselves. Since women are different than men, some men are going to naturally tend to treat them with less respect than they deserve. I think this can be overcome and history has shown that it can many times in the past. I hope the zeitgeist will continue to shift toward genuine equality for women.

  4. Pitchguest says

    @ Sally Strange

    Slight problem there – we’ve yet to find a subgrouping of men who are significantly less likely than other groups to engage in misogyny. If you’ve found one, let me know.

    What?

    • says

      Let me help you out, religious men, not less likely to be misogynistic. Atheist men, not less likely to be misogynistic. Skeptic men, not less likely to be misogynistic. Gay men, not less likely to be misogynistic.(Obviously this is unsupported by peer-reviewed evidence but until that comes along the null hypothesis is a grouping of men by some feature such as interests or even sexuality are not less likely to be misogynistic than the average). You’d probably even agree on that?

      I propose feminist men are less likely to be misogynistic in order to be contrarian! How *dare* you say “men” and not “some men”, I haz feminist cookies! You fecking b… Oops, wait a min.

  5. Callinectes says

    I was happy with the banknote decision, except for the fact that it is the tenner. I know they all change every now and then, but the current tenner is my favourite and I’d like to keep it.

  6. says

    Okay, watched the clip and read the article. I do agree sound bites are generally more annoying than amusing. Nor am I terribly impressed with the fact that many adults still prefer the same potty mouth humour over anything that might make them think.

    Yes, PJ, all reality shows are indeed staged. Plus they all seem to have a familiar “Lord of the Flies” kind of background plot going on.
    Excellent post! Very well said indeed. The replies thus far also bring up some great points.

    I’m going to pull a “woman thing” thing here and leave a very large reply to it. My apologies in advance for that, but I felt I needed to share my story to get my point across. Trust me, I did TRY to keep it as brief as possible. 

    I’m a 43 year old woman who didn’t really think a whole lot about just how misogynistic my own reality actually was until my early thirties. Oh, I was aware of the problem before could I even knew there was a word for it. But despite constantly fighting it in one way or another as a child, as an adult at my work, buying a car, dealing with financial issues (bank staff still automatically talk to husband first when we’re at the back), when dating, seeking medical treatment…you name it’s there in one form or another. I think almost all little girls grasp it no matter how liberal their environment is, just as soon as they are old enough to grasp abstract concepts. However, at some point, I just kind of gave thinking there’s not hope, it will always be this way. No matter what women prove, men will always see us as less than they are. You blog post here, Mr. Moosa, is a nice breath of fresh of air and it’s revived my fighting spirit a bit!

    You see, I grew up the youngest five and the only girl. My parents had a 50 year marriage before Mom died in 2009. Yes, there they of the last generation where it was still considered quite normal to have a mother who stays at home to raise the kids while Dad works. Of course lot’s of women did work and have families, but it was still considered the norm.

    My mother didn’t choose to stay at home, health and circumstances demanded it. My Dad would have supported her either way. And they did try to raise us to consider men and women equal. My mother was a very strong willed person and the true disciplinarian in our family. Nevertheless, they were still favoured over me most of the time and that continues to this day. After Mom died, the misogyny of my brothers that our parents had unconsciously fostered in them, just as my mother fostered in my Dad, came shining through. With teeth! And from all the boys and my Dad.

    The stupid thing is that they all (brothers) have been convinced from day one that it was me who was consistently favoured over them. Why? Because it was me, from the time I was a young child that became a part-time caregiver, did not bugger off on major chore day (mostly because I was more afraid of facing Mom later!), ended up helping them two raise two grandchildren father by the eldest one (because he was too busy getting his next fix), running a household when Mom when in yet another surgery…..and yada, yada, yada. Then because eldest idiot son sabotaged every opportunity he was handed to get clean so he that he could actually be the man and father he claimed to be. He became the poster-boy for the worst junkie you can possibly imagine and never left home (for more than few months at most), sooo………

    Keeping in mind that my parents never set them example for him, we were not – at that time – a generation addiction family where the kids grow up to repeat the same idiot choices and mistakes their parents did. He was the first, at least in the nuclear sense of family. If you know anything about alcoholics and junkies (he was both), then you know the untold havoc they can cause, especially the violence. And the forms of manipulation they employ to obtain whatever they want or “need

    Suffice to say, I spent the majority of my childhood helping to raise the junky’s kids, helping to put of the fires (literally, in a couples) his latest bender caused. Then as an adult this just continued because by then it was:
    A) Simply expected of me, and I didn’t know how to say make it stop. My please for sibling assistance fell on deaf ears.

    B) I married an amazing guy who put up with a lot of bullshit and lost a lot of hard earned money into the endless rescues, yet still managed to love my parents (and me!) anyway.

    A few years before Mom died, I finally realized that I would have to learn to live with built-in, or “programmed,” if you prefer, guilty conscience and finally started giving my parents some tough love. But at the end, when Dad needed us ALL the most – especially with the junkie still clinging on tooth and claw to his expiring meal ticked, his manipulation turned up to hyperdrive mode, getting more violent by the day, and more thieving. He even stole the medications on while she lay dying in excruciating pain. Did they step forward in any meaningful or product way? Nope. Did they help Dad with anything at all? Even when asked by Dad himself? No. So once again it was us. Rather than thank-you’s for your years of “service,” I’ve been getting putting down left, right and centre. Hell, two actually swore at me a few times and have all but outright said they still believe that our parents ‘chose” me in the same way they did choose the junkie over all of us. In effect, also comparing me to him.

    So yes, misogyny is alive indeed alive and well. And I agree that both men and women perpetuate it. Just look my story and you can see that at first it was me as child being manipulated in a misogynist way as though by a chain reflex. It permeates every aspect of our society. Yes, we have made great strides and come a very long way, but it’s still got a long way to go. And this win on the bank-notes is a good thing!

    Okay, re-reading this I’m not sure if I’ve actually contributed anything to this discussion or not, but hopefully it will help reinforce the need for societal change at the very least.

    Thank-you, Taruiq Moosa, for writing such an insightful post, and for taking a public stand.

    Best Regards

    Wordsgood

  7. Pen says

    @SallyStrange – it’s starting to occur to me that they tend to be youngish (early 20s), white, possibly quite well-educated in the academic sense and of relatively comfortable socio-economic status. Could be wrong though…

  8. Bruce says

    On point 1, quoting: “There is a woman, silly girls!”
    It is laughable to imagine that after QEII passes from the throne, that all the misogynists will be consistent and insist that all British banknote images be only of women, as long as QEII’s son, grandson, and great-grandson are on the throne and the banknotes.

    On point 2, quoting: “Aren’t there more important things to worry about than women on bank notes? … Y U NO CURING CANCER?”
    As we remove things that reinforce sexism, we will thereby make it more practical for female scientists to avoid being dissuaded away from science by society’s misogyny. The data indicate that females are equally capable, so the current gender imbalance in scientists indicates that many women who would be able to “cure cancer” are missing from science, due to society. The fastest way to bring about scientific advances may well be to combat sexism.

  9. Bruce says

    On point 4, quoting: “Twitter threats : It’s not real threats!”
    How is twitter different here from e-mail, or a letter through the post office, or hiring someone to deliver a singing telegram, or hiring Al Capone’s associates to deliver the message? This assertion by misogynists is also laughable.

    Imagine the tweeting threatener being encountered in a bar or pub while drinking with his friends. Imagine someone gently slapping the tweeter on the face with their empty gloves, as in the age of dueling. Now imagine all the tweeter’s friends telling him to relax, because it was not a “real” challenge. Again, the misogynist’s claimed viewpoint is laughable.

  10. Unphysicalism says

    The only thing I don’t like is that she is replacing Darwin. I’m sorry, but Darwin’s contributions to science and to humanity are hard to oversell. He should be a great source of pride to the British people. Couldn’t they have put her on another banknote, removing someone else? Couldn’t they have gotten rid of some statesman or politician on another bill?

    • Dani Wells says

      Well, I’m afraid you’re just going to have to do what numismatists do. She is just as worthy as anyone else.

    • John Phillips, FCD says

      While I agree with you about Darwins’ importance to science, since historic figures began appearing on notes in 1970 they are routinely altered every now and then and the reason for the campaign was that the only woman, Elizabeth Fry on the five pound note, was being replaced by Churchill.

  11. carlie says

    On the “don’t you have more important things to worry about” point – Yes. Yes, we do. So why are you spending time fighting us on this little thing that you’ve just said is unimportant? Just let us have our women on the bank notes and we’ll go on and spend our energies on those more important things.

    The fact that they fight back so hard on the “little things” belies their statements of those things being “little”.

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