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.
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.