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.



  1. thascius says

    So by Peter and Gary’s logic (and I use the term loosely) if a man were to take a public stand such as saying there should not be a woman on the banknote it would be perfectly acceptable for women to be sending threats to castrate him up to 50 times an hour? After all it’s only figurative, right? I doubt they’d be okay with that. But then most bullies have a hard time considering the shoe could be on the other foot.

  2. Claire Ramsey says

    I suspect that Peter and David don’t depend upon logic to help them maintain their places in the world. Their comments obviously rest on their views that women are insignificant and second (or third or fourth) class. Women are not allowed to (and can barely manage to) speak in public, write, argue in favor of Jane Austen or any woman on banknotes. So of course if any woman has the temerity to bring attention to herself in the “real world” (the world that men occupy) or try to tell men what to do, of course they will be abused and insulted. What do they think they are doing, usurping the roles that are meant for men and only men? Those guys can’t even imagine women sending them threats of any kind. The shoe will never be on the other foot because in their world, they rule.

  3. Ant (@antallan) says

    It’s kind of encouraging that after a couple of years simmering on the internet, in one online community after another, this issue is now getting mainstream newspaper, radio and TV coverage (at least in the UK). Is it too optimistic to hope that a sea change will come from this?


  4. quixote says

    The starkest example of the get-out-of-the-kitchen BS I remember was the dust-up in 2006(?) about the relative lack of famous female bloggers. It was pointed out that identifiable females get loads of abuse. That was followed by loads of “kitchen” commentary. An article in, I think, the Guardian, tried to quantify some of the abuse and found twenty five times as much (25x!) abuse directed at identifiable women, and the abuse was violent and often sexual. When directed against men it was more along the lines of “f*cking retard.”
    Okay. That’s point one. What really made me laugh was when a little while later somebody, some guy actually, got so exasperated with one of the most pompous get-out-of-the-kitchen trolls and threatened him with something so minor I don’t even remember what it was. That he should be banned from the forum? Said, no doubt, as a joke. Suddenly the troll was screaming about oppression and suppression of his right to speak and threatening language and dog knows what all else. Without a trace of irony.
    I guess you have to be fairly stupid to be sexist to begin with, but it was rather breathtaking to see just how stupid the stupid is.

  5. S Mukherjee says

    I’m confused by these trolls — do they want us to get out of the kitchen if we can’t stand the heat, or do they want us to go back to the kitchen and make sammiches for them?

  6. quixote says

    S Mukherjee: Both, of course. That way you’re wrong no matter what you do. Total win!

    I’m going to look for it. I’m pretty sure I linked to it somewhere back in the Paleolithic.


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