***Content Warning: violence, misogyny, sexual violence
I am not the first woman to be verbally insulted, abused and threatened on the internet, and as a realist, I doubt I will be the last. The Everyday Sexism Project was founded in 2012 by Laura Bates and has since documented thousands of experiences of sexism and misogyny directed towards women, many of which can take place on the internet. It is projects like these which continue to highlight the fact that women continue to be discriminated against on the basis of their gender, and I am exhausted of being told otherwise.
Feminism often operates within a safe space, a space where oppressed groups have their voices heard. Unfortunately, I have to accept that it would be pretty difficult to operate a safe space policy in the harsh world of politics. I am a realist. I know that a person needs thick skin if they are to enter such a world and I am trying to prepare myself for that world. However, I also believe that world needs reforming. It should not be the case that a woman must grow a thicker skin than a man. And it should not be the case that she has to pander to what is expected of her in a male dominated world. Not only do women have to overcome the same obstacles that men do, we must overcome those related to our gender on top of that. That is why it is unreasonable of men to tell us to have a thicker skin, because what they are really asking is that our skin is twice as thick as theirs. Quite frankly, if this is what I have to look forward to when I finish my degree in Politics, it fills me with apprehension.
For this article, I come back to a time on the Internet where I was subjected to a torrent of abuse on a scale I had never previously experienced. I was upset by the comments attacking me, but what really angered me was that many of these were based on my gender and not my arguments. The core issue is that what I say should not matter if it is an opinion which is not attacking someone else. Freedom of speech is held accountable by hate speech legislation. However, if what a person says is not hate speech, then they have a right to say it. The responses I, and other women receive for voicing an opinion should not belittle using vocabulary directly related to the fact that we are women.
I am tired of certain men defending other men. I am a woman who has been the victim of sexism and I can see it pretty clearly. For a man to tell me that another man isn’t sexist for his minor sexist insults, only to later develop into blatant misogyny is ignorance of what true sexism is. And it ignores the everyday sexism we face which little by little adds up to create a world where Feminism is still very much needed to fight for liberation and equality. Feminism is about equality of the sexes and liberation, but that statement shouldn’t be taken superficially. If you simply preach equality, but do nothing to deconstruct the institutions, language and structures in place at the core of gender oppression then to me when faced with them, that isn’t feminism. I am not saying to be feminist you have to necessarily be really active, but when you see something that is clearly gender oppression, do not excuse it, listen to the person who is telling you it is oppressive. Listen to women’s experiences. It will take you pretty far.
I’d like to take some of this article to dissect a few of the things that were said to me:
***Content Warning: violence, misogyny, sexual violence
‘You are sprouting utter tripe, my dear’
My dear can be used affectionately. It is synonymous with something like ‘darling’ in many contexts. However, it is often used by men as a tool to undermine women by patronising and belittling them, as it was in this case. David Cameron even used it in the House of Commons during the coalition government. Argue with me as a human being, do not undermine me because of my gender.
‘My intention wasn’t to patronise, therefore you shouldn’t be offended’
You should always be aware of your language, regardless of your gender. If someone calls you out on something, assess your language. If they tell you they are offended, it is most likely the case that you have said something out of line. Listen to people’s experiences. You are allowed to disagree with people, but just hear them out.
‘You wanna [sic] be Ms ******’
The presumption that women are often fuelled by some romantic obsession with men is a prevalent notion in today’s society. The idea that jealousy underpins our actions is actually pretty ancient which is why it’s laughable that it still exists today. Shakespeare writes some good stuff on this. I am a woman who has political views. I am also a woman who happens to have romantic ideals. The two do not overlap; they are separate.
The violent misogynistic threats I received were just vile, saying that:
‘She needs her head bashed in…..with some common sense’ and that if I couldn’t get over myself then I should ‘suck cock in the dead sea’
People often excuse these comments as a joke, but I can assure you that they are not. The fact that these comments were liked and supported also shows that they were not simply the isolated actions of an individual ‘troll’, but supported by other sexist/misogynist men.
All of this unravelled and spiralled out of control because of many interplaying factors. I raised my voice against something I thought was wrong. Some people disagreed with me. Some of those people then had no real argument and so they decided to attack me on the basis of my gender, rather than my points. Some just didn’t listen. Others simply jumped onto the thread as an excuse it appeared to verbally abuse me, be that because of my outspoken nature or in some cases, the bare fact that I am a woman. And finally, the core issue…
I come back to the issue of safe space. I believe it’s unrealistic to achieve the true aims of the safe spaces that I’m often a part of in the sphere of the Internet. I also know that many feminists strive for this goal and will disagree with me. However, women have a right to take part in debate and discussion without being the victim of sexist abuse, be this from a comment to a violent threat. We should be working to tackle this, rather than accepting blatant sexism and misogyny in the name of freedom of speech by acknowledging the legislation of hate speech also and its importance in protecting many oppressed groups including women. Responsibility must be taken by those involved to take a real stand against sexism and to prevent things getting out of hand. It was all well and good for the violent threats against me to be called out, but one candle can set a mansion alight. ‘Low level’ sexism also needs to be tackled head on, not only to prevent escalation, but for its own sake.
I recount and reflect on this experience not for pity, but as a plea to exercise awareness and caution in the language often directed at women.. I don’t expect to enter a world of politics where I won’t be shouted down from time to time or jeered or put down. I simply want to enter one where I can expect to meet these as frequently as my male counterparts do, and none of them to be on the basis of gender.
Listen to women, rather than dismissing them. Question the language that you and others use and when people call you out, listen to their justifications. One of the most powerful things is support; to be supported and to support others is vital when it comes to tackling sexism. To the strangers and friends who support me when I speak out against injustice, I am grateful. Calling out little things, liking a comment, complimenting a friend, sharing an article, signing a petition. These are all little things we can do on the internet to support each other in the cause for gender equality.