On not backing down

Sunday, 12 February 2012

This week my friend Sian has found herself a target for abuse and threats due to the fact she expressed an opinion about something she feels strongly about. You can read her account of how events unfolded here. In the past couple of weeks we've been seeing, thanks to the UniLad fiasco, the way people seem to have absolutely no qualms about issuing vile threats and dealing out abuse left, right and centre to women who speak out against misogyny or simply dare to have strong view on something. The abuse leveled at Sian (which has resulted in her having conversations with the police) has been yet another reminder that when it comes to the internet, it doesn't seem to take much to have people calling for others' personal details to be published online, for them to be 'hunted down' and attacked, or for more specific injuries to be inflicted.

Since this issue finally blew up and made it into the mainstream media last year, I think more people are ready to call out this sort of thing. But that doesn't mean it's going away. I decided to moderate comments on this blog last year when something I wrote incurred the wrath of MRAs and, in their particularly reasoned and mature style, they wanted to take the opportunity to let me know how ugly I am. But it's not going to stop me from blogging, no more than me criticising them is going to stop them from writing about their dissatisfaction that people tend to think rape, sexual exploitation and domestic violence are wrong.

Something that was noticeable last year in all the newspaper coverage of the issue was the number of people intimating that threats and abuse are to be expected, and that those who 'can't deal with it' should stop blogging, or writing for the papers, or posting on forums, or commenting on things. No mention of the fact that those doling out the abuse might be out of line, more 'that's what you get'. Like the apologist who tells women they need to stop going out at night, or walking to places alone if they don't want to be attacked by rapists, those who spectacularly miss the point on internet abuse blame the person on the receiving end.

Sian has been accused of 'craving publicity' - for having an opinion. Of going on about 'things that don't matter'. Of  'crying' over nothing. She has been made to feel that, to put it bluntly, she just needs to shut up and stop whining, by people whose idea of a debate amounts to smugly stating 'but isn't feminism about CHOICE?'. That writing about her opinions on something controversial makes her an attention-seeker and a pathetic self-publicist. How many times have we seen those accusations thrown at women who write about things they feel strongly about? That they've just 'got a chip on their shoulder'? Another woman whose blog I read had a commenter flounce the other day after saying that her post about a controversial issue was just another example of 'looking for a fight and a way to be offended'. It's so wearing. You can't write about something more than a couple of times without being attacked for 'having an agenda' and you can't 'have an agenda' without people flouncing or telling you to shut up.

What does this all mean for those of us who, actually, don't fancy shutting up and stopping speaking out about things? I know that for as many of us who won't back down there are more people who have got discouraged and had their confidence worn away to the extent that they do shut up. They decide it would simply be easier for everyone if they kept quiet, put aside their dreams and gave up. And I don't blame them, because it can be really hard. This goes for people who write and speak about a whole range of issues and it's not just limited to women, but it's a particular tactic used to silence women and make us feel insignificant.

So this is for those who have made the decision to carry on despite being discouraged. Despite being made to feel as if they don't matter. Despite being told to get out of the kitchen if they can't take the heat. Despite having people unleash overly dramatic unfollows and patronising comments and snide remarks about 'another angry woman'. Despite all this, we stick at it, in the hope that one day things will change and that one day the answer to abuse and threats won't be that it's our own fault for rocking the boat. If we did all stop caring any more, the status quo would never be challenged, and imagine history without any challenges aimed at the status quo, when there were things that were so badly wrong that we look back now and wonder how such a state of affairs ever could have existed.

Never give up. Because that's what they want. And if you feel convicted to do something about an injustice,  people will roll their eyes and sneer and try to make you feel bad about it, or as if you will never change anything so really, what's the point?

Stop listening to them.


sian and crooked rib said...

Thank you Hannah for being amazing feminist, writer and friend. And for writing this wonderful post :-)


Wes said...

I don't understand why some men don't realize that women who speak out about this stuff are doing us all, men specifically included, a favor. We would like to have the social community safe from abuse, not homogenous in opinions, but safe from abuse. The seeming anonymity of online allows the emotionally disabled part of society to try to terrorize the rest of us. It won't work. Women are picked on the most, but we want you to know - we've got your back.


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