I’ve been lucky, so far, on the internet. I’ve been the recipient of ridiculous spam, Facebook has insulted me with ads about unsightly belly fat, and I did have one or two spats with a particularly truculent contributor to the comments on the Guardian’s Dr Who blog . But nothing nasty. I use pretty much my real name, and I’ve not consciously steered clear of controversy, but I’m not high profile and I haven’t attracted any vitriol or hate for anything I’ve said. Mostly, I’ve heard from and talked to nice, interesting, funny people, and its been a positive experience. I love the internet, I love the possibilities that blogging, Facebook, Twitter etc offer for communication, for making unexpected connections, for finding stuff out.
But lately some people have had an entirely different experience here. So different that they’ve had to at least temporarily close down and cut off those possibilities, because what they’ve been getting is so unbearably vile, so vicious, so hate-filled. And whilst there have been plenty of people out there to offer solidarity and support, others have been rather quick to suggest that they’ve over-reacted. They’ve mostly avoided the word ‘hysterical’ – always a bit of a give-away – but it’s been there, in the sub-text. How like a woman, to get her knickers in a twist just because someone, or several people, are threatening repeatedly and in very explicit ways to rape and murder her, and sending messages to her parents’ home to show that they do know how to find her if they wanted to carry out those threats. How like a woman, to get upset and angry, and maybe use a bit of bad language when people tell her that her reaction to those threats is all wrong, and all out of proportion.
Some of them are repeating the old advice to not feed the trolls. Now a troll as I’ve understood it, and I have met one or two, is someone who deliberately tries to wind people up, being provocative and inflammatory. They vary from being irritating to being malicious, but by and large, if you ignore them, they go away. Those who have inundated Caroline Criado-Perez and others with threats of horrific, sadistic sexual violence are of a different order. Their message is that women who speak out should shut up, or be made to shut up.
So if we respond by not responding, far from thwarting their mischief-making, we’re doing exactly what they want. We’re shutting up. Retreating.
The recipients of this kind of abuse have no way of knowing whether the threats are real, in the sense that they will be acted on. That uncertainty is part of the intention – to make us think twice about speaking out, to make us look over our shoulders and jump at shadows. To make us afraid.
Those who’ve been in the forefront of the abuse are entitled to take a step back. But their message is clear – we need to shout back, and keep on shouting back. Women, and men who support women, refusing to shut up, refusing to retreat, refusing to make ourselves invisible and inaudible in order to be safe.
So this is me, adding my voice to the shout back.
I’m not on my own.
- Caroline Criado-Perez says culture must change as rape threats continue (theguardian.com)
- Don’t feed the trolls AKA silence yourself. (thenotsoquietfeminist.wordpress.com)
- Caroline Criado-Perez’s speech on cyber-harassment at the Women’s Aid conference (newstatesman.com)