I – like many, many others – have spent the last week thinking a lot about feminism and online abuse. And as I’ve been trying to decide whether or not to participate in #trolliday, a few things have started to occur to me.
Of the women on twitter whom I have been following, the argument has been split between two main camps. The problem is, I kind of agree with both.
Someone like Caitlin Moran will be missed today. If I still had it in me to care about Doctor Who, I would be sad not to have her running commentary of the weird talk-show-slash-possible-fight-to-the-death that will reveal the twelfth Doctor tonight. The argument that twitter would be a much worse place without outspoken women will be felt by her simple 24-hour absence. More importantly, the act of leaving twitter for a day will fuel a wider conversation about abuse. Helen Lewis explains that position pretty well.
But many, many other women are continuing to tweet their anger about sexism, because silence concerning abuse has not, historically, gone well for the abused.
Each approach works for the people who chose it. So what should my response be?
The thing is, my silence on twitter wouldn’t necessarily be missed anyway. I don’t tweet an awful lot as it is, and I very rarely tweet about feminism. For one thing, I am usually talking about something else. For another, there are many people I know who talk about it far more eloquently than myself. But there is a part of me – and it’s not a part I’m particularly proud of – that sees the abuse other women get, and thinks “I don’t know if that’s something I want to open myself up to”.
So in a way, I’ve already been silenced for far too long. As someone who is perfectly happy to identify myself as a feminist, and talk about feminism in my life away from the internet, that doesn’t really make any sense.
So instead of being silent today, I’m going to speak out instead.
And the message is simple – it is completely ridiculous that women are so often met with death threats and rape threats just for saying that they want to be treated equally to men. How twitter should respond to a fault of society is a different argument completely. However, the way that people treat each other in public spaces is everybody’s business, and they should never treat each other like that. Ignoring the problem is not a helpful response for those on the receiving end of daily insults and threats. If it came from someone they knew personally, no one would be telling them that to respond would only make things worse, so that should just sit down and take it.
I am a feminist, and I object to a world that treats men and women differently. I am adding my voice to the critical mass of objections.
Sexism does still exist. Women and girls are killed and abused all around the world simply for being women and girls. It cannot be denied that they are held to a different standard than men – to see that, you only need to turn on your TV and compare the number of visible mature men to the number of visible mature women.
Of course, both women and men are also abused for their race, sexuality, class, religion, nationality, mental health, weight, disability, appearance, clothes … gender is just one of the many targets of discrimination, but that doesn’t make it – or them – any less important.
There are many kinds of sexism. Almost every woman I know has faced some form of street harassment. Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head for speaking out for a woman’s right to an education in Pakistan. Marte Deborah Dalelv was arrested for having sex outside of marriage after reporting a rape – the fact that she was pardoned after international outcry does not make it okay. Within the last couple of months, a medical student I know was told by a surgeon at her hospital that she wouldn’t get ahead in orthopaedics because one day she will want to have a baby; another told her that she will find it easy because she can simply use her boobs. Neither mentioned her medical ability.
Sexism still exists. Some people’s silence today will speak louder than their presence. Some people will continue to shout about it today, and tomorrow, and the next day.
I am protesting in my own way. I am saying, as thousands of other women are saying, that sexism has to stop. The world will be a far, far better place without it.
In a debate on Channel 4 news the other day, Jon Snow asked whether the issue was bigger than twitter, and was in fact a social problem.
“Yes it is, Jon,” writer and activist Laurie Penny replied.
“Then why aren’t we dealing with that?”
Exactly, Jon Snow. Exactly.