Late last year, writer Tanya Ashworth contacted me for my answers to some questions she had about the effects of immersing oneself in the background media consumption required to write regularly about feminist issues: the drip-drip-drip of piece after piece of anti-women incident coverage and condescending/fatuous/abusively sexist op-eds. Yesterday she finally managed to get that article published, and my answers are in fine company – Clementine Ford, Van Badham, Lou Heinrich and Viv Smythe: optimism in the face of online abuse.
— Tanya Ashworth (@ordinarytanya) December 4, 2015
As regular readers know, over the last few years my writing online has waned significantly (mostly because blogging no longer gets the eyeballs or the commenting engagement that it once did (swings/roundabouts – no longer the waves of abuse either)). However, my consumption of social justice related media hasn’t greatly declined, so the continual drip of cultural misogyny (and racism/classism/ableism etc) is very much still a constant background noise. I wouldn’t change any of the answers I gave Tanya last year about the emotions that induces or the coping strategies I use, although I should have included reading thoughtfully crafted SF and mysteries as well as watching big dumb action movies, and also my rediscovery of musical performance as pursuits I find most effective in shifting myself into a different headspace. I am also still optimistic about the possibilities for social change, because I do see incremental improvements regularly.
So why has Tanya been able to interest a publisher now about what I and others said to her last year? Recently, as many of you will be aware, Clementine Ford reported an abusive commentor to the employer named on his social media profile, and that man’s employment was subsequently terminated, presumably because his employer perceived his public actions online as reflecting negatively upon their company. Predictably, outrage has ensued over a man losing his job for saying stuff “no
body man would give a shit about down the pub” (although saying that sort of stuff to anyone at work would certainly constitute grounds for dismissal, and there are actually plenty of pubs/bars/clubs where saying that sort of stuff would result in a muscular person asking one to leave with alacrity right now thank you – I was in one the other night where the sequin onslaught alone would be alarming).
Several supportive articles have been written by other women about why what Ford did was both justified and exemplary, and I too want to express my admiration for Ford sticking to her strong and uncompromising work centreing how sexism and misogyny are still pervasive and that feminism still very much matters. I don’t have the online influence now that I did several years ago, largely by choice, because I did get rather burnt out in terms of constantly writing 500-1000 words a day about injustices of various kinds (which is why we’ve always included whimsy and trivia here as well, but that probably helped the readers more than it helped us).
In particular, I get far less abuse these days than the other women quoted in Tanya’s article – probably because I am not especially active on social media. I do have a public Twitter profile, I have a few robotweet doodads in place for tweeting links to posts on Hoyden and Feministe, I have occasional flurries of posting links of interest found in my reading, or retweeting the cogency of others, but I don’t tend to engage in Twitter debates – I prefer longer form writing for my arguments. I have huge admiration for those who do continually put themselves out there within the easily-misrepresented limit of 144 characters, but for me environments where I have finer-grained control over who gets to use my platform to speak to my audience have a far greater appeal.
These more carefully curated platforms don’t tend to generate as many twitterstorms or other linkbaits though, which is of course again why blogs have lost audience share in the ever more frenetic world of online opinionating – bloggers have mostly learnt to use the moderation and filter tools available to them to limit toxic “contributions” that seek to derail substantive discussion – thus the hate-flinging howler monkeys have moved to where they get more bang for their short-form buck, and the 24/7 news cycle has followed them to where the clickbait is spawned.
So it’s all the more important that those like Clem and Van and Lou are willing to put themselves out there on the social media frontlines. They inspire others to be open about their experiences of anti-women bias, far more than I do, and those messages matter, letting the world know that women will no longer be silenced about the way the world treats them as lesser.
Just one example from this week: comedian Brydie Lee-Kennedy wrote about how the male comedy community in Australia mostly closed ranks in support of her comedian partner who repeatedly committed domestic violence against her, and excluded her because she refused to pretend it hadn’t happened or that she forgave him for it. The next day comedian Rebecca Shaw responded to her friend Lee-Kennedy’s article, stating that abusers who may fear an underground female mafia out to get them should congratulate themselves on realising that women definitely do not keep quiet about abusive men amongst themselves, and that this secret female mafia is very much what the world needs in order for women to both protect themselves and see at least a few deserved social consequences for abusers – like not having their communities still treat them like they never did anything awful (and when we’re talking comedians, it’s not like the professional bookers are going to stop booking them so long as they turn up on time and keep the punters laughing, and neither will the subset of semi-pro rooms that “just happen” to always put on male-only line-ups stop booking them, and yeah the showbiz industry generally doesn’t give a shit about the personality flaws of performers as long as the box office takings are good (hello Bill Cosby, Jimmy Savile, Rolf Harris, etc), but (but!) the community of performers ought to strive to be better to each other than the bloodsucking leaches, surely?)
Without the fortitude of women like these (and so many others (apologies to friends from foreign shores, I’m going to just stick to a very small sample of the many loud women active around Australia for this bit) – Celeste Liddle aka Black Feminist Ranter, Tara Moss, Maeve Marsden, the hugely missed Stella Young, name your own favourites in comments) who are willing to be loud about the harms against women they observe and the hateful abuse they receive as a result of writing about it, the abusers and haters stay cloaked by the habit of homosocial solidarity against the complaints of women. Since I started writing this yesterday journalist Kerri Sackville has started a Twitter campaign to name and shame men who have harassed and abused Clementine Ford online, the hashtag #endviolenceagainstwomen quickly trended worldwide and Sackville’s on ABC Weekend Breakfast right now talking about it.
— Kerri Sackville (@KerriSackville) December 4, 2015
Predictably, on twitter Sackville is being called a bandwagon-jumping attention seeker as a result. Fuck that noise. #IStandWithKerri, #IStandWithClem, I pledge #NoSilenceForViolence. I pledge to fight my feminist burnout harder, and signal-boost other women putting themselves out there more often. That’s probably going to mean more frequent flurries on Twitter mostly, but I’m also going to get back into writing at least a few long-form op-analysis articles a month. It’s time to sally forth unto the breach once more, and when I need a burnout break again I’ll take it knowing that other women will have decided to go back out there after taking their own burnout breaks, and by choosing a balance that works for oneself our overlaps will always have each other’s backs on this.