I'm pleased that my New Statesman colleague Helen Lewis-Hasteley kicked off a debate about the abuse suffered by female bloggers. It's a subject that deserved to be heard by a wider audience and it's probably quite an eye-opener for some of us. The more you read, the more you realise it's a widespread problem.
The bottom half of the internet is a scary place, and there be dragons. If TV was like the internet, you'd watch a well crafted 40-minute documentary and then have to sit through four hours of random people saying "Well, I didn't even watch the programme, but I know enough about it to decide that it was entirely wrong" or "Oh dear. The presenter clearly needs to have more sex." This is the wonder of Web 2.0. We have blogs - horrible blogs like this one. We have comment boxes - catflaps that you can crawl through to get your voice heard. We have visitor books full of dirty protests. (Not all the time, of course. Often comments are constructive, insightful things.)
Publishing means you get your voice out there, your words out there. It means you get the odd bit of trolling and the odd bit of abuse, which can be annoying or distressing, depending on the severity or the persistence, and depending on the personal nature of it. I've been called a few names, and I've been slagged off a few times. I've been lied about and accused of things I haven't done. But I have to say, as a male writer, I've never experienced anything approaching the threats described by many female writers over the past few days. It's really shocking, and I can't help but come to the conclusion that it is gender-based, and directed at women, mainly by men.
Already, a few predictably contrarian rumblings have started. Ooh, these women, they just need to 'man up' and get on with it. Everyone gets abuse; if you can't stand the heat, and so on, they say. But it is not just online abuse. I think we all expect a bit of abuse when we write stuff. It happens if you have an email address, a comments box or a photo byline. But judging by what I have read about and heard about over the past few days, the only sensible thing to recognise is that there is a particular kind of abuse aimed at women writers, and that it's not really the same thing as the (distressing and upsetting, but different) abuse levelled at writers of all kinds. It's not even a particularly subtle thing to recognise. It's really there.
I say all this despite having been accused of being a misogynist myself, of hating women, of abusing women, of wishing violence and death on women, due to things that I've said or written. I'm not and I haven't. But then that's exactly what an overprivileged woman-hater would say, isn't it? Well, it's not for me to judge. And I'm not doing the 'poor me, I've suffered too' thing either. Whatever minor inconveniences I've gone through are nothing compared to the awful threats and abuse endured by women writers who have dared to have an opinion or dared to say what they want.
This isn't about creating an environment in which women can't be criticised when they're wrong, can't be called idiots when they're idiotic or can't be treated with the same respect (or lack of it) that we've given to male writers. It's not about that. This is about a particular kind of abuse that is reserved only for women, which is happening, and which is documented. We can pretend it's not there, or that it's not important, or that these writers are just oversensitive female types, but that just isn't right. Sure, I've been called a cunt plenty of times, and it's been annoying and hurtful on occasions, but no-one's threatened to rape me or said that I deserved to be hurt. That's a whole different world of intent, and aggression. We need to recognise this.
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