Caroline Craido-Perez (far right) poses with a poster showing the design of the UK's new 10-pound note. Photo: Getty Images
When UK journalist and co-founder of The Women's Room Caroline Criado-Perez spearheaded a campaign to replace Charles Darwin’s image with Jane Austen’s on a British banknote, her efforts were rewarded by a sustained Twitter attack from some of the more repugnant turds excreted by society’s sulphurous bottom.
Within hours, Criado-Perez’ experience reinforced what female users of Twitter have known since its launch - that the social media site woefully fails to support the vast network of women who are subjected to abuse (often graphic and violent) simply for daring to have claim space in the ‘conversation’ that Twitter positions itself as being the locus of. She is now leading a campaign similar to the #fbrape one conducted a few months ago, with the intention of having Twitter become more accountable for the way their platform is used. Twitter has been threatened with a mass boycott on August 4 from prominent celebrities, MPs and writers should they continue to sidestep responsibility over the issue. (So far, Twitter UK general manager Tony Wang has responded by stating that they are looking at simplifying the process of reporting offensive tweets.)
Also, we're testing ways to simplify reporting, e.g. within a Tweet by using the "Report Tweet" button in our iPhone app and on mobile web.— Tony Wang (@TonyW) July 27, 2013
The question of what can be done to counter gendered online abuse is routinely painted as a woman’s problem to solve with the most frequently offered directive being to ‘just ignore it’. Having experienced such unwelcome intrusions on repeated occasions, I am familiar with those responses aimed at discrediting the justifiable anger of being told, for example, that even though you’re too ugly to rape, you probably still deserve it. ‘Don’t pay attention to them’, such advice dictates. ‘You’re only giving them the attention they want.’ Or, ‘You have X number of followers, and this person only has a handful. Why are you abusing your power like this?’
Occasionally, I have been lectured on my attempts to ‘shut down free speech’ - as if it is my objection to sexual assault being used as a warning that threatens the fabric of society, and not the fact that some people still find it a useful tool of debate.
Criado-Perez quite rightly calls bullshit on this tactic, advocating instead a commitment to ‘shout back’. Ignoring abuse doesn’t make it go away. Believe me, I know. What it does is make you feel invaded, powerless and (if the troll in question seems to have a greater than usual insight into your online activities) vaguely paranoid. Too often, trolls are left untended simply because they are invisible. They are the Peeping Toms of the online world - they can peer through your windows, but you can’t see their faces. So to stop them from salivating over your distress, you become weathered against their hatred.
The result is twofold. Firstly, women become superficially immune to the pain of being told in minute detail what it is we deserve to have done to us as punishment for the crime of speaking. It still surprises me when I hear gasps from groups as I reveal some of the things that have been said to me in the past, and urges me to remind myself that this experience of dehumanisation is not the rent a woman must pay for being given a spot at the table.
But there is deeper damage being done, an erosion of the sense of self. One can only be exposed to this sheer hatred so many times before it begins to seep into your core. You read it and hear it and see it without flinching, and then suddenly without warning find yourself standing in the shower one evening feeling broken yet unable to cry because you’ve been steeling yourself against vulnerability for so long that you don’t seem to know how to do it anymore. It is a theft of emotion, and it is unforgiveable.
These misogynists ejaculate their rage all over the internet, using their threat of both a rutting penis and the denial of it to try and keep women in their place. It happened to Lindy West when she criticised the abundance of jokes about rape. It happened to Marion Bartoli when she won Wimbledon, and viewers decided she was too ugly and unf--kable to deserve this honour.
And when the trolls are found out, what do they do? They scurry away and hide, delete their accounts, protect their tweets, complain about how women can't take a joke and whinge that feminists are trying to censor them. Mostly, they bank on the fact that no one will find them out - that their real life personas, complete with jobs, partners, children and friends will remain separate from the online one where they use handles like RapeCr3w and talk about how 'consent' is irrelevant.
To them, degrading women on a routine basis is both an enjoyable game and a silencing tool. As Tanya Gold wrote recently in The Guardian, “Rape, and the threat of rape, is a favoured weapon for men who hate women. It is an effective mode of decapitation, speaking (or rather shouting) only to the vagina, pretending the brain doesn't exist.”
But occasionally we can fight back. At the time of writing this, a 21-year-old man from Manchester had been arrested in relation to the threats made against Criado-Perez, with the possibility of more to follow. Despite what some might say about the sanctity of free speech and the lawlessness of the internet, this is not an overreaction. These trolls bank on women’s silence while ironically defending their fundamental right to say whatever they like without consequence.
Well, women aren’t going to roll over and ignore it. We’re not going to enable their entitlement by keeping our mouths shut. Like Criado-Perez says, we’re shouting back - and if these misogynist troglodytes don’t like the sound of one banshee standing up for herself, they’re going to really hate it what it sounds like when millions of us do it together.