A Pox on the Patriarchy
Last summer I was the target of months of violent, misogynistic abuse. The abuse was widely reported, although the worst tweets (most of the tweets), were never broadcast or printed, because the media deemed them too offensive. This left me in the rather unfortunate position of not only being driven to the edge of a nervous breakdown from the fear and strain of hundreds of tweets coming in every minute telling me I would be maimed, raped and killed, but also being targeted by people who thought I was being a delicate flower and couldn’t take a bit of off-colour banter, or “dissenting opinion”. Nevertheless, the media pressure was such, that twitter was reluctantly, eventually forced to act. They streamlined their reporting process by including a link on each tweet to report it for abuse, and automatically included the link for that tweet in the report form. For someone who was receiving a hate-filled threat every minute, this function was invaluable. Despite promising to do something about the fact that every time you report someone for abuse, including threats to kill you, you have to tick a box agreeing that your information can be shared with them, twitter did no more once the media furore died down.
Well, that’s not strictly true. They have done things: they’ve made it easier for people to stalk and abuse. In December, twitter displayed their total contempt for victims of stalking and abuse by making it possible for people who have been blocked to follow their victim and retweet them. As someone who has been a victim of stalking online, and seen the way in which abusers use these facilities to incite abuse, I was horrified by these changes. Luckily, there was another outcry, and twitter was forced to backtrack.
But now we find that twitter has once again optimised its platform for abusers: less than a year after they started to automatically include links to abusive tweets in the report form, they have silently removed this functionality. There has been no announcement, no explanation. I discovered it last night when yet another man decided to make me the target of his misogynistic bile and found that I had to go back to the abuse, and view it again, in order to find the link to report it. In all the process took about five minutes. Not that bad when it’s once in a while., perhaps. When it’s several times a day, every day, the time starts to mount up. It becomes simply unfeasible to report every single person who, bored of an evening, dissatisfied with life, decides “hey, wouldn’t it be fun to tell a woman I don’t like what vile things I’d like to do to her?” Perhaps that is why twitter has taken this decision. Perhaps it was all becoming too expensive, to allow victims of abuse to report their abusers. Perhaps they think we should just put up and shut up. Who knows. Easy for them to take that position when they are not the ones being targeted on a daily basis.
On the off-chance that twitter has only seen the media reports about the kind of tweets that we’re talking about, in case twitter is under the impression that it’s just a few delicate flowers making a fuss about a bit of banter, I’m now going to release a selection of screencaps of some of the abuse I received last summer. I can’t release all of it, as a) it would take too much time, and b) some of the offenders are still under investigation. It also won’t give you an idea of the scale of the abuse, but just try to imagine your mentions filled up with this for days, weeks, months, as you try to just get on with your work, with your life. Hopefully, you’ll get the idea. Hopefully, twitter will get the idea too, and their latest hare-brained scheme to support abusers over victims will be consigned to history. Until the next time we have to fight for a modicum of support.
Be advised that what follows is extremely graphic and violent and includes images of violence.
So there you have it. A little glimpse into what my mind was full of from July – September 2013. I still get abuse on a daily basis. I sadly accept this as the lot of a feminist in the 21st century. What I don’t expect, is that a reputable company should enable abuse. Should make it any harder than it has to be to report this and stop it coming into my life and my mind.
I’d also like to briefly address the reports that have been surfacing on a semi-regular basis, increasingly of late, about my instability, my hysteria, my insanity. I also accept these to a certain extent as the lot of a feminist – and really, a woman. Women who demand equality, women who don’t accept their position as quiet, acquiescent, shyly smiling, fading into the background, no more than a pretty backdrop for men, the main actors of life, have always been dismissed as hysterical. But I also accept it as grounded to a certain extent in reality. Yes, my mental health has been affected by the non-stop abuse and promises to track me down and violate me. Yes I am more fearful, less in control of my emotions. Yes I do suffer from flashbacks, yes I am easily triggered. This is before we even get to the point that at least one of the threats that was made against me is something that has happened to me already.
I defy anyone to go through that bombardment, that relentless fear and horror, and emerge psychologically unscathed – and the misogynists who like to invade my mentions on a daily basis haven’t given me a chance to recover from the abuse for a start. But beyond this, really, I don’t know how long is an “acceptable” timeframe to recover psychologically from months of people who are posting your contact details online telling you they will track you down and rape you, mutilate you, gang-bang you to death. All I know is that twitter is making it harder for people like me to be able to continue to stay and fight to keep what little access women have to the public arena. What little voice we are allowed. What little presence we dare to take and keep for ourselves. My right, every woman’s right, to a voice, to a say, to be heard in public, is why I remain on twitter despite how difficult I find it. Despite how every day I wish I could just lock myself away and never have to deal with it all ever again. So please twitter. Look at how hard it is for us already. Stop making it harder.
EDIT: thought it was worth including this analysis of the intent behind such attacks on women, by the very clever Becca Reilly-Cooper. I think she makes a very cogent and important point.