Caroline Criado-Perez

A Pox on the Patriarchy

“Empire Building”: Career Feminism and Me

I tend not to do much about the daily stream of attacks, insults, wilful misrepresentations and misinterpretations that constitute my daily online life. Not anymore. I just put up and shut up for the most part.

I used to try to defend myself, believing for a long time that explaining what I actually said, meant, intended, would help. But I’ve long since given up expecting the facts to matter when it comes to the determined group of people who have been keeping up a campaign of harassment against me for the past year or so. Indeed, on the few occasions I’ve tried to highlight their bullying, to try to defend myself, to say that I don’t think I deserve to be treated like an inhuman piece of shit, just because I happened to have hit headlines for…being treated an inhuman piece of shit, this group has never been unsuccessful in turning the tables on me – so that not only am I dealing with their harassment, I’m also being accused of myself being the bully. And that story always takes hold because, after all, how can a woman with 26,000 followers on twitter *not* be the bully? The law of numbers means that I am the aggressor, not those with 6,000. Never mind that I never seek them out. Never mind that I never set my followers on them, using the patented “.@” method – for those of you not in the know, that means that all of your 4000, 6000, 10,000 followers see that tweet that says that “@CCriadoPerez said [insert lie that, if true, would indeed be shocking] and is [insert resultingly understandable, but nevertheless untrue label]”. But in the fast-moving playground that is twitter, there’s no point discussing any of this, because as soon as you’ve finished explaining to one person that, actually, I didn’t say that, and no, I absolutely don’t think that, another ten angry people have arrived in your mentions demanding your head on a stick. You can’t win. The narrative is set by people with more emotional resources and more time on their hands, to apply to this type of aggression. It’s best to keep your head down and hope that it won’t last too long.

But yesterday, a conversation was brought to my attention that upset me so much that I just felt I couldn’t let it slide anymore. One of the ring-leaders of this gang tweeted that I had “infiltrated” the charity that she had “worked with for 4 years”. Of this calamitous state of affairs she concluded, “Fuck’s sake”. You might be wondering why this upset me so much. After all, not only is it not anything like the person who told me they would mutilate my genitals, or pistol-whip me, or burn my body, or gang-rape me to death, or shove their dick down my throat to shut me up, it’s also small fry in relation to the harassment I am subject to from this group as a whole. And I acknowledge that – it doesn’t seem, in itself, abusive. But what it was, was a crystal-clear insight into the motivations of the people who are harassing me online and routinely lying about me and denouncing me to all and sundry. It came in the shape of the word “infiltrated”.

I don’t know what charity she’s referring to. Since I gained some online notoriety for the abuse that has left me more than usually unable to cope with this level of sustained harassment, quite a number of charities have approached me, asking if I will support their cause. Obviously, I can’t say yes to all of them, or I would have no time left to earn what little money there is in the job-title of “career feminist”, in order to feed and clothe myself. But there are some, that I felt particularly drawn to, whose work I particularly admired, where the injustices they were fighting I felt were particularly glaring and where I felt that what they were asking of me was something I could do well, essentially, the ones I thought I actually could help, those ones I said yes to. I don’t intend to list them here and I don’t proclaim it, because I’m not looking for a medal. I do it because I have been asked to help, and I think I can help – and I want to help. I am not paid for this work and nor do I want to be: if I can use the platform that I suddenly have, (such as it is: despite persistent rumours, no I don’t have a regular column anywhere and in fact my income is both precarious and irregular, not that it’s anyone’s business but my own) to promote any causes that need a higher profile, if any good can come of one of the most psychologically traumatising of experiences, then I want to do that.

To see this described as an “infiltration” therefore, as if I am a disease, as if it were a deliberate and malignant ploy on my part, is incredibly hurtful. It may not seem like the end of the world, but to know that even the things that you do on your own time, privately, are to be re-cast as a Machiavellian action, one that is to be lamented, rather than to be seen as something that may help the charity we are both trying to help, is so incredibly distressing. I am a disease that can only cause harm.

The responses to this tweet were, if anything worse. One after another, people, including a few who had previously been considered friends, and who I would have expected to know me well enough not to judge my agreeing to help a charity as a disturbing “infiltration”, lined up to commiserate with this poor woman. “oh lovely”, said one, sympathetically. Others went for, “aaaaaaargh sympathy” and “oh god =( so much sympathy”. Truly, I am a pariah.

But the one I thought was most particularly telling, was the final response: “Very sorry to hear this, but not surprised. *can we all say “empire-building”?*”

This is an accusation I’m used to by now. A couple of weeks ago I, admittedly pointedly, but no more so than I have been in the past, before I got “famous”, expressed my opinion that feminists who were attacking Owen Jones for writing about violence against women were missing the point – I argued that it was a positive that a man, especially one with such a wide audience, should be writing about this issue which barely gets any media coverage. It would help it reach a new audience – one that needs to hear it, and one that the many brilliant women writers who address this topic were less likely to reach – not because they aren’t as articulate, not because they deserve to be read less, but because readers are as sexist as the rest of the population, and many of them just listen to men more – like when women say something in a meeting and it gets ignored, but praised when a man says it ten minutes later. I believe women should be given more space in the media – but I also think that men should write about the issues that affect us. I think we should all be writing about violence against women.

However, it is an opinion. It is not a diktat. I don’t have the power to issue diktats, I don’t believe I have that power and nor do I desire it. And yet, since my follower count exploded, that is how my opinions are interpreted. I am no longer entitled to express them, because by expressing them, I am not expressing an opinion (as someone who has 10,000 followers is), I am issuing an order that you all must obey, or you will be kicked out of feminism. Where my opinions used to be taken as just that, issued in good faith, up for debate, that were no more and no less than the words that made them up and not indicative of any underlying thirst for power and media saturation, now anything I say or do is taken as evidence of some evil, ulterior motive, designed to get me that one notch further up the “greasy pole of media fame” [another direct quote]. I have been derisively dubbed “The Voice of Feminism” and accused of “grandstanding, career-building and glory-hunting” by a woman who used to be my friend. I must admit that I thought I could trust those who knew me to know what my motivations for feminism are: simply put, they are to liberate women from patriarchy. But that is proving increasingly impossible to do, since every time I open my mouth, whether it be to condemn an unduly lenient sentence for a rapist, to accuse the government of deliberately refusing asylum claims for political reasons, or, to opine that men, if they are trying to highlight an issue that is not spoken about enough, should be allowed to talk about “feminist” issues, whatever I say is interpreted as “ah, but what this is *really* about is her on-going evil plot to build some mythical empire where she rules the world and we are all her lackeys who spend all day in praising her.

The irony in all this is that if that were genuinely my intent, I know what I would have to do: it would be to join the “feminists declaring feminism shit” movement. There is almost nothing the media likes more than articles that say, “while those illogical man-hating, choice-denying, frigid oppressive feminists say [insert straw-man argument that no feminist would ever say], I, reasonable, man-&-sex-in-any-position-loving, but also strong & independent woman, say the opposite. Plus, I’m a feminist and a woman, so what all the other feminists say [that they don’t say] is wrong.” If I start doing that, please do accuse me of plotting to build my own evil little media empire. But, as it stands, I have no desire for lackeys. Contrary to the rumours that I brook no dissent, I often have interesting discussions and debates on my twitter account. Not as many as I used to, but that’s because I spend less time on twitter than I used to, in large part due to the aforementioned trashing that takes place every time I open my mouth. These claims often attend the ones that claim I have a regular column (one person claimed that “Having a guardian column does funny things to peoples egos”). This particular ill-informed gem came during the latest flare-up, minor in comparison to most, but which nevertheless left me shaken.

I’ll just give a little exposition of it here as it is quite a textbook case. I tweeted out an article on trigger-warnings, saying that it was interesting and that I wasn’t a fan of them. A few people agreed, a few disagreed. We discussed it politely, engaged with each others’ opinions, and ended up agreeing to disagree (if you’re interested, my position, outlined in this discussion, is that a better tool would be clear headlines so people know what a piece is about and more discussing of the long-term impact of trauma in general, as the over-use of TW is leading it to become all but useless – and furthermore, personal triggers are unpredictable). However, one woman tweeted me with the “.@” that is the marker of the person who does not consider you a human worth engaging with one-on-one, but who wishes to performatively berate you, and told me that “unless you actually have a MH like PTSD or ED you will probably never understand the value of TW”. In one fell swoop I was told by a complete stranger that I had suffered from neither condition and that, therefore, my opinion was invalid. Such is the state of debate on twitter today: complete strangers decide on the basis of your avi and follower count what your privilege score is and therefore what access to knowledge and experience you can possibly have. I responded, I admit, sharply, because frankly, I’ve kind of had it up to here with people presuming to know the inner workings of my mind and the state of my mental health and deciding on that basis that I am disqualified from debate. I told her not to presume what I do and don’t have and called her use of the “.@” pathetic. She then retweeted me, at which point, realising that this was, of course, what I should have done in the first place, because you can never win in this scenario, you just have to continue to suck it up, because the more followers you have the less human you are, was block her.

But, too late. For the mistake of deciding that no, this time, I’m not having a stranger tell me to shut up because they’ve decided they know what my entire life experience is, I was told I was “mauling” my interlocutor. She complained to her followers about, “Twitter’s feminist Queen” who had given her a “Sunday School lesson”. “Thank you, oh majesty”, she said (apparently, not only am I not allowed opinions, I’m also not allowed to tell people to back off, which made her next tweet (“Irony is she’s trying to silence me. Thought that not being silenced was what she was about”) bitterly ironic). Her supporters rallied round “sorry you had to experience that, she’s so horrible”; “the woman is a fucking idiot”. It didn’t take long before what I said began to be misrepresented: “”to be passionately anti TW [aka, apparently, “not a fan”] is a worrying stance”; “ blocked and attacked [@name redacted] because she disagreed with her opinion”;You wanna censor the few ways sufferers have to control what they’re subjected to? OPPRESSIVE MUCH? [being not a fan because I’m not sure it works = censoring. We seem to be back at the opinions =diktats position]”; “If giving people the option to opt out of seeing/reading something that may destroy their mental health is unreasonable to you [“I’m not a fan”], get in a bin and fucking stay there”; “Please tell me all the ways in which you can cope with your PTSD to make those who can’t look like failures [“I’m not a fan”]. UBER FEMINIST that”. Then came the empire-building “too big for her boots” accusations: “so sick of grown ups chucking their weight around on here”; “she’s busy shitting on everyone who helped her get where she is [a regular claim – apparently I built my hard-won rape threats on the back of sex-workers and trans women]”; “I’m furious that such high profile feminists are attacking people and being so selfish [for defending themselves while in the possession of twitter followers]”; “”Having a [non-existent] guardian column does funny things to peoples egos”; “she seems self-absorbed, out of touch & has little compassion for marginalised groups of women” – at least the final tweeter had the grace to say “seems”, which may mean that they acknowledge that they don’t actually know me. I live in hope. And then finally, and really, most honestly, ” some people deserve piling on”.

That last one is possibly the most chilling as it lays bare exactly what I have forfeited in the storm of rape and death threats that had me terrified for my life for weeks on end, and that left me with a load of new followers: that is, my right to be treated like a human being. A right to emotions. A right to ask that people engage with me in good faith, and not treat me like a toy upon which they can project all their hatred and resentments.

The episode I describe here is relatively minor, and you may be wondering what all the fuss is about. I thought this one was worth documenting because I thought it was illustrative of the dynamics at play, how little it takes for people to attack, and how comprehensively my right of reply and right to exist without harassment has been taken away from me by virtue of, again, gaining followers I didn’t ask for, through a means that has scarred me psychologically, and which, to state the obvious, is not a job, does not earn me money and therefore is of no immediate benefit (to be honest, I’ve grown to hate it and only don’t leave because fuck you). To be honest, it’s also because it happened yesterday, so it was uppermost in my mind. I could have written this post pretty much every day for the past year and used a different example. It’s just that today happens to be the day I’ve snapped. Today is the day I’ve thought, “I can’t take this anymore”. I can’t take the continual wilful misinterpretations and cruel misrepresentations and attacks. All I’m trying to do is be part of a debate, be part of a movement that has the potential to change the world for the better. That could make the world a less unjust and unequal place. And, in the words of the woman who is upset that I have “infiltrated” her turf – sorry, charity – with my disease, “people just don’t know how much it takes a toll. They see us carry on & think we’re strong. We don’t get a choice”. Well. All I can say to that, is Amen, sister. Amen.



Comments will not be switched on to this post because I know that some people will see this post as another excuse to attack me, and frankly, I just don’t have the psychological resources to deal with it at the moment.



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This entry was posted on April 28, 2014 by in Uncategorized.
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