CYBERSEXISM: Festival of Dangerous Ideas

The panel have arrived on stage. Julia Baird is Chair, and she is joined by Clementine Ford, Emma Jane, and Laurie Penny.  I’ll keep updating this live blog as the event continues.

[btw I’m loving the #FODI video trying to teach audiences about how to ask questions.  Shame no one is sticking to it.]

Clementine Ford starts by acknowledging there may be some triggering elements in what is covered today.  But she does note that women can become desensitized to trolling.  The first time someone says something nasty to you it’s extremely painful.  The 200th time you hear it you can actually start to hear the humour and see the sadness and desperation in trolls.  To be able to push through the mass of trolling messages and add to the number of voices banding together against the rise of desperate trolls.

Baird asks how the panellists started getting trolled.  Ford notes that the more comfortable  woman is in speaking, so too does the rise of trolling.  there’s not so much a start date, for her, but rather a gradual process.  For Jane, the first trolling she received was in 1998, and the moment she started posting online, she started receiving graphic, sexualised trolling. That continued relentlessly from 1998 – 2012.  So long as she was writing feminist works in the media, she experienced trolling.  Jane never answered a single message but the messages never stopped.  It didn’t stop till she went in to academia, and since she has started some research on hate messages, it’s started here.

Penny says that her trolling (she prefers the term ‘abuse’) since she started writing in the UK – around 2008.  For her, she feels rather sensitive and as a writer she doesn’t want to grow a thick skin.  For her, it’s anxiety provoking.  Someone has recently posted her temporary phone number on line and she is worried about how that will escalate.  She says the Daily Mail is a misogynist newspaper and makes its money from it.  She feels that answer to abuse online is spite rather than resilience.  She feels that the trolls are trying to tell her that her spaces online are not safe.

Baird asks how the performance of celebrity conservative commentators is contributing to the process.  Penny notes that the mainstream press and media are definitely contributing to the normalisation of abuse.

Penny notes that she is disturbed by the horrible rape-oriented abuse she receives can be from someone who has a profile of themselves with their daughters.  Ford adds that when she has challenged trolls on this, the troll answers that he will teach his daughter to be resilient.

Jane notes that in her research, she has spoken to women who have experienced abuse but the victims didn’t want to be seen as over-sensitive, humourless, or scared.

Ford cites the Atwood quote – Men will fear that women will laugh at them, women fear men will kill them.  She says that she thinks of abuse as a bit like a Boggart (from Harry Potter) – that the only way to deal with the fear is to laugh at it – not with it.  She says if we work together, we can contact abusers’ wives, families, workplaces and schools. We need to enable the people in society to insist that they will not accept this.

Penny says she feels it’s not just about her doing anything about it – she is a victim, not at fault.  She feels what should be done is educate men to ensure that the social ritual of rape trolling and make it unacceptable.

Ford acknowledges it’s not the responsibility for victims to end sexism, but she says it’s not always about the conversants acting together but also about the audience to these conversations.

Baird asks if there’s a single strategy in how to respond to abuse. Jane says absolutely not. She notes that the toolkit can be diverse as outsourcing the block and delete function, to taking breaks from being online, and choosing to be offline when in bed, to 1:1 engagement with trolls through education. She says that these diverse experiences all work in different circumstances.

Ford says she loves sending a picture of a dog to people who send 2000 word abuse emails.

Baird notes that she has had women refuse to come on her show because of the consequences of coming on to the show.  Penny says it’s the old school Victorian chilling effect applied to new media, where women are dissuaded from contributing to public ebate.  This is the thing that worries her greatly.  But she also fears physical abuse as a result of built-up entitlement. Just because abuse happens online it may not stay there, and it is no less real anyway.

Ford adds that this is a form of terrorism.  There’s an insistence of some people to busy their heads in the sand.  It actually relates to racism – white men couldn’t possibly be terrorists – only fringe dwellers and outliers.

Penny notes drily that there are an awful lot of fringe dwellers and outliers.

Jane notes that doxing is where rape abuse online is set alongside address, phone numbers, family members, etc. And there men using this as a means of ‘getting back’ at ex-partners, where mobs come and threaten or enact abuse as a result of an invitation.

Jane notes that women avoid the hashtag #gamergate or #feminism if they want to avoid abuse.

A question from the floor asks about slutshaming. The questioner notes that police were not helpful in response.  With the law moving so slowly, how can we create safe environments.

Jane says that she doesn’t know how long it’s going to take and what actions are required, but some laws exist and are not being used – such as carrier service operator rules about what is acceptable online.  We also need new laws – such as that pertaining to revenge porn – that will assist this.

Ford notes that she once had her account banned on FB because she published a private message which was full of hate messaging – sent through FB.  FB is not yet adequate in its response to abuse.  Police still seem to treat the abuse online as kids playing.

Another question from the floor is on abuse from women to other women.  Penny describes them as “fucking traitors”.  She says some men seem to think that women have a hive vagina mind and that if a women says something abusive it’s okay for men to repeat these messages. She says internalised misogyny is a real thing and we need to resist that.

A question is about education and misogyny.  Ford notes that there doesn’t seem to be any kind of formal education about misogyny.  There’s plenty of cybersafety advice about what not to do, but not about the horror of actually choosing to pursue an act of abuse.  Ford says we need a constructive and thorough program of social justice education in schools. And this needs to be encouraged throughout society.

Ford says a lot of people are frightened to make such extraordinary change.  Baird thanks the women on the panel for putting their heads above the parapet and addressing such a crucial issue.  Wild applause and appreciation closes the session.





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