Taking the ‘twit’ out of Twitter

It’s been One Of Those Weeks. Laid up with a back injury which no amount of painkillers will touch, I find I have precious little patience for fools. As if by magic, fools is the one thing that the world seems to have in abundance.
It had all been going so well. The Bank of England announced the Jane Austen would appear on the new design £10 note, so at least one of the notable Britons on our money (aside from the Queen) will be female. In addition, Amanda Palmer took on the misogyny of the Daily Mail with this cracking and catchy song (fair warning, it’s not safe for work or blushing maiden aunts).

Then it went downhill. Caroline Criado-Perez, the lady who campaigned for the Jane Austen banknote, subsequently found herself the victim of a Twitter hate campaign, receiving up to 50 tweets an hour from other Twitter users threatening to rape and kill her. Labour MP Stella Creasy, who had supported the campaign, was the next victim.

From merely downhill, the week entered a ravine. Browsing the web, I stumbled across an article on the growing trend in the UK for women to reject many traditional trappings of a wedding ceremony, refusing to be given away by their fathers as though they were a piece of property, and insisting on retaining their birth names to assert their own identity. Hurrah! But I made the mistake of scrolling down to the comments. To quote directly:

What man in his right mind would want to marry a woman like that?

My husband, for a start.

Yes, you could say that I must stop reading forum comments. I say that people must stop making sexist comments in the first place.

I found a women’s magazine that had been left on the bus, with three young, famous women on its cover, all wearing bikinis and looking gorgeous, all with a caption criticising some part of their body. Beneath those pictures, a reality TV star (or so I assume; I hadn’t actually ever heard of her) told the world ‘My new body has changed my life’.

Then back to a young man putting the ‘twit’ into Twitter by telling respected academic Mary Beard that she is a ‘filthy old slut’. I can’t bring myself to care if he was trolling or not; he got one heck of a comeuppance from her fans and he deserved it.

Finally back to blog comments, and another man (or so I assume) announcing to the world:

Feminism did its job 30 years ago, and everything since is just whining.

Right. Because the gender pay gap, unequal division of childcare and household labour, lack of representation in boardrooms and in Parliament, the continuing erosion of women’s reproductive rights, and possibly thousands of girls still removed from the UK every year to suffer female genital mutilation, absolutely means that women have true equality. Good sir, you can sod off.

Concept design for new £10 note

Concept design for new £10 note

The thing I want to know more than anything else is: who on earth ARE these people? I have a reasonably wide circle of male acquaintances from all walks of life, and I would bet a decent amount of money that not one of them would dream of threatening to rape a woman, not even from behind the relative anonymity of a Twitter handle.

One popular school of thought has them as over-aggressive, under-socialised 14-year-old boys. I am prepared to accept this theory, but that does not change one basic fact.

This has to stop. This has to stop now, before my pre-school-age nieces are even aware that it exists. Not one more woman must look at her Twitter feed, or the comments below her article, and see her appearance or very personhood insulted and degraded. These men (or boys) must be challenged and shamed for their behaviour.

Work on this is starting. Twitter has apologised to the women who received abusive tweets, and promised that more will be done to tackle the situation. Tesco are placing restrictions on sales of the ‘lad’s mags’ that are demeaning to women. Awareness is growing that a society can’t claim to be civilised and yet continue to treat 51% of its population with contempt; but that won’t be enough without action on the part of every individual.

So here is my challenge to everybody reading this: over the next week, challenge one instance of sexism. Whether that is responding to a tweet, adding a comment to a blog, or sending a quick e-mail to a magazine editor, if you believe that women have the right to live their lives free from harassment and shaming then make your voice heard. Let’s make the world a better place for everybody.

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