Women will not be intimidated out of political discourse

On Saturday, I went to Netroots UK – a one-day conference for the online progressive left. Overall, it was a great day. I met some awesome people, I learned some new things, I had some great discussions.
Among other things I attended a session called “Digital Equality” on engaging women online. Now, Netroots as a whole wasn’t exactly a troll-free zone. If you look through the #netrootsuk hashtag on Twitter you’ll spot that a good 10% if not more of comments are from right-wing trolls. I’m not talking constructive discussion here; I’m talking personal attacks on individuals, and calling the conference a wankfest. The Digital Equality session, however, was singled out for particular troll attention. The most “creative” they got was telling us we should be doing the washing-up. And just as Jessica Asato was telling us about a particularly nasty tweet aimed at one of the contributors to the workshop, I got picked out for trolling simply for being in that room.
The sheer nastiness of the online political blogging environment for women was one of the key topics of the workshop. All of the speakers shared personal experiences of the kind of attacks they’ve been subject to. Laurie Penny gets five emails a week describing how she deserves to get raped; Lisa Ansell gets told she is worthless scum and should shut up and get back to the kitchen; I myself have had the dubious honour of being on the receiving end of the CiF comment thread. And yes, while CiF can get fairly nasty regardless of who the contributor is, female contributors, female bloggers, women who dare stand up and speak out are singled out for particularly vicious attacks all over the net. These comments range from the dismissive to the downright threatening. They are designed to undermine our confidence, make us doubt ourselves, to intimidate us and scare us. They are designed to exclude us from the political discourse online.
Lisa Ansell made a very good point – women are politically engaged and politically active online. Organisations like Mumsnet have not inconsiderable influence. And yet, the way these organisations engage is different: they create spaces where women talk to each other, focus on specific “women’s issues”. While this is necessary, in my mind it doesn’t go far enough. All political issues are women’s issues, and all women’s issues are political issues – the divide is artificial. It is vital for women to get involved in the mainstream discourse. And yet, every time we do, we are dismissed, intimidated, threatened. Can you imagine a male blogger getting told he deserves to get raped?
There are those of us who have grown a thick skin. A day on CiF is remarkably helpful in that respect. Yes, the comments still affect me – they hurt, they intimidate, they make me feel helpless sometimes, and very often very very angry. But I have learned to get through that and come out the other side. I have (mostly) learned not to feed the trolls, not to waste energy on anger, and to keep writing. One thing that helps are supportive comments from others. Just when that troll has managed to make you doubt yourself, and external sanity check, even just a simple reminder not to feed the troll, is fantastically useful.
Many women, though, are put off by the nastiness and viciousness of the environment. Younger women especially may decide it’s easier and safer to stay down and not to speak out. And that for me is not acceptable. We cannot let a small group of pathetic, immature individuals who are secretly terrified of women scare us – and those who come after us – into silence. We have a right to be part of the “mainstream” political debate, both to contribute and to lead. As Laurie Penny said on Saturday, feminism isn’t some kind of political ghetto, and we have a right to make ourselves heard.
And so I’m standing up for women bloggers. And when I see one of them attacked I will stand up and speak out. I will not let the trolls get away with it. I will not let women bloggers think they are alone, because they are not. Will you join me?

2 thoughts on “Women will not be intimidated out of political discourse

  1. Sonja

    I really enjoy your blog, especially the articles about “women’s issues”, which in fact are, like you said, just general political issues. Why the hell do I so often feel like I’m a member of a fringe group or minority just because I’m a woman? You’re right, we should do everything but hush.


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