I don’t usually write so personally but recently, it has been ROUGH. It’s in capital letters. That means it was proper rough.
In the last two months, I have experienced four personal attacks, all of which were caused by talking about sex based oppression or sexual offending. I don’t know if anyone else gets this amount of abuse but I am writing about this to expose the misogyny of hundreds of people responding to my work and my thoughts.
Two months ago
Around two months ago, I was watching a long conversation about gender politics and gender ideology when I came across a term I had never seen before ‘TERF’. I was confused. The tweets said ‘die TERF scum’ ‘all TERFs should be killed’ and so on. I clicked on trusty Google and searched for it. ‘Trans exclusionary radical feminist’. I stared at the screen and still wanted more information. The same people preaching freedom of speech and freedom of thought were putting up relentless tweets telling these women to die, get killed, get raped. So I carefully composed some tweets asking what this term meant and why it should be seen as okay to send death threats to these women.
Within an hour, I had received over 500 tweets, messages and comments saying the most vile and disgusting things to me. Some of them included rape threats and jokes about me being raped and killed. That I should have my head smashed in. That they wished they knew where I lived. That I should be struck off. I hadn’t actually said anything to them. I had asked about why the term was being used to justify violence online.
I turned off the notifications and tried to retreat from the twittersphere for a while. I waited for it to blow over which took about 2 days.
This was my first experience of being relentlessly bullied on twitter for days at a time and I was shocked that my naive question about threatening to kill women online had warranted such a massive response. Many would say I was lucky to have had a twitter account for so many years and only recently experienced such hatred.
One month ago
Fast forward a couple of weeks and I was excitedly analysing the data from my study on the blame of women who have experienced sexual violence. The study aimed to validate a world-first psychometric measure of victim blaming of women which I had invented as part of my PhD. Each one of the 670 participants answered a matrix of psychometric items on sexual violence and assigned blame to the woman or the man in each scenario. As it was the first time it was ever tested, I also gave each person the option to leave anonymous feedback or comments on the study, so I could learn from their experience of taking my study and their thoughts about the victim blaming of women…
“You sexist bitch”
“The academic is clearly a man-hater”
“The researcher has exaggerated the problem of sexual violence for her own gain”
“Clearly doesn’t care about male victims of sexual violence”
“This author wants everyone to believe that all men commit sexual violence”
“Not all men are like this”
As sad as it sounds, I had expected these comments. Whenever I speak or write about women in the UK, there is always ‘whataboutery’ about men – like we cannot possibly focus one study on women only because men were not included. Like I cannot focus a study on male violence because it’s somehow discriminatory despite the majority of all violence (sexual or otherwise) is committed by men. I note that there is no similar uproar from women when a study is conducted about male victims of sexual violence or female sex offenders. In fact, the feminist movement wholly supports men who have experienced sexual violence – without the feminist movement, those men would still have no services at all.
But the one that really stood out was from Richard.
“This study is a disgrace. My undergrad students can write better than you. You are clearly biased and sexist and should never have been allowed to study for a PhD. I hope your study fails and I hope you are taken off your PhD course. Good luck, you’ll need it. Love, Richard XXX :)”
I must reiterate that the entire study was anonymous. This man chose to include his name and imply his role as an academic supervisor. My study was shared all over the UK so I have no way of knowing who he is.
I was pretty gutted with some of the negative comments. Don’t get me wrong, I had hundreds of positive and amazing comments which will all form part of a separate publication – but the amount of people who were absolutely fuming that the study focussed on women was overwhelming.
Personal comments claiming that I hated men also angered me because I founded the first male mental health centre in the UK and have been giving my time and expertise to our charity for 4 years, this year. I spoke to my psych colleagues about the abuse I had received and just decided to move on, chalk it up to experience.
(For those of you wondering, the scale has been proven to be valid and reliable and I am extremely excited to be writing the handbook at the moment ready for publication!)
Three weeks ago
It was maybe less than a week later that I spotted a conversation occurring on twitter between a group of men who self identified as paedophiles. Clearly intelligent men, having an in depth conversation about their sexual preference for small children. Twitter is a strange place at times, and creates space for all kinds of people to anonymously discuss many issues including those that would be classed as illegal or controversial.
I watched in awe as they performed incredible mental acrobatics to convince each other that P should be added to LGB. They wanted their ‘sexuality’ recognised as ‘pedosexual’ and added to the other recognised sexualities. Perplexed, I tweeted about this phenomena and asked if anyone in the LGB community were taking it seriously. At first, the tweet attracted a few paedophiles who were fairly measured in their responses and were explaining their point of view.
However, a few hours later, a couple of extremely aggressive people picked up the thread and did not leave me alone for three days solid. I blocked 42 people that weekend and every time I did, a new account would pop up and carry on the abuse.
Not only this, but a very famous psychologist joined in, telling me I was full of shit, should have my PhD removed, made comments about my appearance and actually tagged more and more paedophiles to get involved in the abuse. I was so shocked at his behaviour that I contacted a colleague who knew him to ask whether this was out of character for him (as I suspected it was a troll account). My colleague reassured me that it was not him and I confidently stated that the account was a troll and ignored him. However, from that moment, the abuse became much more personal and I had to block the vile and disgusting tweets within a few minutes.
At this point, I was absolutely exhausted from the abuse – mainly because it was so quickly becoming about my appearance.
One guy cut my head off of photos of me and sent me pictures of myself with no head and said he would fuck my body but my face ruined it for him.
Another account sent me gifs of violent rapes and gifs of women being beaten and gang raped using a number of different accounts.
Three days ago
This week, the abuse began again. This time, I had written a quick tweet on the train about the way women were hypersexualised on the covers of men’s magazines to sell magazines, therefore objectifying them and dementalising them.
It was shared thousands of times and then a large social media account retweeted it and wrote an article about it. I’ve had my notifications turned off ever since. Here is why:
I received just over 6000 notifications in one day. I can honestly say that by about 6pm, I was in such a distressed state that my hands were shaking, my heart rate was way too high and I was pretty sure I would be sick if I ate. I started with a painful headache and then had a series of severe panic attacks.
I knew I couldn’t process this level of abuse earlier on in the week but now, I can. I’ve taken a few days to care for myself, spoke to some people, got support from people who care about me and then went back to the grindstone in my job as a self employed researcher, writer and public speaker in sexual violence and forensic psychology.
There is a clear pattern, however.
If you are female and you talk about misogyny or sexism, you will receive misogynistic or sexist responses. The irony is deafening.
The men on twitter who attacked me for talking about misogyny and the sexualisation of women responded with comments comparing me to other women, claiming I was lesbian, commenting on my attractiveness and how much sex I was getting (which they thought they had a lot of information about, for people I have never met). When I then pointed out that their responses were case in point, the responses became more personal and more aggressive.
I don’t have anything clever to say. I don’t have any theories to draw upon in this blog, although there are many – and it’s fairly clear what the greats (Brownmiller, Burt, Long, Gay, Bindel and others) would say about this pattern. I don’t have any words of wisdom, as I am currently depleted of all wisdom or useful musings.
What I do have, is amounts of resilience that some people could only ever dream of.
What I do have is an annoying stokie accent that will keep travelling all over the world talking loudly about sexual violence and misogyny until my dying breath.
What I do have is a defiant ambition to explore and then reduce victim blaming of women experiencing sexual violence.
What I do have is a sharp mind and a level of integrity that will be my legacy.
What I do have is a huge following of people who support my work and my voice.
What I do have, is something to say.
And they are going to listen.
I’m not going anywhere.