26th February 2014

I experienced Twitter abuse first hand

Martha Clarke discusses feminism, solidarity, and how twitter abuse doesn’t solve anything
I experienced Twitter abuse first hand
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Last week I was subject to twitter abuse, or trolling as it is also known, for standing up against something that I believe is wrong – street harassment. I’m an avid supporter of the feminist campaign The Everyday Sexism Project, which started out as a blog and Twitter account where men and women could post their experiences of everyday sexism, from things such as people buying only pink or blue toys for new-born babies, to being sexually assaulted. What sparked the storm of twitter abuse I received was a tweet to the project discussing how I hate being beeped and whistled at when walking down the street.

Recently, trolling seems to be becoming a far too normal part of our society, particularly surrounding feminist campaigns. Two years ago, British diver Tom Daley was abused on Twitter after he lost out in a diving event. Last year saw Labour MP Stella Creasy and campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez become victims of rape and death threats due to their fight to keep inspirational women on bank notes.

The abuse I received wasn’t as horrific or violent as that received by others – but it still was an experience that made me feel uncomfortable and unhappy. When I received the first unpleasant tweet, my reaction was to just ignore it, thinking it will go away, and so that’s what I did. Unfortunately I was wrong, and the tweets got worse throughout the day. Each time my phone buzzed with a notification from Twitter I felt sick, and started to think about deleting my account even though I knew that wasn’t really the solution. I left my account as it was, and didn’t delete the tweet that had attracted the trolling, but by the end of the day I was emotionally exhausted.

I think Twitter is a brilliant platform for engaging in discussions in an intelligent way with others about issues. You may or may not agree with others’ perspectives, but I am often happy to engage in such things. If the trolls had sent tweets questioning how I feel about street harassment, I would have been keen to discuss – but I’m not willing to engage with abuse.
Social media, and Twitter, have become a crucial part of our everyday lives but, like everything, there are always going to be people who abuse them, and use them to abuse others, and this is something we can’t ignore. Ignoring the problem does not solve it, and so as I was being trolled on Twitter, I continued to retweet the many messages of support I got from others who agreed that street harassment isn’t acceptable, and that criticizing it is certainly not something worthy of abuse.

Ignoring sexism doesn’t solve the problem of it either, and this is why campaigns such as the Everyday Sexism Project and No More Page 3 are so important. If you haven’t already, have a read of the Everyday Sexism Project blog, and I dare you to tell me feminism isn’t important after that. Slowly but surely, feminism is being taken seriously again.
However, for many it still has negative connotations of bra burning and man hating, and what makes me particularly sad is that many women still see feminism in a negative light. Feminism is like any movement; the people who support it never have exactly the same ideas about it, but they’re fighting for the same united cause.

The blog doesn’t seem to think the same. The writer of this blog wrote a post last week entitled ‘Modern Feminism vs Everyday Sexism’, in which she decided to make an example of me by print screening and posting my tweet to the Everyday Sexism Project about street harassment – “this is another example of feminism gone wrong.”
One of the things my experience has taught me is that we need to focus on changing women’s attitudes towards other women in terms of feminism. The Scouse Bird Problems blog is a perfect example of how detrimental women’s attitudes can be for other women. Claiming to be a feminist and yet insulting other women based on their looks and the things that they do – or complain about – is itself anti-feminist.

As feminists, we should fight for women to be valued for more than just their appearance, and to be viewed as more than just objects, and I personally think that the writer devalues other women by focusing on these things too much. So next time you disagree with another feminist’s views, think about how to be critical in a constructive way, and understand that without solidarity, it will be even more difficult to reach the end goal we all aspire to: equality.

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