Trigger warning for rape and domestic abuse
Last night, after a very long day that involved sitting in a car for eight hours in traffic jams on various motorways, I read the news story that Hadley Freeman and Grace Dent had received death threats by a man who was so angry at women having a voice in public space, his response was to say he had planted a bomb at their homes.
Before I continue with this post I would just like to steer away the inevitable comment about the Twitter joke trial. The two cases are not analogous. They are not even similar. One was a joke about how flight delays are annoying. These are directed threats at two named women, naming the time and place where this Twitter user "plans" to kill them. See the difference there? One = joke in poor taste. Two = threat.
Reading this article left me with a feeling of total, free-falling despair. I kept whispering to myself, ‘they want to kill us. They want to kill us.’ That’s how these threats made to women I admire and respect made me feel. That some men want to kill women for having a voice.
And then I remembered one very important thing.
Every week, men are already killing women. Last month 12 women were allegedly murdered by men, because they were women. This month will be the same, as two women are killed each week. Even the most conservative estimate by the BCS tells us that last month 5,000 women were raped. It will be another 5,000 this month.
In response to my last blogpost on online abuse, which was cross-posted at Liberal Conspiracy, I had what felt like legions of men telling me (not assuring me, not wondering – straight up telling me) that the threats I received last year, and the threats Caroline Criado-Perez is continuing to receive now, are ‘angry humour’. They’re not to be taken seriously. One man even hit the sexist and classist double whammy of calling it ‘proletariat vocabulary’ – as if rape threats are just part of being working class, and only come from the working class.
They’re not ‘real threats’. That’s what they say.
They’re ‘just a joke’. That’s what they say.
Just ignore them. Don’t feed the trolls. That’s what they say.
But, you see, when 5,000 of my UK sisters are raped every month, a man telling a woman that he is going to come to her house and rape her at 9pm that night simply isn’t funny. When two of my UK sisters are murdered every week, a man telling a woman that he has planted a bomb designed to kill her outside her house is, actually, a real threat.
When every day I fear I will be harassed, groped, assaulted; men calling me a slag and a bitch and a slut isn’t funny. When I’ve sat there with friends or in discussion groups and heard women disclose the violence committed against them; men telling rape survivors that they’re going to rape them again isn’t funny. When I name the assaults that happened to me as sexual assault; men saying they hope I get kicked in the vagina, they hope I get raped, isn’t funny.
We have to take these threats seriously because as women, we know they are serious. We know that there are thousands of men raping women every month. We know there are over a million men abusing their partners every year. We know that every single day these threats made online are enacted, in fact, offline. They are committed against the women around us. Maybe to us.
So forgive me for taking it seriously.
Forgive me for not laughing when the Twitter abuse story rips open the ugly maw of misogyny that often resides behind closed doors, but that every woman experiences throughout her life. Forgive me for not laughing at the widespread abuse of women just because in this instance it’s online and not in the street, in the club, in the school, in the workplace, in the university, in the home.
Forgive me for not laughing at the victimisation of women for being women.
We live in a society where violence against women and girls is epidemic. This news story has shone a light on the casual and not so casual misogyny of some men online. It is now out for all to see how some men view women as deserving of violence because they are women speaking, doing, acting. We take these threats seriously because we know they are meant seriously.
They are meant to shut us up. They are meant to put us in our place.
They, like all acts of violence against women, are designed to control us.
And every male commenter and commentator who is desperately trying to mock and belittle those of us who have received this abuse, you need to listen. You, who have never woken up to a man telling you he wants to rape you because you have written something, need to listen to us women who have. You need to listen to why we know it’s serious. You need to think about the context of violence within which these threats are made. Listen to us. Listen to our stories, our histories, our lives negotiating a world where 1 in 4 of us experience domestic abuse, where 1 in 5 of us experience sexual assault. Listen to us. Then try and tell us it’s not serious. Then try and tell us it’s just a joke.
Because not only is this joke not funny any more, it was never funny to begin with.
PS. Man who said I was ‘ranting’ on Liberal Conspiracy. If you thought that was a rant, well, this certainly is!
National domestic abuse helpline: 0808 2000 247
Rape Crisis: 0808 802 9999