Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Stop calling me ugly

It’s time to get personal.

The last year has seen me get a lot more, shall we say, public, in my feminist activism. This has, of course, opened me up to a lot more criticism. And, as is so common when people want to criticise people they don’t know, but make assumptions about, they have criticised my appearance. Or, to put it more correctly, what they imagine my appearance is.

This cumulated for me yesterday when someone posted a picture of what they imagined I looked like on the comment section under an article on the Evening Post website.

I’m not going to tell you what I look like. And I try not to care when people who have never seen me tell me I must be fat and ugly, a lesbian, jealous of pretty girls, in need of a boyfriend or whatever (and, my favourite, that I am not an “intellectual”! Which reminded me of Fanny and Lady Montdore in Love in a Cold Climate). Because, apart from jealousy, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being fat, not stereotypically attractive, gay or single (or not being intellectual!). But I know that the people who call me that do see something wrong with it, and mean it to be offensive and upsetting, and mean it to hurt me. And no matter how many times you say ‘sticks and stones’, it isn’t really true, is it.

But it got me thinking about a number of things.

Why do people think that to criticise a woman’s appearance is the worst thing they can do? Why do we still put so much value in appearance? And why is being told I am not beautiful, from someone who has never seen me, so upsetting?
Society (I know, it’s a big word) value women’s beauty. From Naomi Wolf’s PBQ to the fame and celebrity a woman with a nice bone structure (Kate Moss) gets, women are valued for their beauty. Beauty – a certain type of it – is synonymous with femaleness or femininity. To call me ugly is a weapon. It suggests that I am an anti-woman, I am the pits, I am a disgrace to my sex. It is a callous and lazy method to devalue and silence what I say.

To accuse me of being jealous of other women is the same thing. Because by calling me ugly, you are saying I have somehow ‘failed’ as a woman, you say I must be jealous of ‘successful’ women, women who are considered (by you) to be beautiful. By making the issue being about my jealousy, you are derailing the point of the argument I am making. You are saying the issue, e.g. sexual objectification, is not a problem in society, but my problem with jealousy.

Why do people rely on tired stereotypes when arguing about really important issues? Again, it is to devalue the point, to turn it into my problem.

It also got me thinking about women and our relationships with our bodies. It’s no secret that women are often insecure about their bodies and their appearance. I’m not going to lie, I am one of them. I’m in good company, something like 70% of women internationally aren’t happy with the way they look (Dove survey). But after ten years of swerving between violent hate, and general distaste, I like the way I look. I put to bed my insecurities, I made a decision to stop hating my body and to start loving it. I look in the mirror and I am happy, I get dressed in the morning and dress up in the evening and I am happy.

It has taken me years and a lot of pain and hassle to reach that point. It’s a fragile point. And reading over and over again from idiots who think it is ok/funny/whatever to call me ugly over and over again is exhausting. It’s upsetting. Even though I know to pay no attention, it is still hard to ignore. It’s still hard not to take it personally. I cried when I saw that picture on the Evening Post forum. I wanted to know what I had done to deserve someone thinking it was ok to be so goddamn mean to me. I hadn’t even commented on the thread.

And that’s me. Someone who is happy with the way I look. But what if I wasn’t? What effect would your words have then? What could you be doing to someone?

There are people who say ‘well, you put yourself out there, you have to deal with it, no-one forces you to blog.’
This argument is bullshit. I should be able to blog about whatever I like, without having to deal with abuse about my supposed personal appearance. Even if I wrote a load of shit you didn’t agree with, you could disagree with it without saying ‘you’re just jealous’ or ‘you’re probably really ugly’ etc etc.

There are people who say, ‘well you shouldn’t put yourself out there, doing activism.’ I’m sorry, but so long as I see the injustice of gender inequality, I am going to keep doing my activism. Again, I should be allowed to campaign for equality without people making snide and spiteful remarks about what they imagine I look like.

What is it about the internet that allows people to think they can be so rude? To say things you would never say to my face? The power of anonymity is massive. But it is inexcusable and stupid. Stchoopid.

So, in summary. We need to stop using appearance as a stick to beat women with. We need to stop thinking the best way to win an argument is ‘uuh well you’re probably a minger’. We need to stop thinking beauty is women’s most important possession, and that to not have beauty is shaming.

And we need to stop and think and say ‘what if this really hurts the person writing?’

Criticise away. Argue back, have healthy debate.

But please, stop calling me ugly.


Elly said...

I don't know if your 'intellectual' comment was aimed at me, but:

I didn't say you weren't 'an intellectual' in particular. I said:

'I know I am an arrogant arsehole. But I think social movements need intellectual, possibly arrogant thinkers and writers. Contemporary feminism lacks intellectual balls right now.'

It was a general comment about how feminism lacks intellectual rigour, not a personal comment against you.

I think someone posting that picture was terrible, and the moderator should not have allowed it.

I get called names online all the time, and it does hurt. But I also find strategies for dealing with it. Blogging about it is one I have done myself and I think it helps.

sian and crooked rib said...

elly it wasn't about you - i just made me chuckle when you wrote the stuff about intellectualism because someone had said that to me and it reminded me, as i said, of lady montdore.

sian and crooked rib said...

Also, you make a good point about the name calling. i think it is fair to say that you and me disagree on a LOT of issues (!) but neither of us have called one another names, or made nasty comments about assumed personal appearance (unless there's something i don't know!?)

so it shows that you can virulently disagree with someone without going 'err but you must be ugly' etc.

Elly said...

very true! someone said to me,

Once you resort to insults and abuse, you have lost the argument.

I think that is worth remembering.

Jilly said...

I agree with Elly's last comment about resorting to insults meaning you've lost an argument. I always try and debate with people without resorting to personal comments. But I do find that it is men who resort to insults much quicker than women do even though men are supposed to be far better at debating reasonably than women are. I know that comment uses stereotypes but it is the way it seems to me.

V said...

People are just vile aren't they? And stupid. I can't count the number of times I've been engaged in some online debate, and as soon as I mention anything to do with feminism, people instantly start telling me I'm ugly, a lesbian, "just need a cock in me" (misogynists seem to think having a cock in you cures a multitude of problems).

It's so frustrating because they know you can't answer them back. I can't say, actually I'm a model, or I'm married, or whatever, because they'll just tell you you're making it up, and you'd be sinking to their level anyway.

Sometimes I think the only answer is that some people have their internet privileges taken away...