Please Note: I encourage you to read the relevant Twitter conversations and make up your own mind.
Please do not hassle any of the people I discuss here.
It has taken me over a month to write this blog. It has taken that long because I’m afraid. I understand it’s not just me that’s afraid. I am afraid I’ll be accused of harassing people even though all I’m doing is expressing my opinion. I’m afraid I will potentially be silenced by having my social media frozen. I am even afraid that I might be arrested and put on trial like Gregory Allan Elliott. I know that it’s very unlikely any of these things will happen – I doubt that I’m important enough to become a target for that sort of thing, but the possibility is there and has kept me silent for a long time.
And that’s the reason I feel the need to write this piece, which was inspired by two cases where people who have dared to criticise feminists have been treated appallingly. Any of us could be next, and I believe it’s caused by a very righteous mind-set which makes the awful assumption that anyone making a criticism of feminism must be a misogynist. I discuss draft EU legislation that makes this assumption here.
I am not writing this as an ‘attack’, and I don’t want to distress anyone, or spur others to send them unkind messages. I would rather not make this personal by writing about individual feminists, however I simply cannot address the issue here without discussing individual cases, for what disturbs me is that the ‘victim’ status of several women is being used to shut down valid criticism of their activism. I have no wish to silence them; I am writing this to point out hypocrisy.
The first case that has me terrified is that of Gregory Allan Elliott, who is on trial in Canada for some tweets he sent to/about Stephanie Guthrie and two other women. There really isn’t a huge amount of information about this online, so please do your own research before making up your mind, but from what I can tell the issue in this case is that while none of his tweets were threatening, he may be found guilty if Guthrie is able to prove that she was ‘scared’ by his criticism and rudeness. Sure, some of his tweets were rude, but that’s not illegal and if it were many people who use Twitter – including many feminists would be in jail right now. There has not yet been a verdict in this case, but if he is found guilty people like me really will have cause to fear, while Guthrie is busy rolling her eyes.
A much smaller scale incident has also deeply shocked and saddened me, and I’m writing about it here because it enabled me to witness first hand how feminism is able to demonise critics who have done nothing wrong whatsoever. At the start of February 2014, influential Twitter feminist Caroline Criado-Perez made some – in my opinion – misleading and grossly unfair accusations about Mark Sparrow, a journalist who covers issues affecting the disabled. He is one of the nicest people I have ever interacted with on Twitter (seriously, look at his tweets – he’s funny and never horrible), and is part of a group (as am I) that is very sceptical of ideology that claims ‘all women are oppressed’, a sentiment regularly expressed by Criado-Perez. I believe that such assertions are serious, far from proven, and something that both women and men have a right to refute.
On February 1, Criado-Perez accused Sparrow of being creepy, obsessed, aggressive and of stalking her profile (after seeing this tweet), only for it to transpire that all he had been doing was reading her tweets and blog posts and then discussing them with others on a regular basis. She admitted that her reaction was not caused by the tweet itself, but by the fact that he has been reading and responding to her blog and Twitter feed for several months. She even coined a new phrase to refer to this: ‘hate reading’. Yes. Hate reading. You heard it here first – reading the words of a well-known figure and regularly discussing what they write is ‘hate reading’. As well as being horrid about him, she called him names based on male genitalia (prize prick), which surely by her standards is sexist…non? I actually have no problem with the fact that we have different insults for men and women and that many of them are based on toilet parts, but it would be nice if feminists could practice what they preach.
On a similar note, if a man had said this about a prominent Twitter feminist (or even any woman), what do you think would have happened?
Criado-Perez then goes on to demonstrate that she expressed her disgust at Sparrow’s ‘social standing’ without having looked into who he is in even the most basic way. She tweeted the following about Sparrow:
What shocks me about this that the first hit of a Google search for Mark Sparrow’s name returns the following page on the Guardian website, which confirms that he is in fact a journalist who has contributed to that newspaper and who has also presented a documentary on hospital food. He may not be the most prolific Guardian contributor, but that is certainly no reason to insinuate he may be a liar. Moreover, if she had taken 10 minutes to read some of his work on there she might have discovered that he suffers from a debilitating bone disease. She may also have read about how he wishes he could contribute to the running of his home equally to his wife, and do his ‘proper share’ of the housework. This might have made her less likely to announce to 25k followers that he ‘hates women’.
Not that she had to read any of his articles. But if you felt that a person was ‘hassling’ and ‘obsessively focused’ on you to an extent that you felt they were enough of a threat block them, and took the time to read their Twitter bio, doubt their claims and express these doubts to others, wouldn’t you check them out first? I agree it would be really quite ‘creepy’ for someone who claimed to write for the same newspaper as you sometimes do to transpire to be a fake, but she could have established within minutes that he is not, and that he is a person who writes rationally about an important social issue.
Ms Criado-Perez’ Tweets received plenty of replies either in support of Mark, or pointing out that her comments were hypocritical and unfair (such as the replies to this tweet, or this one). Many Twitter users also defended him vociferously and were highly critical of Criado-Perez. However, some of the most salient criticism of her behaviour came from another prominent feminist who called her out and asked for her to justify her statements. I am very grateful to Louise Mensch for doing this, not just for her coherent and logical persistence, but for the fact that she was not afraid to hold a fellow feminist to account for behaviour she felt was unjustified. If there is one thing I would like people to take away from this blog post it’s this Tweet exchange:
The fact that there are feminists out there who are prepared to call out unfairness like this is one thing that gives me hope.
I want to make it clear that I don’t think Tweets like these should be removed from Twitter. They are just opinions. What scares me about this is that Criado-Perez should know better. She has become a household name and has over 25k followers on Twitter – many people listen to her and believe what she says. She is a person who knows how it feels to have horrible things said to and about her when she has felt vulnerable. She is a person who is part of a movement who claims to advocate fairness and equality for all. Yet she decides to make rude and nasty claims about someone who by all accounts –even her own – has done nothing worse than follow what she has written and discussed it critically. I am also entirely shocked at the manner in which she throws around the word ‘troll’. She is arguably the most well-known victim of trolling, and frequently writes of the terrible trauma it has caused her, indeed she made reference to the rape and death threats she has received multiple times during this tweet exchange. To place a person who has communicated rationally, openly and in civil language in the same category as a violent and senseless abuser is incredibly unfair.
Many of Criado-Perez’ tweets on Feb 1 implied that Sparrow had been wrong to follow and critique her activism during a time she was receiving abusive messages. Well, I’m sorry but being on the receiving end of abuse does not place a person’s opinions above question – Katie Hopkins has made it clear that she receives huge amounts of exactly the same abuse but does that mean nobody has the right to question anything she says? Sweet Jesus no. Placing people above criticism and censure is dangerous – read The Crucible.