The fight for feminism

Bank notes 3

It’s been a crazy few weeks. On Friday 5th July a group of us dressed up as ‘inspiring women from history’ and presented a box of 33k signatures to the Bank of England asking them to keep women on banknotes. We were led by my lovely and fabulous friend Caroline Criado-Perez. I dressed up as Boudicca – I’d never worn a cape, sword and shield before so it was a rather surreal experience! Read about it here in the Guardian.

Bank notes 1After this, the Bank announced they would put Jane Austen on the next £10 note. We celebrated, but the joy was short lived. Suddenly Caroline got bombarded with online abuse. She has been incredibly brave in retweeting her rape and death threats to show the world what gets launched at women making a stand on feminist issues. Read about her inspiring battle here. 

// Don’t feed the trolls?

I spoke about bank-notes, Caroline’s bravery and social media trolling on Sky News last week. You can watch that interview here. We discussed trolling in particular. Many complain that retweeting is not the way to deal with it: “don’t feed the trolls!” they say. But this advice means abuse happens in private. Shining a light on it by RTing some of the comments means the rest of social media have to see it and are made aware. It also means networks like Twitter can benefit from peer-to-peer ‘policing’ rather than just top-down authorities stepping in.

// Lads Mags

Many of us women have had to normalise online abuse. Obviously it goes to a totally different and criminal level when it’s rape or death threats; these should never be shrugged off. But general vile abuse is something many of us feminists just have to accept. Chatting with Caroline and with Laura from Everyday Sexism and Lucy Holmes from NoMorePage3 the amount of nastiness we all get sent is horrible. It just seems to go with the territory – but it shouldn’t have to.

Today when raising my voice for Lose The Lads Mags, as I have with the No More Page 3 Campaign, I decided I would start retweeting some of the abuse. It stemmed from me expressing some personally vulnerable stuff about the negative effects of seeing ‘soft porn’ magazines in newsagents and in general public places when I was younger.

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I would say that seeing those images of women on men’s pin-up calendars, on the accidentally-left-open Sun’s Page 3 and on the high up shelves of newsagents when browsing the kids comics had the following effects:

- It damaged my understanding of what it means to be a woman; the lie that we are only worth as much as the attractiveness of our bodies.

- It taught me from a tiny age that to get men’s attention, women “have” to look a certain way and that becoming physically attractive should be our all-consuming task.

- It hit me with the reality that women are sex objects within culture and this must just be accepted not challenged. Even though this deeply upset me as a little girl I already felt like I was faced with the need to accept this as the norm.

- It actually made me not want to be a woman as I felt like my ‘lot’ in life was a terrible one: that I was destined to spend my days fighting to look attractive only in order to be used as some kind of object.

Opening up about how “deeply disturbing” these magazines and their images were was met by a torrent of abuse. I’ve censored out most but I’ll include a few here [warning: offensive language]

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// Even tough cookies break

The Twittersphere is often a nasty place. I fell in love with social media back when I lived in California and the social media revolution was first born on the West Coast. I quickly fell out of love with social media when the police had to move me out of my apartment overnight due to rape and death threats. These were sparked by me simply being a woman who put her head above the parapet on issues of gender equality.

Far from home, those nasty messages wrecked me. I’m a pretty tough cookie but when men started showing up in my neighbourhood asking for my address, telling me online exactly what they “planned to do to me” and began attending my public lectures as the addresses were public, I just broke. My manager and I had a file inches thick, full of names, threats and incidents, mainly sparked by social media.

The American authorities were pretty much useless as they said the threats didn’t fall under a geographical jurisdiction – and six years ago the policing of social media threats was far less developed than today. Trolling, abuse and sexual threats were a large part of the reason I moved back to the UK three years ago – I just felt too vulnerable in a foreign country by myself.

// Trying to fight back

Returning to the UK I decided on a way I could fight back. I started doing a PhD which I’m currently in the middle of. My topic is “Internet Ethics”. So it gives me an outlet for my angst! I’m researching how we can use social media more ethically. I’ve spoken about my research on Radio 4 “Sunday” and “The Moral Maze” and in the Independent if you’re bored one day and want to check those out!

Lads’ mags

Lose the lads mags!

// Don’t just walk on by

Social media ethics are a crucial topic to consider. Questions of privacy, free speech, how we handle the powers of anonymity and when and how to switch off.

However, there is a real risk these discussions can become academic rather than rooted in personal life experience.

Caroline speaking out so bravely about her rape and death threats is a great example of this. For my Twitter followers, I hope the messages I RTd today have given you a glimpse into the lewdness and degrading nature of trolling. Yes they are offensive and I had complaints for promulgating that bad language online. Yet I feel awareness is more important in this case.

Please continue to support anyone you see receiving abuse on Twitter. If someone were being beaten on the pavement, you probably wouldn’t just walk on by. Especially if the abuse contains criminal threats of death or violence. Please add your voice to important campaigns like Lose The Lads Mags or No More Page 3 if you agree. If you don’t agree with these campaigns, then at least stand up for those who you see trolled online.

If enough of us do it, we CAN make a difference.

>More on this in a couple of TV interviews I’ve done lately, below.

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  • http://www.sheepdressedlikewolves.com/ Andy Mort

    As always, well said. It makes me feel genuinely ill to read that stuff. Very depressing. Your voice is so incredibly valuable. The deeply disturbing just gets deeper. Thanks for your bravery. You’re an inspiration.

  • kylesteven

    Holy cow Vicky. I had no idea why you went back to the UK. I am so sad to hear about all you endured. My heart is truly broken for you. I am also glad to see that you are using those experiences to do something good and fix what is broken. More power to you! Blessings in your endeavor.

  • lady_in_hiding

    I’ve been shocked at how much abuse is heaped upon conservative women in the U.S. I know some that have left Twitter because of it. I’ve taken off my picture because I don’t want twitterverse to know that I’m a woman. What is going on here is bullying and it makes me sick. We think we’ve come so far in terms of how women are treated but the name calling and threats just show how far we have yet to go.

  • http://www.tanyamarlow.com/ Tanya Marlow

    I felt sick reading these comments. Grateful for you and Caroline in speaking out on these things.

    GO Boudicca!

  • Jade

    I am (pleasantly) surprised that you identify as a feminist. Most evangelicals I know (in the UK and elsewhere) are very much opposed to feminism.

  • http://www.jamesprescott.co.uk/ James Prescott

    Those comments are so awful I can barely believe people actually post them. Disgraceful, absolutely disagraceful. Vicky, you are a brave woman with strong character & determination, and I admire you greatly for standing up to that kind of abuse – the type of abuse no person should have to endure – from both men and women. However, no matter how strong any one is I’m sure this is going to hurt.

    Praying for you as I write this, for strength, courage and also that you know the love, comfort and peace of Jesus tonight. (know it’s is a bit cheesy, but really feel it’s the right thing to do). Keep doing what you do Vicky, you’re an example to us all. Be very blessed today.

  • JennaDeWitt

    Thank you for all you do, Vicky. I know this is such a hard battle to fight. I can’t imagine going through all you have been through but I am so grateful for you. Courage breeds courage, and you are emboldening the rest of us to stand. Through the power of the Spirit, your light shines, making the world a brighter place for the next generation.

    Eshet Chayil, beautiful woman of valor!

  • lady_in_hiding

    Just to clarify: I think the title ‘feminist’ means different things to different people in different cultures and in different contexts. When I went to seminary I encountered women who called themselves ‘feminists’ and they initially scared me because my interaction with feminists prior to this was hostile pro-abortion women. I’ve come to realize that there are militant feminists, there are evangelical feminists … there are different categories. I know this is off topic but just wanted to clarify. Had I not read your blog or know some things about you … the fact that you call yourself a ‘feminist’ would have raised red flags for me. However, no matter where you fall in the spectrum, the type of harassment and bullying that is going on is NEVER ACCEPTABLE. There is no occasion where this is appropriate. Praying for you, Vicky. You really are an inspiration.

  • Iain MacNaughton

    I’m not sure which is more depressing; the males being idiots or the females supporting them and joining in the hate, clearly not understanding how this affects them.

  • gasboss

    Great post Vicky, I’m truly shocked by the abuse you have re-tweeted today. Please be strung and know that you are supported by the normally silent majority.

  • terijean

    Vicky you are such a Beautiful woman. Thank you for your Obedience to Our Savior. The problem is within the aligning oneself to an agreement with the spirit of LUST or sin in general. There is blame game where the predator justifies his/her behavior without taking responsibility or self control over their personal weakness. Praises to our KING and we pray for the scales to be removed from the eyes of the wicked. Scabs to be removed for the broken to hear from our Lord. Keep Singing Vicky ~ You are moving Mountains ~*~

  • A twitter user

    It’s sick what some people say when another person expresses their views. I replied to a sexist comment on Vicky’s twitter, only to receive a tweet telling me to commit suicide.

  • http://www.littlephilz.com/ Phil

    Keep up the good fight Vicky, another great article. Just a real shame people have to be so rude and abusive. They’re only feminists until they get married. Stay positive, God is on your side!

  • Beth

    The re-tweets represent a true crisis of masculinity. How awful! In no context is is okay to say those vile things to a woman online. They deserve to be exposed. There’s no mechanism of consent built into twitter that implies you should have to tolerate (or endure) trolling. They should certainly take action. You’re a very brave and courageous person for speaking out. Praying you and your team can keep going and make a difference.

  • Phil Benson

    Reading this, your choice of Boudicea for our bank notes makes a lot of sense. Saddened for what you went through, but you’ve responded in such a positive way. I hadn’trealised the hatred and venom that gets breathed out by cowards on social media and I feel somewhat naive for not realising. Bravo for what you do, and I pray the abuse may stop. There’re plenty of words in the NT about what to do in the face of opposition, you seem to be doing the right thing.

  • Duncan

    It’s because of you that I know about, and whole-heartedly support, the No More Page 3 campaign. I believe it not only puts a negative look on women, but also men. I believe men can be more than sex-crazed baboons, and I personally want to honour the women around me. Thank you Vicky.

  • Stan Dupp

    I suspect the women who join in this abuse are those who learned to manipulate Daddy at an early age and realise that they can take advantage of many men by the (apparent) offer of their bodies.

  • Nick Franks

    Thanks for your brave candour, Vicky. I think one of the most convincing proofs of our need to re-evaluate what is socially acceptable around this issue of degrading/highly sexualised and damaging images/content, is the awful use of language in these tweets that you have retweeted. God help us.

  • manofcourage

    I can’t believe you went through that Vicky, I am so sorry. I am also shocked at the level of stupid and disgraceful comments you have had to suffer. I am a man who as a teenager was exposed to FHM, Loaded etc as well as The Sun as this was the paper my family read. I have suffered since mid teens with pornography and it’s all down to I feel to my exposure at the early age to these magazines.
    I totally support the campaign on no more page 3 and for lads mags to be covered up. I will be praying for you at this time. May God be your strength and pray that that people find your identity in him……

  • Iain MacNaughton

    I’m pleased to be able report that the “delightful” Todd Butler lost his job over his tweets on this topic. Amazing what a bit of investigation and retweeting can do. Keep shouting back :)

  • Jade

    Feminism is just wanting to liberate women from oppression. That is a godly thing to do. The problem isn’t with feminists, it’s with the patriarchy that oppresses women and makes feminism necessary. I am a pro-choice feminist and liberal anglo-catholic (Our Lady and mother of God being my feminist inspiration) but that doesn’t mean I am less of a Christian.

  • SOrgan

    I have been reading your re-tweets over the last couple of days and feel totally sickened by it all. I too love social media and the richness it can be bring but also have accidentally upset a troll or two. I think what you are others do is brave and gives encouragement to others who are in similar situations. Thank you for your honesty and for sharing what you are gong through.

  • http://www.emergingmummy.com/ Sarah Bessey

    Oh, my goodness, Vicky! I’m so sorry for what you’ve faced. Thanks for your guts.

  • U Elliott

    I loathe bullying of every kind. I was bullied at school and vowed then that I would never submit or change who I am to satisfy anyone who thought they had the right to coerce me. Good luck to you.

  • Tom di Giovanni

    I know it’s easy for me to say this, but thank you for being brave enough to do God’s will in this way, you are serving the Kingdom in this. I blogged a blog a while ago about wanting to keep the right to chose my own heroes in the face of the pro-military lobby wanting to misappropriate the word; my heroes are people like you and Caroline. What you are doing is truly inspirational, just like some of the figures you dressed up as.

  • Evie

    Some of these comments are awful, truly awful, and they deserve to be banned from social media. I do think some of them are just badly worded opinions though, and not necessarily intended as maliciously as the male comments. I’m open to arguments against this though, of course. :)

  • Amanda Lannon

    Thank you for all you are doing for both woman”kind” and mankind! Those twitter remarks are sadly, very typical of the responses seen all over the internet which, in turn, are seen by the very young and thus normalising verbal aggression. Anonymity of internet should not be a safehouse for such people. I have received abuse from strangers on both Facebook (before the present level of security/privacy measures were in place) and on YouTube. God Bless you Vicky Beeching.

  • Tony Whittaker

    Vicky, thanks for continuing to speak up with graciousness and clarity. I find the banknote thing (for which I voted) utterly bizarre. It’s like two different worlds colliding (one of which we barely knew existed). I guess this may also allow you a new area of research into online behaviour. One question that would be revealing to find out – are many of these tweets being made in a strong drinking environment with jack-the-lads egging each other on? Or just inadequate saddos at home alone?

  • Adrian B

    These messages are indeed horrible and no-one should have to read that. It is one the reasons I’ve been reluctant to join Twitter as it is such a public forum and trolls can supposedly get free hits with impunity. Thank God for your campaign and the way at least some of the Trolls are being caught and made to pay.

    You have bravely stood up to them and your courage will give others strength to do the same – you should have a banknote to yourself!!

  • Stephen B

    Thank you, I just can’t believe woman have felt it necessary to join in the abuse.

  • dan

    Cosmo November cover —

    “Best Sex Positions For Girls”
    “The New Feminism – Would You Go Topless For A Pay Rise?”
    “Come Winter Shopping, Cosmo Style”
    “J-LO – I was always insecure…”
    “Dial F For Fashion – 356 New Looks”
    “Hollywood Skincare – Why Celebs Are Shunning Surgery”
    “Cheating Men Beware – How To Spot One And How To Stop One”

    So that’s three articles about sex, three about fashion or body image, and an interview with a celebrity — whose photograph has a comment on it saying, “4 Steps To Get A Waist Like This”.

    The latest Nuts, on the other hand –

    “Sexy Brunettes” (Repeated, for some reason)
    “28 New Sex Jokes”
    “Twitter’s Chelsea Ferguson”
    “PLUS! Mezut Ozil, Steven Gerrard, Bill Bailey”

    With five women in their bras, showing slightly more midriff than J-Lo on the Cosmo cover. So it’s football, comedy, puerile humour and mild titillation.

    I know which one is more damaging to the self-esteem of young people