Internet fury: or having your anatomy dissected online
When I posted my last blog, with a few grumps about people making feeble jokes about my name etc, I didn't quite know what was about to hit me. Things have moved on a bit since then. A few (very few) of the people who emailed me in outrage have got back to me ... those often apologising for insult, and carrying on the conversation. (I am now emailing the others to ask v politely if they got my carefully considered email in reply). And quite a few of the nastiest tweeters have made friends; as I said, I quite understand tweeting crap on the spur of the moment...have done it myself; just feel one should be able to say 'whoops' after.
Then there was the question of whether I had ever been to Boston... resisted this provocation for a bit, but I cracked today. The damn mac I was wearing to go to QT had been bought in Pen St, Boston just over a year ago!
Meanwhile the Mail ran a piece about Rachel Bull, which was pretty light on me (and I am very ok with Ms Bull...QT is supposed to be about argument isnt it?). And the Sunday Times (which surely should know better) claimed that I had said that the influx of E Europeans "would improve the diversity of Lincolnshire to the delight of local people". I haven't gone back to the recording, but I am sure I did NOT say that (I was talking about the capacity of social services to cope with migrants, not a touchy feely view of cultural diversity... for heaven's sake).
But why, you might say, am I so fussed by this. One tv programme of no moment, a bit of flak, and some great waves of support on twitter (thank you all...Tony Law even, bizarrely, got Sulla martialed in the fight last night...). Why not just "move on"?
One reason, it has introduced me to a side on internet trolling that I haven't experienced before, and is worth thinking about. My appearance on Question Time prompted a web post that has in the last few days discussed my pubic hair (do I brush the floor with it), whether I need rogering (that comment was taken down, as was the speculation about the capaciousness of my vagina, and the plan to plant a d*** in my mouth).
It is headed with the picture above (that's me....or in the words of one contributor:" A vile, spiteful excuse for a woman, who eats too much cabbage and has cheese straws for teeth.")
There's worse to come.
Now I am sure that there are many who have suffered worse than me from this sort of stuff. But this site is truly vile. I'm not going to give you a link, but if you google "Don't start me off" you'll find it.
The stuff about me is predictable enough, as a further sample will show:
"Undergrowth, like a mound, ladyshave free, a womble, a Cambridge Don, common ain't she."
"Hello Mary, we dont fear you and you're not intelligent. All in all, a complete failure of a sentence/ Top tip: Try looking closer to home for the reason people dislike you, you arrogant twat"
" She's an idiot who's a disgrace to Cambridge Uni and Woman-kind. We let her get away with it by calling her a Lezzie which she obviously isn't as she's married."
"Fucking hell, she's only 57. She looks at least 70."
"Mary, Mary quite Clunge-hairy, how does your Lady Garden grow?"
"Hairy Beard, Professor of Farts at Cunstsford University, living the dream."
"An ignorant cunt."
"Being a cunt transcends gender, Mary."
Ths is interspersed with quotes from all kinds of things I've written, jibes at my kids (one of whom intervened, independently, to my defence) and husband. The photo on the right (also now taken down) gives you the flavour (there's an X certificate on clicking on the pop up -- but I think it's important for people to see what the bottom line is).Another one shows a pair of really hairy legs, as if they were mine.
All the same, you may say ... why pay it any attention, still less give it publicity?
Several reasons. First, the misogyny here is truly gobsmacking. The whole site is pretty hateful (and what some of the comments say about Andrew Marr since he's been ill are almost worse than anything).. but the whole "cunt" talk and the kind of stuff represented by the photo on right is more than a few steps into sadism. It would be quite enough to put many women off appearing in public, contributing to political debate, especially as all of this comes up on google..
But is it just a kind of rugby club joke misfired? Well that's what I'd guess they would say. "Where's your sense of humour?" But reading through it (and yes you get tipped off about it whether you search or not.. and no you cant resist looking at it), it is absolutely plain as day that this is meant to hurt and wound ("If all else, we got to her" as one commenter says). It shows the classic signs of vile playground bullying -- claiming to know about the victim, sneering at things they could not possibly know but claim they do, destabilising by using names in the thread that are those of you friends or even anagrams of your own, suggesting that they are watching you... that's all part of the bullying repertoire.
So who are they? I flirted with the possibility that they are kids... mine used to go on chat lines when 13 pretending they were 18 (yes I KNOW!). So may be this is internet savvy kids having a laugh (in which case they will presumably grow out of it). But I suspect not... I suspect that this is a (rather small) number of grown up lads plus, I think, a woman or two. The compassionate side of me says it is a sad sign of a sense of disempowerment (there's plenty of "you've got all the advantages" talk, which may be fair enough in a way). The less compassionate says it is brutal sexism.. heaven knows how they relate to real women;I dread to think.
So how to stop it? I am sure that there is some clever way if we put our heads together.Could we flood the site with comments, or Latin poetry...so they went behind a wall (if they want to chat like this on their own, well fine.. or at least better). Or does anyone reading this post know anyone involved in this and can just say 'no'?
I'm outing this because I have a thick skin and, in the end, speculation on the size of my vagina doesn't move me half as much as worrying about the next chapter of my book I'm supposed to write. But then I'm lucky.
That's the last blog I shall write on this, dont worry. But I wanted to have my say.
(PS. Here is some more stuff about these guys by Cath Elliott.)
(PPS. The vile website is now in the process of closing itself down)