This was originally intended to be response to a somewhat inflammatory piece in the Telegraph by Dan Hodges. Asking, provocatively, whether “nipples, banknotes and internet trolls” was the best that modern feminism could do, his thread was clear: not that these things are justified, but that, in the grand scheme of things, they are just a tad trivial.
A somewhat anaemic response followed from Louisa Peacock: the best bit of it seemed to be the headline “Men pining for the feminism of yesteryear is ironic and unnecessary”. I’d have done better, offered to do them a piece… but having lost my cool with their blogs editor about six months back and been a tad rude to him on the phone, i doubt i’ll be commenting for the Telegraph any time soon.
A pity. I’m mostly very good at NOT being rude nowadays, but – i remember the day all too well – the Telegraph’s Byzantine systems were just TOO much for me.
Foolish trivial women: the media view
Mr Hodges makes two points. First, that the campaigns feminism is increasingly known for are also increasingly trivial and…as a result, men – real sexist men – are happy to let feminists get on with it, while they laugh at them.
He’s wrong. The first reason he’s wrong is easy. Its the media game. No-one, least of all Caroline Criado-Perez, has ever attempted to make out that women on banknotes is the most pressing issue affecting women today. Its just one of dozens, hundreds.
For a long while, the media ignored it entirely. Then they saw it had traction. So they elevated it. It became front page news. Which says loads about media priorities, very little about feminist ones. But – the ultimate media hypocrisy – they tell US what OUR priorities are…then have the gall to tell us off for our supposed choices.
Second reason is that the internet is not trivial. Just ask the hundreds and thousands of guys doing battle today over state interference and censorship of the net. Are governments laughing at them? Are their battles trivial?
No. The internet matters because civilisation is becoming increasingly virtual – and there need to be no “no-go” areas for women. As i wrote a few days back: online is a space just like any other. We wouldn’t accept women being chased off the streets…out of the workplace. We sure as hell should not accept women being cowed into silence in one of the most important campaigning, debating, lobbying spaces now available to us.
Which is also why i am now working, with Everyday Victim Blaming, on the creation of a police abuse report button for women subject to abuse online. Anywhere online. Not just on twitter.
To understand why, allow me to fill in some background.
The police are VERY good when they decide to act in respect of online abuse. I have had my own share of threats…abuse… nowhere near the intensity of those handed out to Caroline. One abuser, about three years back was posting stuff sufficiently directed, personal, to make me and my partner afraid. I remember sitting in my office the evening it happened discussing with her whether or not to take the matter to the police.
We were balancing whether this would do any good – or whether, since the guy making the threats was clearly unbalanced – we might be opening a can of worms leading to him turning up on our doorstep and converting virtual to physical abuse.
In the end, we reported and were bowled over by the dedication of the police response – a young female police officer who got it straight away.
…and Crown Prosecution Service betrayal
However, about six months back, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) started a “consultation” on online abuse. Some of the draft guidelines – on direct credible threats, on harassment, on breach of court orders – were good. But on this – on more generalised abuse – they started the consultation from the perspective that it was so ubiquitous that doing much about it was just too big a task.
So instead, police should only go after it where a “high threshold” existed.
Strangely, the final guidelines look a lot like what the CPS started with: we consulted and guess what… we reckon we were right first time round!
Those guidelines are now in place. Talking with the Association of Police Chief Officers (ACPO) this week, i was not best pleased – though not surprised, either – to find them referencing these new guidelines.
Complaining was always patchy in terms of police results. But now it will be less patchy, much more inclined NOT to act.
#shoutingback: the big campaign begins
The CPS needs to think again. They are as wrong on this as they would be if they decided that protecting women late at night was too labour intensive and police should stop prosecuting assaults after 10pm.
Police, too, need to think for themselves: they don’t HAVE to follow CPS guidelines. Indeed, it is perfectly plausible that Police Commissioners with a good record on Violence against Women – Vera Baird, for one – might set online abuse as a priority in their area (though sadly that is likely to mean that police will only then act against abusers who are located in areas with women-friendly Commissioners).
In terms of campaigning, i see a report button run by women FOR women is key…because such a button allows the possibility, with permission of those using it, of collecting figures.
And if, as i suspect, a year or so down the line, those figures show that the level of action taken by the police in respect of online abuse is truly abysmal, that will be a thing and a valuable fact in campaigning for better protection online.
This, then, is the shape of #shoutingback – the shape of campaigning to come.
Women are sick and tired of being bullied and abused online. Only gradually is that weariness converting to a full understanding of the enormity of this struggle. It is about the threats and the individuals bullied and women silenced. But beyond that, it is about a battle for what will be one of the most important spaces in our lives and the lives of future generations.
The police may be sympathetic…but the Crown Prosecution Service are not on our side. Yet. Our task – and sorry, Mr Hodges, it is not a trivial one – is to persuade them that they are wrong.