Tag Archives: sexism

Cybersexism is out now!

It’s out! It’s out!

Cybersexism: Sex, Gender and Power on The Internet, my new book for Bloomsbury, is out now. You can buy it here. If you don’t have an e-reader, you can download a free Kindle reader for your computer, phone, or really any other device. 

The book features interviews with Clay Shirky, Helen Lewis, Maha Atal, Leigh Alexander, William Gibson and other folks who ought to know about how gender is working on the internet right now. It’s about fucking, feminism, gifs, trolling, the roots of geek misogyny and the future of sex. It’s a timely ebook extract from my bigger book, Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution, which will hit shops next year.

I’m in Sweden right now, for a digital media conference, where I spoke with Kate Miltner and Anita Sarkeesian about online harassment- what it is, how it works and why it lowers visions. You can watch the videos from that here, but they come with a trigger warning, particularly the last one, which is where the audience started tearing up.

On bomb threats and boredom.

Last night I went for dinner with a friend, M, who is one of those women who can’t walk down a street without being hassled by men: cat-calling, making bizarre animal noises at her, professing undying love or threatening rape. This is a daily reality for many of us, but with M it’s on a whole other level of threat awareness. Just strolling home with her feels like walking through an enemy camp. We were talking, naturally, about the situation for women who have an online presence in the UK right now, and how frightening and relentless the sexist bullying is getting, and M asked me how I manage to continue to write, given that I’ve been dealing with all this bullshit for more than three years now. I asked her: how do you continue to walk down pavements in public? The answer is: M walks with her hips swaying and her head held high. Because she knows she has a right to the street.

On Monday, I received a bomb threat. This has been happening to several prominent British women journalists and politicians recently, and I suppose it’s some sort of dubious distinction, but it didn’t make it any less frightening and enraging to have to call the police and then find somewhere else to stay for the night. I’m lucky in that I live alone and have relatively little trouble grabbing my go-bag and sleeping on a strange sofa; I know that at least one of the other women who received these threats has a disabled child, and I can only imagine the hassle and stress she went through.

I have a few friends who live nearby, but for some reason, the person I called instantly was somebody I know from online dating, somebody I used to sleep with casually and don’t anymore. He was out with his new girlfriend that night, so offered me his room. I knew instantly that that was where I wanted to be, by myself; it’s a room I used to feel very safe in, where nothing was ever demanded of me except what I wanted to give. His housemate let me in, and I rushed upstairs, shut the door, and took the enormous Jedi-warrior bathrobe that I used to mock so horribly off the hook. I made tea, took off my clothes, wrapped myself in the Jedi robe and sat cross-legged on the bed. I wrote the column I had due for the next day. I felt like nothing could touch me. 

Right now it’s pretty scary to be a woman who makes a public spectacle of herself in Britain. By ‘making a spectacle’, I mean ‘daring to have an opinion in public’; the piece I wrote in 2011 about a woman’s opinion functioning as the mini-skirt of the internet is relevant here. Twitter is also in total meltdown as various camps of campaigners tear chunks out of each other, and it’s upsetting to see. One of the bizarrely modern headaches I’ve had lately is the ongoing, extremely public feud between my current editor and my ex-girlfriend over intersectionality issues, a fight which I’ve had to scramble to avoid because it’s a huge helping of fuck no. There is a deep well of unkindness, of recrimination and refusal to listen, bubbling up online right now in my communities. It is disturbing, and it’s exhausting.

When I’d finished my column, my eyes swimming with tiredness, I posted on Facebook: I need clear space to write. The past two years have been a litany of online attacks and British media bearpit bollocks and the energy I’ve wasted on the mental overheads has been enormous. I don’t want to do it anymore. I wanted to be a writer and a campaigner, I didn’t ask to be a scapegoat and a target, and I didn’t expect it. It’s a curious lonely place to be in and there’s nothing anyone can really do. I’m still here and still fighting but I don’t want to have to fight like this. It’s boring.

Not giving up comes at a cost. I haven’t yet flounced off Twitter or made any sort of dramatic, public exit from the spaces in which I work and receive abuse, because I don’t think that my doing so would help anyone. That doesn’t mean I haven’t seriously considered just kicking it in for the good of my mental health. Imagine that you’re a professional dancer and you have to dance down a street where men are screaming abuse at you, throwing things, leering, sending threats. Do you stop dancing, even if you know a little part of your soul will die if you do? No, fuck that. You keep on dancing; even when your bones ache and your head rings from the relentless cunt bitch stupid girl attention seeker sellout whore. You keep on dancing, but there’s a cost. Don’t ever imagine there’s not a cost

I don’t make it easy for myself. I know that. Not only have I not shut up about women’s rights over the past three years like people want me to, I’m in the middle of writing a book which talks openly about sex, including my own experiences. Part of the reason I’m doing this is that I’ve a slightly adventurous sexual history and am an active member of the queer and poly community in London and elsewhere, and I know that those who are seeking to attack me are probably going to find that out at some point; I’ve been threatened before by people who wanted to release details and/or pictures of me as a half-naked teenager, and I know it’s going to come out at some point; I want to be in control of when and how that happens. I’m not ashamed in any way, not of my life choices and not of my decision to keep on talking. 

But the energy it takes to carry on is enormous, and becomes self-reflexive: you write and speak just in order to keep on writing and speaking in adversity. This is no way to be creative; it is no way to sustain a writing life. It makes me angry, and I want it to stop so I can get on with all the other work I want to do. I do not want to be known as the girl who gets a ton of flak for speaking up; I want to carry on saying things that have relevance, even if only to a handful of readers scattered across the world. I’m bored of this, and I’m angry, and I want it to stop. Also I am considering buying my own Jedi robe to wear whenever I open Twitter. That’s all.

A respectful statement on Twitter, trolling and the British commentariat

Guten Morgen, I’m in Berlin today on tour with my book Meat Market, which is significant because it means I’m not at the Editorial Intelligence UK Comment Awards this morning. I’m excited to say that I was nominated and won in the category ‘Twitter Public Personality’. I’m still not sure quite what that means, but it’s going on the virtual shelf alongside GCSE Superboffin 2002 and Sack Race 1998. Thank you to everyone who voted.

Here’s the little speech that was read out in my absence:


I’m really sorry I can’t be here in person to accept this award, and I’d like to thank everyone who voted for me, as well as Editorial Intelligence for nominating me. Social media has been an energising and empowering force for the British commentariat, rearranging some of the old hierarchies and allowing young people and those outside the mainstream press to amplify voices that would otherwise go unheard. Unfortunately, over the past two years social media has also become an increasingly hostile place for women writers and journalists, as well as for writers and thinkers of colour and of different faiths. I know of a number of talented women writers who have withdrawn from the arena of public debate in Britain because of the sheer scale and viciousness of sexist bullying that has come to poison the arena of political debate in this country, particularly online. I would like to use this opportunity to call upon all of the editors, journalists and commentators in this room to take an active stand against sexist trolling and hate speech in your publications and on Twitter. Call it out whenever you see it and refuse to host it on your websites, because it demeans and cheapens all of us who feel proud to call ourselves members of the British press. Thank you.