Inevitably, when one is is honest on a blog like this, you’re always going to annoy someone. Rather than tone down to some dreary level of consensus, I plough on and hope that people can read things without losing their heads. I say this because some of you are not going to like what comes next…
The Observer carries a piece today featuring a number of female bloggers/tweeters/writers who are feeling increasingly discouraged -they claim – due to ‘trolling’, unpleasant and critical remarks that they receive. Penny Red (I always think of Penny Crayon – a thought that would possibly annoy her, I don’t know) leads the charge noting criticism she’s received because people don’t like her brand of lefty views and attack her appearance and past. I confess, I don’t have a huge amount of sympathy. In this regard, I am apparently a terrible human being, or indeed, a typical man.
I appreciate I’m meant to say “oh how terrible”, but when you get into expressing a view, you’ll annoy some people. When Julie Bindel had a go at me for criticising her, I was on some level upset – I felt misunderstood, and also alarmed that I’d caused more upset than intended. I could quite easily have got into some nutty cyber way (as some do) claiming hurt, and firing back with both barrels. Instead I recognised that on some things we disagree, and on others we do actually agree. I came to the view (this will upset more people) that she is not the devil, but has some views that are offensive, and I no doubt have some views that she thinks need enlightening. This is the nature of debate.
It is not uncommon in the course of expressing passionate views that we point to the personal; we are after all, firing off rounds and we’re determined to make a hit, determined to create some impression, force some some shift in position. I wonder how many of those now distressed, have had a pop at Eric Pickles for being fat or John Prescott for his working class language? I find the cries of hurt from a liberal elite of women genuinely puzzling. In saying “get over it”, I know that I am being some terrible cliche of a nasty man, that I don’t get it and that if it was happening to me, I’d be upset -and the truth is, I would be. Whenever I hear someone say, “you’re stupid”, “you don’t understand”, “you’re wrong”, it hurts (although happily, such comments are rare). Academics frequently invest years researching and thinking an idea through for someone else to come along and blow it apart in an instant, so perhaps we’re trained for this abuse more than most.
That said, I can not, will not, defend threats of sexual violence, but I do find it problematic when these writers equate rape with someone saying something should be shoved up their arse. Stick it up your arse is a common phrase and this sort of OTT reaction merely serves to devalue the horrific threats that some people no doubt do face. So yes, let’s take serious threats seriously, but let’s also be realistic that there are unpleasant people who say unpleasant and nasty things. There are also pleasant people who sometimes say things that are ill-tempered and perhaps unwise (maybe this post is one) but that doesn’t render them terrible people, or even threatening. Vigorous, heated, passionate debate means that sometimes nasty, rude and unpleasant things get said. I don’t think these feminist writers are above that.