Wanting to understand

21 Jan

I’ve read a couple of things lately that have annoyed me in a particular way. One was this by Moronwatch; one was this by Michael White. I think they’re expressing similar thoughts, namely: I don’t get it.

More than that, though: they seem to be saying “I don’t get it, and I have no intention of trying to get it.” It expresses a wider thought, of ignorance to a wider problem about women unduly suffering abuse and bullying, not just online but as part of a wider pattern.

Look at this paragraph from White:

I don’t know precisely what Rennard is alleged to have done to the complainants, let alone whether he did. “Large, but unmenacing” would have been my verdict on him before all this blew up. What do I know?

How about looking it up, Michael? Would that really be so hard? All the information is available, if you do the simplest of searches for it; furthermore, as a leading political columnist for a national newspaper, why not bother to do your research before you’re writing about something? “Large but unmenacing” is the best you can come up with – really?

But then this demonstrates the attitude. I don’t know; it doesn’t matter; my opinions trump your lived experience, no matter what it is. Listen to me, and I will tell you why you are wrong, even though I can’t be bothered to find out the facts.

This next bit come from Moronwatch deciding that the threats to rape, torture and kill Caroline Criado-Perez were not really that important:

Another female journalist, who followed events on the day, tells me that Criado-Perez only received a handful of abusive tweets; and yet the event was picked up by the press and massively exaggerated.

Again, how about actually finding out rather than relying on hearsay? How about reading about the impact of these threats on the “perfect” victim? How about thinking that the lived experience of the person on the receiving end of these things is a valid thing, rather than deciding that you can dismiss it because you’ve suffered threats before yourself?

But no. I don’t need to know; I can just decide. In a world in which information is freely available at your fingertips, it’s still too much damn effort to actually go and look for it and find out whether your prejudice about these things is justified. Why bother?

Without using the p-word (privilege) or the other p-word (problematic) or the m-word (mansplaining) I want to write about why men need to look harder. I’m trying to write for my fellow men here. I’m trying to write for men because I am one and because I think there is a blind spot that male writers do have when they’re writing about abuse, particularly online abuse.

This isn’t to say that it’s only women who suffer bullying or abuse, or that the bullying or abuse that women go through is necessarily worse than some of the abuse that happens to some men. Of course not, and I am sure there are many examples of men being unfairly treated for a variety of reasons, occasionally maybe even because of their sex. All abuse and bullying is horrific and hurtful. However, it’s possible despite any caveats or anecdotes to acknowledge that there is a wider pattern, a larger thing happening, in which the vast majority of evidence points in a particular direction.

Firstly, it doesn’t hurt to look at the evidence. I’d even suggest it’s quite a good idea to look at it before you come to a conclusion. If you want to make your mind up about the abuse endured by Caroline Criado-Perez without reading the detail of it – which is still widely available for you to see, despite its graphic nature that has been omitted by some reports – then there is a chance you’re not getting the full picture. If you then go on to compare your experience of online abuse with someone else’s whose abuse you haven’t even read, that’s going to make you look like you’re making an awful lot of assumptions.

The same goes for Mr White. Why not actually read the detail? It’s not just lazy; it’s verging on the disingenuous. No wonder many people detect a whiff of “Well, listen here little lady, let me tell you what I think” about it. In order to avoid such accusations, the best thing that you can do is make sure you’re in full control of the facts. For a blogger to shun an examination of the evidence is one thing; for a leading political columnist with a wide readership on a national platform to do it is quite another. There is a lack of professional pride being shown in one’s work.

The biggest mistake you can ever make is not taking someone else’s experience, or worse dismissing it before you’ve even heard it. You have to listen to people. You have to hear their story. That used to be the whole point of journalism. If you don’t equip yourself with all the facts, you make yourself a weaker argument. Worse than that, you open yourself up to accusations that you think your opinions trump anything else. Worse still, this could be because you really think that.

True, people can vexatiously claim victimisation and abuse on the flimsiest pieces of provocation, and if we unthinkingly and blindly believe everyone’s story straight away it creates a situation that is disagreeable in its own way. But the first thing to do is listen, and read, and learn – then make up your mind. I don’t think that is really so hard to do.

Men need to ask what if. What if there really is something in all of this? What if there really is a culture in which women are disproportionately and repeatedly on the receiving end of bullying and harassment, in real life and in online communications? What if this really happens? What if it reflects a wider balance of power? What if women’s experience of abuse and harassment is very different from the abuse and harassment that men face, objectionable though that sometimes is? What if there is a problem, and we’re part of it?

Or we could just not bother finding out, I guess.

1 Comment

Posted by on January 21, 2014 in Uncategorized


One response to “Wanting to understand

  1. Colin Davey

    January 23, 2014 at 8:52 am

    I was inclined to believe that @CCriadoPerez was overreacting until I actually read some of the poison that had been sent her way. Now I follow her Twitter feed in (usually) silent respect for the fact that she has carried on.


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