When Women Ask for Equality, Are They Also Asking for Abuse?

14/08/2017 11:18 BST | Updated 14/08/2017 11:19 BST


Image credit: JMD, 2017

Every so often, those kind of weeks come about when you realise just how far we still have to go before we achieve anything resembling gender equality. It's been one of those. A friend wrote a Facebook post on the page of a company that makes shoes and the resulting torrent has been one of foul misogynist abuse. Why? Because, as another friend pointed out, a woman dared to express her opinion on the internet and some people just can't tolerate that.

The gist of the post was this - could Clarks please make a shoe that would placate small girls but would withstand bad weather and playground play? Not an unreasonable request. Not unreasonably put. Not, and this is where some people will start to disbelieve me, intended for the world to read and comment on. How many of us post on corporate Facebook pages and expect it to go nuclear? This certainly didn't happen when I complained to the Co-op about their misleading meal deal. I did get a free sandwich though.

But something about the post chimed with people - parents who liked Clarks shoes but were frustrated at the lack of sturdy options aimed at girls. As the author explained, her daughter didn't want a pair of boys' shoes and, at 7, was savvy enough to know which ones were marketed for girls and which weren't. Many parents recognised this experience and began sharing the post.

Then it chimed with a whole other sector of people, for other reasons. They were triggered by this talk of girls being able to access something that boys already had - practical footwear. And so they piled in in their literal hundreds, screaming about first world problems and snowflakes and attention seekers and stupid women. They made wildly inaccurate assumptions. They shouted down every point as if they were talking to a deaf person. Some even combed back through her timeline to see what other dirt they could dig up. They were almost certainly disappointed.

Maybe I'm the one who's out of touch here but when did this become acceptable? On timeline posts set to public for perfectly innocent reasons, topless trolls from Essex abused me and other friends of the writer because "it's a public forum". It was their right. The underlying subtext, over and over again, was that women should not speak out. And if they do, they should expect abuse. None of them actually used the phrase "She was asking for it" but damn it, we were in the area.

Speaking to women who have any kind of public facing or social media role, it becomes apparent that this is a recurring theme. They can name straight off the types of trolling you can get - the mansplain, the misogyny, the personal insults. I can testify to it all too - any time I've veered into feminist territory in my writing, I've been called all sorts of names and told to get therapy for my issues. Stella Creasey, who is MP for a neighbouring constituency to ours, has been sent death threats on Twitter for campaigning to have a woman on a bank note. Emma Watson has been trolled for both being a feminist and betraying feminists by showing off her boobs. Women, we can't win.

And depressingly, it's not all men doing it. One comment on the Clarks thread was from a woman who "didn't believe" in feminism. I respect someone's right to not believe in God or the Tooth Fairy, but a straight up denial of the whole feminist movement is a bit of a stretch. How does she think she got the vote? Does she believe that those nice menfolk just turned around and gave it to her one day? Other women piled in to say they didn't see the problem and their daughters loved their pretty shoes. The minimizing was at maximum. The sisterhood was turning on itself.

So, is this just the depressing reality that women have to face? That by speaking up for our daughters, even over trivial issues like shoes, we're setting ourselves up to be sworn at, spoken down to and insulted? Will this post, like so many others that include the F-word, attract the anti-feminist trolls who fill the comments section with vitriol?

And more, to the point - if this is our reality, how do we move on? How do we safeguard our daughters from the same abuse? Or is the campaign for equality ever going to be entwined with a campaign to keep women down where they belong? Unhappily, it seems so...