On being an Angry Girl on the Internet

by Martha Rose Saunders

A few weeks ago, I discovered that the “other” inbox on Facebook existed. When I opened it, scrolling through the hundreds of messages sent to me by strangers over the course of five years, I started crying. Amongst the incomprehensible scam mail and bizarrely misguided attempts at flirting from mysterious sleazy men were the messages I’d been waiting to read all my life. They were messages sent by strangers and friends of friends who’d seen comments I’d written on Facebook threads or found my articles shared, thanking me for taking the time to call someone out on sexism or classism, admiring me for having the courage to stand up for what I believed in, wishing they had done so themselves. There were messages from men I’d deleted for their continued sexist behavior, sending me messages months later to tell me how much I’d made them think and apologizing for the harm they’d caused. Tears streaming down my face, I read paragraph after paragraph of praise, gratitude, support, and love.

 

The complete emotional collapse I experienced made me realize how much I had come to hate myself for my outspokenness. I know I’m something of a joke among both friends and enemies. I know you mock me both to my face and more viciously behind my back for my feminism and my proclivity for Facebook ‘debates.’ What I didn’t realize is how much I’d internalised that rhetoric and allowed it to harden me.

 

I can think of almost nothing that gets you more shit than being an outspoken young feminist. By the time I left sixth form I was hardly a radical, merely a normal teenage girl who happened to have Labour party membership and a vague understanding of sexism which didn’t extend to much more than actively complaining about having my tits grabbed by a stranger in a nightclub. By that point, I had already had a personal parody twitter account set up about me called Shut Up Martha (tagline “just shut the fuck up, nobody cares”) and a small cohort of boys who laughed and mimicked my voice if I spoke in Politics class and took it upon themselves to inform fellow men who deigned to flirt with me at parties that I was The Feminist and thus they should avoid me at all costs.

 

The Feminist – that was my identity now, and I could be nothing more. A radical change in people’s perception of my personality occurred. Never mind that my most frequently complimented traits before I became The Feminist were my sense of humour and my laid back, logical approach – that didn’t fit people’s idea of me, and my real personality didn’t matter any more. The Feminist is angry, shouty, humourless and irrational – so that’s what I am now. I’ve gone from popular, funny, chilled, and well liked to an “arrogant cunt,” a “cocky fucking bitch,” a “fucking pathetic” “Feminazi” who needs to “shut the fuck up, nobody cares.” Last week someone on Twitter informed me that “everyone knows about you and tells me about your fucking shitty pathetic internet activism.”

 

This isn’t unusual. Most of my outspoken female friends find their acquaintances taking to cyberspace to punch them down the second they get up and start talking for themselves, from the Tab commenters who spew misogynistic bile at Women’s Campaign members to my friend who found herself the subject of bullying tweets for appearing on a pre-election debate on TV this week – tweets by people who hadn’t even watched the show or heard what she had to say, but merely opposed her right to express political opinions full stop.

 

I won’t waste my time elaborating on why this is blatantly a manifestation of the archaic, sexist sense that women should not be confident, opinionated or strong. Nonetheless, somewhere along the way I absorbed it. I hated myself so much. Every time I put forward my opinion, shared something, commented on something, the core of me felt deeply, deeply ashamed. I would listen to the assaults on my character and believe them, go to bed after a Facebook debate in floods of tears and racked with self-loathing.

 

I cried that week in my little University room last term because those messages made me realise that I mattered. For every person who’d tried to stamp me out there were ten who rushed to support me, hold my hand and love me. For every man who’d felt threatened by the fact I dared to criticise him, there was one who’d written to thank me for the impact I’d had, tell me I had made a difference to him, and that he respected me.

 

I’d allowed people to turn me into exactly what they wanted me to be; an angry girl, hard as nails, tumbling through life lashing out and screaming into the wind. I saw myself as part of a constant losing battle against the few people who bullied me, instead of as part of a chain reaction of people, constantly touching each others lives, constantly changing one another for the better. But simultaneously, the vitriol I received in response to the most mild sentiments I expressed about gender only radicalised me further, proving beyond doubt that my sex was affecting people’s perception of me more than I ever realised. Most young, political, feminist women you’ll meet are tough, angry and cynical because we have to be. If I wasn’t, I would crumble in the face of the pure, unmitigated hatred I receive.

 

What I would want to share with people from my experiences, is this; next time you’re about to criticize me, or another outspoken woman, (or man for that matter) for being too “politically active” on the internet ask yourself;

 

“is what I’m saying about her coming from a place of misogyny? would I say this about any of the men on my feed throwing their opinions all about the place?”

“why could she be so angry and defensive about this? what kind of crap has she had to put up with, growing up in a sexist world? could I just be unhelpfully adding to a toxic culture that is constantly trying to put down outspoken women?”

“literally why do I even give the slightest shit about what this poor person is doing with her own time on her own personal social media accounts? what is making me care so much? what the fuck is wrong with me? do I need a hobby?”

 

And what I’ve learned, and what I want to tell the other angry girls on the internet – keep going, and know that you are loved. Know that you are making a difference to people. Know that every misogynistic twat who tries to knock you down is only doing so because by speaking against him, you make his dying order crumble. Know that every time you stand up for what you believe in, you are making a difference to people. Tell each other how much you admire each other. Become each other’s support system. And know that every day you are revered, quietly.

 

Know, finally, this – a message sent to me by a stranger in 2013.

“For each and every one of your comments, there were many more that were never written because of lack of energy or conviction that it would change anyone’s mind. You just made the world a little bit better and people like you deserve to be commended.”

Dogfight

- Mathilde Sergent

 

I.

I had been living with God
eating plump fruits that gave in my hand
to no-one
my soft fealty

girl, I had desires likes waves, reaching
relentless, pushing up, their heavy roar
then falling sibylline and blue

My mother
impressed on me the importance of surrender

II.

I have not grown white
I was not born white

but tell me you
who are the needle to my thread
do you know? What damage
imposes your impression

‘Break first
the soft outer shell
to carve into the flesh
small, spaced-out, tiny holes’

I assumed the holes were for breathing
not a leash

III.

Now I am tall and sharp
I am my own fabric’s needle
but it is you

not me, who have shaped the clay
of this heart; who have made me doubt
and bend

No it’s you
you have made me feel
and forget
you have dirtied me—you, dog
you have bit my hand—

 

Actually, Nah, Feminism Isn’t About You At All: a Response to “Feminism’s Duty To Gay Men”

- Martha Perotto-Wills 

[content note: discussions of misogyny and homophobia, mentions of slurs & sexual harassment]

So Hesham Mashour, depressingly omnipresent and opportunistically faux-left-wing student journo, has outdone former journalistic glories (e.g. that article arguing mentally ill and disabled students are just not tough enough and shouldn’t have applied to Cambridge in the first place) by writing this thinkpiece about gay men, misogyny, and feminism for Get Real.

Read it? Yeah, I know. Grim. Also, full disclosure before I go on, I said this was a bad article on Twitter and then Hesham replied (in a tweet that has since been deleted) “You’re not even queer”, so like, this is a bit personal – but I don’t have to have been sexuality-policed and insulted by the author to recognise that the thinkpiece itself is a pile of steaming shit on every level possible, to the extent where it’s difficult to even know where to begin criticising it.

But I hear that the very beginning is a very good place to start, so first off, and relatively innocuously: man, read a history book. Pretty much every historical point in this article is wrong – from the popular misconception that Classical Greece was a Utopian pride parade for 2010s-style gay male relationships and not a society that venerated and institutionalised highly heteronormative pedophilia, to the complete failure to recognise the fact that sexual identity as we conceive of it today is really a very modern (i.e. within the last 150 years) invention. Using current terms to discuss historical sexual practices, and viewing historical attitudes to sexuality through a lens of modern systems of oppression, is just plain bad intellectual practice. It invalidates any arguments an author could possibly be making based on historical example, and belies a pretty damning ignorance of the topic they’re writing about.

Anyway, after this misinformed romp through times past we are treated to the argument that, because both gay men and women (notice something missing here? yeah, I’ll get to that) suffer from pay gaps in the UK compared to their straight and male colleagues respectively, misogyny and homophobia are the same thing. I mean, it’s certainly true that, because of the structure of our society, different oppressions often manifest themselves in similar forms: both women and queer men face discrimination at work, lack of positive media representation, and the threat of violence in public spaces, to give just a few examples. It takes a bizarre, twisted logical leap to argue that this means they face the exact same form of oppression.

Hesham has also said that gay men should be allowed to “reclaim” the word “slut” as someone who has been called a slut before, and thus apparently faces the same structural misogyny as women. The issue of reclaiming slurs is a contended one in liberation politics discourse, but there is a very basic consensus that reclaiming slurs is the sole decision of members of the marginalised groups that those words are used to control, humiliate, and oppress – by definition, you simply cannot ‘reclaim’ a slur directed at a group you’re not part of, especially not if you (e.g. a man) are a member of the group that oppresses them (e.g. women). That’s not reclamation, it’s upholding existing hierarchies of oppression. But I’m waiting on the edge of my seat for another Get Real article arguing that straight men who’ve been called “fag” in locker-room fights with their bros should be encouraged to ‘reclaim’ that term for themselves!

After that, the author seems to deal with some latent annoyance at both drinking society homophobia and the fact that CUSU LGBT+ doesn’t have a campaign to combat this (both certainly real problems that need tackling) by blaming it on, um, all of feminism. “This would be misogyny if I were female,” Hesham writes, as The Point whistles merrily past several thousand miles above. Yes! If you were a woman, you would experience misogyny. But you’re not. So you don’t. This seems to me like a relatively simple concept to grasp. Both these points – even aside from not recognising that the work the CUSU Women’s Campaign does against drinking societies is to fight all the oppressive aspects of them, whether those are based on gender, sexuality, race, class, etc – fundamentally fail to grasp a pretty vital fact about feminism: yeah, feminism can help men, because part of feminism is getting rid of the patriarchy, and the patriarchy (as we are so often reminded by the more self-centred and loud-voiced of our ‘allies’) hurts men too. But feminism isn’t about men. It’s about the liberation of women. And if men, regardless of their sexuality, are distracting from that fact by demanding that feminism has a “duty” to pay more attention to them, and then refusing to listen to women who tell them they’re wrong, they very clearly do not care as much as they claim to about the elimination of gendered oppression or the liberation of those who face misogyny.

Actually though, while what the article does say is odious enough, I’m really more concerned with what it doesn’t talk about, and I think its omission of a couple of key points is very revealing of how insincere the author’s supposed commitment to anti-misogyny is. What I mean is this: if someone asked me my thoughts on possible links between misogyny and homophobia, two key points would come to mind, and neither of them would be ‘they’re the same thing and gay men have it worse off’.

One link I’d make is the perpetuation of misogyny by gay men. Pretty much every woman I know (regardless of sexuality) can think of instances where they’ve faced sexism from a gay man. Getting groped in clubs by men who defend their objectification and harassment with “it’s fine, I’m not attracted to you”, Perez-Hilton-style gendered shaming of women’s bodies and fashion/life choices, gay men who talk often and loudly about how disgusting vaginas are (thereby adding cissexism and transphobia into the bigotry mix) – this is a well-documented and widespread problem. To completely fail to bring this issue up in an article about the links between homophobia and misogyny is disingenuous, and belies the author’s real lack of compassion for the people who really face misogyny.

The second point is to finally address the conspicuously missing piece in the article: ACTUALLY, QUEER WOMEN EXIST. To write a thousand words on the link between homophobia and misogyny and fail to consider intersectionality, to not even once mention that there are real people who face homophobia and misogyny simultaneously, is bafflingly ignorant at best and actively thoughtless and offensive at worst. Queer women exist, Hesham, hi, no matter how much you police our sexuality over Twitter! And unlike you we actually do deal with the combined weights of misogyny and homophobia every day, and your self-obsessed erasure of our existence and experiences from your sub-par thinkpiece about the links between those oppressions is pretty fucking misogynistic and homophobic in itself.

And maybe I’m being unfair – and maybe not – but if you use the word “controversial” in every social media post you make about your article on feminism and say you “can’t wait” for the “haters”, you probably don’t need feminism. If feminism for you is an edgy thinkpiece topic to get your student magazine’s website a higher hit count, you probably don’t need feminism. If feminism for you isn’t something that touches the entire way you view the world, every single interaction you have with another human, the way you think about yourself – if feminism isn’t life-or-death work for you, but a way to boost your fucking web brand, you probably don’t need feminism.

One last point: I know for a fact I’m not the only member of the Cambridge LGBT+ community who has not written for Get Real because Hesham Mashour is editing it. In the absence of a better alternative or a Get Real editorial coup (hint hint), the Gender Agenda blog is always open to submissions and we’d really love to accept anything queer-related you’d like to write.

The Tragedy Paper needs to check its privilege.

The Tragedy Paper needs to check its privilege. 

~Daisy Hughes

Reading for my tragedy essay this week, I came across a really great quote. The writer was saying of the ability to aestheticize suffering in tragedy that, “that vantage point, surely, is available only to those who can afford the most comfortable seats.”

She then moved swiftly on, but my interest was piqued. She seemed to be making a really great point about privilege.

Last week, my supervisor advised me that I might want to take a less “single-mindedly feminist” approach to the tragedy paper. I was angry. But it was good advice. Within the terms of the paper as it stands, a consistently feminist approach is a disadvantage if you want to do well. (“Well”, of course, in the limited sense of “get a good mark.”)

The reason for this is, in part at least, that by taking a feminist line of analysis, by pointing out critically the instances of patriarchal female oppression, misogyny and gynephobia (not to mention the frequent and explicit violence against women) that permeates tragic texts, you are “missing the point”. “It’s all art,” we’re told, so part of what we have to write about is why it’s beautiful. We’re meant to detach ourselves, perform “objective” criticism (as though that is even possible) of “the work itself”.

The problem is that the ability to perform the kind of criticism the paper asks for depends, absolutely, on privilege. To be “objective” in these moments, requires that you don’t feel overwhelmingly personally and politically engaged with the material.

I want to talk for a moment about the idea of “triggering” subject matter. “Trigger warnings” are a relatively new phenomenon and have not yet become widely accepted beyond certain corners of the internet. Part of the problem with this is that society has yet to place any concrete – or perhaps political – value on psychological “harm” to an individual. (Hence the persistent liberal objection to “no platforming,” but that’s a different discussion…)

In reading tragedy we all, of course, face material that is potentially triggering. So, before you start getting worried and asking “what about the men?”, I’m not denying that (white, able-bodied,) male privilege precludes the possibility that men may be triggered by tragedy.

What I’m saying is that while men may face triggering material based on their individual experiences, women and other communities facing oppression face triggering material precisely because they belong to that community – because they face systematic and structural oppression, on top of any individual trauma they may have encountered.

So in ignoring the implications of triggering for the study of tragedy, Cambridge and the English Faculty are enabling the academic privileging of the already privileged. They require of students that “vantage point” described at the beginning, which “is only available to those who can afford the most comfortable seats.”

The problem is also that the paper is compulsory. We do not enter into it having been offered the opportunity to consider and accept the ways in which this privileging of privilege may play out for us personally. We are forced into this traumatising term of studying potentially damaging material, and yet when we point out its damaging nature, we are penalised for a lack of “aesthetic appreciation” and told to broaden our approaches.

What I want to know is, why is is considered as “repeating content” for me to write three “feminist answers” in my exam when it is perfectly acceptable for the faculty to set content which is consistently (if not exclusively) patriarchal, misogynistic, gynephobic, and violent towards both the women characters and the women readers?

A space for women’s voices in Cambridge?

A space for women’s voices in Cambridge?

– Daisy Hughes 

Before I came to Cambridge, I’d never particularly noticed that I was a woman. Of course, I was aware of my sex in a physical sense, and even my gender in a social sense. But I’d never really politically identified as a woman. I’d never really felt in my admittedly very privileged upbringing that there was less space in the world for me and my voice because I was a woman. I would’ve called myself a ‘feminist’, but I’d never really noticed how that term had specific relevance to me.

But then I came to Cambridge. And not only did I come to Cambridge, but I decided that while I was here I wanted to try and change some things about this place.

I began my involvement with the Living Wage Campaign towards the end of my first year. It had taken me a while to settle in to this strange world and I finally felt that I was able and ready to engage with it in a different way. It was during the course of this campaign, however, that I really began to notice how little space there is here for women who want to take part in, let alone lead, any form of political action.

I was running the campaign with a male friend of mine, who I have a huge amount of respect for. However, each time there was any reporting on the campaign it was always his name and not mine that was mentioned. Each time anyone had a question about what we were doing and why, they would address him and not me. It was as though people were assuming that he was the leader, while I was the secretary. I found myself in JCR meetings in which his voice was privileged over mine – in which he was listened to, while I was spoken over and dismissed.

Finally, a man with whom I had previously been involved, suggested to me that the reason I was doing these things – the reason I was dedicating hours of my time and all of my emotional energy to a campaign I was sure I believed in myself – was because I had become friends with another strong, vocal woman in our college. I was quite literally being denied a voice of my own, by someone who I had previously assumed respected me. Implicit in his comment was a fear of women who speak out, and it was framed as ‘concern’ for the influence she appeared to have over me. Clearly, I couldn’t be doing these things because I wanted to do them.

As a woman involved in ‘activism’, I found I was far more likely to be painted as a ‘radical’ than my male counterparts – although clearly this goes alongside a fundamental misunderstanding of what this term actually means. Very simply, I was ‘radical’ because I had noticed an injustice taking place in our community, and as a woman, my place in pointing this out and fighting against it was unexpected and unwanted.

It is too easy, in this very male-dominated and male-orientated environment, for women who speak out to be silenced. One only has to look at the treatment of the Women’s Campaign in the student press to see a persistent fear of the female voice. There is very little space here for women to have this voice and trying to carve one out is, frankly, exhausting.

‘Sometimes’ by Maria

‘I Wrote This For Me.’

I Wrote This For Me. ­

-Mariam Ansar

I wrote my first poems with tired eyes and tousled hair, stole away
the words that had remained since before I knew about ‘context’ and ‘literary devices’,
but knew to trust my mum’s knowledge and my sisters’ feelings,
tucked them in my pockets, stained my fingers with the pace that I could follow sentences at and
laughed aloud at adventures which
never concerned me,
or at least,
did so without me realising. I was a
12 year old with serious habits, critiqued advertisements and emailed companies for being too ‘white-
centric’, too ‘un­inclusive’, too… ‘fake’, and then dipped straight back into that Harry Potter like
Hermione Granger had never shaped me, or I couldn’t hear The Babysitters Club in my ear, or Maya
Angelou standing firm, delicate, strong and wild and beautiful all at the same time, all to dash my
problematic habits, thinking about Other Girls and Cool Girls and Gamer Girls and dividing the
differences that disappeared as I drew on what I didn’t always know.
What I didn’t always know:
What reading lists don’t tell you, save for the colour of the paper they’re written on, direct reflection of
the content, almost… almost… ALWAYS, I am a
little girl who wondered if the hero could, yes, think like me, and yes, be the blurry imaginary best
friend I took to talking to in corners of the playground in primary school and yet,
did they ever dare to let me wipe back the fog on the window, clear it with my sleeve and see… me?
Within the opacity, see
brown girls who brought books to snack on and then choked on them later, felt the sting of a whiteness
which just…
wounded.
Wounded, I am a
student who wrote in Murakami, Baldwin, Ishiguro on the library bookmark of ‘esteemed’authors they
gave us, bit away the core of the apple
and choked on it, but rose up, not from any kiss anyone could give me but the
kiss I gave to myself, told myself to
speak
think
BE
In the same vicinity of middle­class institutionalised racism, and ‘oh, are you a foreign student?’ and
stares down the street from those who see too much and not enough and are blinded by a headscarf
and just never know it, I am a
brown girl reading and thinking and wanting to grow,
evolving? evolving, and refusing to back down, this is my
rebellion and I am the one causing
the ripples of water that extend to my own feet and outwards,
tree­like,
growing,
brown girl, book child,
talking, writing
surviving.
Within the silences that rise around me, I am deafening.
The funny thing is, I’m not always trying.

Sexuality

**Trigger Warning for homophobia, outing**

Sexuality

anonymous

Growing up, my non-heterosexual attractions surfaced gradually and were easily denied. I identified as straight because it was the default and because I definitely fancied at least SOME boys; any other feelings were terrifying and dismissible.

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Jolene

SCUSU Main 14082217120

“He didn’t like it when I wore high heels, but I do”: In Defence of Taylor Swift

Martha Perotto-Wills

“He didn’t like it when I wore high heels, but I do”: In Defence of Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift gets a lot of shit. The fact that some of it is obviously rubbish – average anti-popstar dismissive indie-male sneering, disdainful raised-eyebrows comments about the number of boys she’s dated – probably doesn’t need explaining here. A lot of it, though, comes from feminists who should know better, women who seem to have read a lot of headlines and dour think-pieces and parody twitter accounts but never actually listened to a single Taylor song: look at this air-headed ultra-feminine girl, wearing white dresses and shaming other women for their sexuality; all she ever talks about is boys; so stupid and silly and so anti-feminist. Ugh.

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