Victim blaming, attention seeking and Caroline Criado-Perez
Caroline Criado-Perez is good at getting herself noticed by the media. She’s the kind of person who gets hold of a single issue and won’t let go, even when others are telling her it’s not important. She lays herself in the firing line, even when she doesn’t need to. She’s an attention seeker. Feminism needs its attention seekers. She deserves our support.
Since Criado-Perez’s banknote campaign morphed into a very public confrontation with misogyny on twitter, I’ve been amazed at some of the responses coming from “nice guys” and “allies” alike. You don’t have to agree with the report button as a solution. You don’t even have to think the women on banknotes issue mattered (although the vicious reaction to that campaign’s success might suggest otherwise). I would nevertheless expect that when a woman is receiving rape and death threats and, rather than staying quiet, she decides to publicise this, she should get a more imaginative response than “ooh, you’re just doing that for attention!” No shit, Sherlock. Of course she bloody is. Good on her. Don’t agree with the proposed solutions? Fine, but don’t ever condemn Criado-Perez for shouting back.
Let’s take a look at some of the inspired pieces of advice that have come Caroline’s way today (not the rape and death threats; those are, apparently, just bo-ring now):
You’re just giving vile tweeters publicity.
Look at @CCriadoPerez timeline you see her retweeting all threats. Attn seeking and whipping up her 23k fans.
Just read the timeline of @CCriadoPerez. She isn’t a campaigner for what is good or right at all, she’s just another censorious bigot.
You had a valid complaint at first but now you’re just attention seeking. Is this about fame/money now?
You are Silly Woman of the Week. He [Toby Young] has every right to patronise you.
Yes, Caroline, shut up, won’t you? Those rape threats have only been sent to silence you so why not get in there first and silence yourself? Sorted! It seems a lot of people - smug people, people who quote Voltaire and John Stuart Mill and sit back, content, at their supposed free speech triumph - have no sense of irony. The whole point of shouting back isn’t to create silence -- it’s to challenge a culture which relies on most of the population voluntarily shutting the hell up, whether it’s out of fear, embarrassment or simply the desire not to make a fuss. Criado-Perez is making a fuss. She’s making a massive fuss and is, in the process, making herself more of a target. That this is happening should shame us, not her.
I look at Criado-Perez’s timeline and what I see is someone showing us exactly what happens when a woman refuses to play by the unspoken rules that most of us obey without even noticing it. This doesn’t mean most of us manage to avoid abuse. We get it all the same, but we modify our behaviour, limit our freedoms, don’t behave as equals, still feel impostors in space that is supposed to be shared. Criado-Perez has said “fuck that”. We should applaud such a stance. It helps to shine a light on what’s under the surface, on the real consequences of women speaking with as loud a voice as men.
I guess some people take a rather purist position on what activism should be - self-effacing, behind the scenes, out of the spotlight, free from media manipulation or collusion. The route Criado-Perez has taken isn’t the only one or necessarily the most valuable, and it’s not even one that’s open to all of us. Many other women have suffered equally vicious abuse on twitter and no one has listened to their voices. Criado-Perez has been listened to and she’s made the most of this. Privileged people should look to their own complicity in the silencing of other women but that should never be an excuse to silence yet another.
I know many feminists who lay themselves on the line for what they believe in, courting both hostility from detractors and rejection by their peers. That in itself is a feminist act. Women aren’t meant to take up too much space, and they’re meant to be afraid. The amount of self-censorship required to be an “acceptable” woman is staggering. We can’t do it. We shouldn’t have to. Criado-Perez has been brave, honest and passionate enough to demonstrate this. She has more courage in her little finger than those whinging about her own supposed whinging. She has displayed far more stoicism than those who ostentatiously recast their own timidity as “bravely shrugging it off”.
If Caroline’s actions annoy you, listen to the voices of those trying to silence her. Note how loud they are. Ask yourself if this is their space. Ask yourself who’s censoring whom. And for one moment just ask yourself how much you’re supporting free speech by telling yet another woman to retreat back into silence.