There has been a storm of media attention since a man was fired after calling Clementine Ford a slut on Facebook, after she posted about sexist abuse she received on White Ribbon Day. You can read all about that here, but just to be clear: Clementine didn’t demand he was fired, she just brought it to the attention of the man’s employer (which was very clearly displayed in his profile), and they chose to terminate his employment as a result of his behaviour.
Since then, Clementine has been on the receiving end of some of the vilest hate I have ever seen. I forced myself to read as much of it as I could find because I wanted to get an idea of what she is going through. It make me feel absolutely sick to my stomach that people could say some of the stuff they said. You can read it here if you want, but in a nutshell she was wished a lifetime of misery, various types of rape, being shot in the face, and many more delightful fates. Dozens and dozens of snippets of abuse and actual threats on her personal safety.
All this for standing up for herself against someone who was verbally abusing her.
Clementine has a reputation in the media for being provocative and starting debates. I love that shit but I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. But people who hold a mirror to society and push us to question what we see are the ones who really affect change. Like her or not, Clementine sure does hold up a mirror. But lots of people don’t like what they see.
Although some of the hatred comes from women, most of the abuse is coming from men (and, disturbingly, teenage boys). Their vitriol is disgusting and upsetting but there is another element I want to talk about. Even if you think Clementine invites the hate, here is why what those men are saying is a whole lot worse than anything she has said or done.
As women, we are physically vulnerable to men. Some of us may have the careers we want, and be doing all manner of awesome shit all over town, but these comments remind us of a simple fact: men are physically stronger than women. All things being equal, a man can overpower a woman, and if he so chose, he could carry out the sick shit that Clementine has been threatened with.
That’s why these threats are so serious. Because they could easily be carried out. And we have no way of knowing whether the person behind that threat is deadly serious, or some bum-fluffed teen tweeting shit while his mum cuts up his dinner for him. With those comments come an element of menace that women cannot forget.
We all know what it’s like to feel vulnerable walking down the street at night. We all know what it’s like to hear noises outside our house and wonder whether we should investigate. We all know what it’s like to be alone with a man and be scanning for the best exit, just in case. Most men will never know what that feels like.
And I know more than a few women with public profiles who feel strongly about this but are afraid to speak up, because they feel vulnerable. Because they have young children. Because they share elements of their lives online, and if someone wanted to, they could find out where they work, or where they live. Because they’ve been abused before.
That’s what really pisses me off – that smart, successful women are terrified of speaking out. We’ve worked so hard to get where we are, and now we are afraid to have a voice. I don’t blame these women. I get it, I really do. They are not the ones at fault here.
Clementine Ford is working hard to make the internet safer for all women. She doesn’t tolerate misogyny, and she stands up to bullies. We owe it to her to stand beside her. Abuse and threats are not acceptable and, no matter what you think of someone’s opinion, they do not deserve to have their personal safety threatened.