"I would eviscerate you."
"I'd like to finger the f*** out of you."
"I've got that perfect thing to fill that mouth."
These aren't quotes from 50 Shades of Grey, these are some of the messages I've received over social media. Some even from Facebook: the unsexiest, most vanilla and missionary-style social media portal you can find.
You might wonder why I would receive such things. Well I'm not a model, or one of those girls who takes selfies of myself in my pants (unless its for laughs). I'm just a woman in what might be described as generally a man's world - the world of Video Games.
Being a video games presenter and female has been an interesting experience: fantastic in so many ways, but quite disturbing in others. This all began when I hosted a little-known video game show called GameFace on UK satellite channel Bravo.
I'd been hired for two reasons: I could present and I knew about video games. I was over the moon! Finally my nerdy pastime could be used to actually get a job, instead of preventing me from getting one. Motivating yourself to get anything done as a freelancer is hard enough without having consoles to tempt you into their delicious couch oblivion.
GameFace was a pretty simple show: green-screened, autocued, with links to camera throwing to the reviews of the week. Initially everything had to be very heavily scripted and timed, a little frustrating as you are unable to put a bit of 'you' into the show. But it was early days and all shows go through a process of trial and error. As the series went on I was able to do little 'rants' about games I'd been playing or things that had been happening in the gaming world that week. It was nice to be able to express myself, as really getting to connect with people is why I love the job.
"Really this subtle sexism was just the tip of the iceberg. Subtle quickly came and went and left behind overt misogyny"
I remember going to read online what people first thought of the show (yeah, yeah I know.) But I really was interested to see what people thought and wanted to look for ways to improve it or myself. I read so much more about me than anyone should, but my goodness, it's like picking a scab. You know it's stupid, disgusting and a bit destructive but you're going to do it anyway. Aside from people critiquing the format, what really struck me were the comments asking how could I possibly know what the heck I'm talking about. I mean, how could I right?
You might wonder as to whether these were in fact sexist comments. Ask yourself, does this happen to men too? It's a good rule of thumb. And generally when it comes to video games, it does not. I knew other male presenters who worked for various other outfits and not once were their credentials ever questioned. Even the ones who knew less than nothing about it. Yet here I am giving personal reflections on games I had actually played and somehow what I said wasn't worthy, or someone had written it for me. I had no 'right' to comment on such things and should clearly keep quiet.
Really this subtle sexism was just the tip of the iceberg. Subtle quickly came and went and left behind overt misogyny. I'm not sure what is worse, outright in your face women-hating or the subtle endemic slow-chip sexism (hidden as fact) that is far more abundant than we realise.
One weekend on Sky News Paper Reviews with Iain Lee I got a barrage of tweets from a chap who went on and on about how he hated my ears. Nothing about what I had been arguing about or debating on the show. My ears! I asked Iain, "Does anyone ever comment on your appearance when you are on TV?" Iain smiled and said, "No of course not, I'm a man."
How right he was. Being female means that it's not just what you say that's up for discussion, it's who you are, who you were, what you look like, what you're wearing, who you had sex with, what you said flippantly two months ago and whether your audience would kindly consider f**king you if they had the chance. (That is the hot topic FYI.) That's a lot of things to factor in when it's what you're saying that should really be the thing up for debate. But of course not. I'm female so it's my shoes that are important, as I discovered on another Sky News slot. "Seriously she'd be half the height without those shoes." Yes, honey, they're heels. It's kinda the point. Never mind the fact that I strapped a Sky News presenter into Oculus Rift to play Eve Valkyrie on a screen the size of a house, you're talking about my shoes. That's what caught your imagination?
These first instances of online abuse really knocked me back. It's a horrible thing to feel like someone hates you for being you. And that's what it feels like. I'm not an actress and people aren't just critiquing my work and saying they dislike it - when you're a presenter it's 'you' they don't like! What you see on screen is who I am in my normal life. If they don't like that person, then they don't like you. It was a pretty depressing time. I guess no-one should really know just what people think about who they are. Or just how much fear and hatred it seemed there was towards women. Maybe some things are better left to ignorance.
"Anyone who's ever gotten into some serious Twitter rows knows just how draining it can be...It's not healthy
I spent an age arguing with people online, mainly as I felt the need to justify myself and stand up for the show. Plus, most of their arguments were so crudely constructed I knew I could win. I wanted to win and show them up for the idiots I felt they were. Anyone who's ever gotten into some serious Twitter rows knows just how draining it can be. You are so angry, so het up and so set on winning you're strapped to your phone in a perpetual state of anger-related stress. It's not healthy. I'm surprised I didn't collapse from overdosing on my own Cortisol.
This went on for quite a while. Whilst I won a lot of these arguments, it never really seemed worth it for all the stress it created. Days of feeling angry and sad and running things over in my mind just didn't justify beating some idiot on Twitter. Don't get me wrong, I like winning arguments, but not when they are always about how sh*t you are, or how you should "shut the f*** up."
Everyone told me 'Don't feed the trolls.' 'Leave them be.' 'It's not worth it.' After a time I decided that perhaps people had the right idea. All this stress, why don't I just ignore them so they'll go away? So I did. It was so hard to do, to keep quiet, but I did. The messages kept coming but I just pretended they didn't. A self-induced ignorance. (Well, denial.) And I was content for a while...But something kept nagging in the back of my mind. I am a woman and my super power, the one thing I can use against ignorance and injustice...is silence. That is the crappest super power I've ever heard of. All of your boss battles would be you hiding in a cupboard waiting for evil to get bored and go make a sandwich. Not sure you'd sell that many comics based on those skills.
I was at a stage where I needed to find a way to be ok with this. I needed to be able to read nasty things online and not let it ruin how I feel or question who I am. I needed to find a way to answer back, on my terms, and feel like in some way I'm effecting a change instead of just ignoring it.
It was then I decided to take a new approach. I still wanted to win the arguments but I didn't want it to affect my daily life.
This is how Misogyny Monday was born: a blog that takes all the thoroughly inappropriate comments I get online and re-appropriates them for my own amusement.
"I was at a stage where I needed to find a way to be ok with this. I needed to be able to read nasty things online and not let it ruin how I feel or question who I am"
I had paid attention to the interactions I had seen online from staunch feminists and one thing I'd noticed was that, when people really pushed a feminist agenda (no matter how right they were) it seemed to enrage some people all the more. So, I thought that perhaps sometimes we should respond to these moronic fools with something equally as jokey, equally as throwaway and equally as offensive.
It didn't happen overnight - some of my first responses were LONG and I found that the shorter and more smart-arsed I wrote, the better the reaction was and the better it came across.
People always ask me why I remove their names before posting the comments. The reason is that I had seen first-hand friends of mine naming and shaming people on Twitter and it always struck me as a bit petty and reactionary. For me to really rise above it and enjoy the process I needed it not to be about revenge. It seemed a waste of time to try and educate that one person who will probably never change their mind anyway. It's about showing everyone else what is acceptable behaviour. And for that I don't need their name.
Since then, I have actually weirdly enjoyed getting sexist comments as I revel in thinking up stupid retorts. It's actually pretty cathartic, plus, when you see the response it gets from people online, you know you're doing the right thing. So many men have messaged me in disbelief that people would dare to send such inappropriate remarks, and that's what is important to note. Most men never see this happen, they simply can't understand why women get so damn p***ed off, they haven't had years of this kind of interaction to really understand why we know sexism is still prevalent. And that's ok. This is why I want to show people that these kind of things happen all the time. Then perhaps they will be just as shocked as we are and do something about it too.
What's really funny is that some of these guys aren't even trying to intimidate me, they're reaching out and saying 'Hi! I really like you' - albeit by saying it through the medium of asking me to have sex with them. That's perhaps even more disturbing, as somehow it's easier to understand the intention behind a misogynistic view towards women (as history is littered with infinite examples of it) than the systemic undercurrent of some men thinking that women are 'things' or sex objects here simply for their gratification.
I'm not a sexualised person in my work. I have been careful to not post racy pictures of myself or sexualise the way I act, as I never wanted that kind of attention. It actually really creeped me out growing up - not that I'm a prude, far from it. It's just not a nice feeling to find out that someone you don't know is feeling sexually towards you. It feels predatory somehow. Perhaps it's not even that, perhaps it's simply that they think it's ok to act on those feelings. To lay it out right in front of you, with no mind as to how uncomfortable or intimidating it can be. They feel it, so why can't they say it? Surely it's the woman's fault for being sensitive? We should remember it is such a small percentage of men that behave this way online (although their voices are loud so it does seem like more), it seems unfair for the men who then get tarred with the same brush. When that innocent compliment you might make is met with hostility or suspicion. But don't blame women for that, blame the men who are messing it up for everyone by putting all women constantly on their guard.
"don't blame women for that, blame the men who are messing it up for everyone by putting all women constantly on their guard"
I don't judge the women who do 'sex it up a bit' either. I think it should be about balance, some women may want to be sexualised, I'm just at a bit of a loss as to why it seems all successful, talented women in the media end up having to, to get ahead. Why isn't Beyonce's voice good enough on its own?
I used to think that women who went down that road should expect that kind of unwanted attention. I have since revised that thought after seeing some of the messages a friend of mine who used to glamour model would receive. Some of the comments she'd get online, people should have been arrested for. Yes, she sexualised herself, but no-one, I don't care who you are or what you do, deserves to be spoken to that way. It was borderline terrifying.
The blog is a reaction to a problem I thought had disappeared, (it is 2015 after all) but with the anonymity of online interactions we often see peoples' true motives and feelings. Whilst it's disturbing, perhaps it's better that it's out in the open where we can try to find a way to eradicate it for good.
Misogyny Monday might not change the world or even the minds of the men I have spoken about in this article. But hopefully it might inspire everybody else to join in and call it out when it does happen. If we can make it socially inexcusable (on and offline), these people will keep it to themselves and hopefully we'll all be able to move forward to an internet where everyone is berated equally. Not just for having a vagina.