lauren mayberry and online misogyny
Yesterday, The Guardian published an editorial by Lauren Mayberry, member of Scottish synth-pop trio, Chvrches. She was spurred to write the editorial — in which she talks about her anger and despair over online misogyny — after posting a screengrab of a demeaning comment from a Facebook “fan” of the band. That screengrab was one of the tame ones, Lauren noted, also sharing that she had been on the receiving end of comments such as ‘I’m going to give her anal’ and ‘I’d fuck the accent right out of her and she’d love it’.
Mayberry’s post was then met with over 1000 comments. Most of these comments were supportive. Most of them expressed both disgust, and the sentiment that no woman should be on the receiving end of that kind of sexually aggressive vitriol. As always though, the small, hateful minority made themselves known. It was the comments such as ‘This isn’t rape culture. You’ll know rape culture when I’m raping you, bitch’, ‘Act like a slut and get treated like a slut’ and ‘I have your address and I will come round to your house and give u anal and you will love it you twat lol’ that were heard loudest. In the editorial, Lauren says this is a downside to being known on the Internet – a medium which she acknowledges has largely been supportive of, and instrumental in, the band’s success.
This situation brings us face-to-face with confounding, mind-boggling questions. When the hell did threatening rape become a way to respond to a woman having an opinion about the way she is treated? When did the security blanket that is anonymity on the Internet make people feel like they can make direct threats about coming to someone’s house and violating them? These questions are utterly unanswerable, and while it may be useful to understand correlation between past behaviours of these men and the comments they make, the comments deserve, first and foremost, fierce condemnation. Being sexually aggressive is a default way some men deal with confrontation with a woman. When faced with logic, with arguments that cite common decency and respect, these men revert to the fact that they have something to use against women. The fact that strength, and the ability to use that strength to rape someone is used as a comeback in online interactions is as disheartening as it is repugnant.
Of these comments, Lauren admits they sometimes take their toll on her. ‘During this past tour, I am embarrassed to admit that I have had more than one prolonged toilet cry and a “Come on, get a hold of yourself, you got this” conversation with myself in a bathroom mirror when particularly exasperated and tired out. But then, after all the sniffling had ceased, I asked myself: why should I cry about this? Why should I feel violated, uncomfortable and demeaned? Why should we all keep quiet?’
A further comment Lauren listed echoes a sentiment we hear all too often. ‘It’s just one of those things you’ll need to learn to deal with. If you’re easily offended, then maybe the music industry isn’t for you’ is just another version of ‘if she wants to be a woman in politics, she needs to expect it’, which in turn is just another ‘look what she was wearing, she was asking for it’.
Firstly, rape threats are not just “one of those things”. Not now, and not ever. The day we accept them as “one of those things” is the day we well and truly submit ourselves to a rape culture. Entering the music industry is not asking for your art to be dismissed in favour of violent and degrading comments; to be seen as nothing but a body. Secondly, making the distinction between women who are in a band deserving this treatment, and women who are not deserving it is damaging, and it’s the trap many of those “supportive” comments fell into (‘You make awesome music, you don’t deserve this’). The overwhelmingly simple fact is that no one deserves this. No woman (and no man), no matter their industry or personal worth as defined by others. This is a focus of Lauren’s within the editorial, making it clear she is not just taking a stand for female musicians, but for people.
It’s oft repeated that you should never read comments, whether on articles, Facebook posts, or blog entries. The thinking is basically that there are idiots everywhere, and they don’t deserve the time of day. These comments, the ones threatening sexual violence, may not deserve the time of day, but they need it. We need to highlight them, we need to discuss them and we need to intelligently and passionately shout them down. We cannot become a society that just ignores them and comforts ourselves with the fact that we don’t personally don’t know any men like this. If ignored, this will slowly become the norm. If this is ignored, one day a thoughtful and articulate blog post from a woman will illicit depraved comments and we will shrug our shoulders and say ‘well, what do you expect?’ This cannot happen and it is heartening to see that someone with a voice will loudly, and proudly, argue this.