Trigger warning

I’ve been mulling over whether or not to post about this for a while now, just over a month in fact, but a discussion on Comment is Free yesterday finally persuaded me to go ahead with it.

The discussion was under Sunny Hundal’s piece about TubeCrush – The dubious joys of perving over fellow passengers online, where I questioned someone who claimed to find it odd that anyone would object to being photographed and having their photo uploaded to the Internet without their prior knowledge. I asked:

“Do you not think there’s an enormous difference between being looked at/appraised as you go about your business, and being photographed and that photo then being uploaded to the Internet for goodness knows how many people to perv over?”

To which the commenter then replied:

“Not really, no. I’m just as unaware of the attention so it impinges not one iota on my life. I mean, that’s your real picture as your avatar isn’t it? As is Ally’s and quite a few (primarily BTL) Ciffers and you suffer no angst from knowing x million people see it every day do you?”

It was my subsequent response that then got me thinking about this post, and that also got me questioning how and why I appear to have quietly accepted the heinous online abuse I was subjected to last month. I guess this post is me finally fighting back, as well as challenging my own sudden, entirely out of character submission to online misogyny.

Because I replied to the comment about me suffering no angst from having my photo online for anyone to look at with:

“Actually I have done, specifically when a website full of shits decided to reproduce it and discuss at length what a “munter” I am. But I (kind of) accept that as an occupational hazard, and I don’t agree that people who choose not to put themselves ‘out there’ should have to tolerate the same.”

I spent the rest of the evening thinking “really? Is that really what I think? That I should learn to suck this crap up as an occupational hazard?” And then I started to wonder when I’d started thinking like that, and why.

Is it for instance that I’ve become immune to the abuse after all this time? (the answer to that is a resounding ‘no’, as the rest of this post will make clear) Or is it that I’ve simply given up shouting about it and objecting to it because there’s just so much of it out there it now seems pointless trying to do anything about it?

Or is it, and I think this is closer to the truth, that I was more shaken by what happened in March than I’d realised, and that I actually let ‘them’ get to me this time?

So anyway, here without any further ado is what happened.

On March 15th I was alerted to a discussion that had been taking place about me on a site called ‘Don’t Start Me Off!’ (I’m not linking). So I went over there and had a look.

At the top of the page was my profile photo from CiF, with this posted underneath it:

“Reason it’s Annoying:
Stricly speaking – maybe this idiot should be posted on the Guardian RIA. But I feel this Tucker Jenkins look-a-like derserves her own nom. Where do I start? Nothing i could say could beat the Guardians mini-bio of her: “Cath Elliott is a feminist and a trade union activist. She is currently working in local government. She posts on Cif as Mswoman.”

And then came the comments:

“Today’s rant about the TUC march is particularly pathetic:… What an absolutely depressingly thick bell-end she is”

“Good nom. Another ugly, sex-is-negative, skater-arounder of Islam and lover of diversity whilst living in Norwich, puritanical feminist, who’s wormed her way onto the Grun’s commentariat payroll after bombarding its message board for years with stupid fucking comments. Biatch!”

“until i read your comment on the main page I honestly thought it was a chap. ffs”

“I know fuck all about this person. but one thing just jumps out at you with that picture! DEFINITE LESBIAN!”

“What a horrible looking cunt.”

“‘women,women,women’ that’s the only word she seems to use in that vid, another feminist who knows alot about nothing, only that she hates men so much she’s making every effort to look like one.” (this comment came after someone had posted a link to the video of me speaking at the Million Women Rise rally in Trafalgar Square last year).

Someone then put up the photo of me in hospital that was posted on this blog a couple of years ago when I had my hysterectomy, and commented:

“can someone put her back in hospital please”

Someone else asked:

“Is that picture in hospital after it had the Penis Grafting Surgery?”

And on and on it went:

“This cunt is needed in Holland, the fucking Dyke!”

“With a face like that, it looks like it needs milking!”

“Look at the pose in that photo. Either she’s stroking her goatee or she’s desperately trying to look intellectual. Or maybe both. Bastard.”

“I’m sick of seeing her ugly boy dyke butch spot beneath her right eye shit earinged face”

“Cath? Strange name for a Russian weightlifter”

“Stupid lefto-cunt bitch. She’s marching on the 26th : ‘protesting on the day and voicing our opposition to the government’s swingeing cuts.” When are these dumbass liberal fuckers going to realise a simple fact – we have spending cuts because Gordon the moron spent all the money, and what he didn’t spend he simply gave away to the banks, why can’t the lentil farting likes of this silly bitch and Laurie Penny get it through their thick dykey heads? Repeat after me… There.Is.No.Fucking.Money.Left.”

There were more comments in that vein, but I think by now you’ve probably got the picture. (I copied the entire thread to a word doc, which if you really want to you can see by clicking here)

Quite understandably I was pretty upset by the time I’d finished reading all that hate, so I went on to Twitter and put out these two tweets:

Which in retrospect was probably my first mistake.

Some lovely people then went on to the site and posted in my defence (a belated thank you to those that did), but unfortunately that then alerted the bastards to the fact that I was reading the comments, and that they’d managed to upset me:

“We made her actually cry! This is a fucking great day for DSMO, Ricardo you should add it to the calendar and we can celebrate Bawling-Day on the 15th of March every year.”

“At least your blog is accurately named: I usually find that stuffing her mouth full of cock usually shuts women like you up.”

“Hello Tucker! I always wondered what happened to you after the Grange Hill gates closed! What a shame you didn’t learn anything while you were there. When I say anything, I really mean it. You literally know nothing about anything. You think you do, but you’re so misguided it’s quite extraordinary. There’s nothing wrong, per se, with being a feminist, but taking it to extremes simply damages the cause. I for one am delighted that women (those that are stupid enough to want to) have to fight on the front line and are about to end up paying more for their car insurance; this is what equality is all about. To pretend though, that the male of the species is somehow surplus to requirements is just stupid and looks like a terrible case of sour grapes on your part. If it weren’t for men, there would be almost nothing of the world you see around you. Now, I know you’re mentally protesting at this point, but really, deep down, you know it’s true. If men hadn’t existed (apart from the obvious procreation problems), there would be no housing as we know it, no aircraft, no space craft, no synthetic materials, no glasses or contact lenses, no finance, no discernible art, no cars, no science, no finance, no real economy and no Cath Elliott, spouting her anal seepage from your man invented Internet. Isn’t it about time you just said thank you and shut the fuck up for 5 minutes?”

I had quite a few responses on Twitter from people telling me that the comments on that site constituted hate speech, and that I should do something about it. I also had a couple of direct messages from people advising me to report the site to the company that hosts its servers.

So in the end, mea culpa, that’s what I did. And that was mistake number 2.

Here’s what I emailed to Rapid Switch, whose servers host the site in question:

“I would like to report the following website, which I believe is being hosted on your servers, for abusive content:

http ://www .dont -start-me-off .com /

This site was drawn to my attention today after the site owner posted a piece about me. The comments that have been published under that piece are not only hugely offensive, but they also constitute hate speech:

<Link to the thread>

Is it within the terms and conditions of your hosting policy that such blatant hate speech and homophobia are permitted?

I look forward to your response

Best wishes

Cath Elliott”

An email which I naively thought would land in a real life person’s inbox. But which didn’t, it ended up instead in some online Abuse Ticket automated system hell, which after a bit of toing and froing with me trying to identify the specific IP address of the site, was eventually sent to the site owner, Richard White. Who on being alerted to the complaint responded with:

“We have deleted the whole thread in question”

The abuse ticket is still online, you can see it here.

He then tweeted me this message:

and obviously then went back on to the site’s members only discussion forum to tell them all about what an anti free-speech fascist I am. (although please note that I never actually called for the thread to be removed, I simply questioned whether such hate speech fell within Rapid Switch’s hosting policy. It was Richard White who took the immediate decision to take the  thread down, no doubt because he realised that if I chose to escalate things and an actual human being from Rapid Switch took a look at his nasty hate-filled site he was in danger of losing the whole lot).

I had a snivelling email from the site’s moderator (who is probably also the site owner Richard White), saying:

“We have removed the whole thread on yourself rather than just removing individual comments. We get hundreds of comments a day so it is impossible to police the site totally until we receive a complaint. The thread was removed within minutes of us being made aware of the nature of some of the comments, and I trust that resolves the issue.”

And then Richard White or one of his acolytes set up another page about me, called ‘The “We Love Cath Elliott” Page’, with instructions that people were only to post nice comments about me.

Here’s a selection of some of them:

“she’s just so lovely in her objective and fair prose about men. Frankly it’s a damn shame she’s attracted to members of the same sex – by golly, if only she fancied men! Here’s still hoping… xxx”

“I had a wank thinking about her this morning, not over her looks or anything, that would be sexist and discriminatory against women and stuff, but a wank over her writings, opinions and politics. It was great.”

“I’ve booked myself into a Harley Street clinic to have some plastic surgery so I can look just like my idol. I hope it doesn’t come over as blasphemous to do something like this, but I must do something to make myself more Cath-like. I’ll be undergoing a bicep reduction operation and having a course of testosterone injections too. It’s expensive but I just know it’ll be worth it.”

“Funnily enough, I paid to see a consultant gender-alignment specialist recently for the same reason. A little squeamish, I asked the specialist what he would need to do to my cock to make me more like Cath, and he said lengthen it.”

“Cathy, baby: I’ve had some time to reflect on the deeply offensive comments posted – and thereafter rightfully removed – on this site earlier this week. I’ve also had time to research your unprejudiced journalism… and frankly I’ve been weeping in retrospect (well, my Jap’s eye has, anyway!). I am so sorry. The truth is, you know, I am a man, but sometimes I wish I was a dungaree-clad female who fancied the same sex (I didn’t want to be belligerent and use the term hirsute butch femme), because I would gobble you up like a starving tramp with an M&S food voucher – and I’m not even into anthropophagy, nudge-nudge, wink-wink! Quite simply, I’m falling head over heels in love with you, girl! Raymond Blanc once said he could “make a woman orgasm through his food”; your non-discrimonatory writing prose has exactly the same effect on me. I’m listening to Baz White’s Greatest Hits as I’m writing this… If there’s any hope for us, pleeeeeease let me know. xxx. ”

“There are some who say that Cath Elliott does fuck all, writes about having done fuck all, and Tweets about having done fuck all, too. They believe that she is a lefty gobshite who has floated through life on the wind of vacuous, piss-all, never-done-a-hand’s-turn, never-will-do-a-hand’s-turn bollocks, and that she is just another twat who makes a living by spouting complete crap and acting like she’s actually contributed something worthwhile to the world. Whereas I love our Cath, and support her in all her lovely, Lefty, Lesbian activities.”

“Oh fuck! Not fucking her would be sacrilegious. Why one earth would she want to keep herself from the ravages of men, I’d love to pillage and rifle through her sexy apple gatherers.”

“I cracked one off thinking of our Cath’s devotion to left wing politics and minges today. God bless her.”

And on and on and on….

That page is still up and running, because to be honest it was at this point that I caved. Because I realised that it didn’t matter what I did next, the Internet is too fucking big for me to take on. And also because I’ve been around long enough to know that bullies like Richard ‘Ricardo’ White will always be able to find a way to make people like me feel like shit.

Of course I realise that by posting this piece I’m no doubt giving them enough ammunition to start the whole sick cycle off again, but so be it. Because while there’s probably sweet fuck all I can do about that site, I’m not prepared to just sit here and quietly take that kind of crap either. I’ve done that for a month now, and that’s long efuckingnuff for me to keep quiet about anything.

So, back to the question I posed myself at the beginning of this post. No, I don’t think I should have to put up with abuse like this and accept it as simply an “occupational hazard”. I *shouldn’t* have to, but I *do* have to, because I don’t see that I actually have any other option.

Unless of course any of you lot have got any suggestions?