Girls Education is Imperative for Our Collective Success, by @rupandemehta.

Cross-posted from: Rupande Mehta
Originally published: 17.07.16

July 12, 2016 marked Nobel Prize winner, Malala Yousofzai’s 19th birthday. Twitter celebrated the occasion with various hashtags (#YesAllGirls, #GirlsEducation, #MalalaDay) and by holding several chats. I had the pleasure of being part of one such chat (#REFSpeak), hosted by The Red Elephant Foundation led by the brilliant Kirthi Jayakumar. (Kirthi, a Mogul Influencer and Global Ambassador, is a lawyer by profession but tirelessly works for women’s rights the world over. You can read more about Kirthi here).

The guests on the chat came from various backgrounds but we all agreed on one thing: universal education for girls is essential. At a time when the world is evolving, on a daily basis, we need to ensure that girls are evolving with it and are aware of their rights and liberties.
Read more Girls Education is Imperative for Our Collective Success, by @rupandemehta.

Alan Carr; “Not My Nigel” – Justin Lee Collins edition.

Cross-posted from: Frothy Dragon
Originally published: 13.12.16

Dear Alan Carr,

You can harp on about how the Justin Lee Collins who assaulted his partner wasn’t the Justin that you knew, but the truth of the matter is that he was.

See, this is the kind of talk that silences abuse victims. Talking about how it was a “toxic” relationship. Minimising the abuse. It’s telling victims that their experiences of an abuser aren’t accurate, because yours are different.


Read more Alan Carr; “Not My Nigel” – Justin Lee Collins edition.

The Family and Criminal Courts need to stop colluding with stalking and domestic abuse perpetrators

Cross-posted from: Rachel Horman
Originally published: 07.04.16

Mandy Dunford has been a victim of serious stalking for almost 10 years and her experience of the Criminal Justice system highlights many of the problems still facing victims of stalking and domestic abuse. The issue was recently featured on BBC Breakfast when both Mandy and I discussed the terrible way in which she and hundreds of other victims are being let down (Click here to watch the interview).

Mandy was treated badly by the police when she reported the stalking with the police failing to take it seriously and one officer even sexually assaulting her when he went to see her. The police failed to take appropriate action and Mandy felt – like many stalking victims – that her only option was to investigate the matter herself and gather her own evidence so she was forced to set up CCTV cameras. We don’t expect victims of other crimes to do this yet it happens constantly to victims of stalking. It is what we pay our police to do. Stalking victims will have experienced on average over 100 incidents before they even make a report to the police so it is vital that this crime is taken seriously particularly when you consider that 1:2 domestic abuse stalkers will carry out the threats they make and that the vast majority of domestic violence homicides involve stalking. It is what Paladin – National Stalking Advocacy Service refer to as “murder in slow motion”.

Mandy’s perpetrator was eventually arrested and charged with a number of offences including several firearms offences and several sexual offences as part of his behaviour had involved standing close to her home, naked, whilst watching her through binoculars and masturbating. Yes, exactly.

Did I mention that the stalking had been going on for 10 years??

Whilst the court did impose a custodial sentence – mainly due to the firearms offences – they failed to protect Mandy with an appropriate protective order. This is another all too common situation for victims of stalking and domestic abuse. In Mandy’s case because of the sexual offences a SOPO was made (Sexual Offences Prevention Order). Unfortunately Mandy was not consulted around the wording of the order and its terms were changed by the judge without reference to her which allowed him to return to live next to her and allowed him to approach very close to her property. This would never have been allowed had he lived next door to a school in my view.

The police accepted that Mandy would be at risk of serious harm due to the lack of protection afforded by the SOPO but said that they were powerless to do anything to help other than give her £5000 to build a “panic room” aka a prison cell in her own home.

Remind me who the victim in this case is again…?

Mandy is being assisted by Paladin who have been advocating on her behalf and the police have recently agreed to refer the case back to court to have the terms of the order altered. Unlike restraining orders it is not possible for a victim to apply to the court to change the terms of a SOPO so Mandy has been powerless in this regard. Let’s hope that this time the judge takes a more victim centred approach to it rather than concentrating on the perpetrator’s wish to return to home where he would be able to continue his reign of terror.

I represent victims on a regular basis to obtain properly worded protective orders in the civil courts to plug the gaps left by the useless orders sometimes handed out in the criminal courts.

Victims deserve properly worded protective orders to ensure that they are not re-victimised by feeling that they have to move away as the perpetrator is allowed to return to live next door to them. This is a common situation as stalkers will go out of their way to find accommodation near to their victim and all too often it is the victim who has to move again and again as the stalker tracks them down. This constant moving is then used by social services and the family courts as a stick to beat the victim with as they are accused of putting the welfare of the child at risk by keeping moving even though the father (who is often the perpetrator) is not criticised or held to account for his actions.

The criminal and family courts need to take the issue of domestic abuse and stalking far more seriously and stop colluding with the perpetrator as it is putting women at risk of serious harm and homicide.


Rachel Horman: Feminist legal blog by family legal aid lawyer of the year Rachel Horman. Mainly domestic abuse /forced marriage and violence against women. Sometimes ranty but always right…..


The Naming of Elena Ferrante

Cross-posted from: Everyday Victim Blaming

The identity of Elena Ferrante is a secret well-guarded by her publisher. At the request of Ferrante. Ferrante has made it clear on multiple occasions that she does not want her art confused with her real life. This may not seem something that our campaign would necessarily concern ourselves with but there are multiple reasons why women deserve anonymity and even more reasons why breaching their anonymity puts women at risk of male violence.

As many of the writers we’ve linked to below demonstrate, authors owe their audiences nothing more than what they write – and even then audiences are not entitled to new material. What concerns us, and is referenced by some of the authors below, is the refusal to recognise the reason why a woman would want to keep her real life private. As with Facebook’s ‘real name’ policy, there is a complete refusal to recognise the reality of male violence against women and girls. Claudio Gatti, the journalist (and his publisher) who believes he’s entitled  to know the real name of a woman despite her refusal demonstrates a total disregard of women’s safety.

Ferrante’s decision to remain anonymous may simply because she values her privacy – something that all women are entitled to. It may be as a way of protecting herself from online harassment and abuse that many women writers experience. It is also entirely possible that her anonymity is a way of protecting herself from male violence – both historical and potential. Ferrante has every right to do so and Gatti, and others before him, simply do not have the legal or moral right to doxx Ferrante just because they don’t like successful women writers (and there is more than a whiff of misogyny here). 
Read more The Naming of Elena Ferrante

The Family and Criminal Courts need to stop colluding with stalking and domestic abuse perpetrators

Cross-posted from: Rachel Horman
Originally published: 07.04.16

Mandy Dunford has been a victim of serious stalking for almost 10 years and her experience of the Criminal Justice system highlights many of the problems still facing victims of stalking and domestic abuse. The issue was recently featured on BBC Breakfast when both Mandy and I discussed the terrible way in which she and hundreds of other victims are being let down (Click here to watch the interview).

Mandy was treated badly by the police when she reported the stalking with the police failing to take it seriously and one officer even sexually assaulting her when he went to see her. The police failed to take appropriate action and Mandy felt – like many stalking victims – that her only option was to investigate the matter herself and gather her own evidence so she was forced to set up CCTV cameras. We don’t expect victims of other crimes to do this yet it happens constantly to victims of stalking. It is what we pay our police to do. Stalking victims will have experienced on average over 100 incidents before they even make a report to the police so it is vital that this crime is taken seriously particularly when you consider that 1:2 domestic abuse stalkers will carry out the threats they make and that the vast majority of domestic violence homicides involve stalking. It is what Paladin – National Stalking Advocacy Service refer to as “murder in slow motion”.
Read more The Family and Criminal Courts need to stop colluding with stalking and domestic abuse perpetrators

Online Misogyny – a speech for FiL

Cross-posted from: Sister Outrider
Originally published: 26.10.15

On the 25th of October 2015, I spoke at the conference Feminism in London. The subject was online misogyny, and I was honoured to share the panel with Connie St. Louis, Dr. Emily Grossman, and Alison Boydell. The following is a transcript of my speech.

Hello and thank you for having me to speak at Feminism in London. I’m Claire, and it’s an honour to be here, and to be discussing something so relevant to women’s experiences both in terms of activism and in a more personal capacity. I wonder if I could start with a show of hands – how many people here have experienced misogyny online? Thank you. [Vast majority of hands raised.]

That’s sad, but not at all surprising.

If anybody is going to quote me on Twitter, please make it this: I believe that misogyny is endemic. It’s true that the Internet has revolutionised almost every aspect of our lives, but it hasn’t fundamentally changed the nature of people’s values. From behind a screen, perhaps from a position of anonymity, men are harassing women, swearing at women, abusing women, threatening women, stalking women. The internet, much like the Force, can be used either for good or bad. It has never been easier to sign and share a petition but, equally, the odds are signing one the one the old fashioned way with ink and paper is far less likely to result in you being called scum and told to die.
Read more Online Misogyny – a speech for FiL


Cross-posted from: Michelle Solomon
Originally published: 14.02.14

In 2008, proud racist David Bullard was fired from the Sunday Times  for a column wherein he denigrated black South Africans. In seems that, after the failure of his many legal matters against the Sunday Times and its owning company Avusa, Bullard found a new hobby. And that hobby is harassing and bullying rape survivors  – and I get the special honour of being his target of choice.

Six months ago, Bullard wrote the following as a footnote to a column published by Politicsweb. In short, Bullard accused me of planning to blackmail my rapist; that I made up having being raped due a “fevered imagination”; and, therefore, was preventing the proverbial “we” from taking rape seriously.

‘Nagging wives’ aren’t the problem; lazy-arse husbands are by @Firewomon

cross-posted from Firewomon

orig. pub. 10.5.14

In a spectacular display of misogyny, a headline in yesterday’s Telegraph informs us that ‘[n]agging could cost the lives of hundreds of men’.

Yes, you read that right. Before I go any further, let’s just unpick that sentence. ‘Nagging’ is defined as ‘constantly harassing someone to do something’ but, let’s be clear here, it is a slur which is used against women – indeed, the OED gives an example of the word’s usage as “a nagging wife”. The Telegraph’s headline refers to the lives of ‘men’ only, which suggests that women are the wrongdoers and men are the victims. The implication is that women are nagging ‘hundreds’ of men to death. As hyperbolic statements go, that takes some beating.

Delve further into The Telegraph’s piece (if you can stand to) and you would no doubt be astounded to find that ‘around 315 extra deaths per 100,000 people per year could be caused by spousal demands and worries’ with ‘men tend[ing] to respond to stress with higher levels of the hormone cortisol which is known to be linked to poor health’. Women, so the report says, are ‘immune to nagging’. It is poor, put-upon men who are apparently dying in droves as a result of being ‘subjected to ‘nagging’, constant demands and worries from their partners’.

From a feminist perspective, ‘nagging’ is a misogynistic term because it is used pejoratively and more or less exclusively against women. The ‘nagging wife’ is the subject of ridicule and disgust. If a man complains to his friends or family that his female partner is ‘nagging’ him, he will expect – and more than likely receive – sympathy. No-one thinks to question why his female partner is ‘nagging’ him. Why would a woman ‘nag’? Why would she ‘constantly harass someone to do something’? If we remove the term ‘nag’ and replace it with ‘protestation at being used as a slave’, that brings us closer to the nub of the problem. Could it be that women, responsible for the bulk of childcare and household chores, just want the men in their lives to get off their lazy fucking arses and actually help out?

Of course, male socialisation and male entitlement contribute massively to male lazyitis. From a young age, many girls are expected to help out around the house in a way that boys are not. Girls are taught from an early age that housework is Our Job. Research carried out by the Institute for Public Policy Research shows that just one in ten of married men does an equal amount of cleaning and washing as his wife. This is appalling. Do men somehow produce 90% less mess than women? Do they eat 90% less? Obviously not. Why, then, are they leaving their female partners to do the vast majority of meal-planning, cooking, washing, ironing, cleaning, and the looking after of children? Why do men expect their female partners to clean up the vast majority of the mess they create? I don’t think it is a stretch to describe this as slave labour. Radical feminists have long propounded the view that marriage enslaves women – given these statistics, is it any wonder? It is difficult to argue otherwise.

Articles such as this one in The Telegraph are damaging because of the inherent implication that women should just shut up and get on with the household chores. It normalises inequality within heterosexual relationships. It says: housework is a woman’s work, a wifely duty. If she objects, if she dares to even voice her dissent, she risks driving her male partner to an early grave. What a burden to place upon a woman!

The Telegraph goes on to say that ‘poor habits such as eating junk food and lack of exercise… exacerbate the problem’. Ah. So, of these ‘hundreds’ of men who are dying each year due to ‘nagging’, an undisclosed number of those would have died anyway because they never move off the sofa. I suppose woman should be blamed for that as well, eh? Your hubby’s a fat, lazy bastard? You’ve compounded the problem by hoovering around him! You should have asked him to move! It’s all your fault!

As Germaine Greer says:

The universal ‘division of labour’ between the sexes was in fact the apportioning of daily drudgery to the female, so that the male could indulge his appetite for sport, play, dreaming, ritual, religion and artistic expression.’ (The Whole Woman)

The problem, again as Greer points out, is that:

Men resent having to work and harbour a positive ambition to do nothing… Men regard weekends as time off [whilst] working women use weekends to catch up with the tasks left over from an exhausting week.

The truth of this cannot be emphasised enough. How many times have you heard a female friend or colleague say that her male partner is ‘babysitting tonight?’ In some cases, the act of a man looking after his own children appears to be so rare that one wonders why he is being praised for stepping up to the mark for once (presumably after some ‘nagging’) instead of being challenged over his dereliction of duty. A mother would never be described as ‘babysitting’ her own children – looking after them is her job and hers alone, see?

A ‘nagging’ woman is a woman who refuses to keep quiet when faced with the drudgery of housework and the huge responsibility of childcare. A ‘nagging’ woman is a woman who recognises the unfairness of her situation, who gets angry about the unfairness of her situation and who tries to persuade her male partner to do the things he should already be doing. This Telegraph article is blaming women (‘you nagging harridan!’) for voicing their dissatisfaction at being a man’s slave. Ask yourself: in a relationship where women do 90% of the household chores, who is the real victim?


Firewomon: A Radical Feminist Blog [@Firewomon]

Replicating patterns of disbelief at Feminists Unknown

cross-posted from Feminists Unknown

orig, pub. 22.215

When I think of being young I think of being scared. I was scared all the time. I remember lying in bed, listening out for sounds, or watching for faces to change and if one face in particular changed, it wouldn’t change back, not soon enough.

I used to blame my brother. I thought that if he didn’t get hit, I wouldn’t get hit. I thought he caused it all. Then I blamed my mother. I thought that if only she’d let my brother get hit enough for all the hitting to be “done,” it would end and none of it would spill over onto me.

I never blamed the person who did the hitting, obviously. You just don’t. When it comes to blame it has to be women and children first.

When I had a breakdown in my teens I tried to speak about what was wrong. Unfortunately, people who have breakdowns are a bit like rape victims who drank too much, or women who’ve been called TERFs. They are not credible, not to friends, not to doctors, not even police (god knows why I tried the latter, but at least it was only the once – when I think back, my overwhelming feeling is not one of anger but embarrassment, for being so bloody naive). People did want to know “the key” to what was making me distressed but not that key; the answer I gave was incorrect. It felt like being in a dream in which you’re trying to shout and no sound comes out.

Why are there bruises down her back? 

She doesn’t eat enough and she drinks too much. They just appear. 

 “You need to cover up,” my mother said, “it makes us look bad.”

So I stopped talking and carried on drinking. You can’t fight for validation forever, even if that feels like the thing that would make you safest. You swallow it all down and a bit of you won’t be the same but perhaps the rest of you can be preserved.

Ten years later I was sexually assaulted by a stranger when I happened to be extremely drunk (as I often was back then). When I went to the police (I know, stupid) it was the same feeling of opening my mouth and no sound coming out, even though there were words, real words. Not being believed is an empty feeling. You might as well not exist. Another bit of you goes.

These things – physical violence, sexual assault – are more than mere words but it’s the words that hurt too. I don’t believe you can be the worst phrase of all. And sometimes it doesn’t matter whether what they don’t believe you about is an online rumour or a fist in the face.

Over the weekend The Washington Post featured a piece by Michelle Goldberg arguing that feminist writers are “so besieged by online abuse that some have begun to retire.” It offers a great deal of insight into just how hard it is to be a feminist voice in a misogynist world. However, it makes the mistake of treating online abuse and real-life misogyny as either/or, as though female commentators are, as if by magic, in a position to choose:

.. stories today about Internet abuse inevitably elicit cliches about heat and kitchens — demands that women toughen up and grow thicker skin. Punditry and activism, after all, are relatively cushy gigs. […] … the creator of Feministe, Lauren Bruce, no longer has an online presence at all. “I had to completely cut that part off in order to live the rest of my life,” she says. “In order to work, have a nice family and feel like I was emotionally whole, I could not have one foot planted in a toxic stew.”

Many of us have sought refuge from and understanding of real-life abuse within feminism itself. There is no real distinction between those who write about misogyny and those who experience it because most of those writing about it are women. Many of us are still in the “toxic stew” or still recovering from the trauma of having been there. This is why the current backlash against feminists who complain of online abuse is nothing more than misogynist bullshit. It’s the replication of patriarchal patterns of disbelief. Contrary to what some would like to suggest, there are no women to whom you’ve earned the right to say “we don’t believe you, your experience of misogyny is imaginary and you’re not really oppressed.” If a woman says a word is a slur and a threat is a threat, it’s for you to deal with your knee-jerk disbelief, not her “phobia.”

Online rape threats don’t cancel out real-life experience of rape.

Tweets threatening violence don’t cancel out real-life beatings.

The “privilege” of writing about male violence against women doesn’t bring with it the real-life privilege of never having experienced it.

Online misrepresentations and lies don’t cancel out all those times you complained about real-life abuse and no one believed you or, at worse, dismissed your voice as sick, hateful or vindictive.

No-platforming doesn’t replace all those other experiences of being literally left outside.

Using words that misogynists describe as “violence” does not grant you superpowers to fend off actual violence. It doesn’t stop you feeling afraid, not just about what you might read but of what might break your bones.

It’s not just that all this is triggering (although quite obviously it is), it’s that it is the very same dynamic, the same entitlement, the same dehumanisation, the same disbelief when you try to make your case. It’s the same dreamlike speaking without being heard.

When women are disbelieved online or are told that their complaints are motivated by sickness (***phobia) or spite (bigotry), it’s a replication of the way in which people in the “real world” might accuse them of lying about rape or emotional abuse. You’re vindictive, you’re unreliable, you’re not well. And the chances are women have faced not one or the other of these, but both. It’s how male violence sustains itself and online discourse surrounding “mistrustful” or “unaccountable” feminists is seeping back into the real world, endorsing the age-old view that women are pampered princesses who lie about their fears and make up stories just to spite men. It’s a view that hurts all women.

I think it is fairly safe to assume almost every woman who has faced online dismissals of her ideas, false accusations of bigotry and crude acronyms has also been a victim of some form of male violence and/or assault and/or sustained emotional abuse. If speaking out against male violence made us magically immune to male violence then there’d be no need for refuges at all. Just say the sort of things misogynists dismiss as “violence,” become magically privileged and that’s it sorted. Alas, it doesn’t actually happen like that because guess what? Women have been trying that for years.

When you decide that a woman is “too privileged” to talk about feminist approaches to sex, gender and violence, what are your criteria? Were her bruises not dark enough for your liking? Do you need more evidence that she has experienced sexual assault (perhaps a male witness who is a pillar of the community)? Is she just not credible, what with other people telling you she’s a slag/slut /TERF/SWERF/[pick your own one-syllable female credibility eraser]? Would you believe her if you hadn’t seen her hanging out with “the wrong people” and hence asking for it? Is an opinion the short skirt of the internet unless it’s the wrong opinion, in which case it’s all a grey area and she might have provoked it, you never can tell…? What would make her lived experience of misogyny credible: more rapes? more beatings? death? Would you need to be on hand to watch, just to make sure? (Or would you merely interpret the very act of dying as passive-aggression on her part?)

Because if these are your criteria – if you replicate the aftermath of real-life violence in your attitude towards online abuse and public misrepresentation – then you are re-traumatising women due to your own misogynist assumptions regarding female authority and credibility. You have decided that female experience is either/or, helpless victim or privileged bitch who deserves taking down. You can’t imagine that a victim might not base her whole identity around victimhood and could instead have the strength and perspective to discuss the structures that perpetuate it (you might use the word “survivor” yet when women show signs of actual survival, empathy evaporates). Online abuse is not the great equalizer, doling out shit to women who you’ve decided aren’t getting enough misogynist abuse in real life (and the same goes for the harassment and misrepresentation of female academics and feminists speakers. If that’s your idea of activism – spreading shit around and adding to it, rather than trying to clear the whole think up – then you don’t like women. And you’re certainly not speaking truth to power in any way whatsoever).

Despite what men do to women again and again, women are not either utterly crushed or in need of a good crushing. We stand up again. That is, I think, what offends misogynists the most and forces them to create the myth of the real-life-abuse-immune feminist with no right to speak. How can we have done that to you and still you’re able to talk back? You must have been missed off our list. 

No, we weren’t. We were always on your list. You never miss anyone out.

And if you’re the kind of feminist who doesn’t like women who don’t appear sufficiently crushed, you’re no feminist at all. Stop making us swallow your shit.


Feminists Unknown: This is a collaborative blog incorporating posts from a number of anonymous posters. It will be focusing primarily on feminism. There is no wrong view on this blog-only individual perspectives. It must remain a safe space for those who post and share. So leave your judgement at the door. Our criticism will be constructive or it will be bullshit.

The Block Bot: Dangerous, Damaging and Definitely Not a Joke

by Victoria A. Brownworth

 In his poem “The Second Coming,” which is about politics gone wildly astray, W.B.Yeats wrote, “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”

“Mere” anarchy. Because, as we know, anarchy–the most narcissistic and deadly of all political stances–is what happens when one group decides the rule of law can be ignored. War is anarchy. Rape is anarchy. All the isms are anarchic. Lack of protection for anyone marginalized is anarchic.

Yeats continued the poem: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.”

“The worst are full of passionate intensity.” Think the UK’s Nigel Farage, the US’s Ted Cruz, France’s Marine Le Pen.

Think The Block Bot.

It’s difficult to calculate the damage done within the stranglehold bad politics have on women and other marginalized people. It’s equally difficult, as Yeats puts so succinctly, to discern the impact of subsequent bad policies which evolve  from such bad politics.

It’s easy to point to theocracies and the obliterating force those nations have on dissenters–and by dissenters I do not mean merely people who object to the political policies attendant to theocracies, but the people who are not allowed to exist under such policies–notably women, non-believers, lesbians and gay men (homosexuality being punishable by imprisonment and/or death in every theocracy in the world today), journalists attempting to tell the truth like the Saudi Arabian blogger, Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to 1,000 lashes in January and ten years in prison for writing about the Charlie Hebdo killings.

It is also easy to point to oppressive right-wing politics and policies. In the US on March 25 the Indiana state legislature overwhelmingly passed an anti-gay law. Over the past five years, a quarter of the states have passed restrictive abortion legislation in contravention of the federal law of Roe v. Wade. In the UK, on March 25 it was revealed that the NHS has been systematically denying older women life-saving mammograms and other prophylactic treatment for breast cancer. There have been massive benefits cuts instituted by the Tory government.

We like to think–those of us who consider ourselves political progressives–that left-wing policies are somehow non-restrictive, that left-wing politics make the world a better, not worse, place. We think, collectively, that it’s really okay if France declares that all religious emblems be forsworn, including the hijab, because, well, religion is oppressive and France is a secular society. But for the Muslim woman who wears hijab by choice, isn’t this the state making the decision for her–just as theocratic countries  make the decision for her that she must wear hijab?

Not surprisingly, whether it’s the politics of the right or the politics of the left, it is women who are the most common and obvious victims. A woman being stoned to death for going out on her own without a male family member accompanying her is obvious. A lesbian’s face on a dart board at an LGBT conference in Leeds, perhaps not so much.

And then there’s The Block Bot.

Two Saturdays ago I was reading my morning news on Twitter. Interspersed among the various news sites I read were tweets from people I follow and people they follow. I saw a funny tweet about Jeremy Clarkson posted by comedian Graham Linehan. I hit retweet and received the Twitter notification that I was blocked by this user.


I wasn’t quite sure even who Linehan was. His name rang a distant bell for me–I would later be reminded that he authored the Father Ted series, which I loved. I went to his Twitter profile and saw he had 450,000 followers.

How had he found the time to block me, who had never had an exchange with him and wasn’t sure who he even was?

So I tweeted about it. And Linehan responded. He read some of my tweets and unblocked me. Apparently I was not the horrifying gorgon he had presumed without ever having read a word of my writing–not even a tweet.

But he had, as he informed me, used The Block Bot.

So, all was well between me and Linehan. I followed him, because he was so gracious. He followed me because he was, likely, embarrassed.

In the course of this exchange, however, all my regular Twitter companions, women I have daily or weekly exchanges with, discovered that they, too, were blocked by Linehan. All without ever having had an exchange with him.

I have no problem with the blocking tool of Twitter. Once I discovered it, which was, alas, a  full six months and dozens of MRA pile-ons into my Twitter education, I employed it as it should be employed—against abusive harassing trolls.

But The Block Bot is an entirely different entity. It pretends to be a Twitter tool, using the guise of Twitter support, when in fact it is just a random group of self-appointed arbiters of other people’s speech. Originally created by “@ool0n to copy @aratina’s #BlockSaturday” The Block Bot professes to “protect” users from the worst of Twitter trolls: It stipulates that users will not have to worry about “what trolls are trolling the twittersphere.” It states that  “bigots, assholes and fools” will be “removed from your timeline seamlessly. Hopefully this will make being a feminist-atheist-skeptic on Twitter a more pleasant experience and remove some of the harassment that is usually directed your way.”

Theoretically it sounds useful–especially for feminists, considering that every study in the past five years of Internet usage has found that women face up to 100 times as much abuse as men on social media and that Twitter is the prime offender because, as Twitter CEO Dick Costolo said in a 3 February 2015 interview, “We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls.”

UK feminist Caroline Criado-Perez famously won her case against two of the hundreds of Twitter abusers who threatened her during her 2013 campaign to get a woman on English banknotes. Isabella Sorley and John Nimmo were sentenced to brief jail terms for their violent harassment and threats against the feminist activist.

Other women, myself among them, have not been able to access even Criado-Perez’s small victory for feminists on social media. Most of us, if we are at all visible and especially those of us who are journalists, receive daily harassment. Some of it is merely annoying, but some of it–violent threats, rape threats–is at best outrageous, at worst, frightening. I have been threatened repeatedly. My friend Jean Hatchet, who started the petition against Ched Evans, has been threatened repeatedly. Criado-Perez herself continues to get online abuse, despite having the Met on speed dial.

In that kind of atmosphere who wouldn’t want surcease from the attacks?

Except that is not how The Block Bot works at all. Rather, TBB has a group of mostly white male and some white trans women administrators, all but one of whom are anonymous, and their primary targets are feminists. There seems to be a special emphasis on lesbians. Criado-Perez herself is blocked by TBB, as am I, as is every lesbian and feminist journalist or outspoken feminist on Twitter.

As someone who is on Twitter under my own name, I am, like Glosswitch, Sarah Ditum, Gia Milinovich, Julie Bindel, Beatrix Campbell and Mary Beard, a regular target for MRAs. I am also, like those women, blocked by TBB for offences known only to TBB administrators.

There are three levels of offence. Level one is for the “most abusive and worst trolls on Twitter.” Levels two and three are for lesser offenders. TBB administrators troll the TLs of feminists on a daily if not hourly basis and report anything they deem unseemly.

Most of us–there are hundreds of names on TBB–who have been “listed” have been forced to suffer in silence because first rule of Block Bot is don’t talk about Block Bot or it will intensify the trolling of your TL.

Some of my feminist friends on Twitter find it all a big joke. They regularly call it “hilarious” and “idiocy” and say “no one pays attention to it.”

That’s patently untrue. And while I totally understand why the majority of feminists are anonymous on Twitter, for those of us who are, for professional reasons, on Twitter under our own names, the consequences of being a level one on TBB can be dramatic and are most definitely damaging.

In recent weeks several famous men have been added to TBB registry, among them Professor Brian Cox and Richard Dawkins. Cox was added for daring to stand up for his wife, Gia Milinovich and Dawkins was listed because he said something that some Block Bot administrator found offensive.

Dawkins, used to being able to speak when and how he chooses, no matter how offensive many might find it, as with his recent statements about Down Syndrome babies, noted that while he didn’t especially care about being blocked by individuals, he took umbrage at being libeled.

Welcome to my world and that of at least 100 outspoken feminists in the UK, US and Australia who are victims of The Block Bot. Lying about women, especially feminists, is the Block Bot’s stock in trade. But no one cared until famous men became the subject of the slander. When it was just one more no-platforming tool against feminists, it was acceptable to pretty much everyone except Brian Cox, who is obviously the kind of husband most women would want under the circumstances of being a public woman being abused daily by strangers.

If it were “merely” the anarchy of online abuse, that would be one thing. Most feminists have learned to cope with the daily attacks. But when you are not anonymous, The Block Bot translates into something else: Professional damage.

I know I was not alone in cheering when The Block Bot was put under legal scrutiny because of the addition of Dawkins and his refusal to just accept it. The Block Bot has caused me professional damage and personal grief. As Gia and I discussed a year or more ago, Google has embraced The Block Bot. Now when either of us—she quite famous, me far less so, but definitely well-known for my journalism and books–Googles our own names, or anyone else does, despite our many achievements, all of which were worked for, The Block Bot descriptives take pride of place. Which is professionally damaging and far from a joke. For years Googling my name brought up my journalistic awards and credentials and the books I have published. Now the third listing is The Block Bot slander.

If I were a troll who harassed and abused people online, I might shrug all this off. Trolls seem not to care. They put things like “your worst nightmare” in their Twitter profiles and think that’s normal behavior (it’s not).

But I’m not and never have been a troll or abusive and I resent being labeled–or libeled–in that way. The Block Bot also has me listed as ableist, even though I was diagnosed at 30 with MS and have been a disability activist for years, publishing the first book on lesbians and disability, “Restricted Access” and running a listserv for lesbians with MS for 15 years. I have also battled breast cancer (which one of The Block Bot administrators finds hilarious and jokes about) and wrote an award-winning book about that, “Coming Out of Cancer: Writings from the Lesbian Cancer Epidemic.”

Like every feminist I know on Twitter I have also been labeled a “TERF,” a term I never heard of before two years ago. I’m not trans exclusionary and I’m not even sure if I am a radical feminist, although I certainly believe that gender has destroyed the lives of women since we started walking upright and the sooner it is dismantled, the better for every woman on the planet, one in three of whom will be a victim of male violence in her lifetime, as I have been. But it’s an invented term meant to instill fear in gender-critical women and trans women and silence them.

Which is the entire point of The Block Bot: Silencing women. Truth is the first casualty of The Block Bot–which is always the case with fascism. And make not mistake: The Block Bot is fascist. The thing is, it would be fascist even if it were applied as the initial squib suggests–solely against men who hate women and all they stand for. Yet instead The Block Bot is employed almost wholly against feminists with the decision of who gets silenced made arbitrarily and whimsically, vituperatively and dangerously by a small group of, well, fascists.

The Block Bot’s days may be numbered. With any luck at all–which women rarely get when up against white male privilege–the libelous administrators will be challenged in a court of law and forced to get all their many lies and calumny off Twitter and off Google. The damage, however, has been done to many of us.

Silencing people–especially women who are marginalized by society and lesbians who are marginalized still further–is not a progressive tactic. Free speech–with all its many pitfalls–is essential to democratic society. It wouldn’t matter if all the things being said about every woman blackballed by The Block Bot were true: We get to speak. If you don’t like what we say, make the effort to engage us individually and block us the same way. Or simply ignore us altogether. But do not lie about us to further your own agenda. That is indeed libel. And it absolutely must stop.


Victoria A. Brownworth is an award-winning journalist, editor and writer and the author and editor of nearly 30 books. She has won the NLGJA and the Society of Professional Journalists awards, the Lambda Literary Award and has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. She won the 2013 SPJ Award for Enterprise Reporting in May 2014. She is a regular contributor to The Advocate and SheWired, a blogger for Huffington Post and a columnist and contributing editor for Curve magazine and Lambda Literary Review. Her reporting and commentary has appeared in the New York Times, Village Voice, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe and Philadelphia Inquirer. Her book, From Where We Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth won the 2012 Moonbeam Award for cultural & historical fiction. Her novel, Ordinary Mayhem was published in February 2015. @VABVOX