Most people who grew up in troubled 1990’s Belfast will be familiar with the mythical tale of the teenage boy who foolishly took a short cut home across some waste ground only to find his path blocked by a gang of older boys…
‘Are you a Catholic or a Protestant?’ the strangers challenged as they menaced around him.
With no familiar faces to appeal to the kid shrewdly hedged his bets, claiming that he didn’t really believe in God and considered himself an atheist.
The leader of the gang tutted impatiently, looked the kid up and down and with cold calculated certainty narrowed his options significantly by asking: ‘Aye. But are you a Catholic atheist or a Protestant atheist?‘
The history books do not record whether or not the kid avoided a beating….
EYEwas reminded of this ironic parable when contemplating the (second) launch of Yvette Cooper’s Recl@im the Internet campaign to change attitudes to online abuse.
Her noble aim is to crowd source ideas about the best way to tackle sexism, racist abuse, bullying and intimidation on social media platforms and together with a cross party team of MP’s has started a two month conversation with the nation.
The parallels may not be instantly obvious but bare with me because I’ve always thought that the story of Northern Ireland’s sectarian divide provides a useful roadmap for anyone serious about challenging sexism in our modern networked age.
For the purposes of the story it doesn’t matter what side of the sectarian divide the kid was running home to but the jag in the joke is that, whether he believes in a higher power or not, as far as the gatekeepers of the waste ground were concerned that kid definitely had a religion
The cruel tragedy of the Northern Ireland troubles is that the two tribes always had much more in common than they ever had differences. Numerous different subtle social clues may reveal our ‘brand’ to each other but a stranger new to our strange land wouldn’t have a clue how to tell us apart.
Which is why that joke was told in every school in Belfast.
Aside from possibly 5% of a not very ethnically diverse population, in those days kids had their ‘religion’ determined before they were born and opting to pursue a non binary path through life wasn’t really an option, especially when crossing town at night.
If you’re not familiar with the complexities of the conflict I won’t be able to unravel it for you here but suffice it to say that on different days and in different ways the two proud ‘tribes’ both had very real and imagined grievances to grind against the other.
And over plenty of years they found plenty of nasty and aggressive and painfully petty and pathetically passive aggressive ways of grinding each others gears and pushing each other all the way to the edge of the abyss.
One popular perception shared by some on the political left in Britain is that the Protestant tribe are more the villains of the piece and the Catholics more the victims, indeed that’s part of the reason why the Labour Party don’t stand candidates in Ulster constituencies to this day.
The truth of the matter is of course much more dirty, difficult and different depending on who you ask. One truth is certainly that by the 1980’s a greater number of Catholics found themselves in the ranks of Thatcher’s unwilling army of unemployed while others were convinced to join a very different type of army with the express aim of bombing the Brits back to where they came from.
The educational apartheid that exists to this day didn’t much help matters either.
Of course ever since Tony Blair sensed the hand of history patting him on the back things have slowly got better. People still died, boys were still crippled by men with bats but an imperfect peace slowly, surely took root and it has lasted long enough for an entire generation to grow up and wonder what all the fuss was about.
Compromises have been made, including an electoral system that no other European nation would tolerate but the two tribes have learnt to share their home and as turf war tensions have eased they have come ever closer together and are finding a way to pave a path to a more positive, safer future for their children.
One of the crucial building blocks on that path has been the most robust and intrusive equality legislation in Europe. At times controversial and certainly imperfect, it has at the very least created a culture of transparency and scrutiny that has helped to give both sides of the house more confidence that everyone is getting a fair chance and a fair share.
It may not have made any headlines but Northern Ireland is the first region of the UK to achieve ‘equal pay’ by Harriet Harmon’s official standards and any male victims of domestic violence in the audience may be interested to know that the state funded 24 hour national domestic violence helpline positively welcomes their call. Disgracefully the same cannot be said for the rest of the UK.
If you’re wondering what this all has to do with the Reclaim the Internet campaign, it’s because after witnessing messers Cooper, Miller, Swinson and Phillips set out their stall last week it struck me that they’re don’t seem to be behaving very differently to those increasingly old fashioned gatekeepers of that piece of under utilised Belfast real estate.
Those thugs who were so certain in their sense of supremacy, or victimhood or whatever hate fulled nonsense their elders had filled their heads with that allowed them to justify to themselves and anyone else who might dare to voice an opinion that they had a right to claim that territory exclusively for their own.
Because, lets face it although they have attempted to hang a vague veil of intersectionality across their table, the reclaim the internet campaign is firmly focused on one concern and one concern only: ‘misogyny’ and even if the ultimate aim appears to be the antithesis of libertarianism, the Anarcha Feminism Fist logo is as subtle and welcoming as a painted pavement on the wrong side of town.
Cooper has gathered together a girl gang that is less diverse than a Huffington Post editors meeting and the inevitable and overt political bias her crew have displayed thus far, coupled with some of the questionable examples of ‘abuse’ they have championed, go some way to explaining why ‘the internet’ hasn’t exactly flocked to towards their clarion call.
Less than a hundred people have joined their crowd sourcing conversation so far and if you take the time to read the contributions or, for that matter, the tweets to the #reclaimtheinternet hashtag, you can’t fail to notice that a key message from ‘stakeholders’ is their suspicion that the campaign is as much about silencing voices as it as about championing free speech.
EYEguess it’s at least possible that Cooper is sincere in her aim to make the internet ‘the nice, helpful, democratic place we know it could be‘ but a very large and extremely diverse cross-section of ‘the internet‘ suspect that she may be inviting us down a benevolent path towards the type of total totalitarianism that the political classes always seem to end up championing.
The campaign may claim a cross party consensus but the political ideology on show is clear 100% feminism and much of what has been on show has been the special privilege claiming, separatist, sexist, victimagressor end of the pier sisterhood that makes so many modern equity feminists cringe.
People from Northern Ireland are especially sensitive to the sort of blinkered shenanigans where one ‘lot’ are prepared to entirely run rough shot over anyone remotely ‘other’ and (in my humble subjective opinion) the extremely exclusive approach to how this ‘conversation with the nation‘ has been broached is a gold standard example of blatant bigotry.
Like the Guardian’s recent shamefully skewed and patronizing assessment of the opinions of it’s own readership, every word, every signal from the campaign is that the entire process will be hamstrung and tainted by an insanely sexist filter.
Like the bigots back in Belfast they appear so entrenched that they can only see the side of the story that shores up their own sense of moral superiority and victimhood.
Of course everyone is capable of being a bigot, sometimes even when they have the best of intentions.
No sentient soul is ever entirely innocent even though most of our mothers managed to teach us the relatively obvious difference between right and wrong.
Yet somehow so very often the people who presume to bravely stand as champion for ‘their tribe’ suspiciously look like they’re not really listening at all because they’re more concerned about increasing their own personal power base and feathering their own nests.
The problem with real (or indeed virtual) world problems is that rarely are they as simple as radical feminists seem to so often suppose.
In advance of last week’s launch Britain’s leading cross party think tank were specially commissioned to conduct some research into the extent of ‘online misogyny’.
Demos admit to a methodology that assumed the average ‘misogynist’ would be a single white male in his forties (and probably in his underpants). Despite this possible conscious bias baseline they found to their surprise that based on Cooper’s criteria a ‘misogynist troll’ (someone who calls a woman a slut or whore) was more likely to look like the demographic following Justin Bieber or One Direction.
Two of the main headlines from the research were that 61% of the abusers identified were women and the biggest ‘victim’ of ‘abuse’ is herself currently suspended from twitter for a well documented litany of ‘racist’ and ‘homophobic’ comments.
Despite this and based on the picture that accompanied their coverage, you could be forgiven for thinking the Guardian is under the impression that middle aged white American sports fans from the 1950s are currently holding our internet to ransom.
Male white patriarchal privilege is the easy explanation for a lot of this world’s problems and straight white men are the easy enemy to blame, after all who would dare speak up for them.
Men’s Rights Activisim certainly isn’t exactly a cherished pastime. Most of the media may have caught up with the positive intention behind International Men’s Day but the rest of the year so called MRAs are regarded as a joke, at best and virtual terrorists at worst.
And yet confusingly boys are also more likely to experience disability or become a member of the marginalized LGBT community or experience a childhood in care or exclusion from school. Roughly half of the minority BME community are men or boys and despite frequent mockery and demonisation most dads are decent, loving, hard working blokes.
Demos did of course find examples of straight white middle aged men (probably in their underpants) calling women sluts but perhaps Yvette Cooper is going to need a bigger boat if she’s serious about going hunting for big bad trolls.
Unless off course she’s prepared to drink Caroline Criado-Perez’s cool aid and swallow the suggestion that twenty first century teenage girls are saying nasty things to each other on their i phones because they are unwitting allies of the patriarchy suffering from internalized misogyny (or something).
The project may present itself as a coalition of concern across the big three parties but a former cabinet minister who resigned under a cloud of controversy, a former MP who lost her seat at the last election and two anti Corybn back benchers (one of whom thinks he’s a misogynist) isn’t exactly a massive democratic mandate.
You don’t have to be a public figure like Tim Hunt to fear the ‘soft’ power and potential of modern social media. Some of the most extensive research conducted to date found that 40% of users have experienced some form of harassment online, 20% knew someone who had been sexually harassed or stalked and 8% had been personally stalked or harassed for a sustained period
The glass blind spot that Cooper needs to shatter is that even if a very vocal minority of women who self identify as feminist are experiencing online ‘abuse’ so are plenty of other people.
Young women are especially vulnerable to severe types of harassment but young men are vulnerable too. Some sisters or even mothers may not give a shit but the fact is that overall men were found to be more likely to experience some form of harassment and more likely than women to encounter name-calling, mocking, doxing or embarrassment, and physical threats.
But even if Dodgey Dave is the most ‘abused’ person on twitter the big difference between Jess Phillips and any number of her male counterparts is that her ‘abuse’ isn’t filed in the comedy section.
Yvette Cooper’s silence on such matters is embarrassing and her comrade Phillip’s utter contempt for
men’s right’s activists anyone supporting the notion of advocating for the needs of men as well as ‘minorities’ like women is nothing less than disgraceful.
Anyone paying attention to her remarkable performance last autumn could be excused for wondering if her concept of sexism is informed by Chris Morris’s famous skit about good Aids / bad Aids. Or a decade old dodgy Daily Mail advert.
EYEsuspect that they already know what their findings will be but if they do bother to read any of the contributions to their consultation forum maybe they’ll consider the words of a man who was beaten to an inch of his life by seven thugs with baseball bats simply because he was ‘different’ and maybe, just maybe they might still be convinced that they’re going to have to build a much bigger boat unless they’re happy to leave plenty of fully paid up passengers drowning in their wake.
This entire website is just like the guys who put me in a coma. You are the exact same monsters. You hate people who don’t think like you, who don’t want to BE you.
Your enemies don’t hate you. They hate the ideas you are spreading. You, on the other hand, HATE PEOPLE. You call them racist and sexist and bigots. YOU are the sexist, racist bigots.
The ones who oppose you see you as opponents. You see them as your ENEMY. They see you as human. You see them as savages who aren’t as “evolved” as you. Anyone who doesn’t think like you isn’t as GOOD as you. They need to be “helped”. Awwwww… How nice of you to make this website to “help” us. You’d lobotomize us in a heartbeat, if you could.
You have the exact same attitude as the bigots who were “protecting their community”when they left me for dead. That’s what you are doing. You are trying to drive away people who don’t think like you off the internet. (Excerpt from RTN submission from poster called Bob).