You are normally one of my favourite media outlets. I don’t always agree with everything you publish but you’ve got a great track record with feminists writing about women’s issues. You also report the actual news, which is increasingly rare in a mainstream media which seems to have confused the scripted twaddle of ‘reality’ television with stories of actual importance: like genocide, healthcare and human rights violations.
I was really quite disappointed by your recent article by Mary Elizabeth Williams entitled : Was a feminist writer threatened off a debate? It contained both factual inaccuracies and victim-blaming language. Granted, your statement about the campaign by Caroline Criado-Perez and The Women’s Room UK isn’t an uncommon error in the media; so much so that Criado-Perez got bored of correcting each inaccurate statement and wrote a blog on the issue.
So, for the umpteenth, and hopefully last, time: Caroline Criado-Perez did NOT campaign to have Jane Austen on the ‘British’ pound note. First off, the campaign was about the English pound note. I know English money is frequently classed as ‘British’ in the press but this isn’t quite right. The Bank of England and 7 retail banks have the right to print money. The seven retail banks are in Scotland and Northern Ireland. These are not considered ‘legal tender’ but they are accepted as currency. Wikipedia has a handy page on the differences.
Secondly, Criado-Perez was not campaigning to have Jane Austen on the English five pound note, nor was she campaigning to have Jane Austen on the ten pound note. If you read the text of the petition, you will note that the Bank of England chose to replace the only woman on English money, who is Elizabeth Fry on the five pound note, with Winston Churchill, a man not renown for his feminist principles. Criado-Perez was campaigning to have A WOMAN on English money in line with the Equalities Act of 2010. The Bank of England responded to the campaign by choosing to place Jane Austen on the ten pound note.
This isn’t semantics. The campaign was an important test case for forcing the government to acknowledge the existence of the Equalities Act of 2010 and implement it properly. This campaign was about more than just Jane Austen on a bank note: it was about insisting the government recognise that women are human too. Trivialising the campaign to just being about Jane Austen is disrespectful and wrong.
That said, what really worries me about this piece is that it blames Julie Bindel for being a victim of abusive and threatening messages. I’m sure Williams didn’t mean to insinuate that Bindel’s gender-critical stance means that she deserves all the abuse she’s received.
I’m sure Williams didn’t mean to list Anita Sarkeesian, Hadley Freeman, Mary Beard and Caroline Criado-Perez as ‘good’ victims of male violence deserving of our sympathy and support whilst Bindel deserves it for being ‘controversial’. Just using the word ‘controversial’ involves an implication of personal responsibility for being a victim of harassment and threats. If Bindel were a “nice” woman, then it would be okay to feel sorry for her but she’s “controversial” and therefore responsible.
Williams also wrote this: “(s)he claims that since her appearance was announced, she’s received over 30 harassing messages.” It’s a subtle point but there is a difference between “she claims” and “Bindel has received”. One implies that Bindel is exaggerating and the other starts with the premise Bindel is telling the truth. This is the type of language that is used time and time again by violent men and in the media to negate male responsibility for the violence they perpetrate.
This paragraph is disingenuous at best:
And perhaps most notoriously, a decade ago, she wrote a piece called “Gender Benders, Beware,” in which she opined that “I don’t have a problem with men disposing of their genitals, but it does not make them women, in the same way that shoving a bit of vacuum hose down your 501s does not make you a man.” Disagreeable stuff? Hell yes. Rape threat-worthy? Well, is anything really rape threat-worthy? (Hint: No. Never.)
Firstly, Bindel has apologised, repeatedly, for what she wrote in that article. Ignoring the apology is making a point: it says the author believes Bindel’s own behaviour is responsible for people sending her rape and death threats. You might say “No. Never” but that’s not how the article reads. Bindel made a statement deemed transphobic and ten years later, despite numerous apologies, Bindel deserves rape and death threats.
The use of quotation marks within the piece is also problematic. The first sentence in this paragraph requires quotation marks. The second does not:
In the U.K., Bindel, who writes regularly for the Guardian, is a polarizing figure. She’s the founder of Justice for Women, an organization that “supports and advocates on behalf of women who have fought back against or killed violent male partners.” She’s vocally anti-porn, which she states “causes harm,” and sex work, which she calls “violence against women.”
The first is a direct quote; the second are statements common within radical feminist discourse. They do not need quotation marks and the use of them implies that Bindel’s statements are wrong. Again, this creates a dichotomy of ‘good’ victims of violence and harassment versus bad. Believing that porn causes harm and sex work/ prostitution are violence against women are theoretical statements which have been subjected to countless research and debate. There was no need to put quotation marks around them unless you are trying to make a point about Bindel’s status of “good” victim.
Make no mistake about this, Bindel’s decision to step down from the event at Manchester University is censorship. Williams is flat out wrong when she claims that Bindel wasn’t censored because she has other platforms. Yes, Bindel is fortunate in being able to financially support herself through her feminist writing and activism but that doesn’t mean Bindel isn’t a victim of censorship.
Julie Bindel received around 30 harassing messages which included rape and death threats. As a consequence, she stepped down from a debate on pornography.
That is censorship.
It is forcing a woman to withdraw by threatening to rape or murder her. This is why violent men, and it is almost always men, threaten rape and death: because they know women will put their personal safety first. It doesn’t matter how many other platforms Bindel might have, and that most women don’t have, this is of male violence.
There are no excuses for rape and death threats.
It doesn’t matter how much you hate someone’s politics, NO ONE deserves to be sent rape and death threats. As I’ve said multiple times, if your “activism” involves sending rape and death threats, you aren’t just doing activism wrong. You are doing humanity wrong.
And, it is mostly certainly censorship to send a woman rape and death threats in order to silence her. It doesn’t matter if that woman has no public platform or a huge public platform: there is no excuse.
Claiming that Bindel was not censored just proves that William’s doesn’t believe Bindel was a “good enough” victim.
This is victim-blaming.
The moment you try to excuse the violence targeted at women because they have a “public” platform, is the moment you cross the line into victim-blaming and excusing male violence.
There are no “good” or “bad” victims of harassing and threatening behaviour.
Those who sent Bindel rape and death threats need to be prosecuted, just as those who sent threats to Anita Sarkeesian, Hadley Freeman, Mary Beard and Caroline Criado-Perez deserve to be prosecuted.
And, I expect better from Salon.