Slut-shaming, Twitter abuse, trolls, stalkers – the internet has become dangerous territory for women, argues Laurie Penny in her spirited new feminist polemic Unspeakable Things.
And she writes with considerable experience. “There’s nothing wrong with [her that] a couple of hours of c**t kicking, garroting and burying in a shallow grave wouldn’t sort out,” declared one of her many critics. Like any woman with an online profile, she’s used to being the target of such messages: “The violent rape and torture fantasies, the threats to my family and personal safety, the graphic emails with my face crudely pasted on to pictures of pornographic models performing sphincter-stretchingly implausible feats of physical endurance.”
So Penny is not surprised by the vicious torrent of abuse that greeted Cambridge Classics professor Mary Beard after she appeared on the BBC’s Question Time last year.
“My appearance on Question Time prompted a web post that has in the last few days discussed my pubic hair (do I brush the floor with it?),” wrote Beard, “[and] whether I need rogering (that comment was taken down, as was the speculation about the capaciousness of my vagina, and the plan to plant a d*** in my mouth).” She was also named “Twat of the Week” by the now-defunct website Don’t Start Me Off…
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I have no way to evaluate these claims. I looked on Twitter searching for @PennyRed, hoping to find some unspeakably hideous tweets, but I could not find any (I only searched as time permitted). Many were supportive, some were critical but not abusive.
I can only say that if this true, then things have gone downhill considerably since my university career 1970-74.
The worst I found (and I don’t even understand what it is about):