Thursday, 24 January 2013

Who's afraid of Mary Beard?

One thing strikes me amongst all of this arguing about the misogyny directed towards Professor Mary Beard and her strident and composed response to it; everyone's got so het up about the internet abuse that followed her QT appearance, that no-one's talking about what she actually said on Question Time.

Which is exactly what the bullies want.

Isn't the whole point of shouting someone down, abusing their looks or character and trying to hurt them, to shut them up? To shut down a discussion they don't like? You beat someone back into their corner in the hope that they won't be pert or strong enough to spring back up and continue to assert their thoughts. You see it in the playground as a child, and across Twitter on a daily basis, and in extreme scenarios like women who are subjected to physical violence to keep them in their place, be they wives in any country in the world with abusive husbands, or Malala Yousefzai, whose bullies were so scared of a child defending her beliefs that they thought shooting her in the head was a proportionate way to deal with the situation.

This week's trolls didn't like what Mary Beard had to say. But instead of combating it with fair argument and reasoned responses, they opted for "Well, NER, you're ugly, so there" sophistication and sexual threats (baffling, considering their stance on her looks, but let's remember, rape [real or threatened] is about power, not attraction - moreover, these people are idiots). In the wake of that, some have praised her for standing up to them, while others (women, no less!) have, missing the point somewhat, suggested that she's letting herself down by whinging about it something as insignificant as violent verbal misogny.

I'm immensely pleased that Mary has had the grace and guts to defend herself in the manner that she has. Her combination of personal unflappability and a frank refusal to accept that women should face such misogyny is exactly what the situation merited. I refuse to accept that the kind of verbal abuse she has faced should be the inevitable consequence of an intelligent woman expressing her views on a television show, and the fastest way to stop it is for women to stand up for themselves when they encounter misogyny, and for the men in their lives to support them in doing so.

But let's take a moment to recall the points she actually made; her opinion was as valid as anyone else's on that show, and for it to disappear under the mire of internet trolling and insults that had absolutely nothing to do with the televised discussion is wrong.

On the subject of a new ruling to allow Romanians and Bulgarians free movement within the EU, she spoke about a report by by Boston Borough Council on economic migration in the area, and said that it was a myth that the economic migrants in Boston, Lincolnshire, were overrunning the town. She suggested that they were actually benefiting the borough, and that local public services could cope with the incoming migrants.

And just so it's clear; in reposting what she said, I'm not registering my agreement or disagreement. My point is simply that, as an invited guest, she had as much right to contribute to the discussion, because unlike what her bullies loudly suggested, her looks have, again, absolutely nothing to do with the televised discussion.

Oh - and for what it's worth, I don't see anything wrong with Mary Beard's looks. Maybe it's irrelevant and even counter-productive to state that, but some of the defences I've seen for her have been, essentially, "she has the right to be ugly". That she does. But she isn't.

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