It’s Not Fragile Or Fear-Mongering, It’s Facing Facts

How the latest backlash continues to silence women

Toni Hargis
Mar 25 · 4 min read
Photo by Claudio Schwarz | @purzlbaum on Unsplash

Most women know that if we stand up to sexism, balk at harassment, or report abuse, there’s a backlash. At work, we’re called “difficult” or “unprofessional,” or reminded that we’ll ruin someone’s reputation if we speak out (thus becoming the ‘baddies’ ourselves.) On the street, we’re scolded if we don’t take cat-calling as a joke or, as some older women advise, feel flattered by it as ‘it won’t last forever.’

The worse the offence, the worse the backlash too. I don’t have to tell you how women are often treated when reporting sexual abuse or rape, from the moment they speak out until they take the stand, (if they’re lucky enough to have their complaint taken that far).

Statistics everywhere show how few incidents are actually reported, often because women lack the confidence that anything will be done, but also because we fear the repercussions for ourselves. The backlashes are very effective at silencing women and thereby maintaining the status quo.

In the wake of women’s outrage at recent events in the UK, the backlash du jour seems to come from other women.

Initially, we had TV host Davina McColl suggesting (March 12) that all this talk about abduction, rape, and murder of women is fear-mongering because it’s “extremely rare.” (In the same tweet she cautioned that such discussions would have a negative effect on the mental health of men and boys, but that’s a whole nuther required response.)

Since then we’ve had journalist Sarah Vine opining that making misogyny a hate crime, (something proposed by the UK government), would be “self-defeating” since men’s loathing of women comes from “a deep-seated sense of fear and insecurity.” Oh well, that’s alright then. Poor, poor things. After a bit of #Notallmen-ing, Vine stated that making misogyny a hate crime characterizes all women as victims. (Funny that she won’t paint all men with the same brush, but is happy to do exactly that to all women.) She continued “It would enshrine in law the wrongful and insidious assumption that we are not strong enough; that we require special protection from the uncontrollable urges of men.”

Interesting that she thinks of it as “special” protection, rather than regular protection in the form of laws with legal consequences for the perpetrators, — you know, as we have with other crimes.

And finally, we had writer Ella Whelan on BBC’s “The Big Questions” (March 21) responding to the opening question “Is more protection for women the answer to male violence?” Whelan seemed to be claiming that by standing up to sexism, we’re turning ourselves into victims, or more specifically “feminists today want to portray women in a pathetic agency-less way.” She continued with “when you vote the law towards victim orientated justice, what you do is destroy the notion of justice.” If anyone’s in a charitable mood, I’d be grateful for a translation of that one.

Right, let’s get a few things straight:

Lots of women are victims. There’s no shame in that so let’s stop using the word as a put-down because that smells a lot like victim-blaming. And let’s remember, being a victim is usually why people go to the police in the first place. Justice is often victim-orientated and to suggest that justice flies out the window because of this is nonsensical. In fact, Ella Whelan should know that in 2018 the UK government commissioned a cross-government paper entitled Victims Strategy precisely to centre victims in the criminal justice system. To wit — “Our vision is for a justice system that supports even more victims to speak up by giving them the certainty that they will be understood, that they will be protected, and that they will be supported throughout their journey, regardless of their circumstances or background.”

It takes a lot of strength to report sexism— ask anyone who’s tried. As mentioned earlier, from being shunned in the office to humiliated in a courtroom, there’s nothing fragile about deciding to speak up. As someone who ‘put up with’ a lot back in the day, I would venture that it takes more strength to speak out than it does to see it as part of life that must be endured. Yes, we had strength in that endurance, but that doesn’t make anything right. Just because we could handle it doesn’t mean we liked it either.

This backlash is effectively silencing women. The usual backlash is bad enough but to now be lectured by other women that we’re somehow letting the side down? Really? Just whose ‘side’ are you on? If you are happy to continue putting up with sexism in all its forms, fine and dandy (but not really) — just stop trying to shame other women who’ve decided that enough is enough.

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