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The fear factor


Is it just me or do other women experience that heart-stopping dread-knot of fear when, in a taxi, late at night, you approach what you think is your destination and then…..go whizzing past, onto a single carriage-way and out into the darkness at speed, conscious that the taxi is locked from the inside? Do you imagine yourself to be tomorrow’s headline  – woman’s semi-clothed and mutilated body found by Candy the lurcher during her early morning walk – the latest victim of the Ardenwich Axeman?

Last week, I spoke at a conference in Florence on the topic of “women and media: the challenges ahead” and part of my contribution discussed not just the everyday acts of sexism which many women experience (and which are far too numerous and diverse to articulate here but we know what they are) but also the physical dangers which women increasingly face when they speak out about (in)equality.

Of course, there is a long history of women being ridiculed for daring to raise their voices to talk of men’s power, men’s privilege, men’s smug bastard-ness but one of the lesser known and terrifying aspects of social media is the speed with which detractors can abuse those women, not just single shots but networked avalanches of menacing threats and sadistic intentions.

I never did subscribe to Dworkin’s suggestion that all men are rapists and have been around enough blocks enough times to know that many of us have the capacity for dark acts, but to threaten to eviscerate a woman because she started a website or to rape and cut off the breasts of a journalist because she produced a programme on domestic violence is truly scary stuff. Even if we try to pass this off as so much youthful testosterone-fuelled bravado, the tweets and posts of angry young men still trying to find an identity and a girlfriend, as women of their own age prefer the charms and experience of the older man, it’s still frightening.

I’m not sure that, in the face of a Twitter storm of vile, vulgar and menacing messages, I would have the same courage as the women at whom this disturbing explosion of misogynistic bile has been directed, to just get on with the job, not quite shrugging it off as merely “going with the territory” but not cowering in a corner or agreeing to stay in a safe house either.  For myself, in my taxi, circling Paris airport when I missed my connection and had to stay overnight, I felt overwhelming relief when the driver, humming tunelessly along to Charles Aznavor crooning ‘She’,  finally turned into the Ibis car park – although it would have been even more joyful had it been the Pullman.

Was it stupid to be scared? No, fear keeps us alert. But it did remind me of the importance of strategizing for safety and even as my stomach tightened, I was mentally rehearsing my mad bad moment when I would thrash about drooling on the backseat in the hope that Monsieur Le Taxi’s ardour would be dampened by the sight of me going noisily and messily bonkers. Happily for me, no need for such theatricals but the threats to other women are no silly fancies but horribly real.

About the author

Karen Ross

author_template - Karen Ross

Karen Ross is professor of media at Northumbria University and describes her professional persona with many labels, including feminist, academic, political and social media activist.  She researches and teaches on aspects of media, gender and politics and WLT connect with women who are interested in her work and who might find the outcomes of her research helpful in pushing their own agenda for gender equality forward.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @krossings

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