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What it feels like.

Last week, an Australian man named Ryan Hawkin was exposed for sending hideous and violent messages to Clementine Ford. Later, he was interviewed about it saying:

Mr Hawkin said he “thought it was pretty obvious it was an empty threat, but I guess she didn’t” and he feels Ms Ford could have messaged him, instead of sharing the message.

Mr Hawkins said he does not condone domestic violence or rape.

He has apologised to Ms Ford for the comments he made.

“I’m sorry; I didn’t mean what I said. It was a bad joke,” he said.

Mr Hawkins said he had learned something from the experience, “everybody should think before they post trolling comments online, as they may receive a bigger response than they intended”.

Mr Hawkin’s response is telling. Throughout, he showed no empathy for the person he abused.. Even as he “apologized”, his comments were focuses around a) the fact he didn’t plan to do it and b) the response to what he did. He seemed to fail to grasp the fact Ford is a human being with feelings.

As someone who has experienced a fair bit of hate on the internet, and more than my share of violent misogynistic messages, I am constantly shocked by the way people seem to forget there is a real live human on the other side of the computer.

The way I see it, hatred of women on the internet (which is really just hatred of women – the fact it happens online doesn’t make it any less real) is like a pot of simmering water: always heated, always dangerous, but usually contained. It spits up every now and then, but mostly it just bubbles away. But then, a bit of extra heat it added, and it boils over.

The first time I experienced the boilover, it was incited by the Herald Sun’s chief AFL writer. This was back in early 2013, when I didn’t have much of a platform to respond. I wrote about what happened at length at the time. Here’s an excerpt from that post:

One of the people I’ve tweeted at is Mark Robinson from the Herald Sun. It wasn’t one or twice either- it must be at least a dozen times over the last year, as recently as this week, including my question about Fox Footy ignoring Women’s Round. So today, when he tweeted:

“people believe its players and coaches who make up footy clubs when in fact it’s people like essendon’s Bruce Heymanson. RIP”

I was, I’ll openly admit, a little frustrated, so replied

@Robbo_heraldsun So I trust you’ll have fewer players and coaches, and more people like him on AFL360 this year…

And then all hell broke loose. Robinson posted:

@erinrileyau even at a time of death u try to be a smart arse. pull your head in. A great man dies & you want to pick a fight. no class

And then proceeded to retweet every nasty thing that people said in reply.

My feed was full of men wishing violence on me, telling me I had no place in football, to get back to the kitchen, either telling me they were going to rape me or else that nobody would ever want to have sex with me.

I wasn’t prepared for it. I thought I was making a reasonable comment on the fact that people like Robinson have the power to change what people believe about football. He framed my response in a way that added the heat to the pan, then stood back at watched as it boiled over.

That’s what happened. But that’s not what I felt. What I felt was scared, sad, utterly misrepresented and hopeless. I remember picking up and putting down my phone dozens of times, not wanting to see what people were saying but also imagining the worst. Because it had never happened before, I had no way to parse the responses, no resilience.

Then I crawled up in a ball on the couch and cried for a weekend. I felt nauseous. I didn’t want to show my face outside. I cancelled plans with friends and didn’t leave the house. I don’t think I smiled for a week.

The second time it boiled over for me was after my AFL Grand Final piece in Fairfax. That time, the scale was bigger, but I was more prepared for it. I blocked, I laughed, I corrected grammar, I retweeted: I used a range of response mechanisms I’d learnt in the interim.

But it still hurt.

I’m generally pretty happy and well-adjusted, and with help from my therapist and medication, I’m doing ok managing my mental health despite an anxiety disorder. But people telling me I should die, that I’m miserable because I’m denying my natural role as a home-and-baby-maker, that my vagina is filled with cobwebs, that I’m single because I’m a “self-righteous fat tub of lard” take a whole lot of resilience. Most of the time I could ignore it, but sometimes, it had a real impact on me.

It wasn’t every time every time. Maybe not even one time in ten. But there was the day my dog got hit by a car, and the weeks after I got made redundant, and the times I felt bad about myself anyway.  The days when I don’t have the resilience I would usually have and I don’t have the capacity to laugh it off. And those are the days those comments hurt the most.

You might say that’s the price of being a writer on the internet. But there’s nothing inherent in being online that says it has to be. What’s more, it is a far more common experience for women than it is for men.

It hurts when people say horrible things online. It has consequences. These are real consequences. These are real people you are talking to. We are expected to either put up with abuse or shut up. This is not a reasonable set of options.

It’s time we saw internet abuse for what it is: not a bit of fun, not a joke, but sincere and affecting cruelty against real people.

What you say matters.

One thought on “What it feels like.

  1. It’s like road rage… people can abuse and hit the steering wheel and scream obscenities from the inside of their car, with no outcomes… if the cars were to stop, as they sometimes do, violence ensues.. but mostly we can hurl abuse at others as we both drive off.. then get to work and say things like… man, if s/he’d stopped I woulda fkn punched/kicked/kneed/scratched his/her eyes/balls out… which, of course, we wouldn’t cause most of us are big talkers not action men..
    the internet allows us to voice an opinion as if we were driving.. can’t see you, don’t know you, don’t care.. you’ve said something I disagree with so… cop this ya f’n C…. it’s tragic and pointless and hurtful but the majority are oblivious to the very real truth that, behind those words is a very real person, often with a very good point to make… and it’s wrong, the old standby… sticks and stones may break ya bones but names’ll never hurt ya… names hurt far longer than broken bones… the hurt is way deeper…
    And it’s not just men who fling that spiteful, hurtful diatribe… I give an example from before internet days. .. I’m a poet.. I gave a little book of poetry to a friend years ago.. a little self published, copied booklet of 30 or so poems… a month later I received a parcel… that little booklet, marked with red pens, words scratched.. spiteful, hurtful disgusting words… her mother (bi-polar apparently) had found it and something in there had set her off and now I was a FKN TERRIBLE WOMAN HATING MYSONIGISTIC ARSEHOLE WHO CAN’T WRITE FOR SHIT AND SHOULD FKN DIE… etc… I couldn’t write anything for a long time… it hurts..
    don’t believe em Erin…
    You write well, you obviously have good points to make and the freedom of expression in our beautiful country allows you to say what you like, as long as it’s not libelous. .. so say what you need to.. don’t read their disgusting rubbish.. unless of course they’re helping with grammar and editing.. that’s valuable feedback. .☺
    trolls, huh? Who’d have em….
    my grandma used to recite an old old poem…
    If you see a tall fellow ahead of a crowd, a leader of men standing fearless and proud, and you know of a tale whose mere telling aloud, would cause his proud head to, in anguish be bowed… it’s a pretty good job to forget it….
    MUCH RESPECT…

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