Last year, I came across a post about something I wrote in a BigFooty forum. My blog shows me the various links people click to reach my page, so I was interested in where they were coming from. It was a mistake. I was immediately greeted by post after post about what a terrible person I was, a disturbing number posts speculating about the state of my vagina (one suggesting “Erin Riley’s Dry Vagina” be a location status visitors could read) and a whole range of various sexist comments, many suggesting my place was in the kitchen, not in football.
My crime? Writing a couple of fairly mild pieces calling for the AFL to be more inclusive. That’s it.
But among them, one post stood out. It read: “If I ever saw Erin Riley in person, I would put a bullet in her”.
My blood ran cold at that moment. And it has haunted me since. I’m scared to ever post anything that might suggest where I live or where I am at any given moment. I get especially nervous when I’m doing public speaking events: what if he decides to show up? And going to the football, especially to Swans games, is an anxiety-inducing experience now. What if someone there who hates me recognises me?
Now this guy may have been “joking”. I have no way of knowing. I also have no way of knowing how the people reading it took it: whether they thought it was a joke or maybe not a bad idea. Because we live in a world where men kill women for doing things they don’t agree with, whether it’s leaving them or being a vocal politician. Women are killed for doing their jobs, for merely existing in a way that is unpleasing for some men.
This is an important context when talking about the comments McGuire and the Triple M team made about Caroline Wilson. People claim it’s just about Wilson, it’s just a joke, it has nothing to do with gender. But we live in a world where gender and violence are linked in complicated ways. Men joking about drowning a woman cannot be held in isolation: it is part of this gender dynamic.
And as much as people claim to just not like Wilson (remember how they claimed to just not like Goodes?), her gender is absolutely part of it. Women who talk about football are treated differently to men, especially women who talk about football in a way men disagree with. Our acceptance in football is contingent on our acquiescence: we must not push the boundaries or rock the boat. If we do, it is then we experience gendered language and violent threats.
I’m very confident saying this because I have plenty of male friends who are professional sports writers. When they say literally the same thing I say, they experience very different responses. To my knowledge, none of them have received death threats or rape threats, and certainly not on the scale I have.
I’m a pretty small fish in this pond, and very happy that way — I earn a living writing and it works for me. Yet I personally have experienced torrents of hate and vitriol for what I’ve written. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, they’re clearly just abusing you online. But every now and then, one stands out.
I can’t imagine the scale of the abuse that Wilson receives considering her profile. I can’t imagine how many of those genuinely scary messages she gets, that ones that make you look over your shoulder. The ones that make you scared to go out of the house.
It also has a silencing effect. I can’t tell you how many women I know who love sport who are either afraid to speak about it or who have given up speaking about it because it isn’t worth the abuse. It drives women from the game, and it drives women from the profession.
So when McGuire and co joke about drowning Wilson, they are feeding this culture. They are feeding a culture that says it’s ok to abuse those who aren’t like us if they say or do something we don’t like (again, remember Goodes?). They are absolutely culpable in making the world a little bit scarier and a little bit worse for women.
And if the AFL wants the game to be more inclusive, to truly be everyone’s game, they can’t just accept this. They need to show that the culture of misogyny in football will not be tolerated. Nothing short of bold action will do.