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.


9 Responses

  1. In you were threatened like this, I think there is no law, to find out who threatened you to shoot a bullet in your body. Check it out. I would not leave it like this.

  2. Sorry about the mistake at the beginning. I mean ‘if you were threatened like this’….

  3. When I was growing up, saying “I’ll kill you” was something we all did. But it was just a phrase. As recently as 20 years ago one of my coworkers would often say that when one of us had told a bad joke or made a pun. If he did it today he would run the risk of being charged with “making terroristic threats”. It truly is a different world.

  4. It amazes me that MEN that have NEVER played a game can comment of any footie but as soon as a woman does they go ballistic, what does she know, how would SHE know anything about it? A lot of these women have been brought up with football, they have brothers that have played, they have taken their kids EVERY training EVERY game they probably know just as much if not more than any sports writer. They have experienced first hand the politics and every aspect of the game

  5. OMG how pathetic.
    We can’t even have a joke these days. I heard Eddy’s comments and it was clearly a joke. What is going on, maybe jokes, commedians and commedy tv shows, radio and stage shows with any commedy should be banned and we should walk around with a sour face and smiling should be banned.
    Maybe a smile can be interpretted as being sexist or discrimitory. OMG, just ban tv and radio

    1. I think 4 men guffawing about drowning a woman is pretty intimidating and contributes to a culture that tacitly condones the denigration of women. They don’t like her because she’s a woman. They compare her to a spider that eats its prey because she’s a woman. Because woman are the minority in AFL commentary (triple M footy employs 18 men and 0 women as broadcasters) it is important to create an inclusive and safe environment for them.

  6. I can see how Ms Wilson might take offence, but don’t understand the greater moral outrage and call for sponsors to act etc. Especially where big law firms like Maurice Blackburn withhold compensation whilst handing over multimillion dollar payments to their Partners, but no one really cares. The cynic in me tells me this has something to do with MB close links to Labor

  7. Oh boy…. Education is the key. Also manners and respect. The professionals who dont keep their little jokes private in their loungerooms but to millions of people over the airwaves. That is power. Make a joke with your mates but not in front of some microphones. And in a democracy we need to keep them accountable for their power. Love your work Erin. Thank you for speaking out. I dont know what to say about the bullet. Fuckers and keep doing what you want to do comes to mind. Bullys are piss weak underneath.

  8. It is so sick that people hurt each other, especially behind a screen.

    I love writing about gender & sexuality myself and have so much material that I have not posted online because I fear backlash and critique. I have decided f*k it – I need to post and improve my writing and live true to myself.

    My mum always says that when people are talking, it means you must be doing something right – you’ve got their attention 🙂 Churning out people-pleasing posts not questioning the status quo is easier but can’t quite make the impact controversial blogging does.

    Haters gonna hate!

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