7 Feb 2014

When a reasonable view prompts a torrent of sexist abuse

When I wrote earlier this week about the dearth of women on the Conservative front bench during prime minister’s questions, I didn’t think I was being particularly controversial.

To me, it was a statement of the obvious that seeing a sea of blokes in dark suits illustrates the absence of female MPs and ministers on the government benches.

Judge for yourself about what I said here.

What’s surprised me is the torrent of abuse I’ve got for airing what seemed to me perfectly reasonable views. 519 comments and counting, many articulating (if that’s not over-dignifying the kind of vitriol hurled at me) the kind of views I’d assumed had gone out of style in the last century.

Here’s a few to amuse you. “Warmingmyth” opined: “If Cathy Newman is an example of the type of woman that is being suggested, then we need less women not more or indeed perhaps we need none at all.”

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“Petrovitch” fumed: “The rightful place for a woman is… wait for it… having babies and looking after the family. Whatever some women would prefer is irrelevant here, it is undeniable that women are designed to have babies.”

“Colliemore” struck a similarly reproductive note. “At least there are no wimmin frontbenchers been shown breastfeeding their baybeez, as no doubt they would demand their sacred right to do so,” s/he spat.

“Corimmobile” got personal: “As for Cathy Newman I would say that she has achieved an overly high station in life when compared with her obvious gender prejudice and apparent lack of intellect.”

As did “Aethelflaed”: “Cathy Newman, as a woman, I have nothing but the deepest contempt for women like you, who think the best interests of society are served by elevating incompetence just because it wears a skirt.”

And “allchange”: “Cathy, you’re not bad looking – that’s why you read the news. Best leave the real journalism to professionals, be they male or female.”

Of course, you’ll notice immediately that none of these “commentators” used their real name. Which seems to me the root of the problem. If you can’t put your name to a comment, don’t make it. If you’re writing something you wouldn’t say to my face, don’t write it.

I don’t always look “below the line” at the comments, but after Jon Snow tweeted outrage (see below) at the views expressed on one of my previous blogs, I thought I’d check them out. Fortunately I’ve got a thick skin, so the abuse doesn’t trouble me personally. It’s not that I mind criticism, and I’d actively encourage a difference of views and a healthy debate.

But as a professional woman I find it somewhat disturbing this kind of sexist abuse remains so prevalent.

As a social being, I like to converse with people who want to converse with me. I’m often asking people on Twitter what they think about issues we’re covering on the news. And I try and respond to as many tweets as time allows.

If you’ve got something to say, please tweet me on @cathynewman. And be warned, I block people who are personally abusive.

Follow @CathyNewman on Twitter

Tweets by @cathynewman

32 reader comments

  1. amanda raymond says:

    As someone who’s not afraid to use her actual name, I wonder the age of these people etc cause surely this wouldn’t be the attitude of most young people

  2. Michael Smith says:

    I often wonder why websites have readers’ comments sections. What you get is not the rarefied tone of the letters page of The Times; instead, it’s the big sack of letters written in green ink by angry nutters.

    In a newspaper these end up in landfill. On a website they’re published.

  3. Timothy Hilgenberg says:

    Cathy, this is depressing indeed! I have alway liked you reports and think you as good a journalist as any, perhaps even the UK version of Rachel Maddow! Please don’t let people like these affect you, simply feel sorry for their closed minds.

  4. Saj Malik says:

    As you mentioned ducks and drakes in your piece in the Telegraph I would suggest the analogy ‘water if a ducks’s back’. If small people decide to post silly comments about you or the position of women in politics let them. The only positive is at least they engaged in the debating process however narrow minded or incorrect their viewpoint. Hiding behind anonymity shows they don’t have the strength of their convictions so simply move on knowing the vast majority support you and enjoy your work. Chin up!

    Saj Malik

  5. Alex Stiles says:

    I’m appalled by the number of ignorant comments and the abuse that Cathy has suffered for her blog. It’s undeniable that the number of women on the front bench is woefully low – I’d hardly call this an opinion. It’s a sorry fact.

    Keep up your excellent work Cathy and don’t be put off by the ignorant and ridiculous comments. You rock!

  6. Philip Edwards says:

    Cathy,

    Even by internet standards that takes some beating.

    I’m afraid it goes with the contemporary territory – being a woman and a public figure.

    You get the same kind of creeps among “journalists,” hacking phones, spreading “sex” stories. What do you think Rugman and co. were doing recently on C4 News with 20 minute segments about Hollande’s bedroom activities? Appropriately enough, a Daily Telegraph “journalist” made an utter fool of himself with an insulting question at a Hollande press conference.

    If “journalists” behave thus, why be surprised when some nutcases behave the same way?

    The stuff you quote is one hundred percent humorless garbage. I hope you treat it that way.

    Meanwhile, keep up the good work. If I were you I would double it.
    :-)

  7. Dean Mitchell says:

    Totally agree that you shouldn’t have to put up with that type of abuse. However I think its also good to keep it in perspective. The views of internet trolls are not representative of anything, most of the time they’re saying it purely to get a reaction, which lately they’ve been getting (from various parts of the media). I think there is a fine line between calling them out on their provocative and ignorant comments, and wasting your time on people who won’t even use their real name. Block them and ignore them, don’t acknowledge them, they don’t deserve your time.

  8. Gary Neeves says:

    It is depressing that such comments appear following Cathy Newman’s observations. Previous comments made towards intelligent articulate women in the media highlight problems faced by women who are successful. As a journalist Cathy Newman has raised a legitimate point that some find difficult to comment upon without resorting to age old abuse.

  9. Philip Allen says:

    I agree with all of the above. But it’s also worth asking ourselves why people do this? Is it some reaction to bad things that have happened to them in their lives? Are they unable to get the jobs they want because they perceive “wimmin” have taken them? Are they feeding back the prejudices of their parents? To my mind, they are like the negative side of anyone’s personality. We like to think of the British as being reasonably tolerant, reasonably adaptable to change. We complain, we grumble, we mutter, we whinge. But avoid nastiness – except a few people ate the extremes. But within that relatively pleasant national personality, there is a dark, angry, vitriolic streak. Of course, it’s generally hidden and what used to be said in local pubs or at home can now be offered for public viewing thanks to modern technology. Of course, people protect themselves with anonymity. But perhaps it’s worth reminding ourselves that this nastiness, the pent-up anger & frustration exists. Many people, especially successful people, perhaps don’t realise how much their success is the cause of envy and anger. This isn’t to exonerate those cowardly creeps who have sent these messages, but if we don’t understand them, there’s little we can do to deal with them.

  10. Julia Sykes says:

    Keep up the sterling work Cathy. Your clam, intelligent broadcasting is a credit to you and channel 4N. Amazingly enough I feel sorry for the people who have sent you sexist/abusive tweets. Their ignorance and closed mindedness must be so limiting for them in life.

  11. Peter Hudson says:

    I can’t help noticing, when I looked at the above link to your original article, that the panel of other top five stories on the Telegraph site included titles such as “Russian women are notoriously sexual”, “Good or bad boobs?”, and “Why is thinness the ultimate female ambition?”

    It looks like misogynist old dinosaur attitutes are not only still prevalent in parliament, but still peddled and promoted by our media. No wonder that every cretin with a keyboard feels they have the tacit support to make their foul views known.

  12. A Lunatic says:

    I don’t think comments sections should ever be used as evidence of public attitudes.

    People who post on comment sections are almost without fail deranged.

  13. Paul Meade says:

    As has been shown time and time again (when these barking trolls have been exposed), the ranks of these people are invariably made up of sniveling cowards and the mentally unstable.

    Channel 4 News is under no obligation to provide a platform for these losers, but if it is kind enough to do so, then I think it would be reasonable of them to instigate some sort of formal registration process (not stored in such a way that the information could be retrieved by any external forces, under *any* circumstances, to allay justifiable privacy concerns). Real names then should be used for usernames. No action should be brought against these people (except where they make specific threats, obviously), but at least then they would be forced to ‘own’ the garbage that they spew. Watch then as the tone of the debate would inevitably elevate, not so much by suddenly inspiring the idiots to become civil, but rather by scaring them away and so leaving the conversation to the people of reason and civil, if disobedient, discourse.

    And just think of the mighty blow for the standard of intellectual life Channel 4 would be striking. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that these trolls are literally dragging the rest of us down into the sewer where they happily hold court at present. Serious steps need to be taken to make them more accountable as human beings for the hate that they peddle. I’m not talking prosecutions (indeed, I would oppose such a move) – I merely mean being directly accountable for their comments by owning them in full public view.

  14. Gareth says:

    Lewis’ Law: “the comments on any article about feminism justify feminism”.

  15. Maxipops says:

    As a teacher we work hard to ignore idiotic comments and focus on those not attention seeking. I truly wish everyone would stop being so outraged. This is exactly what these sad, backward individuals want. Attention. Ignore and block them please. Don’t let them define the debate

  16. Geoff Mead says:

    Mindless though it is, it is still dangerous. As more people feel it is ok to express views like that it begins to become mainstream belief. It is symptomatic of the highly hierarchical society we live in with people scrabbling to get on the next rung and prepared to put other people down in order to do that. Those views will only spread unless we challenge them, but in doing so we need to know that we will be attacked. We need to be prepared to deal with that and to show others how to do the same as I suspect many people are becoming frightened to speak up in the face of those vitriolic, misogynistic rants.

  17. Helen says:

    “If Cathy Newman is an example of the type of woman that is being suggested, then we need less women not more or indeed perhaps we need none at all.”

    Perhaps the person who wrote this needs a lesson in grammar too. It should read fewer women not less! Then again it just shows how stupid this person is.

    The mere fact it has stirred up so much vitriol shows why we need more women not fewer in politics to temper the sexist drivel of the inarticulate men!

  18. Not My Real Name says:

    Cathy, you appear to have misunderstood the nature of a public comments section, on a journalists blog, on professional news website; people choose not to use their real names in the internet for a number of reasons. Does this invalidate the content of their posts?

    I do not wish to parade my identity on multiple media outlets, so am I to be denied right of reply to someone such as yourself, someone who as a journalist and TV personality earns a living partly through self publicization?

    As for a number of the comments that you chose to highlight here… I grant you, many are simple misogyny without a point, but Aethelflaeds, whilst rude and hostile, does have something to say: Surely it more harm than good if you attempt to achieve equality by prescribing exact proportions of genders, skin tones, beliefs etc. in an organisation, rather than simply picking the best person available at the time?

    If you’re trying to forming a team of people, selecting them primarily to suit an ideology or to give the outward impression of diversity and inclusivity, is in fact MORE discriminatory than simply picking the best people you can get.

    To simply dismiss comment from people whose online names you dislike, or who would like public appointments to be based on merit rather than political correctness, is to remove yourself from the debate entirely.

  19. Hecuba says:

    It isn’t ‘sexist abuse’ it is blatant women-hating which Ms. Newman is being subjected to by men who believe women aren’t human beings but only exist to serve men.

    Why should women have to endure incessant women-hating insults from men? Guess what happens whenever an isolated incident of racism occurs? Why police officers immediately respond and investigate the case because obviously white men uttering racist insults at non-white male footballers is a real and important issue of racism! But men’s now open and blatant male hatred and male contempt for women continues to either be lauded or dismissed as ‘just another trivial sexist incident!’

    The men who engage in a constant barrage of women-hating sexualised insults are not ‘losers’ they are well organised and know this constant barrage which continues to be ignored by men and their male supremacist legal system (because male promotion/endorsement of women-hating is not supposedly a “hate crime”) is a very effective way of silencing women’s fundamental right to engage in public dialogue.

    Furthermore Ms. Newman is clearly seen as a serious threat to those women hating males because how dare a few token women appear on malestream media news!

    Perhaps racism and homophobia are also trivial issues wherein rather than investigating the perpetrators, their actions should either be ignored or dismissed as just ‘a bunch of losers.’ But that is not what is happening so therefore women too have the right of protection from the law concerning pandemic male hatred and male contempt for women.

  20. Matt says:

    Hey Cathy! As always it’s the silent majority who love and appreciate your efforts – I live half way round the world and if you ever feel like taking a break from the plumbed depths of London society there’s a journalistic hole ten miles wide you could fill here in the Antipodes! In the meantime I always appreciate your professional view on all matters current even if it is 12 hours later!

  21. Ruth Larrea says:

    Don’t let it get to you, Cathy. You do a great job.

  22. Joyce Bragg says:

    You are a brilliant journalist Cathy. Your observations were just that. The obvious needs stating often if anything is ever going to change. Maybe we should ignore the rude comments? However, I also admire your sharing these outrageous responses with us as we know what we are up against. You obviously have the backing of a lot of people who support and respect you, including me. Keep up the good work.

  23. H Statton says:

    Over quite a number of years I’ve seen the best way that people have dealt with harassment/personal attack is simply to ignore the insults and carry on engaging with people who are involved in a civil debate. Differences of opinion encourage healthy discussion. Trolls just like disrupting threads/blogs etc. and they have been around since blogging began. They don’t even come up with any original or vaguely amusing commentary; strikes me as simple idiocy, and puerile at best. As Oscar Wilde put it, “Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit.” I wouldn’t credit a troll with decent sarcasm, they just fling mud, and they are useless at that. I agree with the above comments, trolls are cowards as why else do they not have the guts to say who they are?

  24. WILLIAM ANGUS TAIT says:

    Dear ms Newman,
    First Channel 4 showed the uttermost morale cowardice in the last weeks by not showing a cartoon so to now say you open to debate is wonderful news, has there been a change of management? While some of the comments pointed at you are clearly of age gone by and some clearly offensive your contempt for the idea raised by some of the comments that skill should be held above gender is deeply concerning. The reaction may have been because if you do glib and perfunctory journalism then the nature of your audience is more likely to be unenlightened and bigoted. The reason I call the story such is we have ministers in the home office and international relations that are women doing fantastic jobs. Why not show the success of these women and blow away those relics that believe they are not as capable as men? Rather than making a cheap hack point that was frankly beneath you as a clearly educated and bright journalist. A 5 year old could have said that there were no women on the front bench instead investigate how parliamentary procedure selects against women. you could also make the point that a lot of MPs dedicate their lives to constituencies and these come from an age when women in elected office were rare so as time passes there will be more women. Then you might have correctly concluded it is not the fault of our current public servants or government but of a failed system that is being reformed. That would have been journalism and then anyone who attacked you would have clearly been ill educated, sexist and you would have had my unwavering support.

  25. Angela Sullivan says:

    Has “Aethelflaed” accidentally discovered the reason why so many of the men in the Westminster Parliament have Scottish names or ancestry? “women like you, who think the best interests of society are served by elevating incompetence just because it wears a skirt.” LOL

  26. Francis Higgins says:

    Some express their lack of empathy by negative comments. On you-tube not very long ago there was a very appealing video of some puppies. I think it received 1,000 or so ‘likes’ but only 4 ‘dislikes’. One wag commented, “I didn’t know cats watched videos”.

  27. Jimmy Kackson says:

    As others have said it is obvious that all these ” critics ” don’t put their names to their disgusting comments. Cowards & bullies are well known for this failing.

  28. Martin Garrod says:

    Whilst I do not condone many of the rude comments, I do take issue with the original article. I have yet to see a rational argument for there to be equal numbers of men and women in parliament. Sexual equality should be about equality of opportunity, not necessarily of outcome. As long as women can stand for parliament there is no case to be made that the outcome of the election is sexist or discriminatory. If the electorate do not vote for women in greater numbers they will not appear in parliament in greater numbers, and if there are few women MP’s there will be even fewer of them on the front bench. That isn’t rampant sexism, it is how democratic elections work. If you want to see more women MP’s then more women have to win elections. Period.

  29. Elisabeth Bond says:

    It’s very difficult to know how to pigeon-hole people who write abusive, anonymous emails, tweets etc. There’s so much to try and get your head round in the world at the moment. I think probably they’re just the pathetic and the unlovely, and that’s about it.

    But as a great supporter of Channel 4 news, I think you’re great, and as a woman I’m hugely impressed by you and Lindsey Hilsum, and indeed all the other women, Sarah Smith, Jackie long, Fatima Manzi … Keep it up!

  30. Kate says:

    Ignore them, Cathy!

    Trolls feed off attention for they have nothing going for them in their sad, vacuous lives.

  31. Lankylad says:

    Sadly, since Blairs Babes, in the 1990s, along with the PC attitudes that accompanied them, there has been a concerted attack on men, and outrage(manufactured) on how we used to speak and behave in the past.
    The activists have taken as extreme a view as the past they never lived through or understand.
    Freedom means freedom for all to express what THEY think is the truth. Today`s society seems to take aim at certain sections to “disapprove” of.
    The Hounding by BBC of the “Jimmy Saville” generation, has led to guilt by accusation,and which is perhaps a reminder of totalitarian outlooks rather than the democracy GB is alleged to stand for.
    Men and women are Equal, That is a fact. That active organisations wish them to be “more equal” will eventually defeat their objective, but not before it has caused similar attitudes to that it is seeking to prevent.
    I think Cathy Newman is an excellent reporter, but today opinions are reported as fact especially when the subject of womens roles in society is discussed.
    Womens Lib has possibly resulted in a generation of boys underachieving.
    Time IMO to stress the importance of man & woman living together as they have done for centuries.
    Partnership is what I shared with my life soulmate, love too.
    We forget it seems about the latter as we argue about the former!

  32. Peter Clarke says:

    I have just found this story and feel so alarmed that an intelligent lady as Cathy obviously is, in bringing to our attention the obvious comment that there are too few women in the front bench of the Conservative party brings such vehemence from the public. For what little it is worth my admiration for Cathy as a Journalist and voice for the channel 4 news is a breath of fresh air. So for those trolls and wasteful diatribe who have garnered such vitriol will you castigate me for suggesting “Isn’t it smoggy in London at the moment”

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