It was international women’s day a few weeks ago – i mean to post, then i guess something else came up. Probably season 3 of the Wire, if I’m honest. I have the privilege of being able to forget how privileged I am – being a female isn’t a life or death issue for me. I can rely on my capacities to make real my needs – so International Women’s Day, and all the advocacy it makes possible, is an optional extra for me. I am appropriately embarrassed by that.
I read stories like these, and remember that it’s only by people like me writing and protesting that anything will ever change. I’ve let my participation in Amnesty drop over the last couple of years, and simply given money, which is helpful but not always the most useful thing. So i’ve decided this year to up my game, and put myself onto the alert list so that i can send emails and letters when issues come up in the women’s campaign – simply because I can, and I mustn’t take that privilege for granted. And I’ve added a calendar note into my diary so that each week i’ll remember to write another letter…
It’s a ridiculously small thing to do, and I’m only writing it up here so that I’ll be ashamed into accountability.
But every time I realise how far things have progressed in my part of the world, I realise how much further we have to go. I’ve been having conversations with some colleagues over the last few days about the tensions that arise from being in the public eye, to whatever extent. I know quite a few women who don’t blog, or who really limit their online presence, not for the predictable reasons of having stuff read by potential employers or ex-boyfriends, but because they have experienced stalking online from people they’ve never met. I’ve had that happen, both online, and from people who follow what i write for the paper. It’s really, really crap. And in a situation this week, i was reminded that even though people can’t find me outside of a virtual world, they will still find ways to intrude, to suck up space, to intimidate, and in the end make me feel unsafe. It’s a sexual / obsessive / personal thing – it’s different to people picking fights or disagreeing, or even trolling.
I’m not alone in this happening to me, it’s a really common thing, and much more so than we would ever be led to believe. Probably many women who are reading this are nodding in recognition. But apart from high profile situations, it’s rarely talked about.
There’s no way to stop it, apart from not doing anything public at all – which i contemplate often, and seriously. That feels like giving in, though. My compromise is to keep a lot of control on my public presence. I was asked why i don’t twitter this week, and this is much of the reason. It’s not that twitter’s unsafe, it’s that online social network no longer feel like it offers the potential for extending friendship networks, or for ‘getting my message out there’. It’s not fun. It feels risky. I’m always astonished by how much information about my life people are able to pull together from tiny scraps that I put out there – which I put out to give context to the way I think and respond. But any public presence holds the potential for someone to abuse / misuse the information they get from the bit of me that’s on show. And, believe me, it happens. I know how to keep myself safe, I’m in no danger, but it really pisses me off that in every aspect of life this is something that women, especially, have to confront and factor in.