If I ruled the world: Eimear McBride

Pull away the online trolls' veils
October 13, 2016
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If I did rule the world, no one would be allowed to post opinions online about a woman’s appearance without being obliged to post a photograph of themselves in a similar state. So, if the woman is undressed, they’d have to be as well. If she’d just had a baby, they would have had to also. If she’d eaten a burger, had a night on the tiles or spent all morning being vomited on by a child, her critic would have to reveal how their looks held up in those circumstances before commenting.

While the internet has democratised access to information, which is a good thing, it’s also become a powerful platform for the propagation of bigotry, racism, homophobia and misogyny. Never before in modern history have so many people been able to evade responsibility for their own publicly expressed opinions or avoided consequences for the damage they’ve inflicted upon others.

This is never more obvious than in the perpetual vilification of the appearances, reproductive capabilities, opinions and achievements of women in the public sphere. Formal legal equality is now a given, but women have had to pay for their release from domestic servitude with an ongoing backlash, which reacts violently against every aspect of their womanhood, not to mention their humanity. Every function of the female body, from periods to childbirth, is pilloried and any woman striking beyond the moulds of saint or slut set by the straight white male is deemed an apocalyptic sign.

If witnessing the inevitable excoriation of women in the public sphere online was not bad enough, its toxic after-effect has trickled down through our culture and permitted the resentful, cowardly and chauvinistic to direct sexist bilge towards every female in sight. The concerns of women are constantly infantilised and even direct threats of rape and violence treated as a matter about which we should simply show a little more good humour.

Given how uniformly the online trolling community clings to anonymity, it’s safe to assume the lack of it might make them think more carefully about what kind of contribution they’re making to society. So I would pull away their veil. The troll’s argument inevitably returns to freedom of speech, which, for sure, is a principle that must be upheld above all else. I have yet to hear one good argument for censorship as a solution. Indeed the message that women should censor themselves and their online presences (for their own protection, of course) is the buzzing bluebottle that never gets swatted. Freedom of speech, however, is a right and, as with all rights, it has its responsibilities. A person unwilling to take responsibility for exercising this right in a free democracy—which is a different situation to those living and working within politically or religiously repressive regimes—makes a mockery of it, its significance to western society and what others have sacrificed in order to protect it.

While police action is the only adequate method of dealing with those venting spleen through rape threats, those who are so keen to anonymously humiliate and traduce women’s appearances might think twice if they had to contemplate putting themselves in a position similarly open to public ridicule. God, I regret the energy women have to waste on this nonsense. Therefore I decree: dinosaurs of the world, evolve!