As we wait on the verdict on a case involving three criminal harassment charges, two feminists, and one accused stalker, mainstream women columnists remain committed to making the internet less safe for women.
The mainstream media landscape in Canada is wrought with a major disease, and its women columnists aren't doing anything to help cure it.
Some of the country's most high-profile columnists—Christie Blatchford, Margaret Wente, Barbara Kay—are women, and they are reinforcing misogynist narratives each week. Any hint that a man has committed sexualized crime against a woman and these women columnists are victimizing him, apologizing for him, and uncovering any and all reasons why it may not have been his fault. Rather than supporting the choices of other women and challenging the structures that oppress them, they use their platforms in Canada's national newspapers to reinforce harmful narratives.
Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente and National Post columnists Christie Blatchford and Barbara Kay have long claimed that rape culture is not a thing. Wente says young women should avoid getting drunk if they don't want to be raped. Blatchford uses her court reporting to discredit women: a short skirt becomes a veritable acquittal. Regrettably, attitudes like these seem to be a rule rather than an exception amongst the country's women columnists.
Given the chance, they will say anything to convince their audiences that rape and violence against women are rare occurrences. There's Blatchford's column in which she speaks to the "brave," "courageous" boy who appeared in a photograph, penetrating Rehteah Parsons from behind and giving the thumbs up while she vomited out a window. There's Wente's classist and sexist assertion that "talented, highly educated women from privileged backgrounds (Lena Dunham also comes to mind) are celebrated as feminists and behave like trailer trash." Or Kay's musings on just about anything, but as a choice example, the "slow, tentative, fragile return of women's lost sense of sexual honour." These women are among the most prominent voices in Canadian media, and they are also obedient mascots of the patriarchy, ever-nodding bobbleheads dashing to the rescue of men who harm women.
Two weeks ago, as closing submissions were made in what's believed to be Canada's first-ever Twitter harassment trial, the Post allowed its anti-woman rants to go too far yet again.
A brief recap of the case to make sure you're with me:
Gregory Alan Elliott was charged with criminal harassment in November, 2012 after his tweets at Toronto feminists Stephanie Guthrie and Heather Reilly allegedly became stalkerish in nature. He was taken to court after the Crown decided his behaviour did resemble harassment, and both Guthrie and Reilly testified that they were afraid of Elliott based on his tweets, and that it was clear he knew what they were doing and who they were talking to online.
Full disclosure: Guthrie and I have been friendly acquaintances for years. We attend some of the same rallies and events, and I admire Guthrie and her advocacy work.
But that's not to say I can't point out the rabid mistakes journalists are making in their coverage of this case. Friendship doesn't change facts, and the fact is that the internet goes out of its way to silence women who dare to speak up for themselves. Guthrie has received countless rape threats and death threats, and that's partially because some mainstream media are not even trying to report on this case in an accurate or balanced way.
As a columnist for Postmedia, Canada's largest newspaper chain, Blatchford is published in papers across the country, and she is likely among the most-read journalists in Canada. Instead of using her journalistic skills to help women, though, she is choosing to stoke this unsafe environment. In a "poor men" themed sob story, she claims Elliott's only real "sin" is disagreeing with Reilly and Guthrie. She also blames the fact that he lost his job on Guthrie, rather than his own miserable actions.
"The graphic artist and father of four lost his job shortly after his arrest, which was well-publicized online, and if convicted, could go to jail for six months," she writes. She calls those repercussions "astonishing" "given that it's not alleged he ever threatened either woman."
So it's not threatening for a man who appears to be following you on the internet even though you've blocked him to also make a show of knowing what you're doing and who you're talking to? Cool. And now, Blatchford's words are being used to fuel a Kickstarter Elliott's son created to raise money for his legal fees.
As Anne Thériault writes in a Canadaland piece you should read:
"The fact that Blatchford used her platform to go after two women who are unable to defend themselves is what makes her piece especially unethical. She is basically offering internet trolls a free shot." (The verdict is due Oct. 6, and Guthrie and Reilly have been advised not to speak publicly about it til then).
After Blatchford's column was posted, Alheli Picazo published another piece for the Post which, while not wholly unsympathetic to Guthrie's side of the story, contained further errors about the circumstances that started the entire situation.
"Under attack from the MRAs," it reads, "Guthrie fought back, suggesting a 'doxing' campaign against [Bendilin] Spurr—Internet slang for publishing his personal information and contacting his employers to make them aware of his online behaviour. It was this step that would form the crux of the fight between Guthrie and Gregory Allen [sic] Elliott."
But dox Guthrie did not. She didn't share any information about him that wasn't already publicly available. She simply tweeted:
She didn't actively try to get Spurr or Elliott fired. Guthrie just warned employers about hiring someone who seemed to condone violence against women. Based on the game, how could a person help but wonder about the extent of the creator's misogyny? Everything Guthrie did in this case happened as a matter of public record and is searchable on Twitter. (Since the most recent Blatchford column, she's locked her account. But those who follow her can still search and see exactly what was said, or check out her Storify. These journalists decided to ignore that. Why? Who are they serving?)
They also didn't bother to access Crown prosecutor Marnie Goldenberg's arguments, which she submitted in writing. She gave Metro permission to read them after the fact. Jessica Smith Cross reports some of those arguments:
"'Mr. Elliott sent copious amounts of obsessive, harassing tweets where he tweeted 'at' the complainants, mentioned their handles, mentioned the hashtags created by Ms. Guthrie, sent subtweets at the complainants, monitored their feeds, etc. He did this knowing that they blocked him and that they did not want contact with him,' Goldenberg wrote."
Goldenberg, Cross reports, "took issue with the defence position that Guthrie and Reilly must not have been truly afraid of Elliott because they called him out—even taunted him—on Twitter."
Why hasn't the Post's coverage mentioned this? Why are these writers trying to protect men instead of supporting the rights of women to feel safe in public spaces? The Guthrie case was not a one-time thing. These columnists regularly evade facts that make women seem like reasonable, intelligent beings who tell the truth, and fabricate situations that make us seem like "shrill," silly wretches hell-bent on vilifying men. Are they simply sticking to the misogynist status quo to be accepted by the old boys' club that hired them in the first place? Can it possibly be just for clickbait? Or do these women actually believe themselves?
I am troubled that our national news outlets are making errors like these. Don't get me wrong, I have made mistakes as a journalist, some of them serious. We are all only human. But the Post articles seem to be deliberately avoiding the facts.
It worries me that so few people with prominent voices have bothered to stand up for Guthrie, Rehteah, and all of the women across Canada who have been raped or otherwise sexually assaulted. The dearth of voices bothering to cover these issues illustrates how few feminist writers and editors are out there. And, if we can agree that "feminism" means "political, economic, and social equality of the sexes," this is a sick, sad state of affairs.
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