Australian Feminist Hits Wrong Note
*Sexual Assault Themes*
Rape threats are to social media as catcalling is to walking down the street for women–commonplace. If I had a dollar for every time a man has threatened me on Twitter, I would have my mortgage payment every month.
It’s the ugly side of social media–the very thing that allows women to connect with other women all over the world, especially on feminist issues, also allows men from all over the world to harass us. Yes, you can protect your account on Twitter, but that pretty much defeats the purpose of getting your message out to a wider audience.
I’m used to seeing attacks on feminists I know on Twitter. I’m used to reporting those attacks when I see them and tweeting solidarity to whomever is being victimized. But even I, a seasoned veteran of Twitter misogyny, was unprepared for what I saw the night of July 27 on Twitter.
Tweet after tweet after tweet, each more violent than the next attacking Coralie Alison, Director of Operations at Collective Shout, a non-profit in Melbourne, Australia dedicated to “a world free of sexploitation”–something all women and girls need.
I’ve tweeted with Coralie for a couple of years. She’s young, focused and gets stuff done. She’s the kind of feminist you want working on real-world issues.
One of the real-world issues of sexploitation she and Collective Shout have been addressing is misogyny in music–something the U.S. has just thrown up its hands over.
In June, Coralie and Collective Shout called on the Australian Immigration Minister to revoke rapper Tyler, The Creator’s (real name, Tyler Okonma) visa based on his violently anti-woman lyrics and his actions on a previous tour to Australia. Tyler was scheduled to perform in Australia in September.
Submitted in evidence were lyrics with extreme and graphic violence against women and girls. Collective Shout argued that Tyler was a “controversial visa applicant,” which means “people whose presence in Australia may, because of their activities, reputation, known record or the cause they represent and propagate, vilify or incite discord in the Australian community or a segment of that community, or represent a danger to the Australian community or a segment of that community.”
Some would argue that all rap lyrics are violent and misogynistic. But those people don’t listen to rap or hip-hop, because that is not the case. Some yes, all, no. Tyler, the Creator? Definitely.
According to Collective Shout, Tyler was previously abusive to one of their workers during a 2013 tour. As that Collective Shout activist, Talitha Stone, wrote at the time, the organization had run a similar but unsuccessful campaign against Tyler touring that year.
Stone attended one of Tyler’s last Australian shows in Sydney. In a comment piece for The Guardian, she wrote: “A few songs in, Tyler told his fans that ‘some bitch was trying to get him kicked out of the country,’ followed by one of two songs he dedicated to me. This one was titled Bitch Suck Dick, which contains the lyrics ‘You dead bitch, I’m hot as fuck … Punch a bitch in her mouth just for talkin’ shit.’
On July 27, Tyler, whose Twitter pic is accused rapist Bill Cosby, sent out this tweet:
T IS NOW BANNED FROM AUSTRALIA, YOU WON @CoralieAlison IM HAPPY FOR YOU <3
— Tyler, The Creator (@fucktyler) July 27, 2015
It was favorited more than 6,000 times and retweeted more than 4,000.
That’s when the mayhem began. Even though there was no ban on Tyler–no decision has been made on his visa–the singer decided to tell his fans that there was. Then he sat back and watched the show.
(In a statement responding to the tweet and the aftermath, Frontier Touring said: “The department for immigration has raised issues with the visa application, but it has not been refused and Frontier will update ticket holders as soon as more information comes to hand.”)
It took only minutes for Tyler’s fans to respond to his tweet blaming Coralie for banning him. Then the orchestrated attacks on her began.
@CoralieAlison Take a thick rope and put it around your neck and go for a 1080 suicide off the Golden Gate Bridge…
@CoralieAlison drink bleach and die slut
@CoralieAlison Sit on a plunger you fat skank
Can you help me clean my dads semen out of my asshole??? Thanks! @CoralieAlison
@CoralieAlison I want you to put a toothpick in your vagina, then thrust a wall as hard as you can.
@CoralieAlison take a bath with your toaster please
Those are the least violent and abusive of the tweets Coralie received over the course of 48 hours. I personally reported 47 different men for violent tweets to her over a six-hour period during that time and retweeted some of the most egregious with the dictate: Report.
All over Twitter feminists began sending Coralie support tweets. In addition to supporting Coralie against the abuse, though, I wanted the abusers kicked off Twitter. But as I began doing so, I also started to get abuse, as did other women. Then one of Tyler’s fans hacked me and tweeted out my private phone number. That made the next 48 hours downright awful.
Throughout this ordeal Coralie Alison was almost preternaturally calm. I don’t know how she remained so, but she did. She systematically recorded the tweets and after a full day of abuse went back to the source, tweeting Tyler:
Coralie Alison @CoralieAlison Jul 28
Waiting for @FuckTyler to ask his fans to stop sending rape and death threats……crickets.
That never happened. Instead Tyler absolved himself of all responsibility, tweeting;
I AM SO BUMMED THAT I CANT GO TO A PLACE THAT I FELL IN LOVE WITH, IT SUCKS, BUT YO, I AM NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR WHAT OTHERS SAY, NO WAY, EVER
— Tyler, The Creator (@fucktyler) July 29, 2015
This story ceased to be about whether or not Tyler, the Creator should or shouldn’t be allowed back into Australia to perform when he sent out the false tweet about Coralie Alison. He knew exactly what the response would be to that tweet and he didn’t care. With 2.49 million followers, the only surprise is that Coralie only got a few thousand tweets.
Unsurprising? The abuse.
Caroline Criado-Perez, a U.K. feminist and author of the new book Do It Like a Woman … and Change the World, got similar threats in 2013 when she launched a campaign to get a woman on a £ note. Her campaign resulted in a decision in July 2013 that a new £10 note would bear the face of Jane Austen.
That’s when the threats began in earnest. Criado-Perez mentions the experience–much like Coralie’s, but extended over months–in her new book. Two people were actually prosecuted for orchestrating threats against Criado-Perez.
The level of abuse women experience on social media is extreme. Women use social media more than men and their experiences of abuse tend to be more extreme, as study and poll and study have shown.
I have experienced a lot of abuse on Twitter, most of it from men objecting to something I have written. But I have never understood why. What is it that prompts men–in a public space–to say things like:
@CoralieAlison cut your throat with a rusty razor blade and pour bleach in the wound you nasty old whore
Where do those violent images come from? Why would you subject another person–someone you have never met and with whom you have never had an exchange–to such abusive language?
I asked one of the men who tweeted me demanding that I “stop reporting my mates,” why he and his mates were attacking Coralie. He said, “She shouldn’t have done what she did.”
In other words, if a woman takes an action–any action (how could having a woman’s image on a bank note be justification for rape threats?)–that’s perceived to usurp male power, she must be punished.
@CoralieAlison GO GET RAPED BY A BUNCH OF DYKES WITH DILDOS AND THEN DIE OF PUSSY CANCER YOU FILTHY MAN LOOKING WHORE
The language of the abuse is always the same: Women are cunts and bitches, whores and dykes, old and fat, skanky and ugly. The language of abuse tells women they are nothing. Just as in street harassment, if a woman doesn’t respond the way men demand, abuse follows.
Tyler has previously been banned from New Zealand. Lyrics like this were cited:
“Fuck Mary in her ass … ha-ha … yo, I tell her it’s my house, give her a tour, In my basement, and keep that bitch locked up in my storage, Rape her and record it, then edit it with more shit.”
“You call this shit rape but I think that rape’s fun, I just got one request, stop breathin.”
One thing women who are victimized by abuse online say is that you simply never know when an anonymous troll will turn up on your doorstep–and what he might do. The men who tweeted out my private number also said, “We know where you live.”
It took Twitter more than two days to respond to the attack on Coralie. What responsibility do social media sites have in protecting users? Twitter has terms of service–but like Facebook, Tumblr and Reddit, hide behind “free speech” for these orchestrated assaults on women while banning women discussing menstruation or posting pics of breastfeeding.
Some may find Tyler, the Creator’s lyrics art, others misogynist abuse. But what cannot be denied is that he set these attacks on Coralie Alison in play. Because when women talk back to men, the consequences are harsh.
The question is, what will it take to get social media to address these violent attacks? Instead of letting women be threatened and victimized, punish the actual perpetrators–the men whose first thoughts when they don’t get their way are rape and death to silence any woman with a voice.