Wednesday, 10 October 2012

An Open Letter to the Internet: re Caitlin Moran Twiter-gate

What is there left to say about the Dunham-Moran scandal on Twitter? For the last week or so it seems like everyone on the internet not only has a strong opinion about what happened but is set on expressing it in capslock. I don't want to rake over it again. I don't want to dismiss the (entirely legitimate) problem of lack of diversity in television. I don't want to vilify a person I don't know for a tactless reply to someone who was, let's be honest, harrassing her on Twitter.

Here's the thing, internet. I actually agree that all kinds of groups of people are under represented in the media: not just on terms of ethnicity but also sexuality, class and ability. Some of these issues affect me personally or at least someone I care deeply about. Some I just care about because I'm a human being with empathy and I know what it's like to be ignored sometimes. By all rights I should be joining in the anti-Moran witchhunt still going on on Tumblr right?

No. Because when you want someone to agree with you you do not start by harrassing them over Twitter. It is not how you open an honest dialogue that might lead to actual change. Even the most reasonable person on the internet (admittedly not a sample group well known for being reasonable) is probably not going to agree with you if you open your argument by screaming at them and calling them a racist.

It's perfectly understandable to be angry that you still have to fight this fight. I am sometimes angry over the issues I have to face. But yelling at people does not make them like you. More importantly it does not make them empathise with you. And I'm guilty of it too: the guy I snapped at yesterday in the library for saying, apropos of nothing, "Catherine Howard [fifth wife of Henry VIII] was a prostitute and a slut". I hold that he was wrong to do so, not only because it was untrue but because slut-shaming a historical figure at a table entirely populated by feminists, history students and feminist history students is a Bad Idea. I admit that yelling at him probably didn't give him the best portrayal of feminism. It did not make him agree with me. It just made him confused at why some crazy woman was shouting at him.

Which leads me onto my next point: nobody is perfect. If you are one of the people who has been crucifying Caitlin Moran will you please take a moment to imagine that people had been scrutinising everything you've said for the past week, or even month. Can you honestly tell me that nothing you've said could be interpreted as sexist or ableist (don't forget, you can be misquoted, so even using words like 'crazy' or 'depressed' or 'I'm so full of cold I want to die' count) or homophobic (be honest, as a kid you probably used 'gay' as an insult) or racist (those photos of you playing cowboys and indians on your seventh birthday might yet come back to haunt you) or prejudiced against religion, which is not the same as racism.

The difference of course is that you are probably not famous. The percentage of people who care what you think on the internet is much lower than the percentage of people who care what Caitlin Moran thinks. You can say insensitive things without being called on it because far less people are watching. There has been a lot of talk about the various priviliges that Caitlin Moran has but there is one privilige that you have and she doesn't and that is the privilige of relative anonimity on the internet. And no: I am not for one minute comparing that to white privilige, or straight privilige or the frankly dubious 'class privilige' of someone who was born to a working class family of seven children and who is still outspoken about benefits and other issues facing the working classes. Because that would be really stupid. I am just politely asking that you extend Caitlin Moran the same empathy you believe she should extend to you.



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