Lauren Mayberry is the front singer of one of the hot, new Internet bands, Chvrches. She took a rare and important step the other day -- admirable for any entertainment figure, but especially one who's success is largely due to support on the Internet. She posted a beautifully written, thoughtful and politely scathing editorial on The Guardian about misogyny and sexism among the band's fans.
There are, however, downsides to being known on the internet. Last week, I posted a screengrab of one of the many inappropriate messages sent to the band's social networks every day. After making the post, I sat back and watched with an increasingly open mouth as more and more people commented on the statement. At the time of writing, Facebook stats tell me that the post had reached 581,376 people, over five times the number of people who subscribe to the page itself, with almost 1,000 comments underneath the image. Comments range from the disgusted and supportive to the offensively vile. My current favourites from the latter category include:
She lists some of the worst, which are quite repugnant. I'm not going to post them here because...well, I don't want to. It wants to make me feel I need a cleansing just to read them. Use your imagination -- it's probably worse, because you're better and you don't think that way. But I'll post a link to the op-ed below, and you can also click on the link above to her screengrab.
She addresses one comment that tells her to deal with it. But why, she asks, should she have to deal with it? She feels very lucky that she has this opportunity because of people caring about her band. "But does that mean that I need to accept that it's OK for people to make comments like this, because that's how women in my position are spoken to?"
What I do not accept, however, is that it is all right for people to make comments ranging from "a bit sexist but generally harmless" to openly sexually aggressive. That it is something that "just happens". Is the casual objectification of women so commonplace that we should all just suck it up, roll over and accept defeat? I hope not. Objectification, whatever its form, is not something anyone should have to "just deal with".
One of the big problems in all of this, I think, is anonymity. People who don't have to identify who they are can sit protectively in their solitary cloister and say whatever they want, get rid of all their personal angst, and feel big and tough, without having to face any consequences, saying things in their little hidden privacy that they would never dream of saying in public to anyone, let alone to the person in question's face. To them, they'd likely gush how they're the person's biggest fan and oh-please-oh-please could I have an autograph, you're the best.
In one of the more moving passages, Ms. Mayberry puts the entire process into a very personal perspective, explaining that ever since the band put up its Facebook page, she has read every message, despite others telling her not to. "Maybe the men – and I'm sorry, but they are all men – sending the notifications of impending unsolicited "anal" bothering don't realise it will actually be me who reads the emails – or maybe they don't care either way. But in order to get to the messages from people who genuinely wish to share something with the band, I must filter through every condescending and offensive message we receive."
And that's when she then adds --
I read them every morning when I get up. I read them after soundcheck. I read them, as we all do with our emails and notifications, on my phone on the bus or when I have a break in the day. And, after a while, despite the positive messages in the majority, the aggressive, intrusive nature of the other kind becomes overwhelming. During this past tour, I am embarrassed to admit that I have had more than one prolonged toilet cry and a "Come on, get a hold of yourself, you got this" conversation with myself in a bathroom mirror when particularly exasperated and tired out. But then, after all the sniffling had ceased, I asked myself: why should I cry about this? Why should I feel violated, uncomfortable and demeaned? Why should we all keep quiet?
But as good and thoughtful and heartfelt as all this is, I think the best part of the article is when she moves from her personal experience and put it all into a general, societal perspective. The personal part is critical to her commentary, since it infuses it with credibility and heart. But the large perspective is what gives it meaning.
Women are spoken to like this every day, and not just those deemed to be in the public eye. The depressing reality is that campaigns like the Everyday Sexism Project would not need to exist were casual sexism not so startlingly commonplace
There is more. Much more, and it's open, reflective and and deeply insightful. My favorite line is probably the most whimsical while being ground. "Of my numerous personal failings (perpetual lateness; a tendency towards anxiety; a complete inability to bake anything, ever), naivety is not one." But it's all wonderful, and a point of view to which I deeply ascribe.
I remember years ago having a debate with a friend who was a director. The subject matter wasn't the same as here, but it overlapped. I was saying that I find it wrong that the public intrudes on the private lives of celebrities. He insisted that once you enter the public life, you know what you're getting into and give up that right. I didn't believe it then, and he was wrong. Most people get into performing because they want to perform. Society carries them on a wave to celebrity. But far beyond that, all people are entitled to a private life. That's why it's private.
And crossing over to this, all people are entitled to being treated with decency. And if someone else decides to act like a pathetic, disgusting pig, then it's all about them.
I had never heard anything by Chvrches before reading Ms. Mayberry's article. But I checked out a few of the band's videos. Now, you must understand that I am not the focus of their target audience. But then, that's the cast for most pop/rock groups. And I actually liked them. There is a sweet, wistful charm and evocative reflection to their songs. I'm still not their target audience -- but I can understand why they and she have grown so many fans.
You can read the entire, long, thoughtful, beautifully written, wildly admirable op-ed by Lauren Mayberry here.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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