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Hey Edmonton women: Stand up and don't shut up

When Edmonton women share opinions online they often face abuse — but some refuse to go silent

Kate McInnes' column.


Kate McInnes' column.

Feminist writer Laurie Penny once said a woman’s opinion was the “short skirt” of the Internet. Having one and sharing it makes people think you’re asking for verbal abuse. 

After five years of sharing my opinions online, I’m acclimatized to this. It’s sickening, but not unexpected. 

And so I was unsurprised to read the deluge of abuse against student journalist Kate McInnes. 

McInnes, writing for The Gateway, the student newspaper at the University of Alberta, criticized the 5 Days For the Homeless campaign run by some U of A students, arguing their hearts were in the right place, but the campaign made some students on campus uncomfortable.

The comments they made to show this ranged from the mean-spirited to abuse, including one that said she would “sound better with a dick in her mouth."

In an interview, McInnes said the same critique of the event was made last year by a male Gateway writer. He received no backlash whatsoever, "even though it was much more strongly-worded," she said. 

But even with evidence to the contrary — according to UK think tank Demos, female journalists are three times more likely to experience abuse than male journalists — some people still say online vitriol isn’t targeted at women.

“I’ve yet to hear a male journalist or male politician told he would sound better with a dick in his mouth,” says Cristina Stasia, who acts as a consultant on gender and equality in Edmonton. 

Stasia, believes criticism is fair game but veers into harassment when focused on the person and not what they say. 

Looking through the list of comments McInnes posted on her Facebook wall, they’re practically copy-paste versions of names I’ve been called by angry men over the years.

Others feel the same way. 

“This is about intimidation,” said Kathleen Smith, one of the most vocal female voices online in Edmonton. “It’s about using sexual violence to silence women. It’s misogynistic terrorism”. 

These attacks for having public opinions discourage women from leadership positions or public life. The sexual, gendered nature of the attacks is a deliberate attempt to create fear and to silence. 

McInnes is determined not to be silenced. She’s written more than 50 pieces for the Gateway and plans to be an editor next year. 

“What I worry about is that other women will now be hesitant to raise their voices because of the threats they might receive,” McInnes said. 

For a long time, I had 'Lady writer' on my Twitter profile as a nod to the men who stop by to denigrate me. 

Often, they put writer in scare quotes — as if because they don’t agree with what I’ve said I’m somehow not a writer at all. 

Or perhaps they would prefer to think that not only am I not a writer, I don’t exist.  

There’s always going to be a small contingent of people determined to lower the bar on decency. But if the vast majority of bystanders don’t speak out and reach out then we’re doing nothing more than what society has always done: Telling women to sit down and shut up.