Women have always had to deal with misogyny, therefore it is ridiculous for individuals to kick up a fuss about it now. This appears to be the argument made by Cristina Odone in her latest Telegraph blog, in which she expresses her sadness at “clever Mary [Beard] […] being stupid” for responding to vicious online attacks:
Come on, Mary. Women in public arenas get a lot of flak – they always have. Think of Livia and Julia back in the time of Augustus. They were attacked for everything they did, simply because they refused to stay in the background and fawn on men. The same is true today. A woman who sticks her head above the parapet – whether it be to present a history programme on the BBC or debate issues on Question Time – is asking for brickbats and (some) bouquets. If she doesn’t have the stomach for it, she should stick to lecturing undergraduates.
So that’s Mary put in her place, although only if you believe that standing up for yourself is the same as not having “the stomach” to deal with aggressive bullying and threats of sexual violence. Odone is convinced these things are indeed the same, claiming that “Mary Beard’s defensiveness is widespread among women of stature”. Silly Mary Beard, and silly women in general, for lacking the bravery to behave like good girls and suck up whatever nastiness comes their way.
The history of feminism is littered with examples of weak, defensive, whiney women. Women who got all shrill and uppity when people were a bit mean to them. Women who didn’t take a slap on the arse in the spirit in which it was intended, or who started with the whole but it’s not fa-a-ir! routine upon discovering they were being paid less than their male counterparts. Women who got all wussy about backstreet abortions, domestic violence and sexual assault, and made a huge deal about the fact that once every four or five years they’d not been allowed to put one lousy cross on a piece of paper before stuffing it into a stupid ballot box. Women who lacked Cristina Odone’s bold, brave acceptance of the world, and instead tried to change it. You might think Mary Beard plays no part in it but honestly, that’s where all this moaning and “defensiveness” leads.
Of course, such cowardly women don’t stick their heads above the parapet in the same way that Odone does. While the latter trots out the same old lines in order to encourage womankind to stoically put up with the same old crap, these women go that little bit further (but only because they’re “stupid”). If anything attracts misogyny, it’s standing up to misogynists. Odone glosses over the true nature of the “criticism” thrown Beard’s way, which goes way beyond having one’s looks “mocked” (although Odone indulges in some mocking herself – “the grey hair as wild as a witch, the figure, unselfconsciously plump” – as though Beard is to be admired not for her academic prowess but for daring to be seen in public).
I think it’s brilliant and brave of Beard to respond to this abuse. It makes other women feel more courageous in the face of intimidation. So it lacks a certain nonchalance which, with enough wishful thinking and patriarchal coaxing, can be rebranded as power. So what? That’s not real power, it’s fear. Perhaps the fearful should take stock of their own motives before taking it upon themselves to police the responses of others.