Clementine Ford has had a pretty abysmal five days. That sounds patronising but the truth is I’m in awe.
It began when she took a stand against a subsequently deleted Facebook post by Channel Seven’s Sunrise last Thursday. The post referred to an American “revenge porn” website that had published illegally obtained intimate photos of 400 women from South Australia.
“What’s it going to take for women to get the message about taking and sending nude photos?” is the question that Channel 7 originally posed.
Ford, a crusader against victim blaming, was not the only person to take issue with that post. So many people complained that it was changed.
“A stern warning for people who share risque photos online…”
(Still no emphasis on those willing to betray the trust and consent of women, just the women naïve enough to think consent was theirs to give.)
So Ford pursued the conversation. She made her point by writing a message to Sunrise on her bare chest which she photographed and shared alongside a short message on Facebook.
“I’ve taken nude photos just because I have a smart phone and it’s fun. None of that means I have asked for my privacy to be violated, my photos stolen and my very self, made available for public humiliation and judgment. Consent is everything.
When Channel 7’s Sunrise asks ‘when will women learn’ instead of ‘why do men continue to view women as objects they can defile and violate while the world watches and tut-tuts’, they are victim blaming. They are saying it’s the responsibility of victims of crime and assault to prevent it and not the responsibility of society to make such crimes intolerable and unacceptable.
When will women learn? Learn what? That our bodies do not belong to us? That we have no right to determine who sees those bodies?”
When young women are killed or raped, as a community our conversations still revolve around why women should stay away from parks, or not walk alone and avoid alcohol. These caveats are reflexive and almost primitive, such is the lure of believing awful things like sexual violence can be prevented with a little careful planning on a woman’s part.
But it’s untrue and as Ford articulates it places undue emphasis on victims, not perpetrators. Whether it’s well intentioned or not, victim blaming feeds into a dangerous dynamic, whereby victims feel shame and blame for the actions of perpetrators whom we are inclined to excuse as having no control.
Is it surprising that the emergence of revenge porn – where disgruntled ex’s publish intimate images of their partners – is attracting the same narrative? If only women were smart enough not to take nude images of themselves, there would be no risk. If only more individuals respected the consent and privacy of their intimate partners, there would be no risk.
As Ford writes that trust and respect should be the norm:
“I also want to emphasise something others seem to be missing. I haven’t ever been hacked or had a partner betray my trust. That should be the expected norm. All I’m doing is standing in solidarity with the women who ARE blamed when others steal property exchanged in trust and use it to sexually humiliate and degrade them.”
Clementine’s post was shared 45,000 times and liked by 212,000 people, who like me, admire her resolve, resilience and incredible advocacy.
There are plenty of men and women, however, who think differently.
On Sunday Ford tweeted that she’d received over 1000 vile messages in the past 48 hours. She shared a few of the private messages she’d received through Facebook via screen grabs. They included requests for her to send them nude photos, explicit photographs of naked men asking her to perform sexual acts on them and a range of message with charming insults calling her a whore, a slut and everything in between.
For doing this she was punished. Ford was banned from accessing her account for 30 days by Facebook because her publishing these messages violated their community standards.
This image quite neatly encapsulates the extraordinary hypocrisy of that ban. My question to Facebook is if this doesn’t violate your community standards, what type of community do you stand for?
Given Ford’s cult following she was able to mobilise a pretty extraordinary campaign against Facebook and managed to have the ban removed. It was a win, but a shallow one.
“I’m thrilled that common sense has prevailed and that I have had some kind of victory here. But it still stands that such a ban should never have happened in the first place. No one should be punished for speaking out against abuse, especially not the kind of cowardly abuse sent under the banner of ‘private correspondence’. Private correspondence is a conversation mutually entered into by more than one party and defined by respect and sometimes discretion. It is not someone sending you unsolicited emails calling you a filthy whore.”
And the power to have a ban removed is not necessarily available to the average target of abuse.
“It should not be forgotten that the vast majority of abuse targets do not have the same level of resources that public writers and people with large Twitter followings have at their disposal. After FB banned me for having the audacity to publish photographs of the onslaught of sexualised abuse being sent my way, I was able to mobilise an army of passionate, enraged people. I do not take lightly the fact that I have more privilege than many others when it comes to these issues. Many who are punished do not have that kind of support.”
I am someone who fights ingrained sexism but I am nowhere near as bold or as brave as Clementine Ford. This means the rebukes I receive aren’t as vile, vicious or voluminous as those that Clementine gets. On occasion people have commented to me, that Clem always seems angry. It’s a typical criticism levelled at articulate feminists, particularly those who are genuinely uninterested in pleasing those around them. As a person it’s not valid to characterise Clementine as angry, but in her writing? Very. So every time I hear that, my response is the same: Why wouldn’t she be angry?
Not just because feminism is still so desperately needed, a cause for considerable frustration in itself, but because she is on the frontline of the feminist fight. Every day she is insulted and denigrated – from her body to her brain – and every day she keeps fighting. Why? Because she’s desperate for attention? Because she just hates men? Because there’s nothing she’d prefer to do with her spare time? No. It’s because she refuses to accept a world that treats women unequally.
“The only thing that would make me feel ashamed would be staying silent. It can be hard to remain energised in the face of such overwhelming hostility. But the more of us who speak, the easier it will be to drown out the voices of those people who want to remain entrenched in a past defined by the fear and control of something they cannot and will not try to understand.”
Thank you Clementine for being the fearless feminist you are. God knows we need you.