Social commentary

‘Madwomen in the Twittersphere’ A Christian Response to Caroline Criado-Perez? – by Hannah Martin

Caroline Criado-PerezCaroline Criado-Perez has left twitter.

For those who don’t know, Criado-Perez is a campaigner and writer who led the campaign to reinstate a woman on the English bank-note.  Following the success of this campaign she has been subject to hundreds of graphic rape and death threats from ‘trolls,’ mostly online via twitter and other social media channels.

The pressure to ‘take it’

From reading her own explanation, it seems to me that Criado-Perez has been driven off a public forum, not so much because of the trolls and their keyboards but, in her own words..

‘because of the relentless, exhausting, never-ending policing of my behaviour. The continual injunctions not to react, not to swear, not to shout, not to show emotion. To be quiet. To be good. To take it.

Unsupportive culture

It seems that our culture has been ‘piously, sanctimoniously, patronisingly and relentlessly’ unsupportive due a misplaced notion that Criado-Perez’s response has been, well, just a bit OTT.  How dare she use swear words?  Use CAPITALS – the digital equivalent of a scream – isn’t that such a terribly disproportionate response?  Of course, victim-blaming is common, especially for women who dare to put their heads above the parapet, but it seems that Criado-Perez has been subject to a particular type of sanctimony related to her impassioned responses to her tormentors and fury at the inadequacies of both twitter and the police to deal with the cases of abuse with the speed you might expect.

Hysterical females

Like the nameless heroine in the Yellow Wallpaper (a short story published in 1892), Bertha Mason (Mrs Rochester in Jane Eyre) and Shakespeare’s Orphelia women have been confined for hysterical behaviour both within fiction and without for centuries.  In those tales it was literal confinement, in attics and nunnerys.  But now, we expect a more subtle curtailment of the female – we expect them just ‘to take it.’

The concept of hysteria comes from ancient Greece; women tarred with this malaise displayed mood swings and erratic behavior, making them incontinent and unable to make rational decisions. A hysterical female’s “wandering uterus” needed to be confined and controlled.

Two types of justice

So, why is this important for Christians?

In my church this Sunday I was reminded about the two types of justice in the Bible.  Repeated hundreds of times are two Hebrew words for justice, mishpat and tzadeqah.  The first is often used in context of acting against injustice, rectifying the mistakes we make which lead to injustice against the widows, orphans, immigrants and the poor.  The second ‘justice’ is more about trying to live a life of ‘righteous relationships’ – NB that’s righteous, not self-righteous – very important that. The main thing I was reminded was that if everybody was living and working within tzadeqah, that would render mishpat as unnecessary.  Lions and lambs drinking from the same stream.  Women and men speaking from the same platform.

I can’t claim to know Criado-Perez, Laurie Penny, Stella Creasy, Mary Beard or any of the other women who have been subjected to ‘silencing’ behaviour from the public ‘conscience’.  But I do know that if we were all righteously living with one another a la tzadeqah, gender inequality for both men and women wouldn’t exist.   Perhaps Criado-Perez wouldn’t have received death-threats for daring to suggest that having a fair representation of women in the media via The Women’s Room and on bank-notes was a good idea.  As is though, it seems we need a bit of mishpat. 

What does this look like?

So what does mishpat look like to you?  To me it may just involve a bit of a not-very-British-at-all-CAPITALISATION on behalf of victims of injustice, perhaps one or two upturned tables.  Not quietly crossing to the other side of the street, or delicately removing a ‘ranting’ individual from your twitter feed because it’s that bit too uncomfortable.  Consider this – were Criado-Perez a man would she have faced as much ‘policing’ of her behaviour, especially focused around her language, her rage and her obvious irritation?  I don’t know the answer but you only have to look at the benign reception that Charlie Brooker’s vitriolic rants attract to guess.

Perhaps our mishpat could start with support rather than judgement.  We could let the odd f-word lie and have compassion for somebody who is obviously in pain and under unbearable pressure.   We could be the voice of solidarity and respect for the persecuted – because isn’t theirs the Kingdom of Heaven after all?.

Hannah Martin, 24, is passionate about youth development, social justice, good strategy, great dancing and unpolished Christianity.  She occasionally tweets @Hannah_RM

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