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Angry? Get in line please

A protest in Valletta in December 2019 brought together people of different ages and ideologies united in their call for justice. Photo: Pierre Ellul

It was just over a month ago that Tim Berners Lee, inventor of the world wide web, penned an open letter warning of the growing cycle of abuse women face online, including sexual harassment, threatening messages and by having private images shared without consent. It led him to conclude that “the internet is not working for girls and women”.

It was just over three months ago that evidence was presented in court showing the sheer volume of abuse to which journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was subjected before and after her assassination. Yet, here we are. Again.

Former V18 Artistic Director Mario Philip Azzopardi has been busy on Facebook vilifying MEP Roberta Metsola with words that don’t warrant repeating. While his actions have been widely condemned, her response – which was to turn the abuse on its head and reassure youngsters, especially women, that this is not what politics is about – seems to have enraged him further.

First of all, she makes a valid point – women are indeed discouraged from taking up public roles after witnessing female leaders experience abuse. Moreover, female politicians are three times more likely to be insulted on social media platforms than their male counterparts.

A 2018 report by the Inter Parliamentary Union that interviewed 123 women from 45 European countries found that 85.2% of female MPs had suffered psychological violence during their time in office.

Interestingly, Malta did not participate in this survey, which might also explain why the 2018 report of the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality makes no mention of the online harassment of women in or outside the public sphere.

Apparently, women don’t get harassed in Malta, online or off. Yet, this abuse has been heavily documented by The Shift and presented to the public inquiry into the journalist’s assassination.

Secondly, there was no other possible response she could have given. I would hate to think of the kind of backlash had she replied in kind, with the same language. ‘Overreacting’, ‘emotional’ and ‘hysterical’ come to mind.

Of course, I cannot speak for Roberta Metsola, but a part of me suspects that what drives this kind of measured response is rage, not the kind displayed by Azzopardi; no, that’s just tiresome. Rather, the quiet simmering rage that is the driving force behind most of what you do.

Perhaps it’s the quiet rage one feels because if you stand for something and you’re a woman, you’re inevitably going to be at the receiving end of some form of abuse, eventually.

For comparison’s sake, why not take a look at the article written by Media Today Managing Editor Saviour Balzan about migration and then proceed to read the comments. You will find that many disagree with him but there is no threat of physical violence and no one wishes for him to be violated. He is even complimented for keeping his comments section open. How very civil.

Does anyone remember the Maltese commentary on Cecilia Malmstrom’s Facebook page back in 2013? Or for something more current, take a look at activist Greta Thunberg’s twitter feed, and see what men have to say to a 17-year-old girl. You don’t even need to look that far to see the abuse received by the sisters of Caruana Galizia who, together with her sons and husband, sustain the campaign for justice.

Maybe it’s the quiet rage at how COVID-19 appears to be affecting women differently than men, and while the disease itself appears to affect men more severely, the majority of healthcare workers and caregivers around the world are women and the consequences of lockdown seem to be affecting women in all manner of ways, from increases in domestic abuse to a decline in the submissions of academic papers by female scholars.

Care to guess why? Maybe some are simply enraged by the more mundane things in life such as not having equipment that fits properly. But, above all, many are still enraged that a female journalist was murdered 30 months ago after having been dehumanised and vilified during her lifetime and after, and for which there as yet appears to be no justice in sight.

It’s 2020 but we’re still not leaders. As women, we’re bossy, we’re not demanding, we’re difficult, we’re not ambitious, we’re bitches and, according to Tony Zarb, we’re not activists demanding accountability – we’re “whores”. The favourite theme in Labour online hate groups is, we’re “witches”.

The list is endless, exhausting and enraging. So please, angry men of the internet, take a seat because some of us have been raging all our adult life. And really, sirs, there’s no need to be so emotional.

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