Monday morning, the sun is shining, life is good. Why then am I feeling so angry and frustrated? I suppose the short answer is people. The long answer is that I am saddened and hurt by internet bullying, not towards me, but towards others who are more vulnerable than I am. My hometown of Portsmouth has a Facebook page called Spotted Portsmouth, which I was vaguely aware of but had no interest in. But it came to my attention last night through a fantastically supportive women only Facebook group I belong to (every city should have a Fierce Babes group – its bloody wonderful!). The page had shared a less than flattering image of a young woman out on Saturday night with her buttocks showing, as her dress had ridden up. They flocked in their hundreds to mock and belittle this poor young woman, deriding her as a slut, a slag, disgusting, vile!
There are so many reasons why this saddens and angers me. The first is that to take a picture of an unsuspecting woman flashing any part of her body shows an absolute lack of compassion and humanity – did nobody think to let her know? The second is that I am certain that if this woman had a body that society deemed as acceptable, the comments would have been of a very different nature – she would have been sexualised, and lusted after, but of course she would still have been perceived as a slut and a slag. Tired old tropes that any progressive society really needs to move beyond.
The other thing that ground my gears was that perhaps as many as half of the people who commented on the thread had rainbow coloured flags on their profile pictures, celebrating the wonderful news that gay marriage is now legal in the United States. The hypocrisy of claiming to be in favour of equality and supporting the progressive legislation relating to gender and sexuality whilst simultaneously treating a stranger in this manner is painful, and yet the irony is clearly lost on these people who are ‘having a laugh’ at another human being’s expense.
The final point that gets under my skin is that when you see someone in what you deem to be a ‘state’ you have absolutely no idea what is happening in their lives. They might have mental health problems, a learning difficulty, be spiralling out of control due to grief, or could simply be a little too drunk and making a silly mistake. The mental health charity ‘Mind’ states that almost 1 in 10 of us suffer from a mixture of anxiety and depression and I am one of them. Spotted Portsmouth have absolutely no idea how their actions will affect someone, or what consequences those actions might have. The victims could potentially lose their jobs, their (often invisible) mental health issues could spiral out of control, it may have a negative impact on their family (the image shared last night also included details of the woman’s children and which school they attend.) At worst it could lead to death. I know that at certain points in my life, if this had happened to me, it could have pushed me over the edge. A recent report by The Samaritans states that there were 6,708 suicides in the UK and the Republic of Ireland in 2013.
Facebook won’t deal with this (they are too busy policing breastfeeding mothers) so it is up to us to say no – to refuse to accept this in our communities, to join together to fight this insidious disease of cyber bullying. Start a petition, contact your local newspaper and MP, but, whatever you do, join together to say NO to bullying.