This blog contains a censored naked photo and some aggressive language. I've posted the screen shots at the bottom of the blog so you can read the whole post and skip the nasty stuff.
If you need to talk to someone about online abuse, phone Lifeline on 13 11 14, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 or 1800RESPECT or visit ACORN. You can also contact police on 000. Google the relevant authorities in your country,
A couple of weeks ago, I saw Tara Moss in conversation with Berry Liberman, the Dumbo Feather editor. It was part of Tara's book tour for Speaking Out - her latest handbook for girls and women. I'm a contributor to the book too!
The conversation was so smart, funny and engaging. Tara is a delight - she really knows her stuff, but is humble, and she wants to give others a chance to speak out too.
Here's a summary of the discussion, taken from my live tweets during the night.
Tara said said Speaking Out was needed to get to the bottom about issues she was constantly being asked about. She said her previous book tour for The Fictional Woman became a speaking and listening tour, hearing about tough stuff from women. The attendees of the tour asked her for this book. She wanted to give a lengthier response than a 140 character tweet. She encourages readers to use Speaking Out as a handbook. She wants readers to highlight it, scribble on it, tear pages out, if we want. "Make it your own."
Tara said women receive bullying that silences them, the type that pushes them out of the game. Sexism and racism is alive and well online, becoming normalised behaviour. Women speaking out are fatigued due to online threats and bullying. "If we let bullies win, we are all in trouble".
She reminded us we have the right to report abuse and threats, and ban and block, and call police if needed. Or, "put on the red steel if that's what works for you" - on the power of lipstick.
Tara spoke about the sexism she's encountered. In 2002 had to take a polygraph test to prove she writes her own books. Apparently a model turned author is not possible? She said the sexism she's experienced is prevalent for all women, especially around career. "The question 'can you have a career and have a family?' Is not a question that's ever asked of men", she said. Interestingly, when I tweeted this, a man jumped in defensively about his role as a father, not knowing the context of my live tweeting, I guess.
She said said before blogs and social media, everything about her was written by someone else. She didn't have a voice. But now she does. Tara wants to allow space for others to speak, particularly those not represented in public life. Speaking Out was written to encourage those who weren't invited to speak. Tara said she feels like a reporter, using her profile to do what she can to give voices to individuals and causes. But she never wants to speak for someone. "it's important I don't speak for refugees, because that happens far too often."
Tara cannot be an activist on her own. It's a team effort. Agreed. I can't either. Much the feedback activists receive is often the same, common language. It's often criticism about an activist's appearance, intelligence, weight, or telling us to take a joke. Never about the issue itself. "Fun but depressing", Tara said, likening it to "anti feminist gaslighting bingo".
She regularly reaches out to those she's never met - asking if they're ok after they've written a powerful article and are receiving criticism and threats. This has been my experience - Tara has often messaged me to ask if I'm ok.
I found it interesting to hear about the boundaries she sets for herself when using social media. She never uses her electronic devices in her pyjamas, in the bathroom or in bed as these are private spaces. She doesn't want to invite unwanted guests into these parts of her house, so that's why she chooses not to use social media in these contexts.
Through sharing her story, many people offered support and shared their stories (which is a privilege), but she has also received rape threats. At this time, Berry raised the story about the woman who responded to an unsolicited dick pic by sending a dick pic. Tara said dick (penis) pics online have been normalised, and if law enforcement doesn't intervene, we are saying it's ok. (Hold that thought, and see what happened to me later in the night. Keep in mind I was only summing up Tara's talk, quoting verbatim at times.)
Berry and Tara spent some time discussing Tara's role as a UNICEF ambassador. Tara wears many hats and she takes her unpaid ambassadorial roles just as seriously as her paid roles, spending time researching and talking with relevant people. Last year, she spent time in Syria refugee camps. Around her, families - including children - lost their lives due to unsafe living conditions. She tried to keep strong in front of the children. "It feels like a gross luxury for me to be crying in front of kids". Tara said she gets disappointed with herself when she shows her vulnerability. But she keeps that short, because it's not useful. It's not surprising that with Tara's caring nature, her five year old daughter is too. When Tara's daughter sees her crying, she asks if she wants a cup of tea, and gives her a tissue. "We need more people in the world to tell people they don't need to stop crying", Tara said.
Humbly, she said she doesn't knock it out of the park every time. "No one is perfect." Tara went on to say that when a woman or member of a marginalised group "screws up", it feeds into our unconscious bias about that group.
At the end of her talk, a number of people stood up and asked Tara questions or told their story. A young woman said that she's only just starting to own her vulnerability, that people assume she's happy because she's smiling, and that she doesn't need support. She was so brave, speaking about her mental health and not being afraid to let the room see her cry. Tara replied: "you cannot tell by looking at someone how happy or healthy they are, or how much support they need."
She was asked whether Speaking Out was a book for men, too, or only for women and girls. Tara said she was told to write Speaking Out by hundreds of women. "men can still buy the book too. Kudos to men who have read it". She shared a quick story of how it took a man to put his hand up for a woman to be heard. She encouraged men to "call it". Call out sexism and being ignored & lack of diversity. "Allow the space to have the microphone handed to them."
And then a strange - but not surprising, given the talk - thing happened. I refreshed my Twitter feed after live tweeting the conversation, and up popped a dick pick. Woah. So creepy.
I quickly showed my friend Annie, and we gasped. I gingerly put my hand up and said I've just received a dick pic after live tweeting. I told Tara and Berry this was the first dick pic I've received, even before my husband.
Tara smiled, with a glint in her perfectly made-up eye. "Let's take a group selfie and send it to him." So we did. She encouraged us to make a gesture to show him what we thought of his dick pic.
I tweeted the picture with this caption.
Hey @BigDave0066 we all just saw your dick pic. This is what we think.
When I replied, telling him I showed his photo to others (I didn't retweet it, but showed it to Annie and Tara, and it was public, duh), he became aggressive.
@carlyfindlay keep my pic between us bitch, just rate"
I felt empowered to share all of his abuse. Because this is the language Tara Moss talked about. Man sends dick pic, then: "you didnt show anyone, did you bitch?"
I told him:
"Sorry, Tara Moss! Dumbo Feather and 220 women have my back."
He kept at it until I blocked and reported him. A few people said this was a bot account, and perhaps it was, just scanning Twitter for mentions of "dick pics". Whatever the case, the tweets were designed to abuse women.
This sense of entitlement and the intrusion from him was confronting. He sent me a photo of a naked man (it might not have been him), unsolicited. I never asked for it. I never suggested I wanted one. I was never provocative. I never knew he existed until his pasty white, podgy, naked body came up in my Twitter feed. Aggression followed the photo. It absolutely confirmed everything Tara spoke about.
I've been immune to this type of abuse until that night. But friends receive sexualised photos, rape threats and death threats regularly. This is not ok.
It was awful to receive this photo - this gender focused, sexualised abuse. But at that moment, being in a room of mostly women, led by an amazing feminist, I felt very safe receiving online abuse. It was a moment of solidarity. I was empowered to tackle online abuse in real time.
And I'm so glad this was the way Tara Moss and I met for the first time. What a story to tell when we catch up again. We hugged, she signed her books for me (I bought Speaking Out for my Mum) and then we had photos. Such a lovely woman.
Here's what went down on Twitter.