The BBC briefly provided tech blogger Holly Brockwell with a bodyguard due to all the abuse she received after writing a column describing why she wants to be sterilised because she doesn’t want to have children.
Brockwell also deactivated her Twitter account after the BBC published her column over the weekend, due to the number of creepy, abusive threats she got, mainly from men, she told Business Insider today.
Brockwell’s article described how she chooses not to have kids, and that other methods of contraception are too invasive, or have too many side effects. Yet despite repeated attempts, she has been unable to find a doctor to perform the operation, largely because medical professionals do not believe her choice should be honoured. She wrote:
You may wonder why I don’t choose another, less drastic, form of contraception but the pill has been making me sick for years and the only other option is the coil, which I’m not willing to have because I know two people who’ve experienced horrendous side-effects.
I don’t need reversible contraception. There’s a 10-minute keyhole operation that can solve this problem for good, and I can’t believe that at the age of almost 30 in 2015, I’m still having to fight to get it.
We can choose to get pregnant at 16 but not to decline motherhood at 29. It seems our decisions are only taken seriously when they align with tradition.
The article spent some time on the front page of the BBC’s site, and triggered such an angry response from hundreds of readers that today, when Brockwell was scheduled to host a Q&A with readers on a BBC Facebook page, “They actually got me a bodyguard to take me from the car to the building, they’re worried someone is going to attack me.”
“In the half hour between it going up and me seeing it, the volume of stuff, and the harshness of stuff, was already worrying me and made me think uh, maybe this wasn’t going to be fine after all,” she said. Twitter was the worst channel for abusive messages (as it always is, according to those who have studied the matter).
“There is no escape from it, it’s across all social channels, in my work email and my personal email. … I got a message from Linkedin!”
“There was a lot of nice comments as well I should say. But the sort of nastier ones were, ‘you’re really naive, you’re ignorant, you’re young, you’re stupid, you don’t know, you don’t know your own mind, you might change your mind, why should I have to pay for this, why shouldn’t sick children get treatment on the NHS because of you, why don’t you keep your legs closed.'”
The messages came “almost universally from men” she said. “I only noticed one woman.”
Brockwell has written about her mini-crusade to get sterilised before, once for The Guardian and once for The Daily Mail. She also got abusive messages from readers after those articles. The abuse from BBC readers was worse than those of the Mail, which was in turn worse than those of The Guardian, Brockwell said.
“There is a very small section of technology enthusiasts who know me because I’m a tech journalist and really decided to tear me to pieces.”
“Those people specifically don’t like having women in technology, they don’t like women writing about it. Automatically, as a woman, you have to work so much harder to get any recognition at all, there’s hardly any of us in it, I’m not surprised.”
Brockwell said those men said things like, “Oh she’s nice to look at but she doesn’t know which end of a phone to use.”
One man said, “he’d like to crowdfund a laryngectomy for me so I wouldn’t be able to speak anymore. That really got to me.”
When asked why Brockwell keeps writing about sterilisation, given the troll penalty that comes with it, she said, “It’s really important that women speak out about it, because there are a lot of people that feel exactly the same way and it’s not really well known. I don’t think people understand how large the scale of people who feel this way is. So if people don’t read about it and they don’t hear about other people feeling the same way and they don’t get representation, then they don’t think other people feel that way and they feel alone, and they think it’s not a valid opinion to have.”
“It helps people understand that it’s valid and fair, and it genuinely does help to get referrals for sterilisation because both times when I’ve managed to get GPs to agree with it, both times I took all my articles in and piled them on my GPs desk and she said, ‘OK fair enough we’ll discuss it then,’ after having said no four times.”
Another doctor said, “I wouldn’t have considered it if I hadn’t seen the article,” Brockwell said.
Brockwell said she has asked Twitter to block abusive accounts in the past but has not found that effective. “Blocking people does nothing,” she added. (The freedom that abusive trolls have on Twitter, relative to their low presence on other social networks, has been so bad at times that former CEO Dick Costolo complained about it back in February, saying, “We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we’ve sucked at it for years.”)
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