Fear and Loathing in Australian Politics

You may have missed it if you are outside of Sydney, but local station 2UE took radio to new lows with a sketch last week. It pertained to be a recording of the Australian Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young having an orgasm in response to the carbon price. While some obviously found it funny, imagine being a young woman thinking about entering politics listening to 2UE that morning. Imagine being a woman, like Senator Hanson-Young, already in politics.

The skit purported to be a ‘secret recording’ but the not-so-secret-reason for creating it was to demean her and take away her power. Resorting to sexual innuendo or downright harassment is an increasingly common way that male political commentators, in the mainstream media like 2UE and online, are using when confronted with the rise of women in Australian politics and causes.

Two months ago, as a panelist on the ABC show Q&A I faced a similar onslaught of sexism – in my case online. I’ve decided to share this story now, because it’s less about me than it is about the rise of anonymous online abuse and vitriol in Australian politics, particularly against women. It’s time Australia had a conversation about the impact this disturbing trend is having on the number of women choosing to be spokespeople for political causes and organisations.

An hour or two before I was due at the ABC studio for Q&A that night, my fiancé and I ate dinner at the Sheraton Hotel in the city. It was a quick meal – I was too nervous to eat much and obviously wasn’t drinking alcohol before a national TV appearance! I was on the phone for most of the time to a friend discussing solar thermal, as I was hoping the topic of renewable energy would come up. My fiancé Simon, who is also heavily involved in climate change through the online progressive movement GetUp, was on the phone too, busy with the latest campaign – a usual occurrence for us at dinner!

After we finished dinner (and our respective phone calls), I was in the final preparation stage for the show. I had gone over all the topics I’d guessed would come up, jotted down key points I’d like to make, and practiced staying calm whilst being in the close vicinity of two people with vastly different views to me. And then, we received a text message from a friend. “Have you seen Twitter?” it said. Immediately, I looked online.

It turns out someone had been watching us at the restaurant. Whether it was someone who had just happened upon us by chance, or someone who’d deliberately set out to track us down and monitor us, I didn’t know. Either way, it was creepy. This guy had been sending a series of messages talking about what we were eating, drinking, and talking about, and most incredibly, making things up about this!

Here were some of the Tweets from @demonspofforth (Fred S) May 16, 2011 at approx 7.30pm.

“Anna Rose Is Simon Sheik’s paid for piece on the side”
“Anna Rose was playing tongue hockey with Simon Sheik from GetUp at the Sheraton tonight”
“Why did Anna Rose need to be fed lines about the ETS by Simon Sheik”
“From what I saw tonight she could win a salmon eating comp”

It was an aggressive and sexist personal attack both on me personally, and us as a couple, and it made me feel like crap. In fact, I was close to losing the plot. Thinking that someone had been essentially stalking us for the past hour without us even knowing? That there was a man I’d never met watching what I was eating, listening to what I was saying to my fiancé and writing about it online in real time without me knowing about it until later? Creepy and sick. And it was even weirder that this man had just decided to make up complete lies about us.

So I was really upset and shaken up. In short – completely not ready to go on national television in front of almost a million people. But at this point, I had no choice. I had less than half an hour before I had to get into a cab to go to the ABC. So I took five minutes to take deep breaths, and tried to block it out of my head. I did the panel and tried my best not to let the way I was feeling affect my performance.

After Q & A was over, Simon and my friends said that there were lots of really supportive and kind comments on Twitter. Despite that, I couldn’t bring myself to read any of the Twitter mentions because of what had happened before the panel. I went to sleep, still feeling deeply disturbed.

About a month later I was in the United States at a conference listening to a panel of influential female political candidates and bloggers share their stories of sexist smear campaigns targeted against them – both online and in the mainstream media. It was in this panel that I realised the incident before Q&A had affected me deeply; and that similar incidents (and much, much worse ones) affect women involved in politics every day.

Research from the United States conducted by Lake Research Partners for the Women’s Campaign Forum reveals how voters react to sexist coverage of women candidates. Surprisingly, the research found that the impact of “mild sexism” has the same negative ramifications for their campaign as “extreme” sexist smear campaigns. This is because the public is already uncomfortable with women in positions of power and influence.

Sam Bennett from the WCF Foundation told attendees at the Netroots Nation conference this year, “Even mild sexist attacks (like focusing on a female politician’s hair and makeup) is just as damaging to the perception of that woman’s ability as a leader as an outrageously sexist attack. Our culture has a hard time perceiving women as leaders. That means that when these attacks come the way of women, it further erodes readers and listeners’ ability to take them seriously.”

WFC’s report was published by Lake Research Partners in September 2010. The research showed that “sexism, even mild sexist language, has an impact on voters’ likelihood to vote for a female candidate and on how favorable they feel toward a woman seeking office. It also affects perceptions of trustworthiness, empathy, values, and effectiveness.”

Despite this, many people fail to see the problem. A recent Facebook discussion with a male friend over an online newspaper poll that asked readers to rate Julia Gillard’s dress sense drew the following comment: “Lots of people commented on Keating’s manner of dressing…is the problem that we don’t judge our male leaders on their dress sense when we should? Or is it that dress sense is irrelevant? Personally I think how a leader comports themselves in dress and manner, is important.”

Yes, male politicians sometimes (rarely, but it does occasionally happen) draw comment from the media about their appearance. No, the ramifications for their careers are not the same. The public doesn’t perceive male politicians’ leadership abilities in a lesser light after discussion of appearance, unlike when the subject of the discussion is a female politician. Not to mention they’re judged by a very different standard, where women are expected to look beautiful all the time, and men aren’t. Which is why it’s sexist.

The anonymous Twitter comments before Q&A, however, was more than “mild” sexism. It was the assertion that I wasn’t smart enough to come up with my own points of view and needed a man to “feed” them to me. It was the allegation that I was a “paid up piece on the side” – essentially, a prostitute. Attacking a woman’s sexuality is hardly an original way of diminishing our power, but it’s always demeaning and especially so when based on an outright lie (not sure how I can be my own fiancé’s “piece on the side”!). Tweets about what I was eating and my weight (whether or not I could “run around the block”) are another classic way to harass women. The anonymous tweeter (@demonspofforth) had really covered all the bases.

So this got me thinking about the way the online world is affecting women in politics. In the USA, the Women’s Campaign Forum reports that women are 50% less likely than men to even consider running for office. It’s obviously a similar situation here given the dearth of female politicians (yes, I hear you composing your angry comment post now – we do have a female Prime Minister. But remember only 30% of all state and Federal Parliamentarians in Australia are women and in some states like Western Australia that number is less then 20%).

As someone who occasionally gets questions about whether I want to go into Parliamentary politics, I can say that there’s absolutely nothing about being a female politician that appeals to me, apart from being able to influence climate change policy – which I can continue to do from outside the party system.

The amount of vitriol, the death threats and the nasty emails (many with extremely sexist overtones and threats of sexual violence) I receive, as a low-profile climate campaigner is enough, thank you very much. With the rise of Twitter and comment fields, anonymous haters are in their heydays. And whilst Facebook is made for liking, pretty much every other corner of the web seems to be made for hating.

Other young women who are starting to build public profiles around issues or causes, whether they be overtly “political” or not, are facing the same attacks, and experiencing similar feelings. Samah Hadid, who has appeared on Q& A several times, says that after she appears on the show, “I’ve had hate mail emailed to me, not to mention the personal abuse I’ve received on Twitter. I’ve been named a ‘bitch’, ‘trot’ and ‘devil’. My breasts were also mentioned at one point… the list goes on. Most of the abuse hurled has been from men. I’m sick of the abuse directly emailed to me and it has really deterred me from continuing any media.”

Sara Haghdoosti has similar experiences after appearing on Q&A, receiving comments like “who’s the pig in pink” and “that girl’s pretty but she’d be prettier if she kept her mouth shut”. Sara and Samah face the additional burden of racism, with Sara being sent messages to her personal Facebook account like “go back to where you came from” and “I hope you die, Muslim”.

Another young woman who works on development and poverty issues and would prefer not to be named, confesses: “This (online anonymous sexism and abuse) is exactly why I say no to media opportunities like Q&A, why I don’t feel comfortable writing personal-related posts on my blog (and then eventually took the site down altogether), why I switch back and forth between making my Twitter protected or public and why I have to tell people every week that no, I do not intend to go into politics. I know too many close female activist friends who get sickening, toxic, sexually violent hate attacks every single day – and I just don’t want to go there. It just doesn’t seem worth it, which is a really sad thing for me to say, because fighting for what’s right should always be worth it. I feel completely unequipped to step out into the public domain and take the inevitable Twitter snipes or vicious online comments as if they don’t matter.”

It’s clear that we must do something to equip young women from all sides of politics to be able to deal with the level of vitriol that’s now par for the course with being a spokesperson. But we must also remove the sexism we see in our mainstream (non-anonymous) media, and create an environment where female politicians – like our Prime Minister – can call out sexism from the media and third parties, and make it clear it’s not acceptable.

There is some good news from the US research on this second front. When women respond immediately and call out sexist behaviour for what it is, it appears they can recover from sexist language and attacks. Publicizing instances of sexism, holding the instigators accountable and calling it sexist goes against the conventional political wisdom of “ignore smear campaigns, you don’t want to give them air”. But the rise of online media means that we don’t live in conventional political times any more.

The American organisation “Name It. Change It” was set up to act as a watchdog for problematic coverage of women on all sides of politics. It aims “to end sexist and misogynistic coverage of women candidates by all members of the press—from bloggers to radio hosts to television pundits.” While at the conference, I took their pledge to do my part to prevent all instances of sexist and misogynistic coverage of women candidates, women leaders, and women of all walks of life.

So here goes: @demonspofforth – what you did that night was harassment. It was sexist. No woman should have to read vitriol like that online or anywhere else about herself.

And to all the women and men out there who want to see more women going into politics, let’s pledge now to call out sexism wherever we see it – online or offline, anonymous or not, whether it targets women of any political orientation. Maybe as a start, the Twitter feed of Q& A needs a movement of people letting problematic Tweeters know when their comments cross a line.

What do you think?

About annastarrrose

Author & environmentalist
This entry was posted in feminism, learning, Qanda, sexism, women. Bookmark the permalink.

105 Responses to Fear and Loathing in Australian Politics

  1. alexraf says:

    i think that night i streamed QandA just to watch you and it was totally worth it. true strength wins everytime. so sign me up – there can be no climate justice without gender justice.

  2. So glad you ended up writing this Anna – courageous and well written. Thank you. 🙂

  3. michael says:

    Really great post, Anna. What a horrible story.

  4. Earswired says:

    Maybe I’ve led a sheltered life, but I don’t get the salmon comment.

  5. jboydedu says:

    Well written, gutsy, and timely. The overt culture of bullying, misogyny, self-centredness and fear-mongering has taken hold and is totally undermining the fabric of our society. Is it any wonder our kids are bullying others when that’s what they see from adults, is it any wonder our kids are being cyberstalked when they are faced daily with screaming sensationalist headlines designed to destroy rather than build decent discourse. The media in general, the shockjocks and their inciting of civil unrest, and the strutting arrogance of the self-interested wealthy whose vested interests are destroying society, and an opposition leader who is acting like a bull in a china shop need to take a damn good look at themselves and see what they are really doing.

  6. paulrconnor says:

    Really moved by this. Your courage is quite incredible. Thank you Anna Rose!

  7. George Leipnik says:

    Anna, an incredible post. Well written, timely and moving!

    It is so sad to continue to hear that you, and others like Sara, whose opinion and work I respect and value so much, have to continue to deal with such sexist, misogynistic and racist attitudes.

    I think you have a great point in suggesting that we all call out sexism where we see it. Conventional wisdom should not apply here. It is not as though in challenging or acknowledging this *behaviour* you are giving profile to *opinions* so to speak, these aren’t sides of a debate, but abhorrent actions. Rather, hopefully it serves to highlight both deliberate and inadvertent sexist attitudes as an embarrassment.


  8. Amy Coopes says:

    bloody well said. have horrible stories all too similar to this of my own. the world needs more courageous women like you!

  9. Pauly says:

    Well said and well done for writing. It is typical of reactionary politics and corporations to use bullying and hateful/discriminatory language, because they can’t actually win an argument, and yes, women cop it far worse than men.

    We cannot let this hatred get to us, we have to keep fighting for a sustainable, safe climate, just world and try to look at the hate mail as confirmation that we are making a difference.

  10. Sally Corbett says:

    Anna, I hope you have written to/told/emailed this to producers of Q&A. They need to know about this and do all they can to may it known this happend to you after appearing on the program. I wonder does the twitter feed on Q&A tend to encourage this. Some of the tweets are pretty questionable, even though I’m sure the feed is moderated.

  11. Great article Anna – this is very disturbing on many levels.

    It’s impressive to see that you are not letting the worst side of humanity slow your important work.

  12. mish says:

    Anna, Thanks for using your personal experience to help get a conversation started on this important issue. I particularly liked the suggestion for people to help further the conversation by naming the unacceptable behaviour when and where it occurs. Keep up the good work.

  13. Colleen O'Byrne. says:

    I am absolutely horrified that you had to go through an ordeal like that. Keep strong.

  14. Medusa Knows says:

    Oh FCS, I saw that tweet stream and the tweets started by mentioning a chance sighting of Simon and an unknown female. Stalking you? Precious princess.

  15. Blair Palese says:

    Good for you Anna – it’s shocking and horrible that you and any woman in the spotlight has to endure such sexist abuse. Thanks for writing this and happy to share it! Cheers, Blair

  16. Medusa Knows says:

    Maybe you should have some concrete with your salmon.

  17. John Newton says:

    Terrible terrible – even more terrible that the idiot Medusa Knows (nothing) doesn’t get it. But I am horrified at the 2UE ‘skit’ Surely that’s a breach of the broadcasting code? Oh – there is no code?

  18. Folks, if you’ve never seen an online troll, let me introduce you to a classic example of the breed: Medusa Knows, step forward.

    Let’s put it this way: if your first response to a post about demeaning, belittling, sexist and outright nasty stuff coming up as a response to women speaking out in public is to make a couple of demeaning, belittling, sexist and outright nasty comments yourself, then I call troll. A troll is a troll is a troll is a stirrer, a provocateur, a bully and a nasty-minded little whatsit, and deserves to head right on back under their bridge.

  19. Steven Clark says:

    Interesting. I ran into this ‘anonymous identity’ Spofforth this week while doing research for a university assignment… as a result yesterday I posted this article about the lack of credibility that anonymity encompasses on #auspol – Anonymity Removes any Credibility on #auspol – with particular reference to Spofforth.

    What I would recommend, if you feel you have been threatened or abused in any way is to telephone the Australian Federal Police and make a complaint. It is, in fact, an offence under Australian Federal law too use telecommunications mediums (the phone or the Internet) to abuse or threaten. In that, racial and sexual harrassment are probably worth bringing to their attention.

    Unfortunately the Internet, particularly Twitter, offer certain people anonymity that they then use as a cloak believing they can do or say anything as ‘opinion’. There are laws… they just feel emboldened by that anonymity. However, everything on the Internet is trackable in the end and the police can go back to that person in the real world at their real address in front of their real family and friends & caution or charge spofforth with a crime, if one is found to have been committed.

    One key point in my article I wrote is that the spofforths covet their anonymity because they would be embarrassed if held to their words in a public arena. Where is it ‘normal’ to call people RACIST, POOF and NAZI? That, in 2011, is what most of us would consider unacceptable. All I ask is that he simply has the integrity to stand by his words with a name or a face. But, no, spofforth will always hope to maintain anonymity until he’s eventually pursued for crossing the line.

    The auspol hashtag seems to be a bit of a magnet to that misuse of anonymity, too.

    So, yeah, I’d recommend you lodge a complaint with the AFP. I wouldn’t suggest complaint to Twitter because even if they shut the joker’s account he’d just make a new one & carry on. Spofforth would say ‘read the telecommunications act’. I actually don’t have to… that is the law and it has been for as long as I can recall. Bullying is unacceptable online or offline.


    Steven Clark MBAS BComp
    Hobart, Tasmania

    • T says:

      Hi Steven,

      I guess there were three things I thought when I read your reply. First off – good on you for writing about how douchy douchy behaviour is and putting it out there.

      Second though, I think one of the points of replying on twitter or wherever that was brought up in the initial post was less about self protection (although that is important) but about lessening the impact of individual sexism on society by publicly disavowing it as inappropriate and wrong. That’s something that a report to the AFP won’t help with.

      And finally, the sad fact is that not all police are good police. One of the problems with the endemic sexism still lingering in our society, the sexism that this article is pushing against, is that women are often not considered to be rational. Thus a report of online bullying behaviour (which itself is often underestimated) by a woman can often be dismissed as someone being ‘over-emotional’. Police have their own biases and problems, and sadly often cannot be relied upon (a friend once told me how a police officer wouldn’t accept her report that she had been raped since from the way she was dressed she was clearly ‘asking for it’).

      So yeah, if one could get the AFP to accept a report of such behaviour that’d be great, but I don’t thinnk that’s the ultimate solution.

      • Steven Clark says:

        Yes, I take your point and it’s entirely true. I’d still pursue the complaint with the AFP if it continues. I had wanted to reveal this guy for a journalism assignment but then it would only be playing the same game in return and would be demeaning.

        As a computer professional I’d suggest this though. Nobody online is anonymous… between geolocation on images, image tagging, IP addresses and server logs (for example my IP is being registered on this web host and can be tracked to this address)… so it is not difficult for police to knock on that person’s door if the problem persists. The definition of cyber stalking i linked below… coupled with the position and politics of Anna… maybe make a strong case for them listening to her. Also, a strong letter from a lawyer to (a) Twitter @support, and (b) the AFP dept responsible for cyber stalking, would be a good move. Just to have something logged as having ‘happened’.

        But unfortunately were i to pursue this as a journalism assignment myself I would be impinging on ‘his privacy’ and ‘his rights’. So I can’t pursue it any further. Unless, of course, it figures that he’s committed or is committing a crime. If we don’t complain then there is no crime perceived to have been committed, sadly.

  20. Jewel Rainbow says:

    What happened to you was awful in the ‘inyahead’ and ‘underyaskin’ sense, and I feel for you given the covert intrusion into your privacy and subsequent salacious slander online. Did you make a police report and insist police pursue and prosecute the perpetrators? No? Ah, well….
    … whereas with Sarah Hanson-Young, I think it is a different thing… It’s their way of saying they think she’s a hottie 😉 And it would take a lot more than that to render the mightymagestic Sarah powerless – the woman is a political tank (and I intend that as a compliment! Respect 🙂

  21. Xander says:

    To talk a positive from the negative… One boon because of this, hopefully, dwindling attitudes is that non-government community orientated organisation benefit tremendously from this shift away from more public institutions of power.

    I find all the stories you’ve mentioned on this blog revolting and sickening and am glad that I’ve never had to deal with anything similar. I hope that I can be mindful enough of my own actions that nothing I do will give silent consent to the actions of others down this path.

    Society is lucky to have all the women that work in the community sphere, many times it is there sheer commitment to see change that see campaigns work effectively, but beyond this this post remains a testament to those that are willing to speak out.

    Keep up the hard fight for those of us that aware of this situation and those that live in blissful ignorance.

  22. completely agree with you in every way. The individual in question is merely one of dozens who haunt the #auspol hashtag, so that should give you some idea of the mentality & mindset. It is tactic du jour for the troll brigade to play the woman, not the ball, essentially because they are not equipped to play the ball. I have seen much much worse sexism deliberately swung at women on Twitter & in the blogosphere. There is only one way to handle it and that is to not give the perpetrators oxygen. In combination with ‘outing’ these people, stripping away their anonymity where-ever you’re able, denying them opportunity & space to exercise their bigotry is the only way. You either lie down and die, or stand up and fight. I get the feeling you’d like to do the latter but fear the kickback if you do. Trust me, as someone who has deliberately exposed two trolls on #auspol, and suffered the consequences (Twitter doesn’t like it, and actively supports anonymity), even as a male, I feel vindicated. It’s a personal choice, but for mine, fighting back is the only way.

    • How interesting! How do you find out someone’s real identity on Twitter? I have asked the guy who made the Tweets for his real name, but he (perhaps not surprisingly) won’t give it.

      • Steven Clark says:

        I’m currently part-way through a Master of Journalism, Media and Communications degree and was there primarily for research until questioned as to my ‘credentials’. He/she won’t identify themselves to me either. My current unit is Investigative Journalism and it would definitely be interested to follow this further as assignment work if there were a way to chip into this persona. And if it went anywhere, to possibly ask for an interview.

        As an IT professional (I’m also a Computing alumni from UTAS) it also surprises me that so many people believe they can cyber bully & slander online. The AFP can find them.

      • Weh Yeoh says:

        Anna, just thought you’d like to know that the link on your name links to a Korean website for a youth empowerment centre. Think you might have forgotten the “.au” at the end.

        Thank you for sharing your experiences, as horrible as they were.

  23. Steven Clark says:

    I am also concerned that the bullying taunts are still being sent from that auspol hashtag to your twitter account. That, in itself, may be reason to lodge an official complaint somewhere. That certainly constitutes cyber bullying and a lack of remorse.

  24. Janet Rice says:

    Thanks for writing this Anna. Stay strong. I had a horrible experience the year I was Mayor of Maribyrnong which your story has stirred up in me – i think I need to write about it too. I am constantly struck by the underlying sexism of a lot of the opposition to Julia Gillard – so much of our world is still so deeply misogynist.

  25. Ben says:

    A very worthy contribution. While I can never understand what it would be like as a young woman to receive gendered criticism like this I hope it makes you more willing to do the work required rather than less.

  26. Sandy Composta says:

    My mother sufferred for years because of sexist attitudes and leering men who treated her as a plaything and sex object. It was the way she was brought up, but it became too much and she finished living with only her cat, Sparkles, for company. Very sad. You go, girl! Speak truth to the Twitter powers.

  27. Steven Clark says:

    For everybody’s attention: Twitter isn’t the lawless wild west. Recently in Britain there has been a case where Twitter was forced to reveal an anonymous twitter account owner in a libel suit – http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2011/may/29/twitter-anonymous-user-legal-battle

    Don’t feel that you have no recourse in the anonymous online world of Twitter.

  28. Lou Pardi says:

    Awful. Extremely sad but refreshingly accurate. We’ve come so far but so much further to go. More power to you and ladies and gents like you. x

  29. Desley Mather says:

    Thanks for that post Anna! Unfortunately it still takes courage to name it when you’re subjected to a sexist attack. Clearly, some idiots – this twitter guy, the 2UE guy, the Daily Tele/Sun Herald editors, a few Liberal MPs – are not up to arguing the issues. Cowards!

  30. KO says:

    Slimy little trolls, like cockroaches that scurry away when the light is flicked on.
    Definitely support outing them. Anonymity online is an illusion and they should be exposed for who they are – creepy little cowards.

    Women bloggers the world over are continually bombarded with violence and misogynist comments. It is a tactic to try to silence you. It is part of the wallpaper of the Internet, I doubt it will ever go away. A good many women bloggers have had enough and retired totally from online, others have enlisted others to help filter and moderate comments. You need to find a strategy that works for you. One that allows you to only work with the constructive and helpful and not get tied up wasting time and energy on some sad little losers fantasy.

    As for 2UE, well that figures, the decrepit old dudes in charge would think it was knee slapping hilarious. Just picture “lord” mockenton when you think of their audience. Same as that creeper spying on you in the restaurant – all the same ilk.

    Anna you seem like an intelligent, centred and thoughtful person. Take care and keep up the good work.

  31. Laura says:

    Thank you Anna.

    These kinds of stories are exactly why I get so frustrated by women (and men) who shy away from calling themselves feminists, because they think the battle has already been won and whatever is left is just semantics. No. We still have a long way to go.

    I went to a Young Liberals ball once. I sat next to a Canberra-based media adviser for a Liberal MP. He told me about how the older men (including a former Cabinet minister) would try to follow a certain attractive female ALP MP out of the House of Reps so they could get a close look at her legs and make comments about them to each other afterwards. When I objected to the sexism, my charming acquaintance said, “oh she wears skirts – she’s asking for it!”

    Oh yes. We have so far to go.

    • Ash says:

      Totally agree with you on how frustrating it is when people equate feminism with some sort of extremism, rather than an ongoing push for an equality that is yet to be reached.

  32. Absolutely appalling and you have my complete support on this one.
    I’ve felt for a while now that anonymity on the internet encourages nastiness and I now always use my real name and try to stick to “would you say this to the person’s face” as a rule to establish if a comment is acceptable.

  33. Jane Salmon says:

    It is bad. It is sexist. It is common in politics. As any sort of Greenie, you are open to this. Look at what happens to Lee Rhiannon! And yes,Simon is widely reviled. If you want to work with someone as controversial and as daring as Simon, you can expect that to slop over too. Anything political requires a tough skin. It’s wrong but it is real. Speaking as someone who was disinherited by her own parents (PARTLY) for taking stands, I’d say “Get Used to It”. Remain functional and noone can call you “mad”.

  34. Alfie says:

    I for one am very pleased you wrote your piece and set forth your plans that you will not be going into politics.

    • Hi Alfie – I do work in politics, in the sense that the work I do is very political, but yes, formal Parliamentary politics doesn’t hold much appeal for most young activists, especially female ones.

  35. Ash says:

    I totally agree with you on this. I’m by no means prominent in public life in any way shape or form like yourself and the others mentioned in your piece, but when I’ve written for mainstream media websites or even for newspapers in a professional capacity as a journalist I’ve received sexist abusive emails. When I lived overseas, my participation in an office job out of the public eye even led me to be ripped apart online by male expatriates who wrote offensive public posts on forums that were defamatory and untrue, and the male website owners refused to take them down, even though their high appearance in Google search results was compromising my scholarship and job applications. It’s not right and we need to make a stand… but unfortunately it’s easier said than done to do actually be able to do anything about the anonymous internet buffoon chorus. Who do you chase when people don’t even have the guts to put their name to their comments? How to you critique this practice without drawing further abuse?

  36. Well done Anna! People like this are bullies and the best way to deal with a bully is to call them out on it. I join you in pledging to always speak up against sexism and abuse against women. It’s way past time to look them in the eye and tell them their intimidation tactics no longer work.

    Keep fighting the good fight! Lots of us are behind you. 🙂

  37. Steven Clark says:

    I just think we need to take a stand – men and women – against websites like Twitter empowering anonymity in the unacceptable forms of cyber-bullying, sexual slurs and ultimately cowardly hit and run libel. I think these people feel empowered and emboldened by a social networking service that protects them and accepts anything from overt death threats down to gutter grade innuendo. While I appreciate anonymity on the web I’d say when it’s flagrantly abused to cause others stress then the service should indeed have a policy to unmask these people so they must stand to acknowledge their words & work. It wouldn’t even be tolerated on Facebook so why is Twitter operating as a platform of impunity without responsibility?

  38. Helen says:

    A sad little man who in former times might have relied on his male privilege to get some kind of meaningful work, like yours, but instead you’re the one being interviewed on Q&A and his tiny bruised ego can’t take it. So he tries to pull you down.

    It’s not just politics. This behaviour is epidemic in coding, gaming and fan communities where you’d think, due to their recent appearance in our culture, that they wouldn’t be imbued with this relentless misogyny. Think again.

    But Stephen Clark, although your comments are helpful and well meaning, *your* massive privilege blinds you to the fact that women who are active online would like to keep their anonymity intact, thanks very much, otherwise their harassers – and believe me they will have them – will know where to find them, and the harassment will just be more effective. Anonymity may be good for the bad guys but it’s essential for their potential targets.

  39. badblood says:

    I am so very sorry you had (and have) to experience that. I hope you also know there are men and women who are cheering you on and glad for your presence and contribution in political debate. Your feelings in response to that episode are totally justified; I hope you won’t hold back because of the experience.

  40. Ramya Krishnan says:

    This is shocking. A courageous piece of writing Anna. Thank you for sharing.

  41. your dreaming says:

    I agree with Medusa. To think you were being stalked by someone because of a few tweets. Me thinks someone has too high opinion of themselves. Harden up princess. All public figures have to deal with criticism and innuendo. What makes you so special that you don’t?

  42. Ehsan Abbasi says:

    Thanks alot for the post, Anna.
    I can’t say that I know/feel what you were going through, but your performance on the panel that night was simply amazing. It was the first time I was seeing you, and also hearing about the AYCC. Your calm, and collected attitude, along with the optimism you brought to the issues/questions regarding climate change, sustainability, etc.. when they came up made a great impression on me.
    As a female, a pioneer and a role-model for people like me in this field, it is unfortunate that you are subject to such harsh tactics. I have no doubt that these instances will definitely make you stronger, and more determined to stand up for the ideals you hold dearly. Rest assured that there are people who realize the great contribution that your presence and leadership makes to the debate.
    Keep strong! 🙂

  43. chicgeek says:

    Anna, I’m cheering for you. While I’m at it, I’d like to thank you for this blog. A young friend of mine sent me the link, and I’ve been a faithful reader ever since.

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  45. Peter says:

    Get over it airhead

    • Steven Clark says:

      Peter, let me ask you this simple question. Would you be willing to say that statement “Get over it airhead” in front of your partner, your children or work colleagues? Is it work (or even street) appropriate? Are you by chance putting forth a socially unacceptable view that sexual harrassment and cyber bullying are not criminal offences? If you are not willing to stand by your word then it would obviously be embarrassing to you. So my question is, why write it?

      • Chris Z says:

        Interesting that in the same week as this blog, conservative US columnist and blogger Michelle Malkin has published a sample of the racist and sexist abuse she receives on an ongoing basis. Two points to note: (1) The tone and content of this abuse makes Anna’s ordeal look like mild badinage by comparison and (2) it all comes from ‘progressives’, that’s people who share the political views and values of most of the posters here.

        The strong theme on this site that it’s only ‘progressive’ women who are subject to racist and sexist abuse (though, to her credit, Anna herself sees it as a problem for all sides of politics) is wrong and hypocritical.

  46. Milo says:

    Brilliant piece Anna,
    It’s so scary not only to see these snide comments made under the cover of online anonymity but the organised campaigns of intimidation, hate and fear launched against those people in public political life. For example the wave of threats that forced the ANU climate scientists to relocate to more secure premises.
    In the case of female public figures experiencing public gender-based attacks I feel the onus should not be on the victims to follow up and expose these individuals instead it should be a matter for online administrators administrators or even police in extreme cases. Any environment or platform without accountability is a dangerous one and the internet is no different.

    Keep up the awesome work!

  47. BULLDOG says:

    Perhaps I am naive, but is it just an assumption that the remarks on Twitter were made by a male or is there some gender identification? I don’t follow Twitter, so am not particularly familiar with it’s workings.

    Just curious – otherwise the whole premise of the article on sexism rather falls over. Comments by women on other women are not always favourable either.

    • Bless a BULLDOG!

      The words right out of my mouth!

      I shalln’t digress into the unbalance of this whole post needless to say it reeks of its own sexism…

      I just wish I could go on, and on, and on about all the direct and indirect, sexual and non-sexual abuse I’ve suffered at the hands, mouths and knives of women in my, my male and female friends and family members lives, but then I’m sure I’d get some stereotypical male focused slander or psuedo homophobic quip for not being tough and thick skinned and all, me being of the same assumed sex of the not really guilty party in all this…

      Bless posturising, shame it ain’t a sin…

  48. Jazza says:

    Another reason why I do not use or read those social anonymous networks.

    Your experience was most unpleasant, but needs to be forgotten, unless you have a strong case for a lawsuit–otherwise you perpetuate the illusion these twits are worth noticing!

    What you describe is a form of bullying

    Women do seem to bear the worst sexist bullying, though males get more physical efforts at least when young,and are also susceptible to verbal abuse.The key seems to be to try to find a weakness to exploit and gloat about to other wastes of space who enjoy a salacious “thrill”!.

    Bullying can demean and rob one of self esteem

    The only long term answer to bullying is to have strong self esteem , know your own strengths and weaknesses, goals and limitations ,as well as beliefs ,and by your actions and words, rise above it.

    I do not share your political views, but i have sympathy for you, but as a Greatgrandmother, i’d say”Show them what you’ve got, ignore their childish nastiness, because that thumbs your nose at them better than anything!”

    Good luck

  49. Vonnie says:

    You are a courageous woman, Anna. It is disgraceful to read the repugnant, sexist, demeaning and threatening messages made by disturbed individuals who hide under the shelter of anonymous social media profiles.

  50. Hi everyone – I know there are a lot of people coming to this site from Tim Blair’s blog. Welcome – it’s exciting to have new readers. I would just ask this when you read about my experience. You might disagree with the work I do on climate change. You might decide you don’t like me as a person, even though we’ve never met. You are entitled to your views! But please, think about whether the experience I went through adds to constructive debate online, and whether or not you would think it’s reasonable for your sister, daughter or mother to have those kinds of comments hurled at them. My point is this: we should all be free to do the work we think is important without being the subject of sexist abuse. I like to think that many people who read Tim Blair’s blog, while you disagree with me on many other things, would agree with me on this. Thanks to those of you who are respectfully contributing to the debate happening here.

    • Chris says:

      Thanks! I wasn’t going to comment but am glad to receive your invitation.
      The first thing going through my mind from your post is that all these people calling you ‘brave’ must have a raincheck on reality. Its tops that you get over the fact that people disagree with you. Your support group, though read like that article “A guy marooned in Womens Studies”!
      My reaction is that you obviously dont read centrist blogs. The tide of leftist/climate changeist/progressive/race activist’s sexist bile against Hilary Clinton, Sarah Palin, Julie Bishop, Jo Nova and any other woman made a target by being inconvenient to the immediate needs of the ‘progressive’ narrative would make you reel.

  51. John August says:

    Bullies will push whatever emotional buttons they can to get their traction. Politics is grubby at one level, the competition brings out people’s “win at all costs” desire, regardless of ethics. Anonymity / lack of accountability doesn’t help much either. The sad thing is that this behaviour is rarely called, or at least there’s no general awareness / rejection of it.
    Sexist abuse is wrong, but so too is any abuse that picks on something particular to the target.
    Letting it muzzle your behaviour means it has worked; by all means identify it – don’t let it get to you, or those doing it will win – and it sends the wrong message too.
    I see what’s happening to you as part of a broader problem, but also respect you calling it sexist abuse. Good work.

  52. polly p says:

    the sad side of social media – this is downright discrimination – JG must have to have hide like a rhino- but don’t let this put girls off – we need more girls in politics but we also need good men to stand up & say this is wrong, really you’d think in this day and age there would be enlightented men out there – hopefully thats the way i’m bringing up my boys…!

  53. ernmalleyscrub says:

    Unfortunately, the male domination of media still continues on the internet. Male chauvinism is active and a standard fall back position for many journalists. They feel it’s alright for women to have opinions as a hobby, or well meaning campaign, but as a fully developed career, it’s a threat to their view of how life operates.
    The use of intimidating tactics reduces dialog and debate to an ugly free for all where there isn’t much chance of achieving a result. This is what cynics want. As long as everyone is distracted by nasty side issues, the main subject is forgotten.
    It’s like we live in a time loop, traveling back to the world of 1840, where women were usually kept as slaves to domestic affairs and reproductive functions.
    We still have some way to go.

  54. interesting73 says:

    Well written Anna and thanks for putting it out there.
    The behaviour in our political spheres and even more horrifically in our corporate spheres in Australia endorse the behaviour of these anonymous thugs as they go about their day to day business bullying and bulldozing their staff, their constituents and their opposite numbers.
    We need a change in the way the politicians behave and they in turn need to sharply bring the corporate bullies in to line.

  55. foxy says:

    I have some non sexist and open questions – first – how do you know your stalker was male?

    second – you as far as I can see have seemingly no issues with the vile violent abuse directed against conservative female politicians (Palin comes to mind as well as female Aussie pollies )

    third, the tweets you describe pale in comparison to the aggressive, abusive and demeaning insults ‘tweeted’ by your side of politics against anyone who dares to disagree – including ones seen on Q and A. Anyone thrown any shoes lately?

    the hypocrisy is staggering really on the left

    • Hi Foxy. The person who tweeted those messages has an abbreviation of a name listed in his profile as “Fred S”. Other people who know him on Twitter refer to him as “Fred”. His profile picture, whilst illustrated rather than a photo, is of a man. On your second point – yes, I absolutely agree with you! In my article, I wrote “And to all the women and men out there who want to see more women going into politics, let’s pledge now to call out sexism wherever we see it – online or offline, anonymous or not, whether it targets women of any political orientation” and also “It’s clear that we must do something to equip young women from all sides of politics to be able to deal with the level of vitriol that’s now par for the course with being a spokesperson.” Please don’t doubt that I absolutely, genuinely mean this. I want our political discussion to be about the issues, not personal attacks on the people involved, and I want for ALL women involved in politics, whether they be Pauline Hanson, Sarah Palin or Julia Gillard to be free from sexist abuse. The organisation that inspired me to write this post is non-partisan and regularly “names and shames” sexism directed towards Republican women. http://www.nameitchangeit.org/ So I’m definitely not saying that progressives should be able to be sexist and conservatives not be allowed to get away with it! I’ve had many instances of naming sexism within progressive groups over the years, too – it’s just that in those cases I can do it face to face or directly with an email or phone call because I know who I’m dealing with. Hope that answers some of your questions. Anna 🙂

      • Chris Z says:

        Anna, I probably don’t agree with you politically in many areas, but this statement in particular shows that you have the courage and intelligence to think beyond cheap and lazy political cliches and stereotypes.

  56. Annette Bennett says:

    So sorry that you had to endure that kind of crap, and what is worse, being powerless to stop or counteract it. Patriarchy and associated misogyny are as alive and active in this country as they were 50 years ago. Today, it is even more insidious and vile due to social media. I have just returned from 6 weeks in Denmark and Norway – what breath of fresh air politically and socially!

  57. Hero Fukutu says:

    At the highest level. The night the Prime-minister released the Carbon package Teddy (Premier of Victoria) tweeted that, and I paraphrase, that he was waiting for the leader of the Labour Party to turn up and then realised it was this woman.

  58. Steven Clark says:

    Sorry, belay the last (I’ve had a few beers)… we’re looking for Frederick Spofforth on Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=596053197 … not the young Fred Spofforth. Pls delete the last comment ;-p

  59. Steven Clark says:

    Anyway Anna I’ll keep pursuing it. Good luck and enjoy the rest of your tour. I’ll comment here if i make any major breakthroughs.

  60. Claire says:

    Anna, great piece. I absolutely agree that calling out this behaviour is the only way to combat it, despite how frustrating having to do this might be. The times I’ve confronted these attitudes head-on have been uncomfortable at the time, but I always feel better for having done it. And calling it out is not only ok, it works – people think about their behaviour and make changes to it.

  61. Gav says:

    You’ve got a glass jaw. Man up

  62. 2000faces says:

    I wanted to get the exact wording of the saying “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”, so I quickly googled it.

    I found out that Voltaire didn’t actually say it, it was a woman, Evelyn Beatrice Hall, writing under the pseudonym of Stephen G Tallentyre in “The Friends of Voltaire”, as a summation of Voltaire’s beliefs on freedom of thought and expression. (http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Voltaire, under “misattributed”)

    It’s a strangely appropriate fact, and in and of itself, and says plenty about gender and politics!

    Also, more generally we’re in a democracy. We can have differences of opinion, but we’re not going to be making a better world if we can’t treat the people we disagree vehemently with respect. This is disgraceful, and I commend you for writing this excellent post.

  63. Steven Clark says:

    BTW “Cyber Stalking” sounds pretty close to a definition::: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyberstalking

  64. Steven Clark says:

    As mentioned above in a reply… I won’t be able to pursue this any further for legal reasons. But I’d still consider the AFP complaint and you should talk to your lawyer. Nothing on the Internet is ‘untraceable’ simply because a name isn’t disclosed. Good luck with it.

  65. Tosca says:

    Anna I saw you on Q & A and would not have known that you’d had that experience so proximal to you appearance on the panel. Though I disagree vehmently with your views about man being responsible for changing the climate I am appalled at the invasion of your privacy, worse still the twittering of your privacy to rest of the anonymous world is just plain scary. It is simply disgraceful to be subjected to such reprehensible and clandestine voyeurism. In the past there was just plain prejudice, bigotry and misogyny. Let’s remember that it was barely 100 years ago that women in Australia were even allowed to vote or run for political office and can you imagine the kinds of hurdles they faced there in an unwelcoming, patriachal patronising place that didn’t contemplate women ever storming the citadels of power.

    We live in scary times and while there are Privacy Laws they were passed a quarter of a century ago and really do need to be re-visited and in a hurry to deal with the immediacy, intimacy and pervasiveness of new social media for which there appear to be no rules. But not only is there vitriol and vicious name calling anonymously over the twittersphere and in cyberspace, I must say that the polictical discourse in our federal parliament is hardly inspiring and I must say the performance of our politicians from the Prime Minister down is just appalling.

    I believe the Prime Minister sets not only the tone of discourse in the Parliament but in the national discourse. Prime Minister is leader of the government and the nation and must lead by example, gender does not come into it. To see the Prime Minister turn their back when a member of the Opposition is speaking, is just bad manners, and Parliamentary behaviour just deteriorates from the. “The roots of effective leadership lie in simple things, one of which is listening. Listening to someone demonstrates respect; it shows that you value their ideas and are willing to hear them.” I have watched Parliament question time for many years and I am really appalled at what I see from both sides of the House: the disrespect, the vitriol, the pettiness and hectoring. You are right Anna politics can have a very ugly face but it need not be like that if courtesy and respect underpins the process.

    Can I say to you Anna that it would be wrong for you to be deterred from doing anything your heart desires just because cowards hide behind anonymity and throw brickbats. You need to be able to detach yourself from the process – Deepack Chopra cautions: “…—the more engaged we become, the more detached we will have to be..”

    When I was a young child which was so long ago memory can barely call it up — we chanted “sticks and stones can break my bones but names will never hurt me” just use that as an affirmation and follow your dream because regrets are awful things to live with. I will finish with a quote from Joan Kirner former Premier of Victoria who said at a Women in Power Conference in 1994: “There is no such thing as being non-political. Just by making a decision to stay out of politics you are making the decision to allow others to shape politics and exert power over you. And if you are alienated from the current political system, then just by staying out of it you do nothing to change it, you simply entrench it.”

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  68. TheMan says:

    Unfortunately, when you enter the public eye, you’re always on show, be it in your private life or in public. When you make a commitment to talk on TV on political subjects, thats what happens. Its an unfortunately reality of life and one you need to get used to. I’m not saying its right, but I am saying that you are not unique and I doubt this is purely sexism. Politics is a dirty game with lots of back stabbing, lots of underhanded comments and because the decisions we make affect other people, its an emotional topic. There is a reason why they say Politics and Religion should be avoided as dinner conversations.

    To say that comments received against males is rare is completely untrue. Women take these things more personally than men, who receive a similar amount of comments on their appearance. If anything, women in our group of friend receive less comments on their appearance than men do because they are more sensitive, where guys are open game for comments.

    • stringy says:

      And yet every study and research project shows that you’re wrong. Media checks have found that more sexualised comments are made about women in the public sphere, and that men are equally affected on the few occasions it happens to them.

      Anna never claimed to be unique: that was the whole point of mentioning the 2UE incident and the research and Netroots Nation. You did read the post didn’t you? Or did you read just enough to realise it was about sexism and decide Anna needed your pre-prepared lecture on “The Way Things Are”?

      Grownups should argue based on the merits of the position, not by making comments about the appearance and sex life of someone they disagree with. Try not to judge the entire public arena by the standards of your own circle of friends.

  69. stringy says:

    Great post on an important issue. You might be interested in this post Why we have to talk about this which is about similar online bullying and misogyny, only related to the atheist community. Greta discusses why it’s actually useful to continue these conversations about online misogyny, because each time we do we convince one more person, and because it makes the problem visible and harder to dismiss.

  70. Anonymous Compliment says:


    Just dropping an anonymous compliment to say that I thought this was a great post, and good on you for fighting the good fight in the face of such hostility.

  71. Xelmut says:

    Great article! Thanks for starting the conversation. I am amazed at the amount of vitriol that female politicians and campaigners receive, both on the progressive and conservative sides. For example wasn’t there a Sarah Palin themed porn film made? That sort of thing is really not on and damages the public perception of women on all sides of politics when they are subject of such personal and sexual attacks. It’s disgusting!

    Good on you for speaking up about your experiences – some comments have pointed out that other female politicians receive ‘much worse’ in the way of bullying and harassment – as if that should somehow imply your experience wasn’t upsetting or deeply disturbing. I am not a huge fan of Julia Gillard but the amount of attacks on her single status, comments about her being a ‘menopausal monster’ and a bitch/liar/witch really disturb me. Hang in there, and call out sexism for what it is!!! As adults we should all be able to put forth our arguments and opinions without being subjected to snide and demeaning personal comments.

  72. The general political discourse over the last few years has drastically fallen to real gutter stuff. My great fear is that this will escalate and we will see the sort of hate speech that has become popular in the United States. Commercial radio and tabloid newspapers have a lot to answer for. They generally offer nothing in terms of adding detail, fact and reason to the debate and simply attack the individual with whom they disagree.

    In many ways women are an easy target, we still have a long way to go on equality. Where racism and even homophobia would see someone sacked, sexism still (for reasons I do not understand) still seems to be something older men in particular get away with. The excuse seems to be they come from a time when it was ok. Or they aren’t used to women in positions of power. Well get used to it fellas.

    But the attacks are not confined to women alone. I’ve recieved death threats, phone calls to my home etc and without much of the positive media coverage that my female colleagues in the “human rights” field receive. I do not like the negative sides of campaigning on issues that are to many controversial. But I also wouldn’t mind the chance to have my say in a friendly environment once in a while too, that seems to be afforded to many.


  73. San Nelson says:

    As a bloke this sort of crap leveled at women really upsets me. These are our mothers, sisters, partners and daughters we are talking about here and these cowardly little losers are insulting their honor. It is time we as men make a stand as well and actively support women to develop their voice and power. It is the only way we are going to leave any kind of world for the kids. Don’t let these gutless wonders who have to be so pathetic to do this rob the rest of us of the radiant, powerful women’s voices we so desperately need to hear.

  74. labcoatman says:

    Anna, thanks for this article; it’s well written and powerful. A call to call out sexism is most welcome! I’ll definitely join in on that.
    I’d love to read more about the Lake Research Partners/WCF research; do you have any links? I found the Name It. Change It. campaign on Facebook, and that’d great, but they don’t seem to have made the findings public there. Thanks!

  75. Congrats on your courage in speaking out. Agree we need to name and shame, just like Penny Wong did. Hope this experience doesn’t discourage you from being active in the political sphere. Good luck.

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  77. Garry says:

    Well, conservatives get this sort of stuff all the time, but you don’t seem to have a problem with that. The ABC has been airing sarcastic anit-conservative material for decades, but apparently thats just humour. As for Q & A, if thats your greatest claim to fame, well, you have as much credibility as the program, which is to say not much. Q & A is a left wing rabble rousing propaganda machine. Funded by teh taxpayer. They can put out their nonsense if they want, but why am I paying for it?

  78. Alex says:

    Your positive, smiling and articulate demeanor during that Q & A belied that terrible experience. Bullies are a bit precious and quick to call foul (hence all the crap about ‘you lefties are always being sexist’) and hence in the online world protect themselves through anonymity. The aggressiveness shown in some posts seems comparable to cornered wild animals … bite when you cant run anymore. This is a clear sign that those who disagree with your ‘politics’ feel as though they are losing the debate. (On a side note, since when did trusting the experts become a political position rather than just a commonsensical one?). Keep up the good work.

  79. Alex says:

    It’s an awkward situation to be in because the only thing that will impact the voters’ likelihood of voting for a female politician more than a sexist attack is a female politician complaining about being the victim of sexist attacks.

  80. Murray Carew says:

    Thank you Anna for speaking out about sexism and abuse perpetrated against public women!

  81. Daniel Murcott says:

    HI , That would really suck to have to put up with so much crap , quite brave of you to write about it ! I dont understand how twitter works I was wondering does it show the gender of the person ? I noticed you were saying it was a male . My assumption is that it is , thankyou for your time and keep up the good work ! 🙂

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