The new face of bravery

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I’ve been scratching my head a lot today wondering what I was going to write for day 2 of my self-imposed blog challenge. It’s bad news when you’re stumped and you’re only a few hops from the starting blocks. I scanned my Facebook and Twitter feeds for a bit of inspiration to get my creative juices flowing. I met up with a friend and put the world to rights over a cuppa but still nothing got me going. One last log in to Facebook and there it was. Another Upworthy video. I clicked on it anyway.

I encounter this website on an almost daily basis when I log in to my various social media accounts. There it is on my newsfeeds in between pictures of what my friends did at the weekend, what their children ate for lunch and the daily countdown until they can leave the office and head home to their loved ones. I never really paid all that much attention to it before but something told me to click on the link anyway today so I did.

It took me to a video of an American war veteran who had been having a pretty dreadful time of things. A hairdresser gave him a haircut and trimmed his beard and a man gave him a suit to wear. It sounds really superficial and daft but the premise was to make him see himself differently and change how others saw him. It was interesting enough to make me click on a few other videos to see what all the fuss was about this website.

I clicked and I cried and I clicked some more. I laughed. I came across one of the site’s contributors, a man named Joseph Lamour. You can find his page on the site here.

As I watched video after video I began to ask questions, of myself and the world of which I am part. The content of the videos was brave. It dealt with sensitive subject matters like casual racism, homophobia and everyday sexism but it did so through humour. No shouting and screaming or waving placards in your face. It struck me that the site and its contributors have really hit home on something very important. Our generation responds to humour. We use it to break the ice; we use it to disarm. It can help us have honest, frank conversations about real issues affecting our society and how we can make a positive change to the way we live.

I realised that bravery isn’t a warrior on a white horse. It’s having the courage to speak up with only your words in your armoury. To step away from the pack and do your own thing, even if it leads you to unchartered territory. To challenge societal norms and demand a better way of living, for everyone. After all, great discoveries were never made by following the herd.

#SHOUTINGBACK – caution swearing

Last week I watched the news and felt really inspired.  It was a really exciting week for women everywhere:  Belfast City Marathon announced its first ever female pacer to make her debut in May 2014; the first feature film to be made in Saudi Arabia was released in mainstream cinema – an achievement in itself – but, excitingly, it was written and directed by a woman, Haifaa Al Mansour.  Then a triumph in the City: following a campaign led by feminist and writer, Caroline Criado-Perez, the Bank of England announced author Jane Austen’s image would appear on their £10 notes as of 2017.  Female faces are vastly under-represented on banknotes here in the UK and apart from  Florence Nightingale and Elizabeth Fry,  Austen will be the 3rd woman, other than the Queen, to grace the note since the bank introduced historical figures other than Monarchs on banknotes in 1970. 

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Remember that sentiment of inspiration I mentioned at the start of this post?  Well it became unsettled and fast.  Shortly after the Jane Austen triumph in amongst the congratulatory tweets Criado-Perez received came a steady stream of alarming messages escalating to threats of murder and sexual violence at a rate of 50 threats per hour.  The nature of the tweets ranged from name calling to men posting what they thought was her address for others to carry out acts of extreme sexual violence.

No one wants to read messages where complete strangers threaten to carry out criminal activity against them but as Criado-Perez discovered, getting such threats to cease could be very problematic.  While it is possible to report individuals to Twitter the process can be somewhat arduous and isn’t really designed to help users who need to report more than one person at a time.  Let’s bear in mind Criado-Perez was receiving threats at a rate of 50 per hour – that equates to 1,200 abusive tweets in a 24 hour period and a minimum of 8,400 between the threats beginning and now. 

So to give you the abridged version Criado-Perez approached Twitter for help and requested they install a ‘Report Abuse’ button to help ease an already difficult process but was – along with her 23,296 followers, myself included – astounded by their response.  Twitter UK initially refused to act upon the threats made against her because it would be against freedom of expression.  The response from Twitter’s Head of Journalism was to block Criado-Perez.  Not very mature and certainly not indicative of a journalist presented with a story!

The debate rages on although it’s now on the television, on the bus and at the dinner table of countless houses around the UK and, perhaps, beyond.  Should Caroline Criado-Perez just pipe down?  I mean, she hasn’t actually been sexually assaulted…yet.  And that is the key word here – yet.  Everyone has the right to freedom of expression.  However, when that expression involves making threats of physical or sexual assault it becomes criminal.  So next time you tweet feel free to be a dick but beware:  being a dick in your tweet and inferring you are going to use your dick against the will of another person are two very different things and in the case of the latter, you should expect to be prosecuted.

If you feel as strongly about this issue as I do please take a moment to look at this petition on change.org and consider adding your name to the 112,000 men and women who believe it is Twitter’s responsibility to police users of its site making threats of criminal activity against other users.  http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/twitter-add-a-report-abuse-button-to-tweets

This is bigger than ‘simply’ a feminist issue now.  Never be afraid to carry on the conversation, stand proud and shout back.  You have just as much right to as the next person.