Since launching The Safe Space with Amy I have been blown away by the support and solidarity we have been shown. It has reassured me that Amy and I have done the right thing and it’s important for this space to exist. It hasn’t been an easy road for me to get here however, and it’s the result of a long journey that started nearly two years ago.
As detailed here I was the victim (and I really hate that word but sometimes it’s necessary) of unsolicited pictures on twitter. That sentence doesn’t really do justice to what actually happened. It makes it sound trivial, a bit of an annoyance perhaps, something I might laugh about with my friends. It wasn’t.
For those who have not read my previous blog post, a man who I was friends with on twitter sent me explicit pictures and abusive messages. FRIENDS WITH. Not a random, not a bot, not someone who hated me, not someone I didn’t know but a friend sent me explicit pictures of himself and then abusive messages afterwards. It was quite honestly, horrifying. It was a lot more than a few explicit pictures. I felt betrayed. I felt stupid for thinking the man was a friend. Honestly (and I’ve never publicly admitted this before) I felt really thick for assuming the man actually wanted to talk to me as a trusted colleague. my confidence in talking publicly on twitter about teacher related topics was completely shattered. It has taken me a long time to trust the validity of my own thoughts and opinions and even longer to share them in an open forum.
Lots of women go through the experience of unsolicited messages on edutwitter. I have genuinely lost count of the number of women who have told me about being sent explicit pictures/messages from fellow educators. These experiences vary. Some are random males in the profession who they have never interacted with and some are friends. For some its literally a penis popping up in their inbox and for others it comes after prolonged friendship. The hows don’t matter. What matters is it is happening. It is happening regularly and it isn’t okay.
How women choose to process and deal with what has happened to them is their choice and their choice alone. It seems however to be a popular point of discussion within edutwitter and unsurprisingly – everybody has got an opinion. The vast, vast majority of people are well meaning and come from a good place but it is not their decision to make. Telling a woman to ‘name and shame’ is not helpful nor is it necessarily kind.
Some of the men who partake in this behaviour on twitter are well known in the education online community. They are powerful. For a lone female teacher this can be frightening, intimidating and shameful. Many of the women I have talked to privately feel that the men in question are protected by their public personas, by their books, their conference appearances etc. A female NQT with 223 followers publicly sharing what happened to her requires extraordinary amounts of resolve that she might not necessarily have after having her confidence shattered. Asking a woman to take on huge amounts of emotional heavy lifting is not okay. It is not your experience, it is hers. It is not your job to subsequently police her into doing what you think is morally right. If you think unsolicited pictures are abhorrent then be part of the change that the edutwitter community needs. What are you doing to ensure you are not unintentionally creating a space where these men can thrive? How can you make change rather than expecting it to come from the victim?
Some women might be reading this and thinking ‘That’s not my experience. I’ve been sent an explicit picture and I wasn’t fussed. I laughed it off and went about my life’. If that’s you then I’m genuinely really happy that it’s had no long lasting impact on you. No one deserves to feel what I’ve detailed above. I would ask that you respect that your experiences do not reflect everyone else’s. Just as mine will be unique to me and yours will be unique to you. Showing kindness and understanding is never a bad thing.
It is important not to downplay a woman’s experience. By trivialising the act itself e.g. making a joke out of it or saying it’s not that big of a deal, you are sending a message to the victim that the situation is not a serious one and her feelings are not legitimate. This not only causes the victim’s shame to increase but it also legitimises the aggressor’s acts. It is also important not to victim blame. By that I mean questioning why the woman might have received messages/pictures. It is the equivalent of saying that the woman asked for it. Spoiler alert: she didn’t.
Luckily I’ve got a bunch of fabulous, amazing people in my corner who have supported me and my choices every step of the way. I’m very lucky to have that and I count my blessings every day that I do. Lots of women who have experienced this don’t have that. That is why The Safe Space exists. We are here. If you need to talk then DM us on twitter here.