Bullying comes in all shapes and sizes and happens to all sorts of people. I was bullied at school by two girls in particular who managed to turn an already stressful experience (school) into something really horrible. I left school with a spring in my step and joy in my heart that it was finally all over but I also left school with the firm belief that girls and women were to be treated with suspicion and caution if I was not to become victim to their cruel and vicious nature again.
Earlier this week Jessica Valenti wrote this piece, Social media is protecting men from periods, breast milk and body hair, on The Guardian website and while I completely agree with the general premise of the article and the fact that sexualised suggestive images of women under 25 are generally deemed acceptable but that anything that deviates from that is not, breast-feeding, periods, body hair, non traditional body type being particularly problematic but I am not convinced that citing men as the main perpetrators is helpful or even that accurate.
In all my years of blogging, particularly those in which I have posted self-portrait images nearly all the shaming and negative comments I have received about what I am doing have come from women. In the scheme of things I have got off lightly when it comes to such interactions compared to some other people I know but I have certainly received them. They have ranged from snide remarks about my age and my ‘behaviour unbecoming of a Mother’ to full on derogatory comments about how my willingness to show myself naked speaks to my level of intelligence and or lack of self-respect/esteem. I have also experienced the ‘you are only submissive because you have been brainwashed by men’ lecture and one occasion was even told quite firmly by a women on Quora that it was not possible for me to have an opinion about spanking and BDSM because I only did it in a desperate bid to keep the man in my life and so my opinion was warped and therefore invalid.
Last weekend @Charlieinthe (one of the bloggers who takes part in Sinful Sunday) experienced some fairly unpleasant negative responses to the image she posted, and this is not the first time this has happened to her. On this occasion it constituted a series of really negative body shaming comments in Twitter that, whilst not @ directly to her were, as time went on, very clearly about her. They included comments like, ‘put your knickers back on’ ‘no one wants to see that’ and ‘if you thought last week’s image was bad’. Every single one of these comments came from women who also seem to have a real issue with the concept of Sinful Sunday. The women commenting seem to be fine with posting images of themselves in their underwear showing off their gym fit bodies, and one of them wearing bright red lipstick and sucking on a strawberry. Suggestive? Very much so, however for them, a women posting an image of herself naked on her blog because she wants to, was something they felt perfectly OK with mocking and ridiculing and shaming her for doing so.
Over and over again I see it, women attacking women, belittling them for their choices and championing their own choices as being better, more worthy, more moral, more ‘classy’ but there is nothing classy about shaming another women for her body shape or a decision to share images of herself in an attempt to try to learn to love and accept how she looks. Maybe in your book that is not brave, maybe she is not saving the world, or rescuing a drowning puppy but for her, it took serious guts to press that publish button and put herself out there in such an open and honest manner. You do not have to join her in doing the same thing, you do not have to like her image or the way she looks, you do not have to even look at it, but as another women I think the very least you can do is respect her choices and celebrate that we live in a country where you get to go the gym in your tiny gym shorts and crop top and she gets to post images of herself naked.
It is all very well blaming men and patriarchy for the suppression of women (just to be clear I am not denying that there is not some truth to this) but in my experience the real bullies out there, the ones who will happily strip a women of her self-esteem, belittle her, shame her and mock her, for her choices are nearly always other women. That was my experience at school 25+ years ago and sadly it is still my experience today. The only difference now is that I know who I am and have chosen to express it in a way that makes me happy