Ruth Dudley Edwards: Misogyny alive and well among the Twitter trolls
While the abuse is nothing new, the method of delivery has changed, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards
In olden days -- well, 20 years ago -- when I first began writing about Northern Ireland and became a hate figure for republicans, the abuse mostly came by post. It was an early stage in the peace process and critics of IRA/Sinn Fein were routinely attacked as warmongers. Initially, I was a bit disconcerted by the venom, but I toughened up quickly, recognised it as a perverse compliment and learned to laugh at the absurdities.
My favourite was from someone enraged that I was questioning the sincerity of the 1994 IRA ceasefire: "I can't wait for the boys to get back to work and blow your ugly fucking head off."
The methods change but the misogyny lingers on. Nowadays, the preferred medium is Twitter, where you can send a tweet to your followers and to named individuals instantly. They, in turn, can retweet the message.
In December, I wrote an article about why it was an insult to South African blacks to equate their experience with that of Northern Irish Catholics and regretting that, unlike Mandela, who had taught his followers to love, the Provo leadership had taught theirs to hate. Outraged at such a slur, there was an onslaught of furious tweets describing me in myriad ways, including "spiteful, old Thatcherite bag", "the most intolerant of bigots" and "a woman who is evil and idiotic she is ignorant of real issues and worst of all she is an Israeli lover". Mystifyingly, I was a "Garret FitzGerald lookalike".
Everything calmed down, but I caused further annoyance by retweeting some of Gerry Adams's strange folksy messages about his housework and his talking teddy bears and the misogyny really kicked in. Someone who calls himself New Ireland tweeted to me, Gerry Adams and Danny Morrison (former PR director of Sinn Fein who memorably asked the 1981 ard fheis if anyone present would object "if, with a ballot paper in this hand and an Armalite in the other, we take power in Ireland?") to explain that I was obsessed with Adams. Jude Collins, who blogs about Northern Ireland, responded with "You can almost hear the suppressed sexuality in Ruthie's tweet".
To which Morrison -- whom I disagree with but know and rather like -- responded with a "Now! Now!"
"'Now! Now!' as in 'Hold on there...' or 'Now! Now!' as in 'I want it now!'?" enquired Collins, to which Morrison responded with "Bottom of Form Hold on there!!!"
"Thanks, Danny," I tweeted rather primly. "Unlike Mr Collins, you are not a misogynist."
This was the morning when the Sunday Independent ran my article discussing why Adams had adopted this Twitter persona and his supporters were beside themselves. "Ruth for the love of sweet fuck go an get yourself a man... gerrys taken" was the most striking.
Serious Sinn Fein people of course avoid politically incorrect insults. Reada Cronin, SF representative for the Maynooth electoral area, contented herself first with dismissing me as an "Indo hack". When tweeted by a republican activist that I needed "serious medical attention for obvious mental health issues. Please refrain from abuse of her!" she agreed he was right and sent "some socialist republican love your way @RuthDE. Hope it helps". Dominic Adams sent a message to his brother Gerry (who had just tweeted something about his favourite sweeties) asking if he was trying to wind me up? Gerry maintained a statesmanlike silence.
I retweet insults, which seriously annoys most of their originators and horrifies some of my own followers who are unused to what happens when you annoy republicans. There were many voices complaining about "sexist, misogynistic trolling" and "disgusting Twitter abuse". One of them warned someone who agreed with my article: "You'll regret that, I had the crack Shinner social media squadron hound me all day Sunday because I agreed with @RuthDE." Others urged me to block the offenders and report them, but I didn't, as I'm keen on free speech and allow it on my Twitter account and my Facebook page.
The recurrence of the misogyny interests me. During a period in the 1990s when I was being critical of John Hume, an SDLP leader said publicly at a conference that obviously Hume must have rejected me. (The seedy implication was as clear as it was wrong). And when I wrote some articles explaining that David Trimble was better than he seemed, green members of the Department of Foreign Affairs nicknamed me "Trimble's girlfriend".
We may be cosmopolitan and politically correct these days, but at their core, quite a few men still believe that a woman whose opinions annoy you must be driven by emotion rather than reason.
Incidentally, I don't know if there are any misandrists (man haters) about on Twitter, but if there are, Adams should expect a reaction to his message of Thursday night. "In bed. Nothing on but the radio. Zzzzzzzz."
Too much information, Gerry.
Ruthdudleyedwards.com; Twitter @RuthDE