BY MIA FREEDMAN
Don’t be a woman and make a mistake. Don’t be a woman and say something that offends people. Because the abuse that will rain down on your head will be savage and relentless and will make you fear for your physical safety and the safety of your family.
I’ve seen this happen to so many women and Yumi Stynes is the latest one to experience it with revelations today the torrent of abuse and threats has become so extreme the police have been brought in. I’ve watched this firestorm rage around Yumi for almost a week with my hands over my eyes and a sick feeling in my stomach.
But enough. It’s time to speak out and say something about the way women in public life are attacked so viciously.
I’m not for a moment defending what Yumi said. And neither is she. Nor is The Circle – the Channel 10 program on which she is a co-host.
Host of Channel 10′s The Circle Yumi Stynes has apologised after joining in a conversation on the show calling Victorian Cross medal winner and Australian war hero Ben Roberts-Smith a ‘dud root’. She asked whether that was what George Negus meant when he picked up on Roberts-Smith’s beefy shirtless photo. “I’m sure he’s a really good guy, nothing about poor old Ben,” Negus said yesterday on The Circle where he was guest co-hosting at the time of the comment. “But that sort of bloke, and what if they’re not up to it in the sack?” Yumi added: “He’s going to dive down to the bottom of the pool to see if his brain is there.”
According to news reports today:
Stynes has since become the target of an online hate campaign, including physical threats against her and her children, and racial vilification. This website has chosen not to repeat details of the threats.
When asked about online abuse being levelled at Stynes, a Network Ten spokesman said he was aware of the comments, which had been made on Facebook, Twitter and alterations to Stynes’s Wikipedia page.
“We are concerned about the extreme nature of some of those comments and are monitoring them very closely,” the spokesman said.
“We are removing the most offensive comments from The Circle sites …
“We will keep on monitoring the situation very closely, in terms of the online comments and Yumi’s personal situation.”
She said something stupid. Haven’t we all. She tried to make a joke that backfired and was indeed offensive. And doing it on national television, the consequences were amplified.
How much does she need to be punished? And to what degree?
Yumi’s public and private apologies – and the public acceptance of them by Corporal Roberts-Smith should have been the end of it but the rage continues and gets uglier by the day. The attacks have been misogynist, racist and deeply, deeply personal. There have been threats made against Yumi, The Circle staff and her children.
How is this acceptable? From everything I have seen and read about Ben Roberts-Smith, the idea that this abuse is happening in his name or in his defence would be repugnant to him.
He has been completely gracious in his statements and by accepting the apology of Yumi and her co-host George Negus. So why are so many people so insistent on using this mistake as a justification for the most appalling and disgusting behaviour?
And to my knowledge, George Negus has not copped anywhere near the extreme or vicious nature of the abuse hurled at Yumi.
When Kyle Sandilands said revolting things about a female journalist on his radio program, nobody went after his family. The reaction was severe but not personal. The petitions that circulated and the campaigns against him served to hit Kyle in his business life, not his personal one.
When Sam Newman says the most repugnant, misogynistic things about women on The Footy Show, does he receive death threats? Are his children threatened? Is he subjected to sickening abuse?
I don’t know Yumi but I do know what it’s like to be subject to a sustained attack of personal abuse. It happened to me after I suggested last year on the Today Show that sports people aren’t heroes and that the word held a different meaning. TO ME.
The names I was called, the abuse and threats hurled at me and my children, my husband, my parents, my religion, my appearance … it went on for weeks and was enormously distressing. I feared for my physical safety.
People – men mostly – joined Twitter purely to call me a “dumb fat whore” or “fucking stupid jew cunt”. Often these tweets or Facebook comments were accompanied by a cheery avatar of a man with a child or baby in his arms. These men were fathers and husbands and sons and brothers.
My team at Mamamia shielded me from the worst of the abuse which came in by email and was menacing, threatening and extraordinary. These people didn’t know me. And I’d merely expressed an opinion.
Too many times, I’ve seen it happen to women across the political spectrum – from Melinda Tankard Reist to Helen Razer and Clem Bastow. Abuse about their weight, their sexuality, their relationships, their families. Like I did for a while, they have retreated from public life or from social media before venturing back on in some reduced capacity. Very often, the bullies win. Which is so very sad.
And you don’t have to offend anyone or make any mistakes, like Yumi did, to receive this kind of abuse. I have friends in the public eye whose only ‘crime’ is to appear on TV doing their jobs in the most innocuous way. They too receive incredibly detailed, personal and brutal abuse via email and publicly online.
Enough is enough. Yumi made a mistake. She continues to pay a terrible and very public price. What do her attackers want? Has she not been punished enough? I believe she has. She cannot be any more sorry. She cannot take her words back anymore. It’s time to move on.
Please remember that the people you see on TV, the people whose words you read in the newspaper or hear on the radio, these are real people. By all means disagree with their words and debate their actions but resorting to sickening, sustained abuse is the lowest, most base and appalling form of engagement.
Be better than that.