Clementine Ford is a freelance writer and blogger. She is Australian, so if you happen to live anywhere else in the world, you’ve probably never heard of her. Never mind. You are about to. Ford writes very entertainingly, in my view, about feminism, pop culture and social issues. She is controversial. Can be divisive. You might not always agree with everything she says but she is entitled to express her opinion and it is always well expressed. Whenever I think of people like Clementine Ford I think of French philosopher Voltaire. I think of the immortal words written about him to the effect I may not agree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.
Clementine Ford wrote about something the other day that created a furore. Now there’s a good word. This is how it all came about. There is a breakfast television program in Australia called Sunrise, which I never watch. The reason I never watch it, is because it appeals to people whose IQ roughly relates to their shoe size. In typical Sunrise fashion they had a segment about photos women had taken of themselves in either nude or compromised positions, that were later used in revenge porn attacks on social media. Of course Sunrise blamed these women saying they had brought the shame upon themselves because they were responsible for the photographs and were aware or should have been aware of the risk of the photos being misused by an ex partner. Sunrise conveniently forgot that many or even most of these photos used in this way were stolen. Ok.
Cue Clementine Ford who took exception to this Sunrise segment and decided to stage a protest of her own. Ford posted a photo of herself on Facebook with the words “Hey #Sunrise, Get F—ed” scrawled across her chest. She also posted a long, passionate and impossible to argue against, in my view, rebuttal of “victim blaming.”
In fact, it is worth repeating some of the words she used in her post that accompanied the photograph: “ I have taken nude photos of myself and sent them to lovers. I’ve taken nude photos of myself when I’m bored. I’ve taken nude photos just because I have a smart phone and it’s fun. None of that means I have asked for my privacy to be violated, my photos stolen and my very self made available for public humiliation and judgment. Consent is everything.
“When Channel 7’s Sunrise asks ‘when will women learn’ instead of ‘why do men continue to view women as objects they can defile and violate while the world watches and tut-tuts’, they are victim blaming. They are saying it’s the responsibility of victims of crime and assault to prevent it and not the responsibility of society to make such crimes intolerable and unacceptable.
“When will women learn? Learn what? That our bodies do not belong to us? That we have no right to determine who sees those bodies, touches those bodies, fucks those bodies, and shares in those bodies? Honey, we don’t need to learn that. We already know the answer. We don’t have those rights. We are not allowed to be the masters of ourselves, only the gatekeepers.
“Fuck your bullshit, Sunrise. You’re an antiquated, pedestrian piece of rubbish and you truck in misogyny and everyday sexism. Consent is what happens when you give permission. Theft and assault is what happens when people take it from you despite you saying no.”
As you might expect Ford’s post, stirred up a veritable hornet’s nest. She received more than 20,000 comments including several graphic and violent messages. They were not pleasant. They were very threatening and completely inappropriate. One in particular from someone called Ryan Hawkins who directly threatened her with sexual violence. But Ford, instead of deleting the messages – “as I have done so many times in the past” – shared the online responses on her Facebook page. In her typically erudite way Ford justified her actions this way: “I chose to share it publicly because abusers hide behind the veil of privacy and anonymity. “When women complain about abuse, we’re often told we’re overreacting or making it up. “It’s important that abusers know they won’t be shielded and also that people see the reality of online harassment.”
Now you might think Facebook would take a dim view of people who threaten violence, particularly of a sexual nature, simply because they don’t like a point of view expressed by a woman, who is not afraid to say what she thinks. If you did, you would be wrong. Dead wrong. What happened next had me scratching my head. Facebook initially banned Ford for 30 days for posting the violent responses. Yep. Because she posted abusive comments made about her including Ryan Hawkins’ threat to commit sexual violence, Ford was deemed to have violated Facebook’s community standards.
Now at this point, like me, you might be thinking Facebook needs to get a grip. Well, someone in Facebook actually did. The 30-day ban has now been lifted and Ford’s Facebook account reinstated.
Understandably, Clementine Ford was ‘thrilled’ that common sense had prevailed while pointing out the ban should never have been imposed in the first place. But that is not the end of this story. Ford decided enough is enough. She reported one of her abusers, South Australian man Ryan Hawkins to police. Ironically, Hawkins found himself the target of intense online criticism and has since apologised for his abuse of Ford, saying he had he jumped on the bandwagon without thinking.
“I was being a smart arse, just trying to have some sick fun with her, but it didn’t really work,” he said. “I said sorry afterwards.”
Ford is not having a bar of the Hawkins apology. She confirmed that she made a formal complaint to police. “This was a real threat and I will be making that case to the police,” Ford said. “He threatened sexual violence against me and that is serious.”
Ford, who was later interviewed by a major daily newspaper, said she had experienced online threats “many, many times before but never “anything like this”.
“The reaction to my initial post, then the reaction to the threats, the incredibly viral nature of the entire thing – it is has been beyond anything I ever expected or experienced,” she said.
And, of course Ford saved some of her harshest words for Facebook.
“How can a post saying, ‘shut up and die you stupid feminist c***’ not automatically violate Facebook policy, but my reposting of those words can?” she said.
“Facebook is woefully behind the times when it comes to gender hate speech, and I am so sick and tired of it.”
Ford also said there had been “moments of optimism” during the week.
“I have had countless emails from so many women this week saying they feel stronger, they feel braver since reading the stories and the post.”
Like I said when it comes to Clementine Ford I can’t help thinking Voltaire, Voltaire, Voltaire.