Women can abuse women too

A new study shows that women are just as likely as men to use online misogyny. Why are we surprised by this? 



Last year, Cambridge scholar Mary Beard became the target of a vitriolic Twitter campaign after appearing on BBC One’s Question Time. It has been difficult to forget that Beard was referred to as a ‘Clunge-hairy’ ‘filthy old slut’ with a ‘disgusting vagina’. What sparked the campaign, however, got lost in my memory bank. So, too, did the gender of the offending Tweeters.

So I googled them. Most, it seems, are male. But findings of a new study of online abuse in Britain indicate that women are as likely as men to use the words ‘slut’ and ‘whore’ on Twitter. Collected over a four-week period by think tank Demos, the findings were described by one researcher on the study, Sofia Patel, as a “real surprise”. For Sofia, the shock seems to have been that “not only are many women using these words, they are directing them at each other, both casually and offensively.”

Of course, one can only agree with Sofia that the deliberate attempt to offend a woman by calling her a ‘slut’ or ‘whore’ is shocking; odious, in fact. But the idea that the insult coming from another woman is more shocking than it coming from a man seems to be problematic. I’m not sure that the terms can have ‘casual’ (read: not-intended-to-offend-but-still-offensive) usage either, but the issues around reclaiming language are perhaps beyond the scope of this piece.

On the one hand, the shock at women using these words to describe other women seems to rest upon a rather misguided view of misogyny as the domain of men: that is, as a particular set of thoughts and feelings that are not accessible to those who self-identify as women. At the same time, the shock seems to hinge on the much misinformed idea that misogyny is an individual, as opposed to an institutional, phenomenon.

In fact, there is nothing shocking about the finding that some women are horrible to other women, and that they use these offensive words. Misogyny circulates. It is not a fixed entity. It operates as part of a patriarchal ideology which is so insidious it gets into the hearts and minds of both men and women. It underpins the hate that some women feel towards other women. And it underlies the hate that some women feel towards themselves.

But the conclusions drawn from this new research, that women using terms like ‘slut’ and ‘whore’ may be “normalising” such discourse, and hence, rendering it acceptable for use by men, is worrying. It speaks to a Mean Girls-esque stance which misattributes ‘female misogyny’ as the cause, rather than the outcome, of patriarchy and its consequences.

For those unfamiliar with the Hollywood blockbuster, the film includes one scene in which the ‘mean girls’ are told that they “have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores [because] it just makes it okay for guys to call you sluts and whores.”

To be absolutely clear, it is never ‘okay’ to call a woman a ‘slut’ or ‘whore’. More than this, in focussing on the issue of ‘female misogyny’, it seems we might be missing a rather crucial point about power, its distribution, and its effects. If we are really interested in what misogyny is and does, asking from whom it is spoken in terms that go far beyond the male/female binary might be a good start.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Manager (retail, upgrades, rollouts)

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum + benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Project...

Technical Project Manager - Software and Infrastructure - Government Experience

£400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Central Lon...

Secondary teachers needed for supply roles in Sudbury

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Supply teachers requi...

Head of Technology

Negotiable: Randstad Education Reading: Head of Technology needed for a Outsta...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A homeless person sleeps in the streets  

This is why I am sleeping rough outside the party conferences

Max J Freeman
Strikes were carried out by manned air force and navy aircraft (File photo)  

Syria air strikes: President Assad now has the enemy he always wanted – Islamist terrorism

Kim Sengupta
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits