Would Baby Reindeer have had the same reaction if the ‘stalker’ was a man?

This is a pattern we’ve seen with women online for time memoriam in a way that we almost never see with men, alleged criminals or otherwise

Olivia Petter
Saturday 11 May 2024 13:42 BST
‘Real Martha’ says she hasn't seen Baby Reindeer and calls series 'misogynistic'

By now, you will know the story of Baby Reindeer. Richard Gadd’s hit Netflix drama has dominated online discourse since it was released last month. There have been viral conspiracy theories, long think pieces, and even a few memes. Recently, though, the chatter has taken a darker turn, with fans of the show trying to identify the “real” people behind Gadd’s characters. But they’re after one woman in particular.

Some context: Baby Reindeer is a real-life drama inspired by Gadd’s experience of being stalked by an older woman. Playing a version of himself, named Donny Dunn, the Scottish creator shows how he first met his stalker, named Martha in the show, while working in a pub as a struggling stand-up comic. Taking pity on her because she appears to be crying, Dunn offers her a cup of tea on the house. The drama unfolds from there, with Martha becoming increasingly violent and obsessive. Netflix has previously claimed that the emails in the show are real ones received by Gadd from his stalker.

According to Netflix, roughly 22 million people have watched the show. And according to anyone’s social media feeds, many of them claimed they had found the “real” Martha and immediately started bombarding her online. There were further allegations, more memes, and an unrelenting amount of mockery. Perhaps it was only a matter of time before things escalated to the degree that they now have.

On Thursday evening, Piers Morgan aired an interview he’d conducted with Fiona Harvey, the 58-year-old Scottish lawyer on whom Martha is allegedly based. In the interview, on Piers Morgan Uncensored, Harvey refuted much of the drama in Gadd’s show, denying sending him 41,000 emails and 100 letters while stalking him.

She claimed to have met the comedian just a handful of times, and even asked him to “leave her alone”. “I will be taking legal action against Richard Gadd and Netflix,” she added. “We have instructed lawyers in part, but we want to explore all of the options out there. There are a number of people to sue.” Harvey also claimed she has been receiving death threats from Gadd’s fans, saying that she has been “hounded”.

All this is alarming for many reasons. The first reason is that, if everything that is depicted in Baby Reindeer is true, Gadd has already been through an ordeal that will inevitably make current conversations about his show that much more difficult. The second reason is that Harvey has already faced a barrage of opprobrium online – and seems to be receiving more following Morgan’s interview, with which she has already expressed dissatisfaction: “I wouldn’t say I was happy,” she said. “It was very rapid to try to trip me up. He did it fast-paced to catch me off guard … It seemed to me that I was set up. I feel a bit used.”

But the third reason is that I’m not sure we’d be having any of these conversations if Martha were a man. Think about how much popular culture has been inspired by real-life events. Most notably, there was Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You, which was based on Coel’s experience of being sexually assaulted. Then there was The Watcher, a show about a family who were stalked by an anonymous person in New Jersey. And of course, Luckiest Girl Alive, a film based on the book of the same name by Jessica Knoll that was inspired by the author being gang-raped at school.

None have come even close to sparking the same frenzied hunt for the “real-life” people involved in these heinous crimes. Why? You could argue that Gadd’s case was more compelling, or that it was a matter of timing (police forces recorded 117,973 incidents of stalking in 2022, a 3,989 per cent increase from 2015). Or it could be that, unlike in the aforementioned stories, the alleged perpetrator is female, which is statistically less common. Does this make them more interesting? Or more deserving of the kind of outsized scrutiny and shame women have been conditioned to expect by dint of their gender?

Regardless of what Harvey may or may not have done, the fact that she has been targeted in this way is deeply concerning. The chatter has been dehumanising, reducing her to little more than a dramatic prop used for comedic fodder, clicks, and views. It’s a pattern we’ve seen with women online for time memoriam in a way that we almost never see with men, alleged criminals or otherwise.

Consider the simple fact that there is also a male perpetrator depicted in Gadd’s show: a producer that rapes his character on several occasions. While there have been attempts to track down the “real” person behind that character, they arguably pale in comparison to those efforts to find “Martha”.

It’s impossible to know where this story goes next. But one thing is certain: Harvey is, like all of us, a real person with real vulnerabilities being aggressively targeted online for things she may or may not have done. We’ve been down this road before; let’s tread with caution.

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