Women shocked at 'vile' online abuse suffered by Mary Beard

Jan 22, 2013
Dina Rickman

Cambridge academic's face superimposed onto a vagina as part of abuse 'designed to silence women'


THE Cambridge professor and Meet the Romans presenter Mary Beard has catalogued the "gobsmacking" misogynistic abuse she received from internet trolls sparked by her appearance on the BBC's Question Time last week.

Writing on her Times Literary Supplement blog A Don's Life, Beard told how she was targeted on the online forum 'Don't Start Me Off' after being labelled their 'twat of the week', with critics even superimposing her face onto a picture of a vagina.

According to the 58-year-old professor of classics at Newnham, they discussed her "pubic hair (do I brush the floor with it)", the "plan to plant a d*** in my mouth" and "whether I need rogering".

Sunday Times columnist India Knight said she was so shocked by the scale of abuse received by Beard that she could not bring herself to read the blog in full. Feminist groups warned that comments designed to "hurt and wound" could put off women contributing to political debate.

The End Violence Against Women Coalition told The Week it was time for male and female commentators to speak out against such "silencing".

"Abuse of women online is too often met with the reply that we should take it as a joke or just ignore it," spokesperson Sarah Green said. "In fact it is part of a spectrum of behaviour aimed at silencing women in public life, as Mary herself picks up on."

Feminist Jane Fae, writing in the New Statesman, said the "disturbingly misogynistic" targeting of women in the public eye made her and some of her activist friends feel silenced "simply for having an opinion".

Said Fae: "'I've opted out of contributing online for periods ranging from hours to a couple of weeks after being subjected to this sort of online nastiness."

Beard's experience has helped inspire Twitter users to start a hashtag 'silent no more', so that users can speak out against online misogyny.

The professor, who says she has a very thick skin, had previously hit back at the Sunday Times TV critic AA Gill after he suggested she was "too ugly" for our screens. Writing in the Daily Mail, Beard said Gill was out to "decry clever women".

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Many men - and some women - feel threatened by intelligent, accomplished women. The BBC's not immune to misogyny - remember Gail Trimble?

The Don't Start Me Off website is getting a lot of hits because of the Guardian article.They actually welcome Guardian readers on their home page. But 'Don't Start Me Off' is full of rude rants at EVERYONE, so I think Mary is either naive for promoting them, or just likes the publicity. If she was at all worried (which I don't think she is) she would have done better to ignore them. Hope she appears again on Question Time. Ratings will shoot up. Can you imagine David Dimbleby's introduction .... ?

No I don't. Who?

Captained the Corpus Christi (Oxford) team in 2009's University Challenge, known as the "human google". Her team won the title, but were disqualified because one of the members changed colleges - something that was not uncommon for members of teams through the years; but the winning team hadn't been captained by a woman before. Yet more misogyny from Auntie, whose execs seem to feel threatened by brainy women.