Claire Lehmann

Pseudo-feminist platforms put women in harm’s way


Media companies are to feminist-writers what a pimp is to his prostitutes. Too often, women’s bodies are put in harm’s way, to make “the man” some money.

We all know that publishing articles about feminism pays. Readers, share and comment on gender-war tropes because it incites hot emotion. Because of the traffic that such pieces generate, editors are moved to frequently publish them. And media companies devote entire platforms such as Daily Life, Jezebel and xoJane to explore the topic of “gender” or “women” in minute detail.

An op-ed written by Julia Baird, published over the weekend, brought attention to the Twitter trolls targeting feminist writers like Van Badham and Catherine Deveny, amongst others. It detailed the horrific abuse these writers attract. These women are targeted online on a daily basis; sometimes even receiving death and rape threats. Yet what was unclear in the piece was how much these writers’ employers were compensating them.

Clearly being a feminist-writer is risky business. But generally when people are employed in risky jobs they are paid for it pretty well. In Australia at least, a writer cannot even earn a living from his or her trade. The average writer is only paid between $30 to $100 per piece, even in a broadsheet newspaper, and many writers are paid in exposure.

In Helen Razer’s blogpost “I Quit” last year, she talks of enduring hours of ignorant, spiteful attacks on her person for a piece which earned her a mere $200, from The Guardian. Razer’s angst was not about being on the receiving end of abuse, but rather, the fact that she was not being adequately recompensed.

It seems that media companies have played a trick on female writers. Inexperienced writers feel privileged just to be published – to have a “voice” – and that exercising this “voice” is a political, feminist act. It isn’t. Women have been writers forever. Receiving slave wages from a corporate employer, while suffering abuse from deranged trolls is not empowerment, it is exploitation. As Baird’s op-ed illustrates, it puts some writers’ mental health at risk.

The essay Hate Sinks, about a young woman employed to moderate comments for an unnamed newspaper’s site, describes the subtle exploitation. She says she feels “lucky” to have job in the current media climate, where journalists are now laid-off en masse. She speaks of how editors and managers do not have a clear plan of what to do and “make up things as they go”. Being the moderator of comments Sarah explains that –

The topics that promise especially bitter, polarized debate, tempt editors with the traffic and comments they can attract. Sarah rattles off a list of themes she knows she will have a long comment queue—and that editors will keep publishing: “Israel and Palestine, Gaza … anything on climate change, the science of climate change. Anything published by one of the ­climate-change skeptics. But then anything published by a climate-change believer as well. Anything about refugees, you know, asylum seekers, border control, that sort of stuff. Anything sort of what could be loosely described as a feminist article, so you know, like Slutwalk.” [emphasis mine].

Sarah also talks of the vicarious trauma of moderating the comments that get sent to the newspaper’s site. She has to moderate, on average, 1500 comments between breakfast and lunch; filtering some commenters “who will just post the word c*nt 50 times for like three hours.” Sarah gets paid the minimum wage.

In Australia and the US, media companies are mostly run by men. Jezebel is owned by Gawker media, which is owned by Nick Denton. DailyLife is a Fairfax publication whose chairman and CEO are both men. Say Media (which runs xoJane) is owned by Matt Sanchez. It is ironic, but not surprising that so-called feminist media can all be traced back to male owners, CEOs and chairmen. It is these executives and their shareholders who profit, not the writers receiving abuse.

If pseudo-feminist platforms were as “pro-woman” as they declare themselves to be, they would pay women decent salaries, not pitiful freelancer rates. And we would see writing of depth and quality with a mixture of new writers as well as old. Until that happens, they will continue to use these vulnerable women to court outrage, in their constant search for clicks and cash.

7 thoughts on “Pseudo-feminist platforms put women in harm’s way

  1. Thanks so much for this post. This is an issue that I had never considered/never heard anything about. You’re right, though, its complete exploitation of both the women writers AND the cause they care about (feminism) in order to make money for the men in charge.

  2. “Clearly being a feminist-writer is risky business. But generally when people are employed in risky jobs they are paid for it pretty well.”

    What are these women at risk of, exactly…?

  3. Excellent article.

  4. Fantastic article Claire, I am trying to catch up on your thought provoking posts and links from while I’ve been away! x

  5. As a very old school (also old) feminist, thank you very much. I am sick of seeing younger feminists telling all women how to live, what to read, what to wear, who to be….in other words, doing damned near everything that older feminists were pissed off at men for doing FIRST. When any active social movement is taken over by ideologues, it is time to kick back and wait for the reassertion of passion and real brains attacking issues, NOT the people the movement began to help.

  6. Constant rape threats, constant death threats, being stalked by crazed trolls. Translation: same old, same old. Being a female in public life in patriarchal, misogynist cultures is always risky. If you object to the constant, sexualized abuse, you get MORE abuse because men hate you for being a b-busting b-word. If you don’t object to the abuse, you get MORE abuse because men hate you for being weak and submissive. There’s no winning for women as a class under patriarchy. The internet has just ramped it up ten orders of magnitude.

  7. Van Badham:

    “Seriously, the only esteemable act of Tony Abbott in memory is the grade-A figurative blowjob performed on Rupert Murdoch. Props, Tone.” 11th September Twitter.

    Enough said?

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