Musician, columnist and social commentator Lizzie Marvelly today releases her first book - That F Word. In this abbridged extract, Marvelly opens up on the vile abuse she receives from online trolls.
I receive nasty comments online on an almost daily basis. At times, my notifications will become flooded with bile faster than I can block and ban the perpetrators. There is a folder on my laptop called 'Haters'.
If you imagine a Portaloo at the end of the last day of a music festival plagued by rain, a shortage of any food other than extra-spicy curry, and an outbreak of dysentery, it's a fairly equitable representation of the general look and feel of the thing.
I'm not quite sure why I felt the urge to create it, and I'm quite certain that it's not healthy to maintain it, but it's become something of a pastime. Like collecting stamps. It's a good thing I don't do speed-dating.
You can just imagine the hobbies round. 'Hi, my name is Lizzie, and I collect the explosive digital diarrhoea of internet trolls.'
Inside my little Pandora's box of gore and grime are examples of almost every sub-category of online abuse imaginable, from the mundane to the rare. I've collected more misogyny than I know what to do with, a decent amount of condescension, nearly every possible variation of 'stick to singing' and a fair bit of racism.
Every once in a while, however, I'll unearth a comment so rotten the stench of it takes my breath away. Though admittedly that happens less frequently these days – more because I've acquired an iron stomach after repeated exposure than anything else.
Nowadays I tend to award points for originality. In a weird way, the odd utterly rancid pile of steaming cyber shit makes for a nice change to the usual, 'shut up, you man-hating feminazi'. The ones that surprise me even get their own sub-folder within the 'Haters' folder. It's called 'Truly Vile'.
I'm going to take you inside that awful place. Think of it as taking the plunge through the plastic toilet seat into the unholy mess below. I apologise in advance.
Before we start, however, I'm just going to put one giant, all-encompassing [sic] here, so we can get the strange correlation between being an asshole on the internet and having an abysmal grasp of basic spelling and grammar out of the way.
I also need to point out (for legal reasons) that it is possible that the account names used below were used by someone other than their owners to make the comments included in this chapter. I know if I were behind one of these posts, I'd certainly say that I'd been 'hacked'.
First up, we have racism. All of the worst comments I receive on social media generally revolve around some form of discussion – for want of a better term – about my Māori heritage and fair skin. For example, this charming little Facebook conversation:
Len Walls: 'Bloody honky! Maybe we should roast her on the spit and give her a good old native welcome…… Bet she tastes like a Koni Koni with that pinky flesh! Mmmm bacon!'
Mark Rallison: 'My dog wouldn't even want to eat that.'
Len again: 'I dunno, a bit of garlic, some onions, add a little Asian with some soy sauce … 8 hours in the hangi and shed turn out alright in the end! Lol. We could make a real native delicacy out of her!'
Welcome to the bowels of internet hell, where we will find a few repeat offenders. Mark, for example, was kind enough to bless me with another stroke of genius, in a separate thread, again about Māori people:
'We should've just made these people slaves back in the 1800s. Would've been better off for them.'
Then came Wayne, Trevor and Murray.
Wayne Walker: 'Typical trash from a pseudo moari. What a disgusting person. What about her predominant white blood. Does her single entitled brain cell not honour her white blood.'
Trevor Bryan: 'i'd of added tupperware european maori to that
list. as in she has as much of the tar brush as a plastic chinese tiki sold at the airport'
Murray McKenzie: 'LM, 5% maori, 100% Tangata F'wit.'
If it's not racism, it's almost certainly going to be rape, murder, the kind of misogyny that proves many of my points in one fell swoop, or a swipe at my father, because God knows a woman with an opinion must have daddy issues. Take, for example:
Lloyd Gretton: 'Perfect set up yourself to be raped Your biography says you love wine and dating Lead besotted men on and then scream rape' (This one is actually pretty funny. My biography says I love date scones. I can only surmise that Lloyd needs new reading glasses. And a shred of human decency. He later told me to 'stick [my] ngati where it belongs'. Because, of course.)
James Jenkins: 'Lizzie wishes she had tits worth an oggle . . . #enviousandbitter'
Mark Dash: 'Lizzy marvelly's face is enough of a contraceptive not sure what she is complaining about.'
NZ Men Fed up with the NZ Family Court: 'Lizzie Marvelly is a singer who failed in her career and couldn't attract the public attention. Now, she is a feminist trying to get more attention from the public and be more acknowledged. She is an anti-male because her dad didn't give her enough attention during her childhood and now she thinks that all men are like her father.' Honestly, you can just imagine the kind of conversations that take place on that rather revealingly named Facebook page.)
Geoff Booth: 'OhHell no DumbLiberalSnowflakes like Lizzy wont wake up tothis till the Caliphate is half waythru removin her head.'
Bevnolz: 'Go catch Ebola Lizzie.'
Lawrence Prasad: 'Seems like you have a tallpoppyitis affliction. Bungy jumping without the cord is known to help!'
Premsocial: 'You're the reason why I hit woman You stupid two hole.'
And of course, no discussion of online abuse would be complete without mention of this chapter's namesake: Whatyoutalkinabout Willis: 'Someone please shoot this stupid bitch. NZ f****** hates her.'
I could go on, but you get the general idea. Online abuse is a regular occurrence for me, whether I like it or not. It simply comes with the territory of being a young woman with a public presence on the internet, so I've learnt to deal with it.
I'm not for a second saying that trolling behaviour is okay. Some of the comments that have been hurled my way have affected me deeply, but it's the volume and frequency of the online abuse hurled my way that has caused me the most anguish.
While it's relatively easy to dismiss the odd awful comment, repeated waves of nastiness are harder to ignore. I'm not ashamed to admit that there have been times when particularly malicious threads of comments have made me cry.
Vulnerability is not something we're conditioned to admit to, but when it comes to the effects of online abuse it's important for me to be honest. I've found that being at the receiving end of a particularly vicious and prolonged online attack can even trigger my fight or flight response.
While I logically know that online comments carry no immediate physical danger, my brain still insists on flooding my body with adrenalin, sending my heart rate through the roof and preparing my body for evasive action as if a fairy tale troll had suddenly come to life, leapt through the screen, club held high above its head, and threatened to clobber me to death.
When I'm attacked online, there is little I can do to control how I feel about it. I can mitigate the impact, but I can't stop myself from feeling the initial hurt. Reactions to online abuse have nothing to do with strength or weakness, they are often due to brain chemistry.
Thankfully, over time any anger and hurt I've felt has become dulled almost to the point of numbness, but in the early days I sometimes wondered how on earth I was going to handle the next week's wave of vitriol.
When women online refuse to give in to their detractors and continue to share their opinions despite fierce and sometimes violent opposition, angry, threatened people hiding behind a screen become even more incensed.
To these people, women are supposed to know their place.
When we step out of line persistently, and refuse to be cowed, we need to be taught a lesson. In our culture, women have consistently been represented as pliable creatures who will eventually give in. In my interactions online, and in the media,
I've deliberately chosen to attempt to subvert this narrative wherever possible.
And in doing so, I've affixed a target to my back.
• That F Word, by Lizzie Marvelly, and published by HarperCollins, is out now and has a RRP of $35
• Disclaimer: It is possible that the accounts mentioned above could have been hacked, or created by someone else.
• Lizzie Marvelly appears at the Going West Writers Festival on Saturday, September 15 in the Women Then, Women Now/Wāhine o Mua, Wāhina o Naianei panel discussion with Dame Fiona Kidman, Sandra Coney, Golriz Ghahraman and Carol Hirschfeld.
'Six Commandments' for Surviving Social Media
1 Thou shalt not feel guilty for blocking, banning or muting internet philistines
I think of my social media accounts as my digital lounge. Being the opinionated rabble-rouser I am, I feel quite comfortable having heated debates in my lounge, but if someone barged into my home to tell me that I was a stupid b**** who should stick to her singing, that person would find themselves turfed out on their ear with a firm request to never come back. If someone came into my house to tell me that I should go and kill myself, or that someone should shoot me, I'd insist they left before I called the police. Your online spaces are yours. You get to set the tone, just as you would in your own home. Guests are more than welcome, but if a guest forgets their manners - or turns out to be a psychopathic f***wit - you are well within your rights to ask them to leave.
2 Thou shalt surround thyself with wonderful, warm-hearted friends, family and colleagues both online and IRL
I firmly believe that support networks are the key to surviving online abuse. If you know, without a doubt, that you are liked, loved and respected by people who actually know you, it's very difficult for a nasty stranger to make you believe that you are worthless, inadequate, or unlovable. Having people to reach out to who will refute without blinking all of the horrible things that an online bully might say, means that you have an antidote that will protect you from even the most toxic bile. Never suffer online abuse alone. Always reach out.
3 Thou shalt tailor thy response to online bullies according to thy inner state of mind at the time on a case-by-case basis
Sometimes it is truly best not to "feed the trolls", not because it's the official advice given, but because you don't need the strife that comes with engaging with nasty people. If you are feeling vulnerable, down or upset, the last thing you need is a race to the bottom of the barrel with someone whose sole purpose is to make you feel miserable. If you're feeling strong, however, there is no reason why you shouldn't respond as I was taught to at kindy - to say, loudly, "stop it, I don't like it, go away", - only feel free to substitute the pre-school vocabulary with stronger, age-appropriate synonyms.
4 Thou shalt not stoop to their level
While telling a bully exactly what you think of their opinion and offering them a suggestion of where they should get off is perfectly acceptable, bullying them in return is not. Bullies, after all, are people too. They are most often pitiable people who are preying on others in a misguided and pathological attempt to assuage their own inferiority complex and make themselves feel better. Standing up for yourself or a friend is fine, but there is a delicate balance that must be upheld. If we stoop to their level, we become part of the problem.
5 Thou shalt remember that online bullying is not thy fault
As women, victim-blaming can be almost hard-wired into our brains. No, he wouldn't have been nice to you if you'd written that tweet differently. He came after you for a reason; he didn't threaten to rape you because you expressed your view a certain way, he attacked you because you expressed a view he didn't like and he didn't know how to deal with it like a civilised grown-up. You can rest assured that he was a s***head long before you and your tweet came along.
6 Thou shalt find refuge in the real world
Sometimes the best thing to do is to turn off your devices and take a blissful holiday in the world around you. Going for a run, calling a friend, having a bath, reading a book, watching a movie, or even doing the vacuuming can provide a much-needed break from the horror that is unfolding online. It can take immense self-control to disengage from an incident of cyber-bullying, but during my worst moments online, I've found that logging out of the digital world has been the best option. You don't have to read the nasty things people write to or about you. You are allowed to switch off.
• Under The Harmful Digital Communications Act, Netsafe offers a free service for people in New Zealand to help with online bullying, harassment and abuse - it is available seven days a week on 0508 NETSAFE (0508 638 723).