Emma Watson with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Photo: Getty
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Dear Emma Watson, it’s great that you’ve come out as a feminist. Here’s what to expect

With her speech at the UN, the actress has taken a new role – that of public feminist. The threats to leak nude photos of her online that followed shortly after are sadly not an unusual example of how women who speak out are treated.

Dear Emma Watson,

I’ve always been a fan of yours, despite the fact that you audaciously stole the part of Hermione from me when I had gone to the immense trouble of sending Newsround a picture of myself wearing a cape and armed with a quill and the family cat. The fact that I was too old to be Hermione, and can’t act, did not deter me, but I now feel that I am able to be a bigger person and tell you that you completely deserved the part. Brava.

And now, in 2014, I’m very pleased to be seeing you play an altogether different part – that of the public feminist. Your incredible speech at the UN this week was a real watershed moment for me, as I’m sure it was for all the other feminists who are reeling from just how far we have come. I was 23 when I first felt comfortable using the term “feminist” about myself, and the same is true of many women I know, because when we were younger, nobody close to approaching our age ever used it. The notion that a world famous actress followed by millions of young women in their magazines and on their screens would proudly call herself a feminist was unimaginable to my generation. To us, feminists were shrill, angry separatist lesbians intent on destroying the male sex, or at the very least intent on chopping their bollocks off. Feminists didn’t look like you, or me, or Beyoncé, or indeed the many girls I’ve visited in secondary schools who have set up feminist societies and feel passionate about the issue of gender equality. “Feminist” was a caricature we were all keen to avoid.

Of course, you pointed all this out in your excellent speech when you said that the myth that feminism is equivalent to man-hating has to stop. You said that your feminism includes men and boys, that gender equality is their issue too. So many of us are with you on this need for a more inclusive, and therefore more powerful feminism, but as you have discovered, some people are against you. Like so many others, I was sickened when hackers threatened, in response to your speech, to release nude photos of you on the internet. “She makes stupid feminist speeches at UN, and now her nudes will be online,” one insecure yet vengeful chronic masturbator supposedly said.

2014 has shown us many things, not least that feminism can be, and seems intent on becoming, a mainstream political endeavour – just look at you, Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, Ellen Page, Lena Dunham, to name just a few women who have “come out” recently. But 2014 has unfortunately also shown us that the lot of any woman who dares to exist in a public space is to be potentially “undermined” by a horrific invasion of her privacy by a few pathetic little bigots who are threatened by female empowerment. These are the bitter revenge tactics of a few small little men who cannot bear to see women asserting themselves with the poise, confidence and intellect that these sociopathic hackers lurking behind their screens, are entirely lacking. I am sorry that they are now targeting you, Emma, and I am sorry that it may prevent other young women for speaking out for fear of similar “reprisals”.

All I can say Emma, is: fuck them. It makes me furious that these men, these boys, are attempting to grind you down, in the same way that similar men have tirelessly attempted to grind down the emergence of our gender as a viable political threat for generations now. Fuck them. I know that you will not let them stop you, just as we other feminists will not let it stop us.

As Laurie Penny has said, a woman’s opinion is the short skirt of the internet. They will say that you deserve it. You do not deserve it: no woman does. And I will wear my short skirt with pride, and I have no doubt that so will you. Keep fighting the good fight: feminism needs you.

In solidarity,

Rhiannon

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett is a writer for the New Statesman and the Guardian. She co-founded The Vagenda blog and is co-author of The Vagenda: A Zero Tolerance Guide to the Media.

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The economics of outrage: Why you haven't seen the end of Katie Hopkins

Her distasteful tweet may have cost her a job at LBC, but this isn't the last we've seen of Britain's biggest troll. 

Another atrocity, other surge of grief and fear, and there like clockwork was the UK’s biggest troll. Hours after the explosion at the Manchester Arena that killed 22 mostly young and female concert goers, Katie Hopkins weighed in with a very on-brand tweet calling for a “final solution” to the complex issue of terrorism.

She quickly deleted it, replacing the offending phrase with the words “true solution”, but did not tone down the essentially fascist message. Few thought it had been an innocent mistake on the part of someone unaware of the historical connotations of those two words.  And no matter how many urged their fellow web users not to give Hopkins the attention she craved, it still sparked angry tweets, condemnatory news articles and even reports to the police.

Hopkins has lost her presenting job at LBC radio, but she is yet to lose her column at Mail Online, and it’s quite likely she won’t.

Mail Online and its print counterpart The Daily Mail have regularly shown they are prepared to go down the deliberately divisive path Hopkins was signposting. But even if the site's managing editor Martin Clarke was secretly a liberal sandal-wearer, there are also very good economic reasons for Mail Online to stick with her. The extreme and outrageous is great at gaining attention, and attention is what makes money for Mail Online.

It is ironic that Hopkins’s career was initially helped by TV’s attempts to provide balance. Producers could rely on her to provide a counterweight to even the most committed and rational bleeding-heart liberal.

As Patrick Smith, a former media specialist who is currently a senior reporter at BuzzFeed News points out: “It’s very difficult for producers who are legally bound to be balanced, they will sometimes literally have lawyers in the room.”

“That in a way is why some people who are skirting very close or beyond the bounds of taste and decency get on air.”

But while TV may have made Hopkins, it is online where her extreme views perform best.  As digital publishers have learned, the best way to get the shares, clicks and page views that make them money is to provoke an emotional response. And there are few things as good at provoking an emotional response as extreme and outrageous political views.

And in many ways it doesn’t matter whether that response is negative or positive. Those who complain about what Hopkins says are also the ones who draw attention to it – many will read what she writes in order to know exactly why they should hate her.

Of course using outrageous views as a sales tactic is not confined to the web – The Daily Mail prints columns by Sarah Vine for a reason - but the risks of pushing the boundaries of taste and decency are greater in a linear, analogue world. Cancelling a newspaper subscription or changing radio station is a simpler and often longer-lasting act than pledging to never click on a tempting link on Twitter or Facebook. LBC may have had far more to lose from sticking with Hopkins than Mail Online does, and much less to gain. Someone prepared to say what Hopkins says will not be out of work for long. 

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