The Internet Trend For ‘Cancelling’ Women Has To Stop | ELLE.com

Published on ELLE.com in March 2019.

‘Tis the age of the internet clapback. Within mere seconds, a celebrity or Popular Internet Person can find themselves pummeled with a slew of vicious hot-takes. Oftentimes, debate is warranted: one could argue that those who profit from the internet, should be held accountable by the internet. But debate is not the same as decimate.

Recently, I’ve noticed a worrying trend. When a male celebrity screws up, he is duly lambasted, before rising, a few weeks later, from the keyboard’s ashes. But when a woman screws up, her error is used as a calling card for her total erasure. Her mistake is no peccadillo; it is proof of her worthlessness.

In internet parlance, this has become known as ‘cancelling’ or ‘deleting’ – for eg: ‘let’s cancel her’ – and in the last few weeks, I’ve seen this verbal trend unfurling, and growing, like a furious, angry, thing.

Earlier this month, a peppy fashion influencer named Dani Austin debuted a new line of fashion accessories, which skated right pas ‘homage’ and into ‘copycat’ territory. It was an instant eye-wince. Crass, gauche, foolish; – the bags were a dead-ringer for Valentino’s Rockstud range – there was, as is often the case on Instagram, a lack of due diligence. But when popular Instagram account @diet_prada ‘called her out’ – a specifically millennial type of moral safe-guarding that often segues into lacerating attack – the calls to ‘delete’ Austin begun.

‘This woman is horrific’ wrote one commentator. ‘Make her and everyone like her go away.’ ‘For f*cks sake can we just cancel ALLLL the Instahoes’ wrote another. She was called a ‘b**ch’ and a ‘cockroach’. Not for the first time, surfing through the @diet_prada comment section, I found myself agreeing, tiredly, with the commentator who wrote: ‘well, that escalated quickly.’

A woman’s mistake has somehow become justification for her complete deletion. But should Diet Prada hold responsibility for this online capital punishment?’The duo clearly see themselves as justice warriors and their call-outs have hit their mark on numerous occasions,’ muses New York Times reporter, Elizabeth Paton. But they are also complicit in ‘a wider trend in internet culture, where conversations are defined by targeted accusations and are designed to trigger a mob-like mentality. Trial by Instagram may be a natural evolution of the era we are living in. But it has real dangers too.’

Perhaps the most incendiary example in the last week is that of feminist writer and activist Chidera Eggerue, known as Slumflower, who dispatched this now-deleted tweet: ‘If men are committing s*icide because they can’t cry, how’s it my concern? [sic].’ Immediately, the incident became used as a bid to cancel her, and her work – good work, original work, work that she has been rightly applauded for – from popular culture. ‘Today is ‘Cancel Slumflower’ day, huh? Lol. Took y’all long enough’ wrote one Twitter user.

I don’t agree with her comments on this particular subject; it doesn’t correlate with my own thoughts on feminism (which is that yes, feminism does include men) and I thought her expression was callous. But it is strange to me that a woman known for her controversial viewpoint – she pioneered the #SaggyBoobsMatter movement, which was specific, but that was its strength, its magic, its potency – is expected never to fall foul of her own argument. And that rather than disagreeing with someone, we now have to somehow eradicate them from existence.

As a fellow writer said to me last week, slightly baffled, ‘she’s just one woman. It’s just one expression of feminism. And it might not be a popular one – but it’s not like everything she has ever said – everything she set out to do – until now, was intended to be agreeable.’

Is it that we like women to be agreeable, and free from fault? Or is this merely a reflection of the internet’s ever deepening empathy deficit? We should hardly be surprised, that it rains down harder on women, than men. As I wrote recently in a non-fiction essay, The Authentic Lie, we engage, both knowingly and sub-consciously, in ‘the frenetic assembling and dismantling of women and their public reputations on a day-to-day basis; the threat to ‘cancel’ women when they do not perform in a way in which we see authentic.’ It reeks of schadenfreude; if social media has revealed anything, it is that we love to kick a dog when it’s down: cloistered, like cowards, behind our keyboard; snuggled under slankets on the sofa.

To young women now, what the experiences of Dani Austin and Chidera Eggerue, say, is: don’t take risks. Don’t try new things. Don’t open your mouth unless you are sure, totally sure. Best, really, to be seen and not heard. It would be stupid to conflate Austin and Eggerue – collectively they come together under the umbrella of ‘influencer,’ but they are very different women, doing very different things, not least because one is a petite, blonde woman selling handbags and the other is a black woman whose body and self-expression is a vital component of her activism – nor see their internet fall-outs, as similar experiences.

But the reactions, to both young women, are rooted in the same place. No single woman is responsible for an entire culture. It’s easy to personalise a fear – Dani is selling us a lie! Her fake handbags are ‘everything that is wrong in this world’ – than to focus on the structural, geo-political issues that really, let’s be honest, deserve our wrath. As Eggerue reminded her critics, when speaking to The Independent: she is just ‘one woman’s voice.’

It has become a cultural normalcy to simply delete things that we don’t like, from existence: an ill-thought out social media post; a hurried voicenote; a friendship. Isn’t deleting a woman from popular culture just a logical segue? In a sense, this is nothing new: the erasure of women from influential positions, is a tale as old as misogyny’s time. So let’s see the cancellation of flawed women from the internet for what it is: regression, not progression. Progression would be allowing women – even women we do not like – to own, rather than delete (as these two women did) their faults. Or is it that we are deleting them – while wondering if one day we too will be deleted?

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