'How high-profile women are silenced on social media – my 12-point guide'

I’ve been attacked on social media since my appointment, writes the DfE’s new mental health adviser. Here’s how to handle it

Natasha Devon

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Last week Kate Winslet gave an interview to the Sunday Times in which she claimed that social media makes her “blood boil”. Her entire family eschew social networking sites such as Twitter and Instagram, she claims, in favour of more wholesome pursuits (like, erm, Monopoly). Winslet went on to qualify this by stating her belief that so-called "selfie culture" has a detrimental effect on adolescent self-esteem and can exacerbate mental illnesses, specifically eating disorders.

Very good,” thought I, when I saw the subsequent report in Sky News’ feed. “A valid point of view. Worth (ironically) a re-tweet”.

To my surprise at the time (but in retrospect, it was completely inevitable), vitriol targeted at Winslet then began to fill my Twitter timeline. According to one radio host, whose name I shan’t mention because I suspect her show is so tedious it would make one want to eat one’s wireless in sheer frustration, Winslet is a "bad role model".

Cleavage on display, three children to three different fathers... Give me a break!” she spewed (inexplicably, given the original subject matter) into cyber space. Her followers were quick to agree, unanimous in their verdict that Winslet must be a terrible human, unworthy of a platform for her opinions, apparently for having committed the heinous dual crimes of wearing a couple of plunging necklines in public and reproducing with more than one man.

Kate Winslet is a typical target for this kind of irrelevant nonsense. She is outspoken, unashamedly curvy, independent and at times controversial. She is a woman who dares to question the status quo and who refuses to conform for the sake of it. She’s the sort of person who frightens those who would rather everything just stayed as it was. She’s not entirely dissimilar from me, in all of those respects.

Since my appointment as the Department for Education’s mental health champion in September, I’ve had more than my share of this sort of online abuse. I’ve had lazily researched "open letters" (my email address is freely available online, guys) written to me by campaign groups, and tweets fired at me criticising my "trout pout" (it’s just how my face goes, always has), my "juvenile" sense of humour (it never did Monty Python any harm) and the fact that I sometimes use Twitter (a social media site) to be sociable, rather than in the way politicians have hijacked it (as a means to broadcast solely industry-specific news).

None of the tidal wave of criticism I’ve received has addressed any of my actions as the Department for Education’s adviser on mental health, for the simple reason that none of the people concerned have bothered to ask me what I’ve been up to professionally in the past two months. Such enquiry might lead them into a reasoned debate or even (heaven forbid) agreement with me and that would never do. I am a woman with a public profile, after all.

I do question whether social media users of this kind realise that they are essentially attempting to silence women. This sort of trolling behaviour and blustering, irrational indignation is hardly ever directed towards men and the content is almost always completely unrelated to whatever the woman in question has actually said or done.

So, in honour of this tradition (and in the hope of stamping it out forever), here is my tongue-in-cheek guide to the commonest insults aimed at high-profile women online and what they really mean:

  1. "Bad Role Model": a woman who presumes to wear clothing which does not obscure the entirety of her physical form. Or, conversely, a woman who freely chooses to wear a garment which obscures the entirety of her physical form e.g. a burka, depending on your socio-religious ideology.
  2. "Hypocrite": a person who, though the natural evolution of their world view, which occurs through living and experiencing things, comes to change their mind about something. Or a person who shows anything approaching a three-dimensional personality in public by, for example, expressing a love of fitness but also chocolate.
  3. "Non-Entity/Irrelevance": a person whose existence as a non-entity is so irrelevant, it causes other social media users to seek them out and tell them what an irrelevant non-entity they are, often in blogs of more than 800 words.
  4. "Feminazi": a woman who challenges the status quo by suggesting that everything is not 100 per cent fair and lovely and perhaps there might be another potential way for human beings to conduct themselves.
  5. "Misogynist": any individual who has ever publicly disagreed with another individual who includes the term "feminist" in their social media bio.
  6. "Unqualified": a person who disagrees with one.
  7. "Narcissist": a woman who dares to be anything other than utterly self-deprecating or who expresses pride in any aspect of her life including but not limited to her appearance, family, career or handbag.
  8. "Self-publicist": a person who uses social media as a platform to tell their following about what they have been up to that day, which may or may not include achieving something, in a sociable way.
  9. "Bint/Bimbo/Slut/Whore": a woman who causes the casual male observer to have a crisis of world view but also an erection, thus creating a fundamental dichotomy between head and loins and overwhelming compulsion to use expletives.
  10. "Attention-seeker": an individual whose opinions, humour, appearance or achievements have gleaned a great deal of attention or admiration.
  11. "Not a mother": an individual not so irrationally blinded by potent adoration for one or a few very specific small person(s) so that they are able to see the world relatively logically.
  12. "Fat": a woman with a strong opinion.

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Natasha Devon

Natasha Devon

Natasha Devon MBE is the former government mental health champion. She is a writer and campaigner and visits an average of three schools per week all over the UK.

Find me on Twitter @_natashadevon

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