My older brother, Kerod, scored free tickets to a preview screening of ‘Spotlight’, and because he’s a good man (and his wife was indisposed) he asked me to join him. I did so immediately, even though I had not heard of the film or new it’s subject matter. After all, it’s a free movie preceded and followed by time with my brother. A quick online search let me know it was a film named after the investigative journalist team at The Boston Globe newspaper, and the films narrative was about them breaking the story of the Catholic Church pedophile scandal. It stars Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Live Schrieber and Stanley Tucci, received a slew of Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations and I highly recommend it. January 28th is it’s general release here in Australia, and I won’t say much more about it … just do yourself a favour.

The central theme of the film struck a chord with me. Boston is a famously Irish Catholic city, and is in fact tied for the most Catholic city in the U.S. (along with New York and Pittsburg) with 36% of its inhabitants identifying as Catholic. This means, per capita, it has one of the highest concentrations of Catholic Churches, Clergy and (by extension) sex offending priests in the U.S. The film shows just how widespread the scandal is, with it affecting people personally known to all the lead players. The film asks “With so many victims, known to so many people, how did we miss this for so long?” Did people not see it? Did they not want to see it? Were they wilfully turning a blind eye?

The reasons it went “unreported” for so long are many and varied and the film does a decent job of exploring them. Marty Baron, the newly appointed editor of The Boston Globe at the time says, “Sometimes it’s easy to forget that we spend most of our time stumbling around in the dark. Suddenly a light gets turned on, and there’s a fair share of blame to go around.” The pieces can be right there in front of you but if you don’t see how they fit together you don’t make the connection. This reminded me of an online interaction I had on Facebook at the end of last year. A friend of mine posted the following status update:

“If anyone was wondering why Clementine Ford is a necessary voice, just make sure anything that could damage your head isn’t within arms reach of you and read the comments on any article about Clementine Ford.”

For those that are unaware, Clementine Ford is a freelance writer, broadcaster and public speaker in Melbourne, who writes on feminism, pop culture and social issues. And speaking out for womens issues means she gets targeted for hate speech from some of the lowest dregs of humanity. As my friend said in his post, find an online article of Ms Fords and read the replies, but be warned, you cannot unsee the vile threats these people make.

How is it, in the 21st century, that men in the western world would find it acceptable to say these kinds of things to a fellow human being? Why in the world do they think this is acceptable behaviour? The reasons were somewhat illustrated by a conversation that ensued on my friends post.  Someone posted:

“She is as bad as the people she hates.”

I don’t have access to her psyche, but from her writing and pieces she has done I think I can safely postulate that she hates rapists and the culture that protects them. How can writing about these things, even it was the most vile kind of vitriol in print form (which it isn’t, because she’s a serious journalist) be as bad as the physical assault of another human being? He followed up with:

“Don’t get me wrong, the trolls that make those comments are the lowest forms of humanity, but she is feeding a culture of hate.”

After people trying to explain this poster that Clementine Ford deals with these horrific threats to her being on a daily basis, and she has qualms about calling out these people for the things she says. She is essentially defending herself as she is trying to get her point across, and no doubt dealing with people as toxic as these trolls can rub off on your own attitude. This guy ends his part of the conversation by saying:

“And you think the best way to do this is by being an Absolute C*nt!”

Shortly after this the conversation was removed (I’m assuming by Facebook). I think was a shame because I came back to see if the poster had responded to any of the last comments made and questions aimed at him. I think there was a chance for a learning process. I personally wanted to ask him three questions.

  1. Your underlying point seemed to be that Clementine Ford, despite dealing with hundreds of vile threats every day, should be all sunshine and puppies when dealing with other people online. In this Facebook post, over the course of a couple of hours amongst only a handful of people who, despite disagreeing with you, have not personally attacked you in any way, and yet you were compelled to refer to a woman in such a vile way. As you think about your judgement of Clementine Fords responses with regards to your own posts today … who is as bad as whom?
  2. You think the people that post such terrible comments with regards to Clementine Ford are terrible examples of humanity. Where do you rate yourself as a “terrible people” after your last post in the thread?
  3. After being bought so quickly to a place where you could use such terrible language against a woman, do you not understand that you are making the point of the original Status Update? You have given the perfect example of why Clementine Fords voice is so necessary, which is exactly what my friend was trying to say.

I am not trying to say that this poster is an awful human being. Just that he seems so oblivious to the problem, even in his own behaviour. It’s certainly possible that writing down his thoughts, and reading the responses to them, has caused him to think about his original point of view and he has learned something. As the conversation was removed it stalled on Facebook, so I thought I would continue it here. My hope is to point out the pieces and show how they fit together.

And as serendipity would have it, This American Life did a show on Online Trolling not to long ago. The first story (after the prologue) is about the hatred that is spewed at women online who speak out about women’s issues. Again, some of the audio is pretty confronting as writer Lindy West reads actual comments made by some of these trolls. But the story takes an amazing turn, and will hopefully give you back some faith in humanity. Truly enthralling podcast.

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6 Responses to Spotlight – A Movie Review + What else are we missing?

  1. carmen says:

    Well, and as serendipity would have it, as well, I have been involved in two separate instances of the hatred spewed at women who speak out on women’s issues, on two separate blogs in the last week. It is, indeed, mystifying and supremely frustrating to witness the, “Ladies! You’re not being nice!” attitude. Now, in fairness, the two blogs I am referring to haven’t done the bullying to the extent you’re talking about, but it certainly is frustrating to have to – at the age of 58 – keep reminding people about the things that hurt women. You’d like to think that, when a man is reminded that his attitude is not helpful, he’d reply, “Oh, how can I do better?” That rarely happens, however.

    Power brokers in the patriarchal system really don’t like to have their position threatened, do they?

    You made excellent observations in your response to the person on FB; too bad your thoughts couldn’t have been added — they might have caused that fellow to at least recognize his misogyny.

    • What really boggles my mind is that these men must have women in their lives. A mother at least, but probably sisters, girlfriends, wives and daughters. I would like to think the majority of them would be upset if the women in their lives were treated in this terrible way.

  2. carmen says:

    Interesting that you should say that, Shane. I’ve just seen that – yesterday – where this same questions was asked, specifically, “How would you feel if your daughter (and he has one) was in a situation like the one you’ve just contributed to”? No acknowledgement of the question at all; I’ve found most men just cling to their self-defensive stance . . . saying . . . ANYTHING other than admit they were wrong.

    I don’t know if you’ve read the saga of Anita Sarkeesian but I cannot imagine being her parents (and I have grown children her age). Sad commentary on the deep-seated resentment many men have for women in general and specific animosity for women they see as having more power than they have. Of course, it’s far easier to demonize women than take an honest look at themselves. It’s a murky atmosphere in the MRA world.

    • I was not specifically aware of her story, but I know about #gamergate. It is indeed hard for people to change their minds. No doubt an evolutionary advantage which makes the road to confront misogyny that much harder.

  3. Cara says:

    Hi Shane, this was a great post. It really was awesome to have your contribution to that thread! I actually think the dude who posted those comments actually deleted his original comment which means all of our replied disappeared with it, which was a shame because people don’t learn by hitting delete when things get too hard for them to argue against. I do hope he learned something though.

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