The following story was submitted by a friend of SlutWalk Melbourne who, for reasons which will become obvious, wishes to remain anonymous. It’s a reminder of how destructive a negative attitude towards female sexuality can be, how slut shaming can have a disastrous impact on women’s lives, and that such behaviour is not confined to street-side cat callers – or even to men.
Trigger warning: slut shaming
When I tell people that The Age wrote an article about me, they look at me expectantly, eager to find out what it could be about. “I wrote some dirty jokes on Twitter”, I say, and they look at me incredulously, waiting for more. But that’s it, really. I wrote some dirty jokes on Twitter, so the newspaper decided to write a humiliating and shaming article about me.
On the Tuesday of the week of publication, I was called into the principal’s office. Someone had printed off a sub-tweet I wrote about my colleague and slipped it under his door. I was devastated. Please understand here, I’d gone to some lengths to keep my Twitter account off-the-radar. I didn’t use my name; I didn’t mention the name of my workplace; I didn’t add colleagues, save for one who I trusted, and I didn’t have colleagues on Facebook. I deleted the tweet immediately, along with any tweets I thought might be offensive and made my account private.
On the Friday, I was pulled out of my class, again, to talk to the principal. He informed me that a journalist had called him, asking about the school’s policy on social media. At first he was unsure how to respond, expecting that it was a general inquiry. Then he was asked specifically about me. He sternly expressed to the journalist that he shouldn’t pursue the matter further as it was a case of mental wellbeing.
He assured me that it wouldn’t go ahead. I went out that night to get my mind off the situation when I got a call from my husband, telling me that the journalist had emailed him about me. How had the journalist even gotten his work email address, especially when I never mentioned his last name or where he worked? On Sunday, the story was published – “Explicit Tweeter Quits Classroom”. It included where I worked, my picture (admittedly with my face blurred out), how I was in ‘trouble’ at work and included ‘expert’ opinion that I’d behaved inappropriately. For the record, my school supported me as best they could. I called the Victorian Institute of Teaching and they assured me I could not be fired as I’d done nothing against the code of ethics. But I was humiliated. Ashamed. Alone. Vulnerable. Weak. I stayed in bed all day and cried. I hurt myself and had suicidal thoughts. And constantly, the question at the forefront of my mind was ‘why?’
Leading up to the article, I was struggling. At work, I put myself into a situation working with someone of a very different personality type and we clashed. I was reported for bullying, when in fact I’d felt like I’d been bullied for the previous months. I was never a high flyer, but my reputation took a beating. I found it hard to function. When a student complained that my style of teaching wasn’t to their liking, there wasn’t a conversation about my difficulty in coping, it was just about my inadequacy. When enough people tell you you’re not good enough, you start think that maybe it’s true. My grandfather died and I was asked not to take any time off work. I got married and anyone who has had to plan a wedding can probably relate to how stressful that can be. I went to hospital and was asked to only take two days of sick leave. I was crumbling. I went to Twitter as an outlet to escape.
The thing most people don’t understand about me is that me joking around isn’t just for fun; it’s actually very important. Making people laugh, making light of a situation is a coping mechanism for me. People who have been victims of bullying might understand it; if you make fun of yourself before they can, you can protect yourself. I joke about death because my brother and sister died. I joke about sex because, like so many women I’ve encountered, I’ve experienced sexual abuse. I joke about being a loser, because after being bullied all throughout school and my work life, that’s how I feel.
Why did you do it? How was this newsworthy? Yeah, I wrote that I had sex an hour before I was teaching… because I wrote it before school. And whose fucking business is it if I have sex anyway? I never wrote anything inappropriate about my students, just myself. How was this ‘in the public interest’? Another journalist, Amy Gray, took interest in my story and wrote her own piece, “Public interest: apparently it’s now everything”, researching the ways in which The Age article breached their own code of conduct and the Media Alliance Code of Ethics. There were so many complaints from people on Twitter that The Age removed the image of me, but by then the damage was already done. How many other pink-haired teachers that worked at the same school had decided to take a year off? The students worked it out and spread the word quickly.
I found out a couple of months after publication that the person who got the ball rolling was actually a then-friend of my husband. She decided to mess with me and felt shaming me was the right way to do it. I would’ve thought that a ‘reputable’ newspaper such as The Age might have wanted to check the motivations of their sources to really decide whether their stories were actually newsworthy. I guess not. Since the article came out, I’ve spiralled further into depression. I’ve been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and continue to behave in self-destructive patterns. It’s caused so much tension in my relationship as I pushed everyone away that my very new marriage has all but fallen apart.
I can’t face a classroom again and I’ve had to essentially restart my life. Maybe all of this would have happened anyway, but it would have been nice to have been my own decision. I live near the school at which I worked, but I have to time my grocery shopping so that I don’t end up bumping into students, who still, nearly a year later, recognise me and want to talk to me about it. I’ve been told by people to “just get over it”. I really wish I could.