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Surfers' paradise

Dixe Wills

dixe.jpg''Write what you know', aspiring novelists are often told. This is doubtless the reason why so many first novels turn out to be works of barely concealed autobiography. (If you know a published novelist, do read their first book again - you'll be in it, though your name will have been changed from Jane to Janet to mask the character theft.)

As a non-fiction writer, I'm glad to say that I'm at liberty to write what I really don't know. Indeed, pick up any one of my many volumes (I know you keep them on a special shelf, which is sweet really) and you'll discover that my ignorance of the subject in hand is so deep and all encompassing that the relevant authorities have had to blast whole solar systems out of existence to make room for it.

It's remarkable therefore, that I haven't received the merest splash from the wave of hate that washes across cyberspace at connection speeds of 'up to 8MB'. Indeed, the worst feedback I've ever received is a review on Amazon that reads, 'Utter nonsense. A waste of money. I've only given this one star because you can't give it none,' which is fair enough.

I'm thus ill-qualified to tell you what it's like for many women who lift their heads above the interwebular parapet to voice an opinion. Take left-wing commentator Laurie Penny, for instance. She recently revealed that she had long since got used to the run-of-the-mill hate mail and death threats, and that even 'the emails and tweets and comments containing graphic fantasies of how and where and with what kitchen implements certain pseudonymous people would like to rape you cease to be shocking'. In a bid to expose the spewers of misogynist bile, Penny retweeted some of the worst examples.

Penny's thesis is that the men who dole out such abuse to women are attempting to paint them as unattractive in order that they can then discount whatever opinions they hold. This, as she points out, is nothing new: 'It's a charge that has been used to shame and dismiss women's ideas since long before Mary Wollstonecraft was called "a hyena in petticoats".'

When Suzanne Moore mentioned her own similar experiences when writing for the Guardian, the comments she received were as predictable as they were depressing: a great male wail of 'Ooh, it happens to us too, you know'. Many had also blown the dust off their thesauruses, discovered the word misandry, and duly accused Moore of it.

Of course, the world is an evil place full of dark and desperate characters. The Church, by comparison, never values women's opinions less than those of men. Neither does it cobble together some decontextualised verses from St Paul in order to consign them to roles 'befitting of their sex'. Just as well, really, or who knows what hysterical notions of vengeance might fill their pretty little heads? 

Dixe Wills