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Comment is anything but “free” at the Guardian


Jane Da Vall
Ex-Guardian reader

The Comment is Free (CiF) section in the Guardian (a UK newspaper) had its fifth anniversary last month.

Although allegedly a pro-feminist paper, view its online forum has kept up a steady flow of misogyny, bitterness and contempt of women, so much so  that  more and more women avoid the site entirely.

Men with grievances, like an angry (but anonymous) mob, vent their rage by invading the comment threads of feminist articles, imposing their own rights agenda and declaring women’s equality a battle won.

They flood articles on sexual violence with ‘blame the victim’ rape myths and stories of false allegations, with wildly inflated statistics.

Take  a recent editorial on the police investigation of serial rapist, Delroy Grant, who had targeted elderly women  in south east London for 17 years.

The men’s rights activists responded in droves, with a stunning display of hostility towards victims (some of whom were in their 80s and 90s). Instead of dealing with these misogynistic and deeply offensive comments, CiF allowed them to dominate the thread.

The editorial team must be aware of the power of their online platform, and their trusted name, and how damaging it is when set to promote an agenda which is discriminatory and founded upon misleading facts and lies.  So, why is it doing it?

Here is the Reader’s Editor, Chris Elliott:

“ Natalie Hanman, who edits Cif, has worked hard to encourage women to battle through any perceived misogyny on the site to bring about a site that more women want to visit. I think she believes it is important to get into the debate, no matter how tough, to create a different atmosphere.

The Guardian has excellent moderators who work hard to ensure posters stay within our community guidelines and in time if women will stick with it that atmosphere will change.”

Five years of experience would suggest these assertions have no application to reality whatsoever. Most women do not stick with it, they go.  Those who stay have made no impact on a firmly entrenched culture.

The editor must know the misogyny on CiF is anything but “perceived”, yet she continues to ask women to accept abuse, aggression, condescension and a massive waste of their time and effort with absolutely no purpose in mind.

It is the Charge of the Light Brigade, ‘Into the Valley of Death rode the six’.

A short stroll through Comment is Free is enough to show the ineffectiveness of this so-called “moderation”,:

Women are generally evil. At least men are only violent

[women,] a less powerful and protected class of second class human beings.”

Hundreds of women have complained about Comment is Free since it opened its doors. So why does the Guardian continue to blind itself to reality, even after losing so many women readers.

The only plausible explanation is that the paper is not the least bit concerned about marginalising women or infringing their rights.  The only issue of importance seems to be traffic, which is spectacular.

Its 2.4 million daily browsers are topped only by the Daily Mail, whose audience it seems to share.

Is the Guardian’s remarkable popularity a product of the excellence of its online publishing or the popular prejudice, feminist-bashing, trash-talking and brawling of Comment is Free?

The editor’s futile call to battle “no matter how tough” suddenly makes sense, the tougher the better presumably.

In the same way, the more incendiary feminist writers are protected ‘above the line’ and fire up the heat ‘below the line’ to pull in the crowds.  Women commenters are then attacked in those threads for a style of feminism which often they do not share, while the writers mostly steer clear.

The Guardian earned £30 million in advertising revenue last year, which is  a long way from breaking even.  Hopefully, the loss of  revenue occasioned by driving women from the site will prompt it to reconsider.

A recent article revealed that women rule the internet with their social networking and shopping-based consumer power.

We can only hope that the powers that be at the Guardian  read it and start to realise that excluding women and their associated revenue potential by populating their site with misogynists is not a winning long term business plan (even if they don’t care about the politics).

I wish I was wrong in my analysis of what’s happening at the Guardian but I can’t think of any other interpretation.

I’d be happy to talk to them in person, but despite repeated efforts to meet with both Chris Elliott and Natalie Hanman, I’m still waiting for them to name the day.

  1. My experience has been that news sites tend to allow offensive comments under a “free speech” mantle so that decent people will log in to argue with them, increasing their registrations and pageviews—both of which increase advertising revenue. The local Gannett paper’s web site, here in Mississippi, is a racist cesspool; the city the paper publishes in is 79% black, so that’s not exactly representative of the local community.

  2. Jane Da Vall says:

    Thanks, yes I think that’s right. News sites like that are distancing themselves from comments whilst still getting the traffic and the ad revenues. This is exactly what the Guardian is doing,and it seems to be relying on a free speech pass,but it’s difficult to tell. Their site has comment standards which ought to rule out the the bias posting but they don’t enforce them. They also have an editorial policy which has been mislaid.

  3. We are working very hard, as ever, to improve the nature of the debates on Comment is free. As our community standards make clear, as soon as we are aware of misogynist comments we remove them from the site. Our new, more community-based approach to how we edit Comment is free has had a noticeable impact on the quality of debate – and this is something we will continue to develop with our users and writers.
    Natalie Hanman
    Editor, Comment is free

    • vicki wharton says:

      Natalie, I don’t think you would recognise a misogynist if you were run over by one – in fact, I think you are one – hence you’re inability to spot another. You seem to think posting generalised abuse about women is different than posting generalised abuse about the colour of someone’s skin, religion, sexuality or disability – it isn’t. Freedom of speech was about allowing people to discuss ideas freely, not shout in someone’s face that all people like them are shit – that’s just abuse – which you don’t seem to be able to tell the difference between.

      • Vicki, I think if you are campaigning to improve the standard of online debates, it doesn’t help to make “ad hominem” attacks against correspondents. All online forums are full of nitwits and trolls – and perhaps you will now label me as a nitwit and a troll? – but there is no good way to get rid of them other than to completely ignore them. The delete button has to be kept as a last resort. We might as well know what the fools are thinking as it will help us to defeat them. Steadfastly stick to the arguments and don’t rise to the bait that trolls and idiots throw about. Only one opinon.

        • vicki wharton says:

          I find it strange how sensitive you are to me airing an observation that if you are responsible (as an editor) for running and publishing what is clearly some kind of verbal bear pit where women are allowed to be mauled and abused, Natalie has to have some personal ownership for what happens under her watch. Both my parents were editors, one of the Daily Telegraph, and if you are actively publishing comments that encourage encourage gender bullying and violence, then you are responsible for your part of a culture that dismisses violent men as trolls and nitwits. In my reasonably extensive experience of verbally violent chauvinistic men, what they say in public is nothing to what they do in private. One of my earliest memories as a four year old was mopping my mother’s blood off her face after she had challenged yet another of my father’s numerous lies about why he hadn’t visited one weekend. Virtually everything he said to us and about us was a lie, and virtually every journalist around him lied to cover up his behaviour. Even his own paper’s obituary was a lie, completely wiping out any knowledge or mention of me, my brother or my mother to cover up his adulterous behaviour, even though my brother was working at the paper at the time. These aren’t attacks, these are facts, just as my observation of Natalie’s inability to recognise verbal aggression against women and therefore tolerance of misogyny appears to come from an internalised acceptance of women hating and baiting which she doesn’t challenge – ergo making her a misogynist – fact as far as I can tell from her actions so far. I certainly don’t mean to insult her – simply an observation of her behaviour in the same way that I call my father a liar – it is not an insult, just an observation that he told lies.

          • Jane Osmond says:

            Good point Vicky – it is possible that Natalie has been inculcated into the editorial community of practice which is probably heavily framed by male misogyny and goes along to get along. It must be hard to be a woman surrounded by such misogyny every day and eventually, if you are not strong enough, you are going to give in I would suspect.

      • “Natalie, I don’t think you would recognise a misogynist if you were run over by one – in fact, I think you are one – hence you’re inability to spot another. ”

        – sheesh! How is this kind of vitriol helpful if you want the Guardian to listen?

        • vicki wharton says:

          See my comment above – it’s not vitriol to call a liar a liar and Natalie as editor is responsible for what she allows to happen on her pages or to at least publish an apology for the verbal abuse that women are regularly subjected to on her pages

      • Earwaxopen says:

        I’m surprised by this post. I’ve been reading the Guardian online for years and seen very little that could be characterised as outright misogyny in its comments threads. What I have noticed however is that on articles that take a militant feminist perspective (eg.someone arguing for male users of prostitutes to be arrested) there are often many critical comments from males pointing out what they consider to be the falaciousness of the argument. Perhaps this is what you mean by “mysogyny” – men opposing an outdated ideology using rhetoric and facts. If indeed there are many comments slipping through that use abusive or offensive language (eg “skanks” or “bitches”) then by means excoriate the online editor. However in my experience it’s rare to see anything like this (thank god). If anything, I find The Guardian tends to be over-cautious in what it allows through (talking here about comment generally, rather than women and gender issues). I fear that behind this post lies a rather disturbing intolerance for our traditions of free speech and open debate. If you resort to censorship, you’ve already lost.

        • Jane DaVall says:

          Thanks for your post, earwaxopen. Feminist debate with negligible contribution by women is an unusual definition of open debate.

          By misogyny I mean misogyny: “masturbatory housewives and barren career women, enjoying their feelings of superiority to this animal,” and, yes, the animal was a woman.

          You enjoy Comment is Free, but then you don’t see misogyny nor are you concerned by it. The great majority of women are. CiF has driven away a gender, and you consider your personal enjoyment a sufficient reason for the Guardian to do nothing about it.

          Comment is Free would not recognise free speech or open debate. The Women section is occupied by an crowd of angry men taking their divorce settlements out on all womankind. This mob, who firmly back women’s equality but have yet to find a specific inequality that matches up to their bellowing self pity, this is what Comment is Free calls debate.

          I can understand why you might think it worthwhile to come along and spin a fantasy CiF, even to a crowd familiar with the real version. After all, you have been getting away with it for years on CiF. But, remember, the Guardian earns a tidy sum looking the other way. Absent the transformative power of advertising millions, your bullshit just looks like bullshit.

  4. Jane Da Vall says:

    “Women are just naturally better suited to the soul-crushing conformity that is the modern office workplace. I’ve been to business school, I’ve seen it first hand. They like dressing up, they like giving meaningless reports,and blathering on about nothing (like marketing strategies, team-building, extc). I think the experience pregnancy gives them a natural tolerance for the process of having a parasite literally suck the life out of you. For men the only solution is to follow the good Dr Leary’s dictum “tune in, turn on, drop out”


    That comment is on this thread,
    ..which is littered with sexist posts, all of which get 100s of recommends. This is your readership. This is how it is and has been for 5 years. To simply ignore 5 years of history is bizarre. What conclusion can one draw from your refusal to even acknowledge the situation but that you are not interested in changing it.? Then all you are doing is running a Daily Mail imitation site, which is very good for traffic.

  5. Jane Osmond says:

    Thank you for your comments Jane – this chimes with my own experience of CIF and also of other WVON readers. It is interesting that Natalie Hanman actually decided to address this issue finally; however as the appalling comment you have signposted illustrates, she has not addressed the issue in any depth at all. Please persist in your efforts to set up an appointment with the Guardian to discuss this in more depth – I am sure we will all be interested int he results.

  6. Jane Da Vall says:

    Thanks, Jane, I will.

    Alison, The Guardian canvassing opinion about Comment is Free by posting questions on Comment is Free makes sense if the subject is web design, I suppose. It was rather less illuminating when the Readers’ Editor investigated complaints of misogyny on Comment is Free by posting a column on the forum which asked ‘Is Comment is Free anti-women?’ The community of women-haters duly responded that it was not, and thus the investigation ended!

    I have reservations about contributing to debate there generally. I think the handful of women who do comment regularly have legitimised a rigged game, conducted on terms which ensure the the anti-feminist ‘house’ view will drown them out. I think the same, only more so, of the Guardian’s feminist writers. They are party to an arrangement in which women generally are absent and their writing represents the only female opinion expressed. Anonymity of comment conceals this from the casual eye, which is what internet traffic sees with.

    I think the editorial intention to ignore the damage CiF is doing is clear. Perhaps we should be asking the writers why they are allowing their work to be opened for comment, knowing what will result.

    • Pavlov's Cat says:

      the Readers’ Editor investigated complaints of misogyny on Comment is Free by posting a column on the forum which asked ‘Is Comment is Free anti-women?’ The community of women-haters duly responded that it was not, and thus the investigation ended!

      And it’s not as if anyone who found the comments intolerable is likely to be posting their opinions in that very same forum in the first place.

      I think the handful of women who do comment regularly have legitimised a rigged game, conducted on terms which ensure the the anti-feminist ‘house’ view will drown them out.

      Hadn’t thought of it like that, so interesting point. I did wonder whether to just try to make positive comments to articles without necessarily having to engage the trolls was worth trying, but I’m rethinking that one.

      • I’ve only just come across your site.

        But it was me who used the term ‘anti-women’ in my attempts to complain to the Guardian about CIF. It has subsequently ignored my emails about the matter; yet still sends me spam expecting me to buy services and goods from them.

        I would directly challenge the misogyny, and when, as was often the case, I could best the posters intellectually, complaints were made about me and I was moderated off.Even though, at worst, I would respond in kind, but didn’t even normally resort to this.

        I was even told by a women in the readers editors office, in the most disparaging of tones ‘ oh, I’ve heard of you’

        I now regard The Guardian as something of a joke!

  7. Pavlov's Cat says:

    I have given up reading the comments on anything that has them posted at the Guardian, and certainly wouldn’t pay for their paper on the basis of what they seem to think we should tolerate. It’s not like many other news sources are that much better, but really that’s no excuse.

    Re advertising revenues, any organization that is happy to have publicity for their products or services sitting next to such disgusting comments is one I’m crossing off my list as a place to buy anything ever. Traffic does not necessarily equal sales.

  8. Jane Da Vall says:

    Pavlov ‘s Cat,
    I have exactly the same conflict as you about contributing. However, the dominant hostile opinion will only be removed by editorial intervention. Five years of Comment is Free has demonstrated that clearly. The most effective approach must be to the editors and their friends and, yes absolutely, the advertisers. I think advertisers will achieve what ‘core values’ have proved imaginary to touch.

  9. anchoredwunderlust says:

    i often wonder why it is that all the feminist articles are on CIF, as there are other opinion pieces which are not. is it deemed that womens issues are more open to contradiction?

  10. Unimpressed says:

    The Guardian could, of course, completely close its comments boxes, and that would deal with that problem.

    However, the greater issue is that Comment is Free routinely gives a platform to leading members of Hamas and activists for various Muslim Brotherhood parties in North Africa. If you’re worried about attitudes to women below the line, what about the selection of writers above the line, by the Guardian, who when in power will move quickly to deny substantive rights to women.

  11. I think the media has found that women baiting is highly financially lucrative. If we stay silent, we are implying that we don’t really mind, and if we engage, we are called feminazis. Either way you get a damned good kicking, without the kicker every having to account for their aggression. The only effective way I have ever seen of dealing with a bully, which this is on gender lines, is to either fight back hard or for a higher power to intervene to set clear rules of behaviour that values equality and fairness. I am not sure how we fight back when we are damned with every word we speak in our own defence, and there doesn’t seem to be a higher power here that gives a fig for equality or fairness. Suggestions?

  12. Jane Da Vall says:

    Extremism is a feature of much of the debate on Comment is Free. My concern with feminist articles, in particular, is that there are so few women, and the men are so uniformly hostile, that no challenge exists to extremist views expressed there. Misleading and false statements are made routinely, for example concerning false rape claims, and they are not questioned. Often, they are well supported These views are left to stand on what purports to be a platform for liberal opinion. The Guardian’s name on the site makes these misstatements more likely to convince, in my view, than the same thing on a conservative blog.

    anchoredwunderlust – I believe these articles are opened because they are more likely to bring the punters in. The clash between feminist journalists and the angry mob is engineered. The Guardian offers up its smattering of female commentors for target practice. It cannot be appropriate to open these articles where there is just one opinion present that can be heard, knowing that a partisan crowd are making the debate under cover of anonymity.

  13. The guardian isn’t the only offender. The comments on liberal conspiracy which i have written for a few times have a few returning commenters that derail the debate for no real purpose except to undermine feminism, and the writer. feminist articles on the independent get the same problems. i rarely read cif now though, it just doesn’t seem worth the hassle. i don’t see why women should have to put up with misogyny in order to force a change. we face enough misogyny everywhere else!

  14. Jane Da Vall says:

    I agree, I think that traffic, and the ad revenue that brings in, is exactly what motivates the Guardian to stage these anti-women rallies. It is a poor business strategy. By far the greater part of advertising is aimed at women. A glance at the advertising guide’s user profiles shows how far the CiF mob are from an advertiser’s target male audience also.

  15. Okay, going to stick my head in the noose and ask this; surely if Comment Is Free blocked these messages it will only give the commenters more fuel for the fire? i.e. if a person’s comment is blocked because it is deemed to be “offensive” to feminists/women, than the person that was making that comment will just go elsewhere and talk about how feminists/women can’t take criticism? By publishing it, then others are “free” to respond and point out how the comment is inappropriate. I would rather know who the haters are and be able to respond to them if I want to, than for them to be hidden from view.

    I get that it’s not fair, but if it is that much of a problem than, in my opinion, the whole commenting ability should be removed for everyone. That way no problem; but it also means no dialogue so there’s no hope that through discourse people could question their opinions and maybe see things differently. By actually engaging and asking questions people’s pov can be challenged, rather than just calling someone a misogynist or a misandrist and leaving it at that (as is common on too many forums). When it gets too hot I say walk away – bullies hate nothing more than being ignored. And it does not suggest you agree with them, only that you’re bored of the conversation.

  16. Jane Da Vall says:

    “The only effective way I have ever seen of dealing with a bully, which this is on gender lines, is to either fight back hard or for a higher power to intervene to set clear rules of behaviour that values equality and fairness”

    Women have never been on CiF in sufficient numbers to shout down the mob. There are women there who make excellent argument and stick with it through the most appalling provocation. But they are overwhelmed, you cannot hear them in the noise. It is pointless and their minor presence gives legitimacy of a sort. Could the Guardian open feminist threads with no women at all? I would have said no, but they almost do now. Change must come from editorial intervention.

    I don’t think participating is constructive. Everyone should write to the editors and the Readers Editor. I have found it extraordinary how ignorant they are of their own publishing. Advertisers must be made aware of the misogynist company they are keeping. The advertisers of FoxNews have just evicted Glenn Beck. We can help the Guardian’s advertisers cast out the mob.

  17. Jane Da Vall says:

    “. i rarely read cif now though, it just doesn’t seem worth the hassle. i don’t see why women should have to put up with misogyny in order to force a change. we face enough misogyny everywhere else!”


    Yes I agree, that is why the Guardian must be different. The mainstream media has always been misogynist and racist and homophobic. These are our nation’s popular prejudices and the Guardian was committed to making those marginalised voices heard. In print, it is. For reasons they have not cared to share with the reader, that has changed online.

    I don’t understand why derailers are suffered on liberal blogs like CiF and Liberal Conspiracy. It is too easy for political opponents to simply kill the debate. Comment is Free has no liberal debate at all, which is a testament to the incompetence of its management. CP Scott instructed the keepers (destroyers) of his legacy to make room for the other opinion, so they handed over the deeds.

    • I don’t understand why derailers are suffered on liberal blogs like CiF and Liberal Conspiracy.

      Because its near impossible to police debates so tightly that all debates go in the right direction.

      Believe me, I get frustrated about this, as does Natalie. But this is neither just about feminist topics (any topic can get hijacked, and lots of debates turn into arguments), nor is it that we encourage such people.

      It is the nature of popular sites that they attract a range of readers. Our posts on the economy for example turn up right-wingers who work in finance. We can’t ban them nor stop them from spouting right-wing economics,

      On LC I’m the only main moderator. CIF employs a few ppl but they get a ton more comments than we do. And we post-moderate, so sometimes a debate is derailed before I get a chance to look at it.

      and lastly, banning isn’t foolproof – I get lots of people posting under different names and anonymised IP addresses, making it harder for us to keep them out permanently.

      • Jane Da Vall says:

        Thank you for your post, Sunny. I do understand how difficult it is. Derailers are easy to spot on CiF but we have seen the same people do it time and again for years, so I guess they would be.

        “Believe me, I get frustrated about this, as does Natalie. But this is neither just about feminist topics (any topic can get hijacked, and lots of debates turn into arguments), nor is it that we encourage such people”

        But Natalie chooses to publish it. She, and the previous editors of CiF, choose to allow the same men to saturate the site with abuse of women for years on end. She sees that the culture is toxic, that women leave and that these same men have free run of the Guardian to express their contempt to a global audience. She decides that they will stay and women can go. That is a choice and the editors are responsible for it.

        “It is the nature of popular sites that they attract a range of reader “

        This is not the case on CiF. Feminism has had one dominant voice of opposition and a lot of accompanying anger and hate for 5 years now,

        I know that moderation is hard and that the banned tend to stick, but these things barely matter on CiF because the decision has been made that publishing abuse of women, and driving them away, is preferable to excluding these posters.

        “- sheesh! How is this kind of vitriol helpful if you want the Guardian to listen?”

        It doesn’t help. I’m guilty of it myself. I can only tell you that the anger that Comment is Free inspires with its spite and prejudice, which cannot be argued with because it has no argument, tends to come out. Then you find yourself slung out the back, while the hatred flows on inside.

        This has gone on uninterrupted for FIVE YEARS. Five years with not a word of explanation or comment from those in charge of it, except to praise the excellence of moderation. Natalie Hanman and the Guardian, claim to support those very rights and freedoms that are denied on their site every day and they collect revenue from the traffic that this ugliness draws in. It would make anyone angry.

  18. Jane Da Vall says:

    This is the argument on CiF all the time. Well, they have a media empire to defend. It is a false argument, or it should be. I don’t want to ban argument, I want to encourage real debate. There is none at the moment, and there is no-one to challenge the extremism. This is a problem because CiF is pumping out reinforcement of existing prejudices: men get screwed on divorce, ‘short skirts invite rape’, that sort of thing. These are not true, let’s remember, but they are widely believed. We can’t afford not to challenge them every time, and the Guardian as a feminist supporter should not be doing sending it out.
    There can be an actual debate, i don’t think it need be that difficult. The dominance of a partisan group must be prevented, male or female. The extremists can bugger off back to the Daily Mail but I wouldn’t want the mere haters of feminism to go.

  19. On the plus side, this post made me discover WVON.

    What I find interesting in CiF is the disparity between the content of the articles and the opinions of the commenters. While most articles are, reasonably sensible, the people commenting seem to indulge in some kind of “you are wrong, I am right”.
    I have often wondered why these people, overwhelmingly to the right, go and read CiF, just so they can attack everyone they percieve as a Lefty or Feminist. I can only imagine it has to do with “authority”. Yes, the Daily Mail is extremely rightwing, but nobody takes it seriously. The Guardian, on the other hand, is a widely respected newspaper, with real “standards”. So while questioning the babbling right on the DM might be easy, it doesn’t bring the same satisfaction as bullying a most prestigious outlet.
    I think things are set up so that those who are most wrong are the most vocal. The only way to survive in CiF is to push, bully, attack. Logical arguments are irrelevant because these commenters don’t want to “debate”. They will never admit to being wrong, they are not willing to learn, so “debate” is futile. They just want to drawn the voices of those whom they secretly believe to be right.

    • Earwaxopen says:

      “What I find interesting in CiF is the disparity between the content of the articles and the opinions of the commenters.”

      It’s called debate. Disgusting, isn’t it?

      “While most articles are, reasonably sensible, the people commenting seem to indulge in some kind of ‘you are wrong, I am right’.”

      What may seem “reasonably sensible” to a died-in-the-wool feminist might struck even a middle-of-the-road male lefty (and for that matter many women less beholden to hardcore feminist ideology) as at best, questionable in emphasis, and at worst, wrong-headed.

      “these people, overwhelmingly to the right…”

      To the right of you? That’s probably not very far right at all. I think you’ve lost touch with the reality that hardline feminism is a distinctly minority strand of opinion. I’m not talking about basic gender-equality feminism, which is now so mainstream that it’s part of a broader social equity discussion. I’m talking about the ideological brand that often harbors a dirty strain of misandry at its core. Reform an outmoded ideology and the hostility will decrease.

      • Jane DaVall says:


        It is standard practice for the MRA on Comment is Free to recast feminism as RadFem. Let us be clear on terms. A policy which draws as much anger as any on CiF is the gender pay gap. Failing to reject the gender pay gap as a conspiracy between the Fawcett Society and the Office of National Statistics is not radical feminism. Nor is considering rape a bigger problem in our society than false rape allegations.

        There are very few women on CiF. Your view on feminism is shared with men rights advocates and it is hostile. The feminism of the Guardian writers above the line is their own, I said in my article that I think the Guardian deliberately stokes hostility in the bear pit in which feminist articles are published. What I want to see is opinions from women below the line.

        • Earwaxopen says:

          The more posts I read here, the more I see the resemblance between your particular brand of feminism and religion. It’s all about faith. Believing come what may. Moral righteousness. Nothing that anyone ever argues against you, no statistics or research, will ever make any difference.

          • Jane DaVall says:

            Ironically, you don’t reference anything I said . Tell me what you disagree with and I will be better able to respond.

  20. Jane Osmond says:

    Apart from having to develop a hide like a rhinoceros to withstand the attacks, the other problem with standing your corner on CIF is that – unlike some of the appalling and offensive comments against women that are allowed to stand – women’s comments are removed. This happened to me a couple of weeks ago – this is the comment I made:

    “I think the real point here is that any mention of a rape conviction in the Guardian gets hijacked on CIF by a lot of men who feel sympathetic to rapists because they think that they could also be accused as rapists. This is the only explanation for every single thread being hijacked in this way.

    This in turn means that the men who comment in this way – relentlessly discussing how many false rape allegations are made, instead of acknowledging that rape is a serious crime routinely practiced against women day after day after day – either have been accused of rape in the past, or think that some of their own behaviour is suspect and so they over-identify with the man in the dock.

    I fully expect to get flamed for this comment, because CIF allows this kind of flaming against women who comment on CIF to take place day after day after day – because again it is policed by a paper that is run by men and has men’s best interests at heart and those best interests are obviously served by minimising a brutal crime against women.

    Shame on you Guardian CIF moderators, and all you men who over-identify with the brutal, brutal men who damage women’s lives every day – your mother, your sister, your daughter. Shame on you all.”

    • Jane Da Vall says:

      How about this, Jane.
      On a recent thread there were only 4 or 5 comments from women, men outnumbered women by 10:1 and it was hostile.

      I posted the first comment below about the comment which follows it. The subsequent comments are from the same thread, and the mens rights site were posted there. There is an extract from one. The other has pictures of a man hitting women titled the The Good Old Days, amongst a whole lot of other unfriendly words.

      My comment was removed, everything else remains. There is even a pro-lifer, who found the only spot on CiF where religion is safe from challenge
      “I left out the witless swill of your last comment, because it appears to fall so far foul of community standards that it may, in fact, not survive. I am often wrong about that, though.”

      “Women have the maths skills of a 6 year old, can’t drive cars, are nowhere to be seen in professions involving abstract thinking (physics, mathematics, philosophy), waste hours in offices playing Solitaire and applying makeup (the so called Polish “biurwas” or office w*ores) and are in my humble opinion quite useless. Are we done exchanging sexist rants?”

      “First of all, men and women have entirely different intelligence patterns. Secondly, they have different drives. Thirdly, women PREFER childcare to working”.

      “Feminists need to grow up and promote equality of opportunity and abandon any notion of sexual equality”

      ” feminists and their male supporters have a standard set of responses when the thinking gets tough for them. Examples:
      eg 4.. You must have a small penis. (Aghhh, not this one!)”

      “I hope they also push for women to make up 50% of the homeless, prisoners, military, slaughterhouse workers, workplace deaths, et”

      “It’s not men’s fault that women are stupid enough to believe priests”

      “Out of step by a decade or two I’m afraid. Feminism is now being ridiculed EVERYWHERE”.

      “35% of neurosurgeons must be women? This goal could be easily achieved by relieving women from the whole “outdated”, “patriarchal” duty of going through medical studies, ”

      “And this is why Feminism is doomed to failure; it is sexist in its core thinking”

      .”gave most women the opportunity to do something other than rear the next generation and most men the opportunity to do something other than work themselves into an early grave by supporting them. This doesnt represent a historical *dis*advantage, it is part of our evolution from subsistence society.”

      “Given the enormous political influence of the Catholic church, legalisation of abortion is likely to remain a fantasy for decades.” From the way you say that, you almost make it sound like a bad thing.”

      “Apparently sexual discrimination and government handouts equals “equality” in Poland now too.””

      “Feminism is awful logic built on baseless assumptions. Above all, it’s misandric nonsense.”

      “”You May Not Be A Slut But You Sure Are Stupid
      That a police officer would suggest personal responsibility for the outcome of reckless behavior is a chilling metric of how much work is still left undone by feminists. It truly reflects poorly on all of us, when thousands of sluts have to march in the streets to fight for their right to take no personal responsibility, and we should all be ashamed of ourselves.”

      • Earwaxopen says:

        “35% of neurosurgeons must be women? This goal could be easily achieved by relieving women from the whole “outdated”, “patriarchal” duty of going through medical studies, ”

        “And this is why Feminism is doomed to failure; it is sexist in its core thinking”

        If you think these are examples of misogyny, then you’ve just shot your argument to shreds. The first is an example of satirical comment. The second, a ideological disagreement with feminism.

        I think you got to get over this notion that all who oppose feminism intellectually are “misogynists”, “chauvinists” etc. Some are. Many are not. I include myself in the latter category – someone who strongly believes in more fluid gender roles and equality of opportunity, but who finds too many of the shibboleths of ideological feminism to be intellectually questionable and, sadly, too often reverse-sexist .

        • Jane DaVall says:

          Earwaxopen, Those are not examples of misogyny and no, I don’t think all opponents of feminism are misogynists. I am an opponent of the current form at the Guardian, as I would have thought this article made apparent.

          Opposition to feminism need not be misogynous. Calling a debate on women’ basic rights and freedoms, that has no contribution by women, an open debate certainly is.

          Do you suppose misogyny is an affliction one might easily self-diagnose?

          • Earwaxopen says:

            At this point I confess I’m confused. When you talk about CIF, are you referring to a particular sub-section of The Guardian website? Or are you referring to news or feature articles on The Guardian that invite readers to comment? My knowledge is of the latter, not sure if the latter exists or what it is if it does.

            “Calling a debate on women’ basic rights and freedoms, that has no contribution by women, an open debate certainly is.”

            Excuse me for scoffing Jane, but what absurd guff you speak. These sites are open to comment to the general public – males, females, transgender, anyone with an internet connection is free to comment. Are you suggesting a conspiracy to prevent women from signing on and expressing a view? If so, you’ve entered the land of “9/11 was planned by the US government” and “the moon landing was faked”.

          • Jane DaVall says:

            “masturbatory housewives and barren career women, enjoying their feelings of superiority to this animal.” “Women are generally evil.” “second class human beings.”

            You can keep the conspiracy theories, I am happy with real life and real evidence. That you choose not to see the misogyny (up there) does not prevent it driving women from Comment is Free. The doors may be unlocked but the site is not open to the general public. A hostile women-hating culture has developed on feminist threads and permeates the whole site, making it uninhabitable to most women. The Guardian has decided to keep the misogynists and lose women (that is one area in which my feminism departs from theirs.) Here are three examples of feminist ‘debate’ which has almost no female presence. Women make 3 of 50 comments in the 1st article and 4 of 50 in the 2nd. The other is the thread I showed James, which has over 100 men and 12 women.


            It is entirely wrong of the Guardian to purport to host debate on issues of women’s rights without women.

            In fact, only two of those articles are specifically feminist. The third is an article about the most pathetic female characters in film. This is a good example of the negligence of the management. The article is addressed to women and, presumably, intended to spark a discussion on how Hollywood fails women. Unfortunately, the CiF commenters are not women, they are men who despise women. They had a field day with an article on pathetic women. The Guardian knows its audience, it is not the least interested in deterring women haters

            I know nothing about conspiracies. I know that a large number of men occupy the feminist pages and promote men’s rights. They have been in occupation for years and are probably acquainted by now. They derail feminist articles, turning the subject to men’s rights. Here is a current example:
            Support for male victims of domestic violence may be limited elsewhere, but not on CiF. There are more comments about male victims than any other subject. Almost all of the men concentrate on it and, of course, they outnumber women. Moderators have done nothing to prevent it, no matter what Natalie says.

            Here are three more examples of the same things. Male rights advocates have dominated the site for years. You can tell them easily by the men’s rights that they advocate.

  21. I understand that Jane, I suppose my discomfort with it is it still seems like arbitrary censorship if it’s down to an editorial team to make the call on whether something is offensive or is just an angry argument. People (feminists and non-feminists alike) tell lies to support a point, often in ignorance that it is a lie; at least that’s been my experience. By not publishing them these lies can never be questioned.

    From whats been said here I would think that it would be better if CiF put in a system where the users can negatively mark a comment, and once it gets a certain number of negative “votes” it is hidden from view atomatically (with the option to open it if you want to). That way no one’s opinion (or lies) are being censored and are available to be read if you want to do so, but those that don’t want a dialogue with the extremists can easily avoid them. It’s also not hard to do, as a number of sites I use do it and it’s totally user controlled.

    • Jane Da Vall says:

      You are right, yes, it is subjective censorship. CiF is subjectively censored today by the moderators, and almost no-one agrees with them. But yes, I would change it. My view is that CiF doesn’t work today. Women’s opinion is overwhelmed in debate on their basic rights and freedoms. You said lies must be heard to be questioned. On CiF they mostly are not questioned, they are supported and they are vitally important. Silencing women in this debate cannot be preferable to silencing misogynists, surely? And that is the choice. It is a fact that women are driven away. Natalie might ignore it, I don’t know why, but I won’t.

      Negative marking is a good idea I think, but all the time women are outnumbered to the extent they are, they will just disappear. Women are moderated more often than men, relatively speaking, because there are more men to hit the abuse link and they do. This is despite the hatred on CiF being allocated 99% to men and 1% of Julie Bindel’s ‘all men are rapists’ misquote to women, that women who are not Julie Bindel have been fighting off in more or less every thread since.

      CiF has such fundamental problems today, I believe that it is worthless as an expression of freedom of speech, in this area at least, and, that being so, it needs to change or stop.

  22. This article is good. Bidisha in particular always gets such a hammering I wonder why she bothers. i always want to say ‘I agree with you!’ But I don’t, because it would get lost so fast.

  23. This all seems very familiar to me. I too have gone through my crisis of faith with the Guardian. I took the paper to the Press Complaints Commission because the moderators were too tardy to take down abusive comments about my mental health.

    I had written a reply article in which I criticised Guardian cartoonist for using the word “psychotic” as an an insult in a cartoon. He applied to Margeret Thatcher. I have bipolar disorder and have experienced a couple of episodes of psychosis. I am one very proud defender of mental health rights.

    To give Chris Elliott his due he did ask me to write this article – Cartoonists should be more careful how they portray mental health. Mr Elliott was
    managing editor of the Guardian at the time.

    I was that old-fashioned thing, a newspaper reader, and so when I was really surprised and shocked when I saw the online abuse triggered by my article. I had never met the readers of Comment is Free before.

    I do not appreciate being called “nutter”, “retard” and “psycho” and as a writer I feel protective of the vulnerable people who must have read my article. I was very worried that people with mental health problems be driven out of the Guardian altogether. The argument ended up at the Press Complaints Commission.

    From this I have learned that section 12 of the PCC code – the section on discrimination – is as good as useless when it comes to complaints about online discussions. Had a Guardian journalist called me “psycho” I could have complain on the grounds of discrimination. However if an ordinary reader calls me “psycho” that, according to the Guardian and the PCC, does not count as discrimination.

    Ms Ribbans said the abusive words “nutter” and “retard” were “rude and insensitive” but not discriminatory. The editorial legal director Gill Phillips told me that I was too “thin skinned”. I pointed out to her that my candour pulled in lots of readers.

    I did get an invitation to meet the next managing editor Elisabeth Ribbans but I was too ill to attend. I did however go to a Guardian event hosted by Chris Elliott. He told us certain Guardian writers attract a huge amount of hate male. Some writers have two email accounts. One is private. The other set of emails they only open if they have someone with them. These emails can be hateful. Women do attract abuse but other writers get abused for different reasons eg race.

    I get the feeling that Guardian staff have become so used to this toxic environment that they have lost touch with the sensitivities of ordinary people. Readers and writers with particular sensitivities are even more excluded from the thicker skinned world of the modern day Guardian.

    Given the dire economic climate for the media I think it is particularly hard for beginning writers from minority backgrounds to make a start. There used to be many more nursery slopes for newcomers so you could learn how to face an audience and cope with the reaction.

    I have a little bit of journalistic experience gained a long time ago but my appearance in the Guardian was sudden and unexpected. I argued with the Guardian and PCC that Chris Elliott ought to have warned me beforehand about the likeliehood of abuse. This was not accepted but I think the Guardian might be persuadable on this one. The BBC, for example, has policy on vulnerable contributors. It is heck of a lot easy to have a conversation beforehand than it is to face someone like me at the PCC.

    I could be a pessimist here. As an Incapacity Benefit claimant with a severe mental health problem I do not have a whole lot of negotiating power but I put Guardian chiefs on the spot by going to the PCC. Of course I did not win. Mental health campaigners rarely do when they go to the PCC but I made a point.

    Dealing with abuse seems to get easier for me. I did an interview for BBC Look East and got abuse from NHS mental health nurses. I was ready for it but I ask myself this. Does the acquisition of a thick skin mean you lose a certain amount of honesty? Is this a good thing?

    • Jane Osmond says:

      Thank you for your comment here. I do think that you are right – the Guardian staff have lost sight of how people feel outside the media village: all they see is ratings. And that is all the writers and the subsequent comments are – ratings. Which leaves Guardian readers in the position of accepting that the Guardian is no better than the Mail at the end of the day. Which is sad.

  24. Jane Da Vall says:

    Thank you for your very interesting post. I am sorry about your experience, Comment is Free reminds me of Lord of the Flies sometimes. I can make no sense of the Guardian and that place at all. Part of me is convinced it is all a terrible misunderstanding, which has somehow gone on years. I guess it is not!

    I worry about vulnerable people reading it too. I think it is highly irresponsible of the Guardian. I came across CiF and wondered why the Guardian hated rape victims so much. I find they have merely lent their powerful media platform to some other people who hate rape victims so much, and other women too, and this is supposed to make sense!

  25. I am not sure that the complaint makes any sense. The Guardian does not commission comment to Comment is Free. The weight of the comments there reflect the actions of those who feel motivated to post. The CiF site does not represent itself as anything else but a comment page. If those are the views of the posters, then those are the views of the posters. You cannot rewrite their posts to make them more acceptable.

    What would you do? Delete all posts that were critical of feminism or women? That would only undermine the credibility of the comment page, as it would be littered with ‘this post has been deleted’ notes.

    Would it be right to present a sanitised ‘public opinion’ that has been shorn of all contentious elements? Would that not be a misrepresentation?

    • James

      You ask this question: “Would it be right to present a sanitised ‘public opinion’ that has been shorn of all contentious elements?”

      My answer here is no. We need plurality of opinion. We live in a democracy. Our media enjoys a substanatial amount of freedom and, as I am sure you are aware, the right to Freedom of Expression is enshrined in the Human Rights Act.

      If we are to maintain our freedoms must respect the right of other people to disagree. That means there must be some kind of a sanction against bullies who go too far.

      Abusive comments can scare off readers and writers alike. Cry censorship if you like but as a former journalist and as a trainee teacher I recognise that debates need rules to stop certain people from unfairly dominating the discussion. To hold an inclusive discussion you have to create an environment in which less confident people feel free to speak.

      No one has mentioned the law so far. As the law stands today if an editor changes any part of the text in an online debate then the editor can be sued for defamation. That is why many online discussions do not touch the text of comments.

      In practice this means that a good many people make defamatory remarks online and they get away with it. They may be anonymous and untraceable because the IP address does not give any clues as to who they are. The publisher may cite the Data Protection Act and refuse to disclose the identity of the person who made that comment. All this means that it is difficult to hold people to account for the views they express.

      I reckon those of us with minority views are always going to find life hard in the big media webs sites. However there is a flip side to this. Tne entry level costs for people wanting to set up their own site have dwindled to nothing. It would be nice if the big media conglomorates paid us more attention but I do not see that any time soon but at least we can go it alone. Smaller online communities can simply be better hosts for specialised discussions.

      • vicki wharton says:

        What is worrying is that people willing to discuss human rights in a reasonable atmosphere have become the minority or are seen to be the minority – bullying has taken over the entire country as evidenced regularly on CiF, Facebook, X Factor, The Apprentice and every other mass media which promotes violent and aggessive behaviour as freedom of speech, thereby silencing anyone that objects to being violently and aggressively slandered, libelled or otherwise abused under the freedom of speech label.

    • Earwaxopen says:

      James, this is exactly what these people seem to want: the sound of the echo-chamber, amplifying their own views and shutting out anything they consider dissonant. It is the sound of unreality.

      • Jane DaVall says:


        Actually no, That is not what I want at all. It may be helpful for you to have a read of the posts. Please see my response to James at 12.29 on April 13 . You have an echo chamber on CiF now and you seem keen to keep it

  26. Jane Osmond says:

    “Women have the maths skills of a 6 year old, can’t drive cars, are nowhere to be seen in professions involving abstract thinking (physics, mathematics, philosophy), waste hours in offices playing Solitaire and applying makeup (the so called Polish “biurwas” or office w*ores) and are in my humble opinion quite useless. Are we done exchanging sexist rants?”

    Reprinted from Jane’s comment above = how is this comment in any way acceptable to the moderators?

  27. Why should I stick with misogyny? That’s like asking a black person to stick with a website full of comments hostile to black people.

    • Jane Da Vall says:

      It is exactly the same. There is some collective blindness afflicting all these good liberal people such that they cannot see how completely wrong the Guardian is about CiF.

  28. Jane Da Vall says:

    That is not my intent at all. I want debate, I want contention. I don’t want to sanitise a thing. There is no feminist debate on Comment is Free. Take a look at this article on quotas:
    There are passionate feelings on all sides of this, women are extremely divided. It ought to be a great debate but it isn’t. It is one opinion, repeated over and over, with varying levels of hostility. There are more than 100 men and, by my count, 12 women on that thread. It is pointless.

    I want the Guardian to properly address the hatred, the sexism, and the hostile culture. That is the only way to get women on the site, and women are required if a debate is to happen. CiF does not work at all at the moment, so is it not worth the effort?

    “The CiF site does not represent itself as anything else but a comment page. If those are the views of the posters, then those are the views of the posters. You cannot rewrite their posts to make them more acceptable.”

    I wouldn’t suggest re-writing the comments, no. The Guardian does not write the comments, but it does publish them to a vast audience. The newspaper’s trusted name and media power carry along with it responsibility. It cannot publish and be damned, it must consider the effects of its publishing. Well it doesn’t have to. It isn’t. But it should, particularly since its editorial policy would have it publish something quite different. I don’t quite see how a newspaper can suspend its editorial policy in respect of any its publishing. That is changing the editorial policy, isn’t it?

    • I am looking at the url you cite, and for sure it is overwhelmingly from those hostile to the article. But that is what people posted. Your argument seems to be with the weight of opinion amongst posters rather than with the Guardian. I suppose one could annex off the comments section from the articles, as some do – so that it was a stand alone site. Or you could just not provide a comments section. (But the payoff for websites is that people who feel they have a stake in something are more likely to come back.) I don’t see that the expressed opinions of posters changes the facts on the ground. It is a question of who is right, not who makes the most posts. If an idea is good, it will not be diminished by counter-argument. Maybe you put too much store by this feature, which is after all, not reflective of very much at all, apart from what people with more time than sense think.

      • vicki wharton says:

        I think for many women, our right to live a life free from violent assault just for being is more than an idea, its a right enshrined in the Human Rights Act of 1955, framed after the extremist actions of the Nazi party who exhibited the same feelings about Jews that a lot of posters on CiF exhibit about women. In Saudi and other nations women are stoned to death just for exhibiting free will over who they talk to, what they say, who they see. I think the reason that a lot of women in this post are putting too much store in this feature, and how the male press in general talk about women now, is that 1 in 3 of us will or have experienced this violence for real, not as an abstract ‘idea’ and that verbal violence nearly always accompanies physical violence so the levels of men posting aggressive and bigoted views of women are a real and worrying problem.

        • Matarij says:

          Yes Vicki – you are absolutely right. I have no problem in translating the women hating comments into women hating physical violence as I, as have many women, have experienced this in real life.

          • Actually i think that is one hell of a leap.

            I think we’re forgetting the amount of posturing that goes on in these online forums and comment sections. Hidden, safe behind a computer people come out with incredibly insensitive and abhorrent things. But in person they would never say it or express it. Hell, in my experience they may not even really think it, they just say it online to get a reaction.

            Making assumptions along the line of “if you say hateful things about women you must naturally be a woman beater” is incredibly simple minded and rude. Politicians and the media do this sort of thing to stifle their critics. How about us feminsts don’t do the same?

            You don’t know the people making these “women hating comments” so how can you possibly put that kind of judgement on them?

        • Earwaxopen says:

          So now men arguing with your ideology are tantamount to those who stone women?

          No need to say any more, really, is there? You just shot yourself down.

          • vicki wharton says:

            I didn’t say that, I am observing that closing debate down, by verbally abusing women, is on the same spectrum of behaviour as closing them down for good by stoning them, just further down the line. I think if you can’t see these parallels you would be better of remaining on CiF I think where these parallels are not looked allowed to be reflected on.

      • Jane Da Vall says:

        “It is a question of who is right, not who makes the most posts. If an idea is good, it will not be diminished by counter-argument.”

        Unfortunately, that just isn’t so. If your post is buried amid a hubdred posts saying the opposite thing, it doesn’t have novelty value, it just looks like the wrong answer. Popular opinion gets more popular. It is much easier to agree than to disagree with the majority and most people like positive reinforcement of their own beliefs. The dominant opinion becomes more dominant. This is what has happened on CiF since Day 1.

        “Your argument seems to be with the weight of opinion amongst posters”

        My argument is with the weight of posters with one opinion. This is not a cross section of the community, it is a self selecting group of men that don’t like women. Because they are there and they are hostile and abusive, women are not there. This has two results, a) it turns feminist debate into men’s rights advocacy and b) it silences women in public.

        “people who feel they have a stake in something are more likely to come back”

        Well quite. Women don’t have a stake in CiF and they don’t come back.

        Debate on women’s basic rights that has no appreciable contribution from women is wrong. Do you disagree? Why would anyone want to do this? The men on CiF have their own agenda to promote, I understand, but why would the Guardian choose to promote partisan views that it opposes? To favour misogynists over women requires an explanation.

  29. Jane, thanks for the link. Once again my head is going into that noose…

    I looked at the first couple of pages of comments and can’t see much that I, as a moderator, would remove (I work in an online company, and have had to moderate public content in the past). Yes it is one argument being made over and over again but it isn’t, in most cases, that inflammatory or even getting off topic. The main reason it feels so repetitive (and therefore one sided) is because there aren’t many expressing an opposing view. The reasons for this could be many, including:

    1. The opinion being expressed is generally agreed with by those reading the comments.
    2. Those who disagree with the comments don’t see the point in posting.
    3. Those who disagree with the comments don’t feel they can post (for fear of being attacked or otherwise – though I didn’t pick that feeling up at all from the comments I read, including the ones refuting opposing point of views)
    4. Those that would be likely to disagree aren’t even reading the comments section.
    5. The opposing view is the minority view, so naturally will take up a lot less space then those spouting the common view. (I am not discussing the specifics of who was right or wrong in that article, only the general theory that if the comments reflect the common opinion then they will naturally outnumber the minority position.)

    There are plenty of other possibilities (but please, let’s not say it’s because the Guardian or it’s moderators are misogynists. It’s a tired argument that if anything isn’t feminist or fully supporting feminism that it must, by default, be misogynist… and it plays into the hands of rabid anti-feminists)

    So the problem is not with the comments section in this case (imo) but with the readership, and those willing to comment. I don’t think that the comments being made on that page reflect the Guardian’s point of view, and I (like most people I suspect) would never even assume that to be the case. Its the opinions of a section of people who read the article online and felt moved enough to comment.

    That’s my two cents anyway.

    • Jane Da Vall says:

      The main reason it feels so repetitive (and therefore one sided) is because there aren’t many expressing an opposing view”

      At the top of this page is an article I wrote which said “there aren’t many expressing an opposing view” on CiF’, and which attempts to explain why. You might find it interesting.

      “I looked at the first couple of pages of comments and can’t see much that I, as a moderator, would remove ”

      Well, I didn’t suggest a moderator should have, I don’t think. I presented it as an example of feminism not being a debate on CiF, debate with more than one opinion, I mean. As you noted, that thread has just the one, in loud voice.

      “but please, let’s not say it’s because the Guardian or it’s moderators are misogynists. It’s a tired argument that if anything isn’t feminist or fully supporting feminism that it must, by default, be misogynist… and it plays into the hands of rabid anti-feminists)”

      I haven’t.

      The article suggests they are in it for the money. I don’t think the Guardian or its moderators are misogynist. Some of their posters are misogynist. I know them by their words.

  30. Jane Da Vall says:


    My apologies, I see where the idea about that thread being abusive came from.

    Me – “Because they are there and they are hostile and abusive, women are not there.”

    I meant that is how CiF culture is, I didn’t mean to refer to that thread.

    • No problem Jane, and I understand you mean the culture as a whole. It’s a very difficult balance, and I’m torn on the issue.

      I love being challenged on my opinion, though I draw the line at being insulted (being called a Misandrist for instance, for no obvious reason other than stating I’m a feminist) though I don’t always leave just because of insult. And oddly I prefer the insult to be posted, so I can respond. But getting flamed is tiresome, especially when you’re simply expressing an opinion (ironically I’ve experienced it the most on IMDB and on some feminist boards from a number of years ago – it pretty much put me off taking part in them in any major way ever again).

      And that is the point isn’t it? I didn’t go back to those boards (except IMDB now and again but I never read peoples replies anymore!) and that’s what’s happening with the Guardian’s site. Perhaps they should consider employing people to take part in the discussions, to keep it on track, but then I don’t think they actually care enough to do that…

      • vicki wharton says:

        Alexa, can’t find a reply button to your comments on my opinion about verbal women hating action often being accompanied by physical assaults at home too is not an assumption – its an observation of my own experience alongside noting that 1 in 3 girls and women suffer physical assaults at the hands of boys and men, leading me to the conclusion that as most of the perpetrators of DV are known to the victims on an individual basis, this level of gender violence is not a crazed individual running around making himself busy but a generalised attitude in a corresponding number of men to the number of victims ie 1 in 3. I’m not being rude, just doing the maths.

        • I’m afraid your math is off. If there was in fact a “corresponding number of men to the number of victims ie 1 in 3”, then that would mean these men and women are only having one relationship in their whole lives. This is just not the case. Male and female abusers will have more than one relationship in their lives (because they are bullies, and bullies like finding new targets) and they will act violently in most, or even all of them. So for example:

          a. 10 men who are violent to their partners have over 10 partners each throughout their lifetime.
          b. That means that over 100 women experience domestic abuse because of the actions of 10 men (I’m using these numbers as an example and am not suggesting that this is the common ratio). That means it is a minority of men who are behind the suffering inflicted on these women, not that most or “1 in 3” men are abusers. Sadly no one knows what the ratio is of men and women who are abusive in their relationships, as the bullies will never admit it. It’s difficult enough for survivors to admit it, and there’s no way to correlate their experiences to see if they have been victimised by the same person.

          Also, I’m not sure where you get the 1 in 3 number, as Women’s Aid are saying it is 1 in 4 (

          In some ways its disgusting we even have to talk about numbers for something that everyone (male and female both) can agree is a disgraceful and terrible crime. But if we start casting all men as abusers (including those expressing distasteful messages on the internet) then the battle is lost. I think it’s rude to make assumptions and accuse people of an awful crime when you don’t know the person, regardless of what they say in a forum or comments section. It stifles debate just as much as their aggressive comments and means there’s no chance of anyone talking and trying to resolve or at least understand our differences.

          • vicki wharton says:

            Alexa, I’m not casting ALL men as abusers, simply making the point that men that are verbally abusive very often are physically abusive in private too as their verbal abuse is a symptom of an underlying anger which very often has a physical manifestation too. The 1 in 3 figure was the figure that Women’s Aid used to quote up until around 3 years ago when they revised it in line with Government figures from the National Crime Survey but I believe their original figure was closer to the truth and correlates with a recent survey the girl guides did on girls experience of male peer intimidation and violence. I don’t wish to be rude about good, decent men, but these men posting verbally violent messages are not good decent people. They are verbally intimidating women from even stating an opinion about articles and experiences these men can have no real lived experience of as they are not women. If anyone is being rude, it is them – and I think it is a little unreal to expect women like me who have had direct experience of rape and gender violence not to be able to state the correlation between verbal and physical violence which we have experienced and that is clear and demonstrable to anyone that has ever witnessed an aggressive altercation. When picking a fight, first comes the abuse, then the fist and it is also a psychological fact that people, men and women, often take out anger on transitional objects such as wives and children. I am not accusing any of the posters, simply talking about mine and other women’s experience of male violence.

      • Earwaxopen says:

        If you think it’s tiresome being called a misandrist, perhaps you understand what it feels like to be a gender-equality believer who goes onto a chat discussion and finds the word “misogynist” wielded as soon as one’s robust but nonetheless respectfully expressed difference of opinion has been expressed. The problem – sadly you seem to have no awareness of this – is that use of the word ‘misandry’ has arisen in relatively recent times (most people still don’t even know what it means) in response to the use of feminists over three decades of the insult “misogynist” as a quick way to shut down any deviation from the official line. Ye sowed. Now ye reap.

        • Jane DaVall says:


          I am afraid your opinion is subjective. Of course, everyone’s opinion is subjective, the moderators must preside. Their opinion is subjective too, and they live in the sensory dulling din of Comment is Free. Here is how I know that misandry is manageable but they are getting misogyny wrong, the forum is packed with men and the women have gone.

          They tend to leave a note too. There are hundreds of complaints of misogyny by female ex-commenters. You treat them as insults, as you would. The Guardian just ignores them.

  31. Jane DaVall says:

    I don’t think they do, Alexa, but I’ve been pretty consistently wrong in everything else I expected of the Guardian, so who knows? Women will all leave eventually, I expect, except those few lifers. I agree with you, being disliked so intensely and so consistently is tedious!

    When I am not thinking this is all a big misunderstanding, I imagine it as a Trading Places style bet between Alan Rusbridger and Paul Dacre that Rusbridger could not take the Daily Mail’s three million rabid rightwingers and turn every last one into a Guardian reader in 10 years. He has enticed 2.5 milliion of them already onto Comment is Free with its spectacular displays of bigotry. Dacre must be getting nervous.

    • vicki wharton says:

      I used to think that women hating and its accompanying violence was a big misunderstanding too – I was brought up to think that and wasted a good 30 years of my life desperately trying to put that misunderstanding right, as I think most women do – if I was just a bit prettier, thinner, less vocal, less angry, less intelligent, less needy, less demanding, less ugly, less flat chested – people would stop being so critical, negative and violent towards me. They would stop lying to me, and stop lying about me when I pointed out that they were lying to me … Then I took myself to therapy to learn what it was I was getting wrong – and realised that I was never, ever going to get it right in certain people’s eyes – that they felt the same about women as the BNP feels about black people – we are tolerated for breeding from but that’s it. Everything else about us is hated and hateful and that’s the misunderstanding – those people really do think that and yes, they really do hate us and if they are the majority, then any woman wanting a say in her own life is in big trouble. Or that’s the way I see it. The media is hugely influential in forming popular culture and if people on the Guardian can’t see that they are witch burning to sell newspapers – that is more than tedious – it’s dangerous. I think we are living in ‘interesting times’ as the Chinese would say…

      • Vicki, I think you and I may need to agree to disagree re: aggressive posting = violent men. My apologies if I’ve misunderstood, but my impression of what you’ve said previously was that if men make aggressive or confrontational comments on a comments board then they are likely physically violent to women. I just dont’ see it this way, but again I have perhaps misunderstood.

        People talk a lot on the internet. And the more “out there” the comment is (whether in reference to reality, or in stating extreme positions) the more likely it’s a load of bullsh*t, and they’re just posturing. Of course there are the crazies who genuinely act in line with the things they say online but I’ve never seen much to support the idea that that’s very common.

        I can’t accept that if a man (or woman) is verbally aggressive with me on a forum, it means they’re likely physically violent in life. I can readily accept that position if someone is shouting that same comment in public, for all to hear. I try not to make assumptions about people whenever I can, and I just wish everyone would try to do the same, hard though it is. Those aggressive posters on CiF included.

        • vicki wharton says:

          Alexa I think we have just had different life experiences and my experience of violent men is that they often hide themselves from public scrutiny – either by using a keyboard or the privacy of their own home. But the anger is the clue and if you argued your views in private with them, the verbal anger would likely turn to physical anger – unless you shut up or agreed with them. I have found that joining up the dots has helped me recognise and avoid dangerous men in real life now – rather than tolerating or trying to appease them. But as I said, different life experiences lead to different assessments of situations and behaviours so let’s leave it there.

  32. Jane DaVall says:

    There are a lot of angry men on Comment is Free. Some of it is posturing, certainly, and competitive spirit, but there are many dedicated haters of women on the site. That anger surely translates to angry people offline, although how it manifests in the individual, we can hardly know. There being more anger on CiF than I find among men generally, I would expect there to be more violent men too, but I don’t know. I find their online rage destructive enough in itself.

    Being on the receiving end of CiF anger, it manifests differently to us too, influenced, as you say Vicky, by life experience. I see frustrated self pitying underachievers who blame women for their miserable lot in life and who are too cowardly and ineffective to do anything except whine about it on Comment is Free.

    Some people I do find very disturbing, not for anger but for lack of any emotional response at all. The crowds that invade articles on sexual violence identify worryingly closely with the accused.. They show no empathy for the victim at all, allocate no importance to the damage done to them, it is irrelevant set against the assault on the civil rights of the suspect. Many men comment on family court and custody issues and clearly have direct experience of it, I assume that at least. Is it wrong to assume the same about men who comment on rape?

    I don’t think that one can assume this any more than propensity for violence, the same range of possibilities exists. Failure to empathise with a victim does not say anything much about propensity to commit a crime, does it? I have also noticed that there seems to be quite a concentration of people with Asperger’s on Comment is Free. I think a number of the ’usual suspects’ on feminist threads have spoken of having it. I wonder if this has an influence on the tone of debate.

  33. “there seems to be quite a concentration of people with Asperger’s on Comment is Free” – really? And you associate Aspergers with lack of sympathy with feminism? This seems close to demonising disability.

    • Jane DaVall says:

      No it isn’t. Lack of empathy is a recognised feature of Aspergers. It is not feminism that would illicit less sympathy or interest, in particular, as experiences the person has not shared

      • vicki wharton says:

        I think lack of empathy/Aspergers has been actively promoted as being a valid position within the male media and tabloid media in general for some years – hence their constant labelling of an empathic response as ‘political’ correctness. The fact that they think others empathy is ‘politically’ motivated rather than a natural and real emotion tells you a vast amount about the journalists’ mind set – and their lack of genuine emotion themselves.

  34. Tony Robinson says:

    Excellent article Jane. When dealing with the issue of discrimination I use the line which Peter Tatchell always uses in his comments. “If you replace the words ‘gay people’ with the words ‘black people’ or ‘jewish people’ then people would be up in arms about the discrimination.” (well, he writes words to that effect). And the same goes for discrimination against women.

    To take from your article:
    “Black people are generally evil.“
    “ [Jews,] a less powerful and protected class of second class human beings.”

    Moderators wouldn’t take a moment to delete such comments – there would be no justification for keeping them – people would be outraged. Why should the same expressions be tolerated against women?

    Keep on campaigning. Shame on the Guardian…

  35. James Smith says:

    John Stuart Mill said that those with the correct point of view had nothing to fear from those with alternative ideas. In fact, they should welcome such debate, because it makes their own case stronger. An unchallenged idea, becomes dogma, the facts and assumptions that back up that idea become weak. The ideas fail. This is the real danger that feminism faces. Feminism will not survive if it is limited to sites of true believers who will tolerate anyone who disagrees with them.

    Take the pay gap for example. Many on here have objected to those who disagree with articles written on the subject. On the face of it this is a fair point, women’s mean average earnings are lower than men’s. However the mean average is a very crude and course measure. It doesn’t tell us why this is the case. You simply can’t make the leap from mean average earnings are less, to society and employers are sexist, without fleshing out your case.

    Is the data being affected by a relatively small number of high earning men. Remember, in the UK a tiny percentage of the population has the majority of the wealth. Does it it take into the account the different jobs worked by men and women. Maybe the pay gap can be explained by men in more dangerous jobs, with more unsocial hours. Does it it take into account career breaks to have children, number of hours worked, or full vs part time work.

    These are not unreasonable or sexist questions, especially when you are trying to alter government policy. You have two choices, you can do the leg work, crunch the numbers, do the research. Answer those points, make your argument stronger, or maybe even discover you are wrong. Or you can shout sexist and demand that anyone who disagrees with you is censored. It is your choice.

    • jane Osmond says:

      Dear James, thank you for your comment.

      Do you seriously think that ‘feminists’ as you call us have not done our research? Do you not know that there are whole societies, for example, the Fawcett Society, that does nothing but research on the pay gap? Or do you think that ‘feminists’ are just making the pay gap up just to be difficult? Also to take issue with one of your points – the pay gap can indeed be explained by career breaks to have children – this is one of the issues we are fighting to change because it is simply not fair that women, who in the main are the caregivers in our society, are disadvantaged by a working system that privileges people without care-giving responsibilities. So to reiterate – yes we have done our research and yes the pay gap does exist and yes it is discriminatory against women for a large number reasons, with a major player being care-giving responsibilities. I am sure my colleagues will furnish you with specific references to the research if you so desire. Meanwhile, I truly hope that you are never in a position of being a caregiver, whether it be for children or the elderly or the mentally ill or the non-abled bodied – as all these really important job (if not the only jobs that really matter) are routinely badly paid and negate any opportunity to climb the ‘white, male, able bodied non-care-giving only please’ career ladder.

      • James Smith says:

        Well for a start that is very different to saying that employers themselves are sexist. You are right to say that care giving is under valued, but I’m afraid feminist have to take much of the blame for this. Instead of changing the system, and how people are valued; you have actually bought into a very male way of judging the world. Everything is done by a score system, how much women are paid, how many have reached top professions extra. You might say that society under values carers, but I have seen more that one comment from feminists attacking their opponents for merely being mothers, and not having a career.

        I would welcome a change in how we allocate caring responsibilities, but that means we have to look at the family courts and the dating market, for want of a better description. Men are judged as potential partners by how much they earn and the status of their careers. Would you be willing to date a man who wanted to be a stay at home dad? Maybe you would, but is that true of most women? Then there are the family courts, now I’m guessing you don’t like organisations like father’s for justice, and I can why. They do have some dubious associations, but the reason they exist is because feminist handed them the issue. Inequality in the family courts should be a feminist issue. How many men are going to become the main carer, if they loose custody of the children in the court system, and even end up paying maintenance? If you want to change behaviour, you have to look at everything.

        As for the Fawcett society, I have my doubts about the quality of their research. I studied Physics at Uni, and I considered the hard sciences to be the gold standard for any research. A standard I’m afraid feminists often fail to meet. Don’t worry your not alone, Ben Goldacres bad science blog is a very good source for this kind of stuff. The way the government is manipulating data to justify NHS reform is quite shocking. An example of this from the feminist movement was the widely circulated claim that 25000 women a year were being trafficked into Britain for sex slavery. The source for this turned out to be an article in the Daily Mirror, not peer reviewed research.

        Now I could be wrong, maybe the Fawcett society does impeccable research, but I suspect if you were to really look at their research closely, chase down all the references, check for sources of bias, sample sizes extra, Then some of it would unravel.

        • Jane Da Vall says:


          “I have seen more that one comment from feminists attacking their opponents for merely being mothers, and not having a career”

          This is silly. Concentrate on what people actually say, not what someone else somewhere might have said. How can anyone respond to this statement? No-one here has said it. It is just argumentative.

          “A standard I’m afraid feminists often fail to meet. Don’t worry your not alone.”

          If you’re going to make accusations about accuracy of evidence, you should do so with evidence, and accurately.

    • Jane Da Vall says:


      The Fawcett Society has been one of the loudest supporters of pay audits by employers. Of course, the reasons behind the gender pay gap must be identified if progress is to be made. One may suspect the causes, but the evidence is with employers. The Equality Bill introduced pay audits for the first time. The intention was to bring transparency to the statistics and get to the reasons behind them. Here is the Fawcett Society’s supporting report.

      The sources of the statistics they use are clearly stated in the footnotes. A career in City law has given me some insight into financial services industry pay, and I was as curious as you to see the detail on the 55% pay gap identified by the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s Financial Services Enquiry in 2009. I would have said it was very much higher than 55%. The enquiry asked employers to identify job grades and categories for their employees, with no outside scrutiny. Even then, they recorded gender pay gaps in 95% of categories. Women were not present at all in 10% of identified categories. The enquiry found very limited disclosure of pay scales to employees, performance related pay awards shrouded in secrecy and few companies conducting internal pay audits or establishing clear objective performance criteria.

      Theresa May dropped pay audits from the Equality Act last December. That was another LibDem election manifesto pledge not worth the ink. Catherine Hakim, of the right-wing think tank, Centre for Policy Studies, published a report on equality legislation at about the same time. I will wildly speculate that it was commissioned to provide some basis for May’s action. It mentioned pay audits exactly twice, once at the beginning as a ‘notable’ new obligation on employers, and once at the end, applauding the scrapping of them. Her reasons for that applause? She didn’t say.

      That will not surprise you, James, seeing the wisdom of transparency as you clearly do. You may be more surprised to find yourself sharing common cause with the Fawcett Society.

  36. Jane Da Vall says:

    “Those with the correct point of view had nothing to fear from those with alternative ideas. In fact, they should welcome such debate, because it makes their own case stronger. An unchallenged idea, becomes dogma”

    I agree entirely. Anyone with that view would surely welcome an end to the homogeneity of opinion on feminism at Comment is Free. That opinion does not dominate by debating others, it dominates by driving them out with the aggression of the mob.

    • James Smith says:

      I can accuses it of many things, but homogeneity isn’t one them. The clue is in the name, comment is free. Anyone can post, much like here for example. You don’t have to fill out a questionnaire listing your political beliefs or ideas before you post. Yes that means that not everyone will agree with you, but that is what debate is like in an open forum. I suspect that I have no chance of winning a debate here, but that doesn’t put me off. If you decide not to take part you loose by default, and censorship to make it a more friendly place for feminists. The people you need to reach, are the very people who disagree with you. Otherwise how can your movement grow?

      I think a lot of your ire should be directed at the above the line writers. Julie Bindel is an extreme example, but she is a radical feminists who believes in political lesbianism, and actually wrote an article entitled why I hate men. This isn’t going to win anyone over, that is going to start a flame war. Which is kind of my point. The Guardian is hurting your movement, by hiring the feminist equivalent of shock jocks, say something outrageous, and watch the comments pile in. More revenue for the Guardian from advertising. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe the Guardian feminist are representative of your movement. But haven’t there been occasions, were you have read what they have written and winced?

  37. Jane Da Vall says:


    I have heard that before, the point you make in your second paragraph. I remember now, I made it. I wrote an article at the top of this page, you might like to read it.

    As for your first paragraph, how can we communicate if you will not acknowledge what is in plain sight?
    When BNP membership was opened to all, I did not hear of a rush of applications from minorities.

  38. I would just like to respond to James Smith’s comment about inequality in the Family Court System. The concerns by the fathers’ rights movement that courts are biased in favour of mothers are unfounded. A fairly recent report by Joan Hunt and Alison MacLeod for the Ministry of Justice on outcomes of applications to court for contact orders found that over half of the 308 cases that made up the sample involved resident parents’ concerns about serious welfare issues, mainly relating to domestic violence, child abuse or neglect. Most of the resident parents involved in contact disputes are mothers, the applications for contact were brought mainly by fathers. In spite of the concerns of the mothers, at the end of court proceedings, 79% of non resident parents obtained face to face contact with their child. Moreover, staying or unsupervised contact was ordered in 60% of 143 cases in which at least one serious welfare concern was raised. This well researched publication can be found here:

  39. I think the only way you’ll get what you want – only women discussing “feminist articles” – is by getting the Guardian sign-up system changed so that one’s CiF “id” has a sex/gender flag which it’s compulsory to set if you want to post. Then some threads could be designated women-only. OK, some people could subvert it, but this could be minimised by (say) a rule that the Id must have posted say 15 posts on other threads before they can comment on a women-only thread. So you wouldn’t get so many making up an Id on the spot.

    Of course, CiF would be accused, correctly IMHO, of sexism and discrimination. But it stands a chance of working, if that’s what you want. My concern if this flew would be – how long before we’re required to disclose our sexuality or marital/parental status before we can comment on gay or child custody issues?

    I must admit I’m half-surprised that ‘women are evil’ made it through – I’ve never seen anything like that on CiF – but if you want to ban stuff like “Women are just naturally better suited to the soul-crushing conformity that is the modern office workplace” you seem to want to deny any expression of the idea that there may be differences between men and women. Presumably you’d find “Men are just naturally better suited to the drunken,abusive bonding that is the modern British Army” just as offensive.

    I don’t think there’s anything half as scary or woman-unfriendly on CiF as you’d find in the ‘manosphere’, many of which/whose blogs are specifically designated as a male response to feminism, especially the PUA/’game’ blogs like Roissy (parental advisory).

  40. clothilde says:

    Not surprised to find this blog post but disappointed it is from 2011. I started reading the guardian web page a few years ago and I have found lately that any articles about feminism, sexism etc are inundated with misogynist comments from basic trolling up to extended posts filled with demonstrably false statistics and false equivocations. It’s pretty bad. Apparently this is not a recent development.

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