Dicks & Stones
by Sarah Florence
Sarah (@sarahgetsbetter) is an Australian based blogger and weightlifter. This article was originally posted on Sarah's blog, Mindgold.
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"But does she fuck?"
This was the comment written below a photo of World Champion Olympic weightlifter Loredana Toma. Toma, aged 24, is a three-time European Champion, and has won both gold and silver World Championship medals. She has a personal best total of 249kg, comprising of a 113kg snatch and 136kg clean and jerk. She’s undeniably strong physically, has an incredible presence on the platform, and motivates and influences thousands of people all over the world with her grit and determination. She is a truly inspiring athlete and human.
But, does she fuck?
This comment and others like it are regularly showcased by popular social media page @you.look.like.a.man (YLLAM), using cleverly juxtaposed imagery of landscapes and flowers to directly contrast the ugly nature of the comments. The page features ‘trolls’ on accounts of women in strength sports, from elite to civilian, and brings to light the real problem of online bullying directed at women in the athletic space.
I was fortunate enough to chat via Skype with the page’s founder, Jessica Fithen, pro strong-woman, wife, mother, and unapologetically ‘filthy’ mouthed. Given my own propensity for the odd C bomb, I knew this was going to be an unforgettable conversation.
Jess is based in Indiana, has won the title of Strongest Woman in the World, and had no idea the Pandora’s box she would be opening when she posted the comment ‘you look like a man’, a comment she had recently been subjected to by a stranger online, to accompany her own photo of athletic achievement on social media. Thick skinned and strong minded, Jess wasn’t going to let the comments bother her, and had thought merely to draw attention to the ridiculousness of them.
What started as a joke prompted hundreds of women in her community to share their own stories of harassment, namely by men, who seemed to think it was within their rights to make rude and offensive comments about their bodies and form in the name of ‘freedom of speech’. Thus, YLLAM was born, now boasting thousands of followers and home to a fiercely supportive network of strong women, banding together to name and shame the people responsible for these comments and bring to light the danger of them.
That’s right, I said danger. A great deal of the flak the YLLAM page receives is telling the women standing up for themselves not to 'waste their energy,' or that they are being 'too sensitive' and can’t 'take a joke.' Common 'advice' issued to members of this group include ignoring comments or to view them as light-hearted. The thing is though, they’re not.
Whilst a lot of the comments highlighted on the page are fairly innocuous, obnoxious critiques on form and blatant and unwarranted comments on aesthetics, there are too often those that I am unable to simply swipe by and laugh at. These are the sort of comments that question a woman’s ability to perform ‘female appropriate’ tasks (“go make me a sandwich hoe”), the comments that draw to question a woman’s ‘place’ in the world (“women are there for sex”) and, most terrifying of all, express an unquestionable desire to inflict violence against these women (“I hope you are crushed by iron”).
Violence against women isn’t a joke or an urban myth; it is very real and very current. A nasty comment on social media is an indication of a much deeper problem and is the tip of the veritable iceberg, as highlighted by the following statistics in Australia, which is my current country of origin:
In Australia, on average, one woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner, and 1 in 3 Australian women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence perpetrated by a man since the age of 15. - Australian Bureau of Statistics
While Jess is a fan of ‘off-colour’ humour and prides herself on not taking things too seriously, opinions that express a desire to see women oppressed, silenced and at worst physically harmed, are serious.
She claims that “women in athletics face a daily battle against sexism and misogyny”, and argues that there is no difference between these online comments and literally saying them to a person’s face, feeling that taking the age old ‘sticks and stones’ approach is just not going to cut it. She makes it known that regardless of your thoughts and opinions, firing offensive comments and abuse from behind your screen is unacceptable, and she is doing something about it.
Jess is in constant discussions with Instagram on how it can help reduce the instances of online bullying, and how people can be made accountable for these acts. Currently a person is entitled to direct message literally any content they wish, without repercussion, which I know for a fact, having once received a DM containing a dick pic with the caption ‘maybe squat on this’. Blocking someone stops them from repeat offences, however the issue is that this problem exists at all. Ignoring a person doesn’t stop them from targeting someone else, or thinking like an asshole in the first place.
The misconception that women need to be ‘toned’ and ‘small’ to be appealing and that men will be intimidated by their strength is absurd. If you don’t find a strong woman attractive then that is your prerogative, just as they in turn wouldn’t find your weak-mindedness appealing. We all have different tastes and types and we are entitled to them. What we are not entitled to is elicit unprovoked attacks and abuse simply because a person doesn’t meet our standard of attractiveness. Whatever our views are on an ideal partner, they are simply that - our views.
Yes, freedom of speech is a great argument, but treating others as you would want to be treated is equally apt. Perhaps consider the fact that these women - these strong, determined, resilient and inspirational women - aren’t doing what they do to impress you, or to be deemed attractive. They are performing, training and competing because of how it makes them feel.
This is not the time to laugh and keep scrolling when you see these comments, this is the time to say enough. Stand up for yourself and for others, have a backbone and don’t accept this behaviour. Join the YYLAM community and the battle against online bulling, sexism and misogyny.
If you’re one of the ones lurking behind your screen, filled with poisonous words, maybe remember what I’m sure your mother taught you, which was if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say it.
Also, maybe make your own fucking sandwich.
Mindgold is my journey in life and weightlifting, and learning how to build resilience through failure and adversity.
By sharing the mental strength I have found in myself and in the stories of others, my aim is to go for gold in whatever it is I pursue, whether that’s a sport, a job or a relationship. Fuck being average, basically.