A few weeks ago, a young woman journalist in Egypt was severely sexually assaulted and was brave enough to share her story. She was rewarded with a comment thread full of people telling her she must have been making it up. Many were the standard shit, but others took a different tack: because she was a journalist, she must have been lying.
This is exemplified in some rather ghastly tweets from @leninology, who said:
Natasha Smith’s account of being raped in Egypt is dripping with racist poison, and related very much in the style of ‘colour’ journalism.
When asked to clarify what he meant by colour journalism, he did:
basically, it’s there every time there’s a case of fraudulent journalism and it should always raise alarm bells.
Thanks to the clarification, there is no way this can be construed but as “this woman was making it up”.
It is hardly the only instance of woman journalists speaking out about experiences of gendered abuse being disbelieved in this fashion. If you’re feeling particularly strong (and I wouldn’t recommend it) check out any unmoderated comment thread on any article in this vein.
They argue that journalists exaggerate and therefore this woman must be exaggerating her experience all for the point of a good story, and, often implicitly we therefore shouldn’t believe this woman speaking out in the public sphere about an experience of violence or abuse.
It’s a coded method of articulating an age-old rape culture trope, often among those who pretend to be progressive. These people know they look like raging shits if they outright say they do not believe a first-hand account, so they dress it up in a faux-concern for press standards. They pretend that they don’t think all women are liars, just those who speak out via the mainstream media, because they’re journalists and for some reason that makes them different from all other women.
It kills two birds with one stone, when people throw around accusations of colour journalism. It allows faux-progressives to attempt to put space between themselves and their misogynistic views, and it contributes to silencing women. The phrase “I don’t believe you” keeps us quiet; it is used as a weapon. Cloaking it makes no difference and achieves the same ends.
The truth is that statistically speaking, these women are unlikely to be making it up. False allegations are staggeringly rare, and their incidence is inflated by proponents of a culture of violence to allow it to thrive. Yes, the mainstream media is thoroughly fucked, and riddled with lies, but it is worth remembering that these lies tend to be about others rather than an unbroken stream of a woman talking about an experience she is astronomically unlikely to be lying about. A woman talking about abuse, violence or even rape is never an appropriate forum for a debate about press standards, and to say otherwise is no more than veiled apologism.
When I last wrote about rape culture’s use of “I don’t believe you” as a weapon, I concluded that we need to meet this weapon with a loud chorus of belief, in every comment thread, in every tweet. This still stands, and must stand every single day.