The “Real” Trolls?

This is a guest post by ami

When I heard the anonymous taunting voice on the phone, I checked the date: 6th April. It was the late 80’s but we got such calls most April 6ths since the execution of our client Solomon Mahlangu on that day in 1979. On the evening of that first 6th April, there was a spate of phone calls from escort agencies confirming bookings, in the name of my husband, (Mahlangu’s barrister) of call girls. This was followed by other calls: “We are coming to get you, you f-king Jewish communists.”

Now, even after we had moved house and had an unlisted number, here was the latest call: “Do you know that your husband is having an affair with P? Sies!” P was a legal colleague and friend of ours, involved in Mahlangu’s defence and heavily involved in the Struggle. She also happened to be a woman of very ample proportions, of Hindu Indian heritage; hence the Sies! An exclamation of particular disgust at this interracial sexual accusation.

“Oh”, I responded conversationally, “and who is your wife having an affair with now?” The voice was startled into unexpected reaction: “I don’t know! “ “Mm”, I commiserated, “so many lovers that you don’t know, eh?” At that moment, I realised my husband had entered the room: imagine his face at overhearing this conversation. (The voice, reduced to spluttering confusion, had rung off.) This was the lighter side of pre internet trolling. There was nothing amusing about it really, coming as it did from the Security Branch. There was nothing amusing about checking gingerly any unordered parcels that arrived in the post, aware that a woman I knew and her baby daughter had been blown up by SB parcel bombs, as had Ruth First, wife of my cousin Joe.

Having small children, one felt especially vulnerable. One year, the children slept over at the home of P for Divali, as they usually did. Then a bomb was thrown through the window of the room where they had been sleeping the week before.

At the risk of sounding blasé and arrogant, it does give me a particular perspective on the current brouhaha.

As happened with the nebbish Oliver Rawlings who trolled Beard, when exposed and threatened with mum, this kind tend to grovel or slink off, tail between legs. This was true even of this real life, not wimpy virtual confrontation, which I experienced here in the UK.

I heard an “expert” on the Today programme yesterday say that cyberbullying is worse than school bullying, as with school bullying you can just walk away whereas with the cyber kind, it’s there all the time. Excuse me? Shurely the exact opposite?? In any event, I exclude children from this particular discussion, I am talking about grown ups; men and women.

It is skewed to focus on twitter attacks as a woman- as- victim issue. A gay man I know was subjected to a vicious twitter attack, homophobic and replete with threats, by the massed ranks of FoPs (followers of Laurie Penny). He never for a moment contemplated calling in the police.

I do wonder what has happened to the gumption of Cambridge women since their pioneering days:

“Students pulled down railings and set fire to theatre hoardings. Then the crowd hoisted effigies of the women pioneers up on ropes; effigies dressed in negligées and blue stockings, the slurring symbol for an educated woman, before dousing them in oil and watching them burn.
When the effigies were just charred remains, they posted the tatters through the gates of the women’s colleges

If women were allowed into lectures (they had to buy tickets and were sometimes refused entry at the door), the men often took pleasure in kicking their chairs and pelting them with paper bullets. Ladies had to carry chamber pots, as universities refused to build toilet facilities for them. They even found themselves relegated to eat lunch surrounded by cadavers in the biology lab..”

Now, that’s what I call bullying!