I realise that opening a column with the phrase “I love the internet” is the written equivalent of an impression of the character created by Paul Whitehouse who declared “In’t milk brilliant!”, but it’s true.
The internet is brilliant. I hosted a discussion on the benefits of the internet on a BBC Radio Leeds show recently and during the show spoke to another former newspaper man and we both were staggered that we were ever able to do our jobs without email. One of the joys of the internet I have discovered over the last few years, having first dismissed sites like Facebook and Twitter as the domain of the solipsist and narcissist, is the power it has to connect us via social media.
We all know there is a dark side to this inter-connectivity, but this darkness has seemed particularly explicit to me recently for a number of reasons.
Over the past few weeks Twitter has been the home of a number of discussions about sexism. Three stories in quick succession have dominated my Twitter timeline: David Cameron refusing to wear a t-shirt bearing the legend “This is What a Feminist Looks Like”, a woman filming her day and posting the video of a barrage of unwanted attention from men, and a comedian trolling out the old line about women comedians not being funny. I had planned this week to write about the fact that, purely by coincidence, in the past fortnight I have seen two shows featuring a single female performer on stage, made by all women creative teams, that were incredibly powerful and moving. I was going to use this column to praise the fact that there seems to be a new generation of strong young women using the stage to share their voices.
Selina Thompson’s show Chewing the Fat, I reviewed last week and this week it’s Grace Savage’s show Blind, devised and directed by The Paper Birds. Thompson’s show is about over-eating, binge-eating and being a fat (a word she reclaims) woman. It is bold and brave and at times unbearable to watch. Savage’s show (review page 12) shares some of the same qualities as Thompson’s. She is a compelling performer of great ease, but when she talks about some of the sexist abuse she has encountered via the wonderful internet, it becomes impossible not to squirm.
It struck me that it’s great that there are women, seemingly in greater number than I have seen in the past, using the stage to give voice to their stories. While watching these powerful shows by these strong women, something else occurs.
The pathetic keyboard warriors who sit at their remote computers and issue threats of violence towards women, obviously, are cowardly. But when placed alongside the power of these performers who stand on stage and unswervingly bare a part of their souls, they look even more pathetic.