Written by Susie Verrill

In The News

Standing up for women brought a torrent of Twitter abuse

When Susie Verrill’s boyfriend, the athlete Greg Rutherford, questioned Tyson Fury’s place in the BBC’s Sports Personality of The Year, she got threats of sexual violence on Twitter. Because that’s an entirely appropriate response, right?

Greg Rutherford. Photo by Richard Gillin, St Albans, UK

Greg Rutherford. Photo by Richard Gillin, St Albans, UK

On Wednesday, a press release was issued announcing to the public that my boyfriend, Greg Rutherford MBE – ginger long jumper, very smiley, often competes wearing lycra, which makes his manhood look disappointing – had withdrawn from BBC Sports Personality Of The Year following comments made by fellow nominee Tyson Fury, but then changed his mind.

We probably don’t need to address Fury’s comments, they’ve been thrashed out in the press. He pontificated on matters which needed no public discussion in the first place. Matters which appeared to stink of misogyny and homophobia (accusations he’s denied) and which seemed to serve no purpose other than to incite hate. It bothers me little what Fury thinks of women, homosexuality, religion, cat flaps, fly tipping, the moon. He could tell me Jeremy Corbyn wears clothes woven from void JSA forms, I couldn’t care less. But if he takes a platform and uses it for ill-purpose then there needs to be consequence. And this, in turn, was Greg’s opinion. 

My boyfriend works regularly with the LGBT community. He won an Attitude award for his work fighting against Russia’s stance on homosexuality. He now refuses to compete in Russia altogether. As someone who lives with a feminist, he is my number one supporter. As a sportsman, his female counterparts are just as praiseworthy as the ones with penises. And these aren’t opinions he’s happy to shirk when the opportunity to win another accolade is dangled like a carrot.

“It bothers me little what Fury thinks of women, homosexuality, religion, cat flaps, fly tipping, the moon. But if he takes a platform and uses it for ill-purpose then there needs to be consequence.”

Five days ago, Greg sent a letter to the BBC, one which was sadly never released. He asked to be removed from the nominations list and, indeed, thought he was. He was asked not to speak out for at least 24 hours and in good faith stayed quiet. Following further debate and discussion (you can obviously do things without seeking guidance from your management, agents etc but it doesn’t go down well) Greg remained silent for a further couple of days.

Certain family members were vitriolic, to say the least, on how Greg was allowing ignorance to prevail by taking a step back from the awards. It was suggested that by being affronted by Fury’s comments he was refusing another individual the right to have an opinion different to his own. Tears were cried. Angry, disappointed texts were sent. Greg decided to stay in the running and presumed it wouldn’t matter. No one knew of his initial choice to stay at home.

That was until we woke to find various news outlets running a story confirming Greg’s withdrawal. It had been leaked and we’re still unsure by who. A decision was made (again with the involvement of management, lawyers, agents) for a statement to be issued laying out Greg’s point of view but posing his decision to remain in the running. And then Twitter went berserk. 

Greg and I were introduced by a mutual friend and, I have to say, I wasn’t buzzing at the prospect of going on a date with him. For starters, it was February so it meant shaving my legs for the first time in four months, but I’d also seen him on the TV and he was so nice it was yawn-worthy. This was a guy who smiled his way through interviews and had interesting remarks to make on sport. I like people who have opinions and read papers. This guy wasn’t for me. But we made a date to meet up and I thought if all else failed, at least we’d have fun going bowling. 

“I’m no stranger to some online abuse. As many a vagina-wielding Twitterer will tell you, dick pics are no unicorn poo; those things crop up all the time.”

It turns out, and I’m thrilled to be able to say it, I was completely wrong. Greg’s extremely intelligent, Greg reads papers, Greg was brought up in a less than desirable area in a low-income household yet worked his way to the top. He can be interviewed while making informed statements (without media training I hasten to add; which many an athlete received post Olympics 2012) and is a decent human with morals. Sadly, this has now landed him between a rock and a hard place. 

I’m no stranger to some online abuse. As many a vagina-wielding Twitterer will tell you, dick pics are no unicorn poo; those things crop up all the time. Along with threats of violence, sexual aggression (ooh sailor) and generic, dull declarations of gender stereotypes. I began my media career writing about rugby and you wouldn’t believe the endless tweets I received when someone disagreed with my opinion all based around the fact I didn’t know what I was talking about as I have a pair of breasts. And this was about to become a day where I’d receive my greatest dose of chauvinism (yay!). 

I responded to tweets where Greg had been told “I hope your head’s ripped off your shoulders in front of your kid”, y’know ‘cos it’s not all that friendly and riled me a tad. I fought his corner against grown men who told him Fury would knock him out (er, of course he would, he is a professional boxer guys) and I stated how proud I was of him for at least attempting to take a stand against someone who needs to think more carefully about the way they speak in public. And then the fun flooded in. 

Below are a handful (and I mean a teeny, tiny, insignificant handful) of the comments I, and anyone who chose to join forces with me, were on the receiving end of. There were plenty more but it’s tiring trawling through my timeline collecting them, especially when I’ve got the dinner to rustle up; I’d ask Greg to help me but he’s busy windmilling his penis and banging his chest in the garden.

abuse 6

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I’ve had them try to add me on Facebook (which makes perfect sense. Of course I’d accept a man whom I have zero mutual friends with but do recognise from the Twitter torrent) and even this morning I awoke to comments telling me I should go get a good seeing to (before breakfast? Not on my nelly). I was utterly shocked; not at the aggression itself, but that it was their only line of attack. That their immediate counter argument was to fire relentless suggestions of sexual punishment at me. It’s laughable on reflection that thanks to Greg trying to argue against the suggestion a woman is reduced to her talents in the kitchen or bedroom, I was now being told to do exactly that. I’m not sure what I expected, but I certainly didn’t think quite so many men would shout so loudly with such outdated views. 

“It’s tiring trawling through my timeline collecting abusive posts; I’d ask Greg to help me but he’s busy windmilling his penis and banging his chest in the garden…”

I like a good debate, I think it’s healthy. And Greg and I both obviously don’t disagree that freedom of speech is a bad thing nor consider a different view to our own the wrong view. We respect beliefs which come from individual religious upbringings and we understand there’ll always be some people who aren’t tolerant of how other people choose to lead their lives.

But when you’re in the public eye you are, no matter what people say, responsible to lead by example or spend a long time thinking about how you word things. The assassination Greg and I have received in the past 12 hours only serves to prove that men still exist – and I say men specifically because no women made any derogatory, aggressive comments toward me at all – who are barely an inch away from being Neanderthals. And this is why it is so, so important that other men, decent men, don’t shy away from standing alongside or with us. And I’m incredibly grateful to know one of them is my boyfriend.

@susiejverrill

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Written by Susie Verrill

My name’s Susie, I used to work for sport/fashion magazines in London while feeling cosmopolitan. Now I’m a stay-at-home mum in Milton Keynes who writes during nap time and attempts not to drive to garden centres every day in search of company other than that of a one-year-old.