Lauren Mayberry was brave, not self-righteous, to call out Chris Brown – Laura Waddell

The bravery of Lauren Mayberry in calling out abuse of women – when she and her band Chvrches criticised a musical collaborator for working with Chris Brown, who pled guilty to one count of felony assault after attacking his then girlfriend Rihanna in 2009 – is not ‘self-righteous’ and should be applauded, writes Laura Waddell.

Thursday, 2nd May 2019, 7:00 am
Lauren Mayberry, of the band Chvrches, revealed that a police presence has been required at her shows and that shes been unable to go home (Picture: Jane Barlow/PA)

An interesting aspect of social media is that it allows us to see conversations that might once have taken place more privately. There’s also, in tweets or any comment section, baser desire to hurt or malign. Platforms dependent on interaction are designed to provoke immediate responses, of course, distilled down not only to likes (or dislikes) but knee-jerk instincts. Sometimes troubling attitudes to women are subtler than outright abuse and it would be a mistake to overlook what we can learn from this.

A few years ago, the Guardian took the interesting step of analysing article comments, with the intention of getting a clearer picture of online abuse. It’s unsurprising the findings revealed women and people of colour received, overwhelmingly, the most bile, hate-filled missives and outright threats, but it’s useful to quantify it as evidence.

It tallies with what we know about female MPs and the level of vitriol aimed online, comparable to politicians generally, who are often a target for unpleasantness. You don’t have to spend long on a gaming stream to hear racist and homophobic slurs, either. But we are at times at risk of distancing online abuse from its real-world impact and speaker: it’s only, after all, the visible manifestation of attitudes deeply imprinted in society.

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Chvrches Lauren Mayberry hits back at online trolls

This week, the band Chvrches has come under attack from Chris Brown, who in 2009 was found guilty of assaulting his then girlfriend Rihanna, after pictures emerged of her badly bruised face.

After the band made a statement that they were disappointed that a musical collaborator was working with Brown, he responded with “these are the people I wish walked in front of a speeding bus full of mental patients”. Lead singer Lauren Mayberry has subsequently tweeted about the need for a police presence at her shows and being unable to stay at her own home because of threats aimed at her following the exchange of statements.

It takes real backbone for any individual to speak out against someone in their own industry, particularly as a woman. I have a lot of respect for Mayberry’s integrity; it would always have been easier to stay quiet, but she has consistently opposed sexism throughout her career.

We’ve learned a lot throughout the Weinstein saga about the insidious nature of shutting women out of industries when they come up against abuse or decline advances. You only have to look at festival line-ups to see how male-dominated the music world still is.

But one thing that stands out, beyond the horrific and intimidating backlash to this woman who has taken a stand, is the more sleeket comments keen to find fault with her, and not the awful behaviour of others involved. It may be in article comments or the threads of friends of friends on Facebook, but there is a persistent idea that a woman who draws a firm line is somehow in the wrong.

Some think speaking out is right but it’s annoying that she did so. Some are entirely disapproving. There are comments about “millennial self-righteousness”. Is receiving death threats a hallmark of the ethical millennial? I don’t believe so.

The idea it’s self-righteous to oppose violence against women speaks to a certain insecurity about one’s own willingness to take a stance in the circles they move in.

It’s harder to critique abuse than it is look the other way, particularly if the abusers are thought to have any cultural sway. What we can see in these comments is a closing of ranks, preserving a widespread societal culture that fosters and favours machismo, rather than taking a critically honest look at the wide-ranging impact that abusers of women have had.

The many quietly spiteful comments aimed at Mayberry reflect what has always been the case; a woman opposing the status quo becoming a target for opprobrium more so than violent thuggery she exposes.

In these comments and conversations, perhaps even more so than the outright bile, we learn something about the world we live in, where commentators might not go as far as to stoop to insults, but will spend all their critical energies undermining the women who take a firm stance on abuse. It’s not ‘millennial’ or ‘self-righteous’ of Mayberry to upend the apple cart – it’s bravery we need more of.