Sometimes I wonder how much worse things can get in this country. Heather Mallick of the Toronto Star reports on the latest act of violence against women, and like Mallick, I have a feeling this thing is going to get much worse before it gets better.
When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes, I think about female TV reporters doing stand-up reports on the street and I am bloody grateful I work indoors, frankly.
Thanks to "FHRITP," which is code for a horrible insult, some men have been walking up to female TV reporters on the street as they talk to the camera and shouting something aloud they hope will go out live to the TV audience, which it occasionally does. The words are "f--- her right in the p----!" The men cackle with delight, the reporters are humiliated, their interviewees are embarrassed and, somewhere in a distant clean polite world, a toilet can be heard flushing.
I only know about this because two female CBC Montreal TV journalists, Tanya Birkbeck and Morgan Dunlop, wrote on CBC.ca about enduring this repeatedly in the course of a workday. Another, Catharine Tunney in Halifax, told me it happened to her and she has since heard from three more women and one man, all at the CBC. I worry that writing about it will spatter the emotional blood even more, but post-Ghomeshi, I am going to anyway.
Here’s how FHRITP began: an elderly American man calling himself John Cain — you can see him online if you so wish, a hairy guy with a southern accent and a black hoodie standing on a gravel road beside a rusted barrel — invented the acronym and in January uploaded fake news reports in which he shouted this to women, with a fake link to a female news anchor reacting with shock. It spread on YouTube and is now a Thing. It has egged on awful men, like offering a whiff of a murder victim’s sweater to hounds and they leap out into the darkness looking for the corpse.
True, it’s a tiny group of no-hopers, but an equally tiny group of women have jobs in TV news. Reporters used to head out with a crew, but as ad revenue and news budgets shrink, they often work alone as videographers standing beside a camera with a branded microphone that announces their job for mainstream news. They are then bitten by beasts, on the air.
It happened three times in one day to Birkbeck. You can watch the assaults online. Birkbeck was outside Montreal's football stadium interviewing two male Alouettes fans, who laughed riotously as another man popped on camera and assaulted her with these words. Then, as she was interviewing a fan with his very young son, it happened again, a man cackling and running off. "Welcome to Montreal," the kind father said to Birkbeck, shocked and trying to cover the boy's ears. The boy, whose face has since been pixelated, looked puzzled. What did he learn that day?
"I was too taken aback to respond," Birkbeck wrote, which is how women often react when assaulted. The brain and body go on high alert, muffling action. The second time, she began to wonder if her appearance had invited the words. She was embarrassed for the man and his son.
This is how women are raised, trained to blame themselves and to care for others. The video left me frozen. It’s only now, typing later indoors, that I wish I’d been there to defend Birkbeck and take that man apart. I thought I had no violence in me, but I was wrong.
Dunlop assessed the damage. She wrote, correctly, that: 1) Women, particularly those on air, are inured to insult. 2) These attacks are a job-killer. Women are made unemployable. In this economy, editors will not send out people who suffer assault and need bodyguards. They will hire burly men. 3) The men who do this look like idiots.
FHRITP is not unlike the famous video of the 108 leering catcalls a young woman endured in the course of 10 hours as she walked, dressed unobtrusively, along New York City sidewalks. Women have one defence only, and that's the camera that records them being openly hunted when they leave a building.
Dunlop has heard from Cain via email. He's proud of the attention and is making money out of it, selling FHRITP rubber bracelets. He himself is sexually desperate and — I know this signals a damaged human — under the impression that "fame" will get him a date. "I am the guy who started the FHRITP trend," he told her. "It's not an attack on women in any way. In fact, I love women and I would FHRITP all of them if they wanted." Here’s the weird part. He doesn’t grasp that they don’t.
After the CBC.ca story appeared, he emailed to say he'd read it. "It was put together great," he wrote, under the impression his praise would be valued. "If I'm ever in your area, I'd like to buy you lunch."
So Cain planted a seed. Any idiot can do it, any idiot has and many idiots have attached themselves to this triffid-like growth — "mobile, prolific and highly venomous" — like a virtual gang rape where the attackers haven't met but congratulate each other online. These basement monkeys are on film, forever identifiable. The CBC should be calling the police.
Women used to stay silent. Then came #jianghomeshi, then came #BeenRapedNeverReported and now this. I ask CBC President Hubert Lacroix and senior executive Heather Conway — both tough, smart people — to call the cops, to tell human resources departments to begin logging the attacks and to offer support for reporters who need it.
The meme is spreading across North America. It will get worse before it gets better.
By Heather Mallick
Published in the Toronto Star
Friday, November 14, 2014