Society Magazine

Chicks Doing Shit: Helen Lewis

Posted on the 09 August 2012 by Weekwoman @WeekWoman

- Caroline Criado-Perez

Chicks Doing Shit: Helen Lewis


‘Pass the pink sick bucket’, says Helen Lewis at the end of an article in which she decries the prevalence of the perception that pink is a girl’s best friend.

Oh. Well, this is a little awkward. Um…I’d actually commissioned the illustration for Helen’s profile before reading this article. So…

…Right. But anyway, onwards and upwards, hey? I’m sure Helen will forgive me for this momentary salute to the patriarchy? And in any case, onwards and upwards is strikingly pertinent to the matter at hand: because, as this week’s esteemed Chick Doing Shit, Helen can certainly lay claim to both those words when it comes to her career.

Here is a brief run-down, nabbed from her tumblr, of the series of CDS-esque manoeuvres that led from her BA at Oxford and PG (Dip) at City, to where she is today:

After four years of news subbing at the Mail, she moved across to the features commissioning desk, and from there to the New Statesman. As well as commissioning and editing, she writes for the NS magazine and blogs for its website, with favoured topics including comedy, feminism, politics and computer games.

Quite the exemplary Chick Doing Shit, wouldn’t you say?

But actually, though this is in many ways eye-wateringly impressive (and I use the term in all its significances: I have reason to believe that Helen is the same age as me – sob), this rise not actually the main focus of this week’s Chicks Doing Shit column. After all, Helen is not the first woman to achieve a platform from which she can disseminate her views.

No, my fellow Chicks-in-training, what I will be drawing your attention to this week, is precisely what Helen has done with that platform – and, rather neatly, it ties quite nicely in with getting to that stage anyway.

When I spoke to Helen about getting to the position of Deputy Editor at the New Statesman, I wondered if her gender had ever been an issue. After all, as Helen herself points out, ‘politics, economics or computer games’ journalism, is pretty ‘male-dominated’, and, as this article by Piero Scaruffi suggests, like tends to think of like. Translated, this might suggest that because those fields are male-dominated, a woman might struggle to get ahead simply by virtue of not being a man.

Helen had not found that this was such a problem; more damaging to a woman’s ability to rise up to the higher levels in journalism, where it remains male-dominated, are the long and unpredictable hours. According to Helen, ‘there is a very noticeable drop-off in the numbers of women after the age of thirty’. Cue Klaxon in my head – don’t worry Helen, not the Bastard, angry misogynist Bat signal Klaxon. The ‘feminazi’ one. But this isn’t the forum for having a rant about the female as care-giver, work as life nexus that is one of the main obstacles to societal equity, so I’ll just redirect you to where I’ve already ranted on this, and move swiftly on.

But Helen’s next revelation set off a klaxon that I can’t ignore:

It was interesting starting to write more for the internet, though, because there you really notice the different quality of response you get for being a woman. I’ve had established female columnists tell me that they would have been discouraged from writing if they’d faced the anger of internet commenters earlier in their careers.

And this is where Helen’s CDS-ness really kicks in, because it’s this type of online trolling that she has used so much of her column-space to fight against.

She has regularly used her column as a space to highlight the kind of misogyny that women online have to put up with regularly – not only writing herself, but also opening up her blog as a space for other women to share their stories. The importance of this kind of exposure can hardly be stressed enough – as Helen herself has pointed out in her article about the Sarkeesian online abuse,

…too often the response to stories like this, “Come on, it can’t be that bad”. There are two reasons for this: first, that if you don’t experience this kind of abuse, it’s difficult to believe it exists (particularly if you’re a man and this just isn’t part of your daily experience). [see here for my latest experience of this]

And although Helen says that the comments she’s attracted as a female columnist are ‘small beer’, the reactions that she experiences as a female gamer don’t sound like small beer to me.

Helen has been playing games since she inherited her older brother’s Acorn Electron, before graduating on to Xbox while at university. She now plays on a diverse melange made up of the XBox 360, the Wii, PS2/3 and PC – and that’s before we even get onto the iPad and iPhone.

So Helen is an experienced gamer – but, she says, she didn’t realise her ‘oddity’ as a female gamer, until she started playing Halo on multiplayer, when she started to ‘get lots of grief’. Forgetting the fact that she is assumed to be male, despite the fact that 40% of gamers are women, Helen is repeatedly subjected to misogynist attacks when players discover that she is a woman, including telling her that she is going to get raped, calling her a whore, or the ever-amusing, and always original request to get sandwich-making.

Helen’s reaction to this has been threefold. Firstly, she repeatedly calls out both gamers and games manufacturers on their sexism and/of misogyny – with the most recent article being the, frankly, bizarre decision by Sega to release an Olympics game with fifteen male-only sport and only one female-only sport – yes, that one.

Secondly, she turned her headset off while playing games. Effective, if soul-destroying.

And finally, she made her ‘Spartan armour the girliest fondant pink imaginable.’ As Helen puts it, ‘that means that somewhere out there, a foul-mouthed teenager is still sore about being shot by the Halo equivalent of the Sugar Plum Fairy – but I didn’t have to hear about it.’

So maybe we’ll be forgiven for the pink console then? Helen? HELEN??

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