The dark side of activism: story theft & speaking over marginalised voices

stop stealing stories - story theft, speaking over marginalised voices, and the dark side of activism beth ashley

There has been some bullshit festering in the world of activism for too long, as its time we address it.

I’ve recently felt consumed by the reality that is privileged people taking other people (usually with marginalised, under-represented identities) and instead of amplifying them, earning money from them and using them to reinforce their own online presence, portfolio or services.

A couple of years ago, I started getting super engaged in activism about sexual assault, rape and domestic violence. I worked with charities like Refuge and Women’s Aid who are fantastic, and I imagine they always will do their best to support survivors and victims. With my consent, they acted as a third party to media outlets (connecting me with editors and journalists) to raise awareness of any active campaigns they had running and of the above issues in general. This has made me, to an extent, ‘known’ to most British editors as a reliable media contact for discussing topics like rape and domestic violence. This is fine. Engaging with activism and helping charities has been quite a healing experience for me; to be able to transform my pain and experiences into something helpful, into resources and advice for other people suffering. But being this ‘media contact’ has landed me in some difficult positions. I was asked on short notice to ‘debate’ the importance of raising awareness of domestic violence in teenage relationships on none other than Good Morning Britain with Piers Morgan. I swiftly declined as I didn’t think my fragile mental health would survive having my experience questioned by a Tory as closed-minded as he. I’ve since unfortunately been in several arguments with editors from the Daily Mail over their desire to publish my story of my experience with rape but they wanted to ‘choose the photos of me that accompany the text themselves from my social media” (I think we all know the kind of photos they would have scoured my platforms for).

This kind of activism work always seems pointless to me. When it comes to newspapers like the Daily Mail, who have written headlines on their front page in the past listing out the different alcoholic drinks rape victims have consumed before their attack, and the likes of Piers Morgan who enjoys shaming just about every woman and non-gender-conforming person out there, is there any point arguing? I’ve never seen a ‘debate’ go well on Good Morning Britain. I only ever see a broadcasted shame parade of marginalised voices. I rarely see a fair representation, nor an invitation to welcome diversity and hear different opinions that can benefit the audience or the people who need representing. Right wing platforms like these are not interested in fair debate. It’s a complete con. Just look at the way Munroe Bergdof was treated on GMB last week.

Some topics are not up for debate. Whether domestic violence amongst young people is a problem? Not up for debate. Whose fault rape is? Not up for debate? Whether transgender identities are legitimate? Not fucking up for debate.

But it’s not even these kinds of right-wing enemies to accepting marginalised bodies that anger me the most. The most upsetting experiences I’ve had while working with the media on stories for domestic violence, are the “feminist” journalists who cash in on my story and leave me with nothing after re-living my trauma in detail for their ‘scoop’. A few weeks ago, I was approached by a journalist who wanted me to send her a detailed story of my experience as an influencer while going through domestic abuse when ‘off the grid’. No compensation. I originally agreed to it as it seemed like a good cause and began writing. Then I noticed she was pitching this very story to multiple outlets using Twitter. I watched her pitch, get rejected or ignored and move on to a new outlet for days. I spend my weeks doing the exact same thing, as a journalist.

She emailed me about a week later saying Grazia had accepted the story and she would be publishing it in a couple of weeks (as this journalist is an in-house contributing editor for a huge British publication, I had originally assumed she’d be publishing it in that magazine.) After reading her email, I decided not to participate anymore. I’ve written for Grazia as a freelancer before and worked at their head office as in intern. I know they pay their freelancers around £250-£500 for features like this. So why does this journalist think it’s acceptable to publish my story and receive that kind of money for it, when I’m literally a journalist who can write this myself, and just one scroll through my very public blog and portfolio will tell you that? Except I’m discouraged from ever profiting from my experience because its “proactive”, “unsettling”, “disappointing”.

I decided to go around this journalist and email Grazia directly, stating that I was a fully qualified writer and journalist and that I’d been storytelling for over 5 years. I told them that I was perfectly capable of writing this feature myself and didn’t need another journalist to tell this story like it’s her own and earn money from it. They didn’t reply, unsurprisingly.

I’m bored of people profiting off marginalised people’s stories and experiences. I can’t remember the last time I saw a television ‘debate’ (gross) or article on feminism, rape or sexual assault and there was actually a survivor present to contribute to the story. You can say the same for most of the televised shame parades passing off as debates. They recycle the same guests and don’t invite anyone with real experience to speak. Probably because they know they’d be challenged.

There are worse experiences than mine. Just yesterday, I witnessed several cis artists using non-binary and trans experiences in their artwork and gaining profit from it (hellomynameiswednesday on Instagram reports on this quite often). We see countless attempts from white people to use black experiences to position themselves as “allies” when they’re really just removing the person from a discussion that’s literally about them. Let’s call a spade a spade – this is theft. While no content may have been stolen, experiences are taken and romanticised for money. And that’s about a thousand times worse. I’m bored of it. So, as a note to the white, cis-gendered feminist or ‘activist’ journalists out there, or the editors stealing stories from victims to pay for your expensive holidays, these are not your stories to tell. Consider passing the mic to the person who can talk about a topic honestly and passionately without having their voices silenced.

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2 Comments

  1. November 30, 2018 / 7:08 pm

    Wow Beth this is an article that the public really need! Amazing to find it on such a public platform, I really hope it raises some awareness and can show those people who have unfairly benefitted from others pain what they’ve done. Keep writing these and you’ll change the world!

    Lots of love,
    Molly xo
    http://themollymap.com

    • bethashley
      Author
      December 3, 2018 / 4:52 pm

      thank you so much molly xxxxx

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