A reporter in Newfoundland and Labrador says the commentary piece she wrote about the harassment female journalists face earned some hate mail, but even more online support — particularly from men.
Tara Bradbury wrote an article in the St. John's Telegram last week about FemFest, a local feminist conference addressing issues like infant feeding, domestic violence and indigenous feminism. At the time, Bradbury said she thought the piece was "innocuous," a straightforward preview of the event including information about scheduled speakers, dates and ticket prices.
After the article was posted online, Bradbury said she started receiving messages from people who found the article highly objectionable.
Many seemed to take issue with the event's ideology, saying "there is no need for feminism" or it is "destroying the concept of family."
"Women have had equality for years and this is about getting more rights than men," one reader responded.
Twitter users wrote to her asking if one "needed to know witchcraft to attend" or if there would be "workshops on sandwich-making?"
Bradbury followed up the preview piece of FemFest with a first-person commentary this week about the resulting abuse. She said she was most disturbed by the personal attacks, like being called "a brainwashed cultural Marxist" or "just a biased bitch."
"I still can't figure out why I'm biased," Bradbury said in an interview. "Unless it's because I'm a woman who wrote that article."
The anger over a story about a female-centered conference came as no surprise to the FemFest organizers, members of the St. John's Women's Council. Director Jenny Wright said she and her organization are harassed about their work daily, receiving online insults, expletives and even death threats. She says that over time, it can "take a toll on your mental health."
"At its root cause, I believe a hatred of feminism is just a hatred of women," said Jenny Wright, the executive director of the Council. "There are trolls and harassers and (men's rights activists) who spend their whole time looking for the hashtag 'feminism."'
Social media can be a hostile environment for people talking about feminist issues, including reporters, Wright said. She says the attacks she receives on Twitter can be so violent, she has considered giving up the platform altogether.
Bradbury said the backlash fits into a pattern of harassment she has experienced over her 13-year career at the daily newspaper, which can include reactions bordering on threatening.
"These commenters don't realize how ironic they're being," Bradbury says. "They're proving the point of why we need a (feminist) festival."
As Bradbury expected, her commentary in the Telegram this week has been met with some criticism, but overall, she says, it has been overshadowed by a groundswell of support she has received for bringing attention to the issue.
After the FemFest frenzy, Bradbury says she received supportive e-mails only from other women, but since her opinion piece was published, the gender balance in her inbox has shifted.
"Is this really what lies below the surface if you just scratch a bit?" Eugene Leger wrote in an e-mail. "I, for one man, would like to let you know that it's not okay, nor is it on my behalf, that those excuses for men chose to attempt to denigrate you."
"Most of the mail I've gotten is from men who disgusted by what (people) wrote," said Bradbury. "Men should be shocked, but sadly, a lot of women won't be, because they live it."
FemFest also saw a boost in sales over the weekend, Wright says, although she can't be sure if it's due to the exposure from the article or the backlash to it.
"Issues like the horrific backlash (Bradbury) experienced can be galvanizing," Wright said. "It can be a reminder to us why we need to take up some space and why we need to be talking about issues women are facing."