A fortnight ago, my dear friend Millie Elder-Holmes shared with her substantial social media following that she had fled an abusive relationship. It made complete sense – Millie is the anti-influencer, using what had once been an unwelcome spotlight from the media solely because of her adopted father, to allow her to connect with real people on a real level while also earning a living. Unlike most other influencers, she didn’t ask for all of the attention, and yet she’s been able to turn it into a force for good – for herself and others. She shared her story to show that life isn’t always as perfect as an Instagram grid, to encourage others in the same position to speak up and leave, and as a cathartic reveal of how life had really been for the past year. Her honesty was refreshing, heart breaking and moving. Above all, her honesty is brave.
However many people love Millie, there will always be those who don’t. Usually, they don’t know her personally so their opinion is not only devoid of factual basis, it’s actually just really unimportant. Enter Rosemary McLeod, an opinion writer who calls herself a feminist, but has been repeatedly published by Stuff.co.nz and the Dominion Post with such outrageously offensive views that it is clear the currently accepted, intersectional definition of feminism is beyond her purview. McLeod has misgendered a trans man and insisted he is a woman, and called sex work a “sordid” occupation, and has previously written an embarrassingly judgmental and spiteful commentary about Millie’s life, her tattoos and her late partner for goodness sake. The snide commentary on Millie‘s life continued in another mind-numbing piece this last week, making assumptions about why she chose her recent ex-partner, calling her insecure and fragile, and insinuating she doesn’t have real friends to talk to about her personal problems.
Domestic violence rates in New Zealand are exceptionally high, with Women’s Refuge quoting a study that estimates 33-39% of women in the country will experience physical abuse from an intimate partner. If factoring in the number (both reported and unreported) of instances when emotional and economic abuse is inflicted, the number would surely skyrocket. While it is commonly accepted to have media and sports personalities speaking out about their experiences with mental health, McLeod would prefer that domestic violence was not openly talked about. According to her unprofessional and unasked for opinion, Millie‘s experience belonged solely between the four walls of therapist’s office. Being of another generation does not excuse McLeod’s violent dismissal of those who don’t live their lives according to her 1950-esque norms.
Significantly more disturbing is Stuff.co.nz and the Dominion Post’s decision to publish harmful vitriol disguised as opinions: misgendering trans people IS clear erasure of their valid identities, and sex work IS valid work and deserves to be destigmatized as such. Valid is not a word I would use in conjuncture with McLeod’s opinions. Freedom of speech does not trump the right to freely express identity, or work safely free from prejudice, or cope with domestic violence in the way that makes you feel secure; it’s also the favourite defense of neo-Nazis and racists. McLeod’s opinions have triggered protest, responses succinctly rendering her opinion-pieces ill-informed and irrelevant, and even a Facebook page dedicated to calling out her mediocre journalism. Media outlets need to start taking responsibility for what they disseminate into the world.
Rosemary McLeod, a real friend writes a response piece to clap back at your uninvited opinion. And a real friend would have told you to stop spouting your hurtful opinions years ago.
— Mahala Rose Harwood