How it feels in the fire of cancellation
and the usefulness of a 'phoenix mindset'
I am sitting on my sofa at half past ten at night. Everyone else is in bed. It is November 2020, and we are in the midst of one of that year’s many lockdowns. My phone notifications - which I cannot stop myself from checking and rechecking - continue to ping, ping, ping. They have been coming at a steady rate for the past 24 hours, and I have been reading them compulsively, feeling a curious mix of numbness and panic. Each notification is an instagram story about me. They say that I am violent. I am toxic. I am a danger to others. I am harmful. I am a piece of shit. I am trash.
The previous day, amidst ‘home schooling’ three children aged 12, 10 and 7, I’d been tagged in a post on instagram about obstetric violence, and, frustrated by literally everything on the planet but particularly by a person talking about this specific form of violence against women (about which I had recently written a book) whilst obfuscating the reality of sex, I’d politely pointed this out. “Let’s not forget who the oppressed are here and why”, I’d said.
I had not expected many people to see this comment, this reasonable challenge to the idiotically expressed notion that, as the instagram post claimed, “Birthing People are seen as the ‘fragile sex’”. But they had. One small comment that could easily have got lost in the busyness of social media had been screenshot, and shared, and reposted, and turned into ‘stories’, posts, memes - it was everywhere. I want to try to explain why - in the eye of that storm - the idea of apologising, capitulating, seems exceptionally valid, and why even those who experience the fire of public annihilation may eventually rise from the ashes, transformed.