Online Bullies – The case of Roxy Jacenko and Mia Freedman

Roxane Gay and Mia Freedman

Over the past few weeks I have seen two high-profile noteworthy cases where online bullies have had a field day dragging down successful privileged women who, like the rest of us, are flawed. I felt it was important to address – the dragging down of successful women online for supposed transgressions only being part of a story.

The online, anonymous criticism is brutal, and I am talking about sites like the Daily Mail comments section, where the reaction to the supposed “crime” is completely disproportionate. Other women, online bullies, or “trolls”, leaping on the pile of verbal brawling, attacking another woman, online bullying taken to the extreme. And it seems to be to OK to spurn the women who have transgressed, because they are white, thin, successful and affluent. One is Mia Freedman, media mogul and founder of the highly successful website “Mamamia”; the other is Australia’s PR powerhouse Roxy Jacenko, founder of Sweaty Betty, a hugely successful PR and marketing company.

I wanted to write this story because I think it is important that as a society we look at why other women seem to love to pull down the “cream” that rises to the top, especially if they don’t behave the way society dictates – being agressive, outspoken, pushy, ambitious with an alpha” personality. Such women make mistakes, they say something the wrong way, their husband is arrested. But, what happens after they commit this “sin” is actually worse. Freedman and Jacenko are the focus of relentless online bullying and called every name under the sun. If you are guilty of this, put yourself in their shoes. Imagine reading those comments about yourself.

Roxy Jacenko – Founder of Sweaty Betty PR

Oliver Curtis and wife Roxy Jacenko arrive at The Supreme Court last year. Picture: John Appleyard
Oliver Curtis and wife Roxy Jacenko arrive at The Supreme Court last year. Picture: John Appleyard

Take the case of Roxy Jacenko. The media loves documenting the glamorous, flashy PR queen and it seems so does the public. For my part I find having a glamorous, successful woman to look up to is highly inspiring and since the inception of Sweaty Betty I have been impressed by the rise and rise of the company.

Roxy Jacenko was in the media again recently. Her white collar criminal husband has paid his debt to society as it out of prison again. Oh, and he was picked up in a private plane. Hell, if I could afford it I’d fly to and from Cooma in a private plane too. It’s a long drive with 2 kids from Cooma to Sydney and vice versa. He was hardly going to catch a coach or hitch hike.

roxy jacenko catches a private jet to meet oliver curtis
roxy jacenko catches a private jet to meet oliver curtis

As Roxy has said herself her husband is the primary caregiver when it comes to the kids, so why not fly down to meet daddy. They would have missed their dad terribly. Roxy was criticised for not telling her young children their dad was in prison, but I wouldn’t tell my daughter if she was their age.

I was watching on social media people posting “why is this news?”, self-confessed bimbo and convicted criminal – this not news”, “Roxy who?”, “never heard of her”. Why do these keyboard warriors feel the need to cut down the beautiful, the successful, the privileged? These people think that they are clever. But their comments are mean-spirited and cowardly. These comments are also ignorant.

Roxy Jacenko is the founder of a ridiculously successful PR company, has written 3 bestselling books, appeared on Celebrity Apprentice, and is an incredile social media influencer. She is also married to white collar criminal Oliver Curtis, and frankly it’s a journalists dream to document their flashy life. During the interview she confessed to work long hours instead of being with her kids, she can’t cook, and is proud to show off her success. She’s in PR. That’s what people in PR do. She’s also survived cancer. But she didn’t fall apart, she pushed on through. 

STRICTLY EMBARGOED FOR SUNDAY PAPERS 21/8/16 Roxy Jacenko is interviewed by Allison Langdon for 60 Minutes
STRICTLY EMBARGOED FOR SUNDAY PAPERS 21/8/16 Roxy Jacenko is interviewed by Allison Langdon for 60 Minutes

So why do female online bullies want to pull her down?

Seriously? She barely got along with anyone on that tv show you mention. A completely dysfunctional personality. But if you’re measuring material values then yes, I guess she is successful. Would I hold her up to my daughters as a potential role model? Laughable.

We need more women on tv who have integrity and build something aside from wealth. Corporate women are just pawns, chasing money and power in a world already built for them. Those values are losing their aplomb in our increasingly intelligent society. Creative, compassionate, inventive, altruistic, principled women of integrity are the ones who really contribute to humanity. You can pick them because they’re usually not the ones overly interested in fashion labels or how they look. They’re far too focused on bettering (sic) the world to be wasting time taking selfies.”. This is pretty typical of the comment people (mostly women) make about Jacenko. I think that because she pursues wealth, and displays more traditionally masculine. These people cannot see that they have become the online bullies.

Comments on Daily Mail:

This is pretty typical of the comments that online bullies make about Jacenko. I think that because she pursues wealth, and displays more traditionally masculine.

I think that because she pursues wealth and is proud of her success and displays more traditionally masculine characteristics of being career and wealth driven, that wonline bullies are quick to judge her as a bad mother or role model. Frankly, I’d love to see my daughter had such a dynamic personality. Even I have been criticised for taking selfies.

And while on the subject of taking selfies, this is her job! Roxy is promoting her own personal brand. She has an impressive 178,000 followers on Instagram which is part of her job. Some women take pictures of impossible yoga poses, others of their cooking and Roxy… her kids, or an outfit, or her impressive abs, that she works her ass off for (literally). Being a social influencer is about self promotion.

Roxy Jacenko instagram posts. Picture: Instagram/@roxyjacenko
Roxy Jacenko instagram posts. Picture: Instagram/@roxyjacenko

Mia Freedman and Roxane Gay

Take the case of Mia Freedman. She was preparing for an interview with celebrated US author and feminist Roxane Gay. Gay was promoting her latest book, Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, in which Gay lays bare her struggle with life as a very overweight woman.

Mia Freedman over Roxane Gay apology

Mia Freedman made the mistake of documenting the preparations for the interview and revealing sensitive comments. The cached article was pulled down but not before it was cached: Mia Freedman’s original article.

Mia Freedman comments about Roxane Gay, feminist author
Mia Freedman comments about Roxane Gay, feminist author

Were the comments insensitive? Undoubtedly. Was the intent mean-spirited? I don’t think so. I believe that Freedman was naively addressing the very real considerations of being a large woman and how the Mamamia offices were accommodating this. I believe she was commented, but not judging. I cannot see an organisation that supports women having nefarious intent with this article.

I got the impression the Mia Freedman was aiming to open a dialogue about being extremely overweight, and the limits on mobility. It is not politically correct to call someone out as “super morbidly obese”. Especially if you are thin.

The author in question was promoting a book launch a book about her relationship as a survivor of child sexual assault, body image, food and being overweight. The problem came out of the fact that Mia falls into the thin, white and wealthy category, so saying anything about Roxane’s size is going to be problematic, something Mia should have realised. I feel for Roxane and can understand her hurt, but she made sure she used it to fuel the fire of PR. Because she was the “underdog” everyone felt sorry for her.

After her article, Mia Freedman was slaughtered in the media for her comments, mainly by other women, quick to assume it was meant as an insult and pull Mia down a peg or 200. It didn’t sit well with me. I respect Mia Freedman, and cannot imagine that a woman who has disclosed the fact that she herself had bullimia was throwing shade at Gay.

“It is helpful, in that I think people get to see, in real time, what fat-phobia looks like and just how careless people can be in considering that fat people deserve dignity,” Gay told the New York Times.

I don’t believe Freedman’s comments were fat phobic. I believe she was writing about a delicate subject and it went wrong. What ensued was really horrible and I felt for Mia Freedman. Online bullies, mostly women, from over the world, especially in Australia, vilified Mia Freedman. The nameless (mainly female) trolls were lightning quick to judge and pull down another woman. Tis was the exact same thing that these people were critical of Mia Freedman for doing in the first place. Roxane Gay had the advantage of the moral high ground but chose to twist the knife and use the comments for PR and to bolster her agenda and book sales. I lost respect for Gay when she didn’t accept the apology or even acknowledge it. 

Roxane Gay was then able to leverage off the comments and create fantastic spin about her terrible treatment in Australia. Feelings aside, the whole episode did nothing to harm Roxane, in fact it was the opposite. I know that saying this is probably not popular, but Roxane Gay was able to use the comments as another example of being marginalised and victimised by a white, thin and wealthy woman. More women pulling down other women. That is not the feminism that I subscribe to.

Freedman made the mistake of thinking that because Roxane Gay discussed her weight, then it was also OK for Mia to discuss the issue. 

“I mistakenly assumed that because [Gay] spoke about [her experience], I could too. But this is not my story to tell and I should not have included it in the intro to the podcast or the podcast description. It was disrespectful and it upset her and for that I am deeply, deeply sorry. Unconditionally sorry. The irony of me upsetting and distressing someone who has been so influential and instrumental in the way I view feminism and body image is not lost on me. I am beyond mortified, horrified and ashamed.” – Mia Freedman

Mia’s apology was real, thorough and showed respect and contrition.

Below are some of the comments made by online bullies regarding Mia Freedman and Roxane Gay:

Sydney Morning Herald

Scathing letter by a doctor in the SMH

Comments after the article:

“It’s a real shame seeing women tear down their own. Mia, you need to sharpen your pencil.” Baz

“Mia Freedman deserved all the criticism she copped – particularly given Mamamia’s propensity to lecture and cajole the rest of us for supposed “slights” or attitudes.” AyJay

Daily Mail:

“Freedman is atypical of entitled champagne socialists that come from privilege. Out of touch and intoxicated by a deep sense of self righteousness. Western women are one of the most privileged classes in the world, yet the cancer that is feminism promotes the easily debunked idea that they are downtrodden and oppressed.” poop shooter, Sydney, Australia – hiding behind a pseudonym.

“Mia Freedman is and always has been a try-hard. She calls herself a feminist yet is not. And in this instance she has shown her true colours. Obviously, you’re only to be treated equally if you’re white, from the moneyed upper echelon and able to be considered ‘attractive’. Guess what Mia? You showed that inside you’re very unattractive and downright nasty.” Anne of bris, Brisbane, Australia

“Mia Freeman is a bully trying to hide under title of a feminist. She has been like this for years and I’m glad she has finally been called out. She reminds me so much of the fake friends some of us had in high school. You know the ones that were only friends with you when they needed something but would happily throw you under the bus when they wanted to make an example or climb the ladder. She needs to consider stepping away from social media and media in generally for a while.” Nathnat, Sydney, Australia

“Ugh how did Mia freedman even become someone we are supposed to listen to? She’s never said anything worthwhile” Letitia

Daily Telegraph:

“MF is a self imposed expert on not much apart from her own ego and this time got hauled over the coals for being just way too smart. Much like the project (sic)on channel 10. Small audience for small mined (sic) people.” kim

“‘ that I’m sure she thought she was being edgy or inclusive or enlightened’ – she was being mean and it was intentional. Peoples (sic) sexuality is nothing interesting; it’s just sexuality – Mia is not interesting, edgy, inclusive or enlightened” – Good Brief

“@Good Grief  Yep Mia’s a mean girl alright.  She’s incapable of understanding anybody outside of her privileged bubble in Vaucluse.” Emma

“Claims of supporting diversity from a privileged slim white woman are admirable, especially when its (sic) for trendy PC causes like gender diversity and refugees. But the sincerity is tested when faced with true diversity.  And here is the result! Anyone who admits they regularly forget to pick up their children cant be (sic) taken too seriously.” – Louise

“Not very clever Mia.  I am sure people will think twice before participating in an interview or podcast with you in the future. Unprofessional and unnecessary – just trying to be too smart I think.  Well, it backfired big time.” Lesley

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Imagine being the recipient of this backlash. It really hurts. I have watched another friend who had a spectacular event fail equally spectacularly, not through anything she’d done, just bad luck. She couldn’t pay people and because she’d fallen off her pedestal, she was vilified relentlessly on social media. I saw how much it affected her. And the main people that were attacking her were women.

Why are women so quick to pull each other down?

I used to sponsor the Miss Wolrd Australia organisation, by being the official makeup supplier for Australia’s first Muslim Miss World Australia, Sabrina Houssami. The media and social media were quick to criticise her for not wearing a hijab or burqua, for wearing a bathing suit, how she reconciled her faith with a beauty contest. Sabrina handled it all with grace. The problem was Sabrina was too smart. She was a Mensa member. Literally. Sabrina didn’t have a “Jennifer-Hawkins-Australias-Sweetheart” manner. She was eloquent and outspoken, as well as very beautiful. Her success at the Miss World Pageant in Poland was barely covered in media, despite the fact that she was the first runner-up and was crowned Miss Asia Pacific. Note: as a rule, more attention is paid to Miss Universe than Miss World. Miss Universe is about the surface, modeling, and beauty, whereas Miss World’s motto is “beauty with a purpose”.

To her credit, Sabrina rose above the criticism and had a great experience.

 Final thoughts? Women are so quick to pull down other women, especially on social media. Online, in comments and on facebook we openly criticise other women, and in these two cases I feel that as women we reacted badly. Mia, for the most part is a great role model for women, and Roxy, with her ballsy, brassy sass, is a fantastic example of a women who is self made. I loved supporting Sabrina Houssami and she is a great role model for other Muslim women (and women in general): educated, self-determined, confident and balanced. Don’t be that woman who jumps on the bandwagon to pull other women down, especially when they themselves are already down, even just for a media minute. Online bullies are weak minded and don’t offer solutions or insight. They pull down other women, which is the antithesis of feminism. Be the person who looks past the media pile on and sees the person in the story and imagines how it would feel if your comments were by someone else and directed at you.

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