Don't assume misogyny

To quote Wikipedia...

Misogyny is the hatred of, contempt for, or prejudice against women or girls. Misogyny can be manifested in numerous ways, including social exclusion, sex discrimination, hostility, androcentrism, patriarchy, male privilege, belittling of women, violence against women, and sexual objectification. Misogyny can occasionally be found within sacred texts of religions and mythologies, and various influential Western philosophers and thinkers have been described as misogynistic.

Emily Cole, who was the passenger on the receiving end in the recent incident on board a Virgin Trains East Coast service has given her side of the story to The Guardian. An important point in that article is she doesn't think drastic action should be taken against the individuals involved, some people on Twitter were trying to get the people involved sacked!

This is nothing new. And that’s the crux: this is a society-wide issue, not one of individual wrongdoing. Of course, the attendant shouldn’t be demonised and neither should the person who posted the insulting tweet that followed. They should be supported by the company that employs them – both emotionally in what is probably a difficult time given the public response – but also practically, in providing training in how to ensure all customers are treated with respect.

This I think is a very reasonable comment. As I said in my original blog post Emily has every right to complain if she wasn't happy with the way the guard acted and also subsequently if she was unhappy with the Twitter response. Whether you agree with the complaint or not she has every right to complain if she thinks something is not right. My main objection was a whole bunch of people jumped in who neither knew Emily or used Virgin Trains East Coast and filled the Twitter feed for the next few days with faux outrage.

My worry here is when people assume misogyny when it's not actually the case. I don't know about the train guard as I'd have had to see the interaction myself to know for certain but even if he's rude it doesn't necessarily mean he treats women any differently to men. You'd need to know if someone else with a similar complaint was treated differently.

Twitter I know better, I monitor the VTEC social media feed regularly to see what sort of feedback they are getting and so you also get a general idea of the online personality of the regulars on the team. I don't think any of them could be classed as misogynistic and in the case of the person who replied (^MS) I think it was just an attempt at humour that didn't go well. The words he used in his reply were not gender specific and are in common use in the north east.

The cheeky style is something that Virgin try and encourage but sometimes the people responding to Tweets get the tone wrong and respond to a serious comment in a light hearted manner. Other times the light hearted approach can clear the air a bit. A quote from the Virgin Trains West Coast (different operator but aim for the same style) recruitment site:

At Virgin Trains, we love to be a little different and we are proud that our social media presence is authentic, human, full of fun and often a little cheeky. At the same time, we take our responsibility to keep our customers informed very seriously.

I disagree with what Emily says here about the reply on social media:

the intended action hidden in the social media team’s response in suggesting “pet” and “love” as an alternative to “honey” was to belittle – to put me, a woman who dares to call out misogyny – back in my place. And have a good laugh while doing so.

First off it wasn't a team decision, there was one person working on their social media desk at that time. None of us can be sure how the others in the team would have handled it but the response wasn't the official view of Virgin Trains East Coast. There's definitely other cases in the past where members of the team have got the mood wrong and replied inappropriately but in no cases have I seen any gender bias. There's definitely a significant number of men who've had cheeky replies in the past, when you're answering a lot of Tweets in a day (and volume was already higher than average that day due to the fare rises) you just have a few seconds to think of an appropriate response and sometimes they don't hit the mark.

There's definitely room from improvement with the way social media is handled when people make complaints, but it was incorrect to put the comment down to misogyny, it's just a more general issue of trying to get the right tone while understanding you can't keep everyone happy. It is important to remember that the amount of Tweets they misjudge the tone with is relatively small but it's still important to learn the lessons from these incidents.

My advice for complaints has always been to make any formal complaints through official channels such as email, you may want to also send a Tweet so your comment is also visible to the public but if you don't make it a formal complaint the issue may not be logged. If you make a formal complaint it is logged, allocated a reference number and the complaint statistics are reported to the Office of Rail and Road (the part of the government responsible for rail regulation) which are made public on an annual basis.

So it's probably worth the social media team getting together, look back at instances where they haven't judged the tone of response right and see how better to handle it in the future.

It would be a shame if people stopped using regional dialects, they will die out in time as they seem rarely used by the younger generations, but for those that do use them it adds some local personality into the discussion.