In last Saturday's Advertiser I wrote a column having a crack at the Miss Universe competition for being an outdated, sexist and idiotic charade that teaches young women to value their hair above their intellectual ability.

Given that two thirds of the competition is devoted to judging contestants' looks, with the final third only there so organisers can say “see, it's not ALL about looks”, I didn't think this was such a contentious view.

But apparently calling out a beauty pageant for being superficial is a controversial thing to do, and so I received a barrage of angry comments from readers, both on the Advertiser website and on Facebook. Some were furious. Some were so dripping in venom I had to call the poisons hotline.

It wasn't unexpected. In fact I had begun that very column in anticipation by listing all the angry and badly-spelled responses I thought I was likely to receive – “lighten up”, “your (sic) just jealous”, “feminazi”, that sort of thing.

What I hadn't expected is how personal people would get.

“What's the bet this Petra Starke is a bit of a woofer?” wrote unquestionable ladies' man “Kelvin”, to which someone called Michael responded “She is, look at her pic.”

“I just Googled who she is, she looks like a monster bull dike (sic) haha, she is spewing that woman (sic) enjoy looking good!” wrote “Dreaco”, who no doubt charms everyone he meets with his Hollywood good looks and distinctive grasp of the English language. Who needs plural nouns, eh Dreaco?

And the closing argument: “Only ugly people hate pageants.” This from someone called Owen, whose Facebook profile photo showed a man tweaking his own nipples.

Oh well, that's it then. Case closed! The brains trust has deemed me unattractive, and yea, my opinions must be struck from the record for irrelevancy. I am ugly and wrong, and they are men, and right. Sorry everyone, I guess I'll just shut up until I can afford some plastic surgery.

Ask any woman sharing her opinion on the internet – whether it's in a blog, on Twitter or in articles on a major media website – and she will tell you she has received comments like this. Comments that criticise her looks and have nothing to do with what she has written. Even worse, she's probably also received rape and death threats, which are unbelievably common.

Sure, male writers get abused too, but overwhelmingly it's their female counterparts that are being harassed in this highly personal way. If you can find more than a handful of examples where internet commenters have attacked a male writer for being ugly or fat, I'll buy you a beer.

It doesn't matter if you write about beauty pageants or video games, if you're female you'll cop it.

One of my all time favourites, which a man actually went to the trouble of writing by hand and posting to me is: “You look like you wear a man's wristwatch”. Years later I'm still not exactly sure what he meant. Trust someone who still writes letters to think people still wear wristwatches! The daft old fogey.

The point is that people, blokes usually, resort to attacking a woman's looks when they don't like what she says because they believe her worth is contained entirely in her appearance. If a woman's main duty in life is to look pretty, then what harsher blow can one strike but to call her ugly?

My argument was that Miss Universe does nothing but strengthen patriarchal control by defining a woman's value entirely by her looks. So to all those who disparaged that by criticising MY appearance: thanks for proving my point.

Asking men like those quoted above to see the irony of slagging off my looks in order to defend beauty pageants may have about the same chance of success as getting a banana to sing the national anthem, but I'd like to at least make the point to everyone else.

Next time you disagree with a woman's opinion, try and find some words to argue your point other than “ugly” or “fat”. Because there's something much worse than being ugly, and that's being stupid.


First published in The Advertiser, June 19, 2014. Click here to read the original article.