Magazine

The trouble with saying you don't want children

  • 25 November 2015
  • From the section Magazine
Holly Brockwell Image copyright Holly Brockwell

When Holly Brockwell spoke to the BBC about her decision not to have children, she knew she might be criticised on social media. But the attacks went far beyond what she had expected - accusations of selfishness soon turned into vitriolic abuse that made her deactivate her Twitter account.

"The fact is, there's nothing about creating another human that appeals to me," 29-year-old Holly Brockwell wrote in a story we published at the weekend, explaining why she wants to be sterilised.

Despite seeing a number of doctors she has so far not been able to undergo the procedure, either on the National Health Service or privately.

The reaction to the story was instant. "The volume of messages I had within half an hour on Twitter, Facebook, email and Instagram worried me," she says.

Many were supportive, both men and women saying they felt the same way. As for the negative ones, some said things she had heard before - that she would change her mind, that she was selfish and that the National Health Service shouldn't pay for her to be sterilised as the money would be better spent on sick children. Then came the abuse.

Image copyright Twitter

"People sought me out to say they were glad I haven't reproduced, that they're pleased there won't be any more people like me in the world. They cast aspersions on my mum and said I need psychological help," Brockwell says.

But that was only the start. "One man said he wouldn't want to have sex with me (except he was far less polite about it). Some said the solution is for me to stay celibate which suggests they only ever have sex when they want babies, which is ludicrous."

Image copyright Twitter

There were other much worse comments. "Things that I can't repeat and I would never say to anyone no matter what they had done," she says. "Those things are never justified. Some of the words that were used were very gender specific - words that wouldn't have been said to a man in the same situation. And I feel like that's significant because it was nearly all from men - although there were a couple from women - men trying control a woman's body.

"I am used to trolling as I run a women's tech website but even I was affected this time because it was so vitriolic, so personal and nasty, and so specific about me and my professional life - not even about the issue of having children which I had been writing about."

Some critics accused Brockwell of being an attention-seeking "media whore" but as she points out, it was the BBC's 100 Women project that asked her to write the story, not the other way round.

Image copyright Twitter

"Most of it washes over you but the one that disturbed me the most was a man saying he'd like to crowdfund an operation to render me physically unable to speak. It's always about silencing people."

Image copyright Twitter

Some of her followers suggested she brush it off - that these are "just trolls". But Brockwell found this hard to do.

On Sunday night the comments got to her and she decided to stop using Twitter. But after a break of just over 36 hours, she's back on social media and tweeting again. The trolls "said it was very quiet on Twitter without me and they deserved a prize", she says. But in the end she didn't want them to feel they had won.

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