Why classics scholar Mary Beard is becoming known as a “troll slayer”

May 9, 2016

Internet trolls (ubiquitous online abusers who use website comment sections and social media to insult and threaten people) have become such a problem that many websites no longer allow comments.  Trolls especially like to denigrate the minds and bodies of girls and women.  They deny a woman’s right to express opinions and try to silence her through sexualized remarks, threats of rape, and vulgar name-calling.

One woman who will not put up with such misogyny is Mary Beard, a professor of classics at Cambridge University. She often uses wit to make her point in opposing certain kinds of male attitudes that show up in trolling and in speech and print elsewhere.  In 2012, a television critic devoted his review of a BBC documentary on ancient Rome to criticizing Mary Beard’s looks instead of concentrating on the content she was so expertly presenting. (You can watch her 3-part documentary series by starting here.) According to the critic’s assessment, Beard did not have the right physical appearance to be narrating a program on TV.

Professor Beard did not take his article lightly, especially since it wasn’t the first time he had criticized her long gray hair, her clothes, her teeth, and her desire to look just as she is, choosing not to use hair coloring,  makeup, or plastic surgery as a means of hiding the process of aging.  This time, she responded with a strong article of her own titled, “Too ugly for TV? No, I’m too brainy for men who fear brainy women.”  Other women resonated with it at the time, and a new audience loved hearing the story recently as she told it again in New York at the Women in the World Summit.

Read the New York Times report on her summit talk—our “Link of the Day” : “Mary Beard and Her ‘Battle Cry’ against Internet Trolling.

Related material:

1.If you want to know more about the psychology behind trolling, read this article from the Guardian.

2.I think you’ll especially enjoy listening to Mary Beard on this 20-minute video, “Sex and Trolls in Ancient Rome,” in which she shows that misogynistic attitudes toward women are nothing new. She ends by telling how she persuaded one troll to apologize and changed him into a friend. I found myself laughing out loud, along with the audience, at how she did it!

Letha Dawson Scanzoni
Letha Dawson Scanzoni (1935-2024) was an independent scholar, writer, and editor, and the author or coauthor of nine books. In 1978, she and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott wrote Is the Homosexual My Neighbor?, one of the earliest books urging evangelical Christians to rethink their views on homosexuality (updated edition, 1994, HarperOne). More recently, Letha coauthored (with social psychologist David G. Myers) What God Has Joined Together: The Christian Case for Gay Marriage (HarperOne, 2005 and 2006). Another of Letha’s most well-known books is All We’re Meant to Be: Biblical Feminism for Today, coauthored with Nancy A. Hardesty (Word Books, 1974; revised edition, Abingdon, 1986; updated and expanded edition, Eerdmans, 1992). Letha served as editor of Christian Feminism Today in both its former print edition (EEWC Update) and its website for 19 years until her retirement in December 2013.


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