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“Cultural shifts have to happen”: writer reveals online abuse after being branded “hysterical” during TV debate

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Australian writer Van Badham has found herself at the centre of an online furore and a victim of trolling this week, following an appearance on ABC’s political debate show Q&A on Monday.

During the episode, she became involved in a heated discussion with media personality Steve Price over heavily criticised comments made by Aussie radio hosts Eddie McGuire and Sam Newman, which were seen to normalise violence against women.

As Badham began to make a valuable point about the need for change in cultural attitudes towards women, Price interrupted 13 times, eventually calling her “hysterical”, which drew a gasp from the audience.

Though Badham dealt with the loaded comment in expert fashion (she quipped: “It's probably my ovaries making me do it, Steve”), the columnist has revealed that she's received endless abuse on social media since. In a perfect example of the very culture the debate was addressing, the depressing online response has included calls for her to be “sterilised” and comments such as: “With a mouth like that I’m surprised she hasn’t become a victim of [domestic violence] herself.”

The heated Q&A discussion began during Monday's episode, after Price said “far too much was made” of the McGuire/Newman incident – which involved ‘jokes’ about drowning sports journalist Caroline Wilson. His comment, however, came in response to this question from audience member Tarang Chawla, who said: “Sam Newman has courted controversy yet again for defending Eddie Maguire for making a joke about drowning Caroline Wilson.

“I work as an ambassador for Our Watch, White Ribbon, and the Safe Steps family violence response center. My sister Nikita was stabbed to death by her partner in January last year, with a meat cleaver. She was 23.

“Male violence is a leading cause of death and disability of women under 45 in Australia. How will politicians and the media play a better role in bringing about long-overdue cultural shifts, so tragedies like what happened to my family are not normalised?”

Disturbed by Price’s answer to the question, Badham had stepped in to offer a counter opinion.

“What you see as jokes made by a bunch of blokes, you know, from the position of being one of those blokes who has probably been in on some of those jokes, I see as a woman who is part of a social world where violence is…” she began, before being cut off by Price, who appeared to be concerned about his being “tarred with the same brush”.

In the days following the episode, which one Twitter user has described as “the most dreadful moment I have seen on #qanda”, Price has refused to apologise for his “hysterical” comment, and levied further accusations of “aggressive” behaviour at Badham.

He also discussed the exchange on Australia’s current affairs TV show The Project, during an episode on which Badham was also originally asked to appear, before she was dropped and refused the right to reply.

“They don’t seem to understand that giving him a platform enables him to perpetuate an ongoing distortion and reframing of the incident to suit himself – like describing me as an ‘aggressive woman’ who ‘verballed’ him, as he claimed on The Project,” Badham tells Guardian Australia.

“Without me there, he gets to paint me as some kind of indefensible folk villain: his followers are dogwhistled towards the demon he’s created out of me and the attack is predictably inhuman.

“Over the past two days I’ve been told hundreds of times that I’m fat, stupid, a retard, that I’m unfuckable, I’m a liar, a fraud, I’m mentally ill, I should be sent to a psychiatrist, I must be childless, I should be sterilised, I’m a bitch who should have her face smashed in.”

In response, she has taken to Facebook to demonstrate how the reactions of both Price and online trolls have simply worked to highlight the very active negative cultural attitudes to women, which formed the basis of the original Q&A discussion.

Watch Badham’s call for cultural change below:

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