Role model

“Troll slayer” Mary Beard issues an undeniable battle cry

With inimitable style, Cambridge classics professor Mary Beard applies her brilliance and wry humor to vanquishing sexist online abusers

“The only real elegance is in the mind,” said celebrated style arbiter and long-time Vogue editor Diana Vreeland. “If you’ve got that, the rest really comes from it.” A case in point is classicist Mary Beard, whose utterly winning combination of wit and wisdom yielded a prominent feature in the New York Times Fashion & Style section on the weekend — an unassailable riposte to her detractors, who have made a sport over the years of trolling the eminent scholar on her appearance.

Beard — a professor at the University of Cambridge and the author of more than 10 books on the classics and classical era — was interviewed by the Times after a spirited appearance at the Women in the World New York Summit, in which she had deftly drawn a line a line between misogyny in the ancient world and the internet trolls of today. “The gloomiest way of describing the ancient world is it is misogyny from A to Z, really,” she said, adding that “we have never escaped a certain male cultural desire for women’s silence.”

Mary Beard.

“A bit of outrage is good” … Classics professor and ‘troll slayer’ Mary Beard.

For Beard, the abuse began when her scholarly expertise led to regular TV appearances — spewing forth from television critics who should have known better and vicious, cowardly internet trolls. “When you look at me on the telly, and say she should be on The Undateables,” Beard told the packed house at the David H. Koch Theater, “you are looking at a 59-year-old woman. That is what 59-year-old women who have not had work done look like. Get it?”

Beard’s statement amounted to a “battle cry” in the face of misogyny, and vindication to be oneself at any age, commented Women in the World founder and CEO Tina Brown. Now 61, Beard finds herself increasingly asked to speak not only about her longstanding area of scholarship, but also her more recent role as a “troll slayer,” (as the New Yorker dubbed her.) And although she did not set out to be an expert and speaker on internet trolling, she is “making the best of it,” Beard said of her fearless engagement with online harassers.

The Times portrait goes on to reveal some unexpected details about Beard’s passion for fashion, including a fulsome endorsement from adoring friend, designer Manolo Blahnik. “She’s one of my favorite people in England,” Blahnik told the Times. “And she’s such a ’60s girl! She’s still faithful to the hairstyle. It’s like Jean Shrimpton, and those girls in the King’s Road. But the Cambridge version.”

Classics scholar and "troll slayer" Mary Beard onstage at the 7th Annual Women In The World New York Summit on April 7, 2016. (Jemal Countess/Getty Images)

Classics scholar and “troll slayer” Mary Beard onstage at the 7th Annual Women In The World New York Summit on April 7, 2016. (Jemal Countess/Getty Images)

Perhaps the most notable aspect of her personal style, though, is Beard’s indefatigable good humor while vanquishing her foes. “This is exactly what we need more of in American feminism: wry humor,” said Brown. “The outrage meter is getting out of control.”

“A bit of outrage is good, but having your only rhetorical register as outrage is always going to be unsuccessful,” according to Beard. “Sometimes, some of the things that sexist men do just deserve to be laughed at.”

Read the full interview at The New York Times.

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