I put the phone down and closed my eyes, trying to step away from the storm brewing in my teacup of a world. Trying to block out the noise. I was lying under a tree in Richmond Park, south-west London, and had been looking forward to a quiet few hours on a Tour de France rest day.
But my head was anything but quiet. We were only three days into the biggest bike race in the world, and already, social media opinion on what I was choosing to wear in our daily live studio coverage was pinging across my timeline.
“What the f*** is she wearing? If this is woke TV you can keep it,” went the start of one tweet. Another called out the “inappropriate clothing” on this “awful loud woman”.
Those who pay attention to this kind of social media abuse will notice that a woman with what’s perceived to be the wrong tone of voice is a particularly offensive combination. The fact this correspondent tagged me in the post showed he knew exactly who the woman in question was, but decided my gender was worth noting all the same.
Usually, I ignore the tweets and social media posts that come my way complaining about my looks, clothing or accent. An exponentially thickening skin is necessary in this job.
Every now and again, though, I feel a responsibility to call it out. If you’re lucky enough to live in a bubble where people no longer feel threatened by women doing jobs traditionally locked out in favour of men, you can be lured into thinking the world is a lot more equal than it is.
Things have changed, of course, but don’t be fooled. As someone who’s exposed to the bias and toxic prejudice of the wider public more than most, I see first-hand how much work is still to be done before we can all chill in the equality lounge.
As, mercifully, is always the case, the support coming back to me was overwhelming. But among the well-wishers are those who suggest, every time, that I should ‘rise above’ the criticism. Take no notice, they say. You’re better than that. I appreciate the shout of faith, but there is a fundamental problem with suggesting a woman should simply absorb any toxic sexism that comes her way.
I am not responsible for the words of others. Women are not responsible for what is said or done to them. That burden lies squarely on the shoulders of those who do the shouting, those who commit the actions.
The obligatory PS to any tweets of this kind are that I don’t deserve to be doing my job, that I have somehow robbed some poor man of the opportunity to work as hard as I do and to sacrifice all the time away from the family to put themselves in the line of fire.
I don’t need to justify my credentials to be doing this job, but I will. I’ve been a journalist for two decades, working in sport for half of that. I’ve covered the last 12 Tours de France and have more hours of live TV experience than trolls have opinions.
The fact that Eurosport back my right to choose what I want to wear does, at least, give me a lot of hope for the future. Which brings me to the crux of it all. Why do I dress the way I do on TV? Because I want to? Because I can? Well yes, but more importantly, because I want other women like me to watch sport and know there is a place for them in it.
Because I want to show that women can be intelligent and passionate about racing or match results, and still want to rock a high heel and sock. Because I’ve suffered postnatal depression and I want other mums to know you can reclaim your identity, which many of us do through clothing, and still be a good mother.
Because clothing is a powerful weapon of subversiveness, of societal disruption. If it makes you feel uncomfortable, perhaps you need to look at what role you think women serve. We are not here to dress as you wish. We are not here to act, speak or think as anyone else may wish.
We are not here for you. I dress the way I do on TV for me, for women like me, and for girls who want to keep their personalities into adulthood without having it ssshh’ed out of them by those who think they should fit into socially constructed boxes. Sorry lads, I’m doing it for us. But also, I’m doing it for all the guys who get it too. And thankfully, there are enough of you out there to give me hope things are actually changing for the good.
Follow Orla on social media @SportsOrla
My family coming to visit during the Tour de France. I’ve been covering the race for Eurosport from our studios in London. With the women’s race, the Tour de France Femmes, following immediately after the men’s, I’ll be away from home for four-and-a-half weeks. My husband, kids and mum are taking a week to come stay with me so we can all break up the time apart, and I simply cannot wait.
Tell Me Your Lies by Kate Ruby. I love a psychological thriller and always pick up a new one when I’m passing through the airport. I like to take my brain somewhere else entirely when my head is rammed with work and this is the perfect escape.