#mencallmethings In case you needed any more reminders of how far we have to go, Zora Sanders of Meanjin has this roundup of stories from people who have experienced online harassment.
Like many of the women who have commented on Twitter, the consensus among the men who insulted and slandered me is that they’re just ‘stirring’ and ‘poking light-hearted fun’. But when I stick up for myself, I am ‘going postal with baseless allegations aimed at destroying their (the men’s) social standing’.
All of the men who have attacked my husband and I are adults. Most are professionals in their 30s. One is even in his late 40s. Some have wives and kids.
One of the most striking things for me about the general tone of these emails is the assumption that it’s somehow acceptable to physically threaten and crudely insult women when they have a strong voice and dare to share it online. I have male friends who blog about some pretty serious issues themselves, and they haven’t received such nasty emails.
But also on a good note:
Most of the time, I don’t talk about such emails publicly. But recently I’ve started to respond to them on my blog through what I hope to be mature discussion that bypasses the call to silence of these emails.
Threat of the Day
About a week before #mencallmethings went viral, Alyssa Rosenburg introduced #threatoftheday in a similar move. It didn’t take off to the same extent its successor did, in part because it was subsumed by the more generalized tag.
Threats and hate speech aren’t as far apart as some people think. One need look no further than the recent example of Kyle Sandilands and his vitriol against a female critic:
What a fat bitter thing you are…. you’re a piece of shit.
Watch your mouth or I’ll hunt you down.
There’s a reason they call it “hate speech.”
Why “Don’t Feed the Trolls” Is Bad Advice
For years, the standard advice given to bullied kids was as follows: “Ignore them, and they’ll go away.”
As many a bullied kid could tell you, the advice rarely worked. It rarely worked because the well-meaning people who gave that advice did not understand why bullies bully.
It’s true that bullies look for “easy” targets, and that some of them would define an “easy” target as someone who showed emotion quickly when provoked.
But that’s not always the case. More often, a bully would define an “easy” target as someone who did not fight back. They would not face consequences for picking on these people.
And bullies would pick targets who they thought “deserved” abuse, regardless of whether or not they showed any reaction to abuse at all, because the internal reward for bullying is not a specific reaction, but rather the feeling of power they get when abusing others. They would choose targets who were they were taught deserved abuse—racial minorities, kids not conforming to gender roles, and kids with poorly-developed social or physical skills.
Between these two factors, it’s easy to see why “Just ignore them” didn’t work. Ignoring bullies didn’t make the abused kids less different from their fellows, and it didn’t result in any consequences for the bullies.
Only by fighting back—whether directly or through a system developed to protect bullied kids—actually stopped bullying.
As it turns out, kids and grown-ups aren’t that different when it comes to how they use power.
What’s the Big Deal? Types of Sexist Harassment Online
The hashtag #mencallmethings may be off the trending list, but it’s produced quite a few posts about the nature of harassment women face, including trends.
Let’s take a look at the Big 3, common to these three useful roundups of online abuse, in decreasing order of severity:
1) Actual violent threats
This is a no-brainer. But paradoxically, it tends to be the type of harassment least discussed, possibly because most people agree that not only is it not acceptable, it’s illegal. And only a complete fuckwit would do it in a way that can be traced back to them. Yet that can cause the actual prevalence of this behavior to be understated.
2) Just Plain Sexist Insults
Also called “hate speech” for the way it deliberately targets women (similar to how racist and homophobic hatespeech targets racial minorities and LGBT), this includes a large number of gender-specific or gender-related slurs: “slut,” “ugly,” “whore,” “cunt.” While not blatantly illegal, it is still classified as “hate speech” and has the same oppressive effects.
3) Accusations of hysteria/overreacting
Some people don’t think that this is particularly damaging, not compared to outright threats.
But in addition to being an accusation that is disproportionately targets women (how many times have you heard “hysteria” or “case of the vapours” applied to a man?), this one is especially insidious because its very presence legitimizes 1) and 2).
The line of reasoning is something like this: if women are just “overemotional” and “overreacting” then clearly their reactions to being threatened or called a “cunt” are also overreacting—and that therefore this behavior is acceptable.
So it enables and continues the cycle of silence and abuse.
First They Come For You, Then Your Friends
Another one from Lena Chen. This one’s about how she asks everyone who so much as likes her posts or leaves a supporting comment to post anonymously or pseudonymously, so they don’t suffer the terrifying threats she has. Because, apparently, people have been targeted for merely supporting her.
Enough is enough. This is not merely the consequences of a “heated debate” or “words said regretfully in anger.”
This is deliberate and pervasive.
It’s been less than a week since the debut of #MenCallMeThings, but it’s already getting attention from sources associated with the mainstream—op-ed and other. Here are some of the choicier bits:
Men call me things: it’s not as romantic as it sounds
‘Bitch’, ‘slut’, ‘whore’ and ‘love’ are commonly thrown towards women online, along with rape threats and deviant violence references, and are very rarely called out by the woman scorned or by the online community surrounding her and the ‘troll’. They’re given seemingly without consequence, and perpetuated by compliance. I’m often told by colleagues, friends and my partner all with the best of intentions (love you guys), not to worry about the abuse or to fight it or even to respond as “it’s just trolls” or “don’t feed the trolls”.
But you know, I can’t remember the last time I was on the bus, expressed an opinion and had a man pipe up that he was going to knock me off. Nor can I think of a time I’ve been in a cafe, reading a newspaper and commenting on the issues of the day, only to have a man in a mask jump out and tell me I’m a silly little girl that deserves to be raped.
This one’s going around from the Time:
Women who wrote about politics, religion, feminist issues and other hot-button topics reported some of the most over-the-top abuse such as threats of rape and murder, threats that were occasionally accompanied by the writer’s home address or other personal details. Yet even women who describe themselves as not particularly “high-profile” or who cover typically less controversial topics such as health, culture and society, detailed the insults they’ve endured. Neither the subject nor the website, it would seem, makes a difference in whether or not a woman writer will be the target for hateful speech
About “Warm Holes for Cocks” and Other Things Not to Call a Person
More from the creator of #mencallmethings. Sady Doyle rounds up a truly impressive collection of threats (all targeted right at HER) that leaves little room to imagine that yes, sexism is still here and just as vicious in cyberspace as it ever was in real life (before the Internet, there were landlines and the postal service, so don’t go thinking it’s somehow a modern invention)
Highlights (though you really gotta clickthrough if you want the full impact):
I will fuck your ass to death you filthy fucking whore. Your only worth on this planet is as a warm hole to stick my cock in
Sady Doyle is a stupid fucking whiny bitch
cumm guzzling closet lesbian
When this is all over, I think Julian Assange and Keith Olbermann will have earned every right to publicly rape Sady Doyle
A firm backhand to her whore face would provide her with a much needed attitude adjustment
“You’re an annoying bitch with no friends.I’d love to run you over with my truck,”
autistic bitch child
”i surely hope that one day you get raped by one of these people that you have gentrified
Shrieky hysterical moron with limited writing ability
your IQ has got to be below average. I’m dismissing you because you are irrational to the point of incompetence… it’s painfully obvious you’re a woman, get off the internet.”
This is a tiny, tiny slice of what’s revealed there, and I’m sure that THAT is a tiny slice of the harassment she’s received.
“You should have your tongue ripped out”: the reality of sexist abuse online
Another good collection from feminist bloggers all over.
Some highlights (bolded parts emphasized):
The sheer volume of sexist abuse thrown at female bloggers is the internet’s festering sore: if you talk to any woman who writes online, the chances are she will instantly be able to reel off a greatest hits of insults. But it’s very rarely spoken about, for both sound and unsound reasons.
Initially it was shocking: in the space of a week, I received a rabid email that included my home address, phone number and workplace address, included as a kind of threat. Then, after tweeting that I’d been waiting for a night bus for ages, someone replied that they hoped I’d get raped at the bus stop.
I am often told how my mouth would be put to better use giving fellatio or that I am uptight and sexually repressed, someone who could clearly benefit from a “regular seeing-to” and how my defence of conservative values stems from a deep-seated need to be anally penetrated. I am crying out for anal rape to be put in my place, preferably by an HIV-positive male who is not wearing a condom, in order to understand the iniquity of the Church’s teaching on contraception.
And a followup here:
When I started getting letters at my flat, I reported them to the police, but they advised me to stop writing provocative material. Eventually, I was sent an email directing me to a website advertising my services as a sex worker, with my address on the front page under the legend ‘fuck her till she screams, filth whore, rape me all night cut me open’, and some images of sexually mutilated women.
One commenter, called “PC Lightyear”, opined: “Nina seems quite pretty. After we disband the Police, let’s see pretty Nina walk through a sh1tty estate in say Elephant n Castle, Camberwell, Tottenham, Brixton, Lewisham, Wembley … and see how well her idea works out when the Gangstas decide they deserve to have her as a toy.”