I tend to write from the worldview I have: I’m a white queer cis woman. I experience the world based on the perceptions I have of myself as this person, as well as how others treat me as a result of what they see. I have written about what its like being a female cyclist, and what it is like to have men explain things to me that I already know.
I continue to be told that I am wrong.
I get bullied and harassed on the street, but when I raise my voice to my aggressors to demand that I be treated as a human being rather than a piece of meat I am told to ‘grow up, stop being rude, learn how to be nice, damn bitch.’
People assume that when I take issue with my male students interrupting me to comment on my appearance that I must be hideously ugly, my female students must have been thinking it too, I must be uncomfortable about how I look, or that I must not know how to take a compliment. People find my picture and plaster it up on Twitter asking me what is wrong with me.
People assume that because I take issue with how society allows marginalized groups to be treated as subhuman, and that I must therefore be a man-hating, anti-capitalist, anti-heterosexual liberal creature who deserves to be shamed. Women experience this kind of shaming on unparalleled levels on the Internet. Often this shaming is not grounded in the merits of our opinions or feelings, but in our looks or our sexuality. In the very fact that we identify as women.
Maybe that is what gets me the most enraged. I, and other women with online presences, are made to stand up and answer for our opinions, and often asked for examples and citations for the claims we make about our experiences, with our bodies. What kind of crazy world is this? When a man like Scott Walker claims that transvaginal ultrasounds are a ‘cool thing’ to require pregnant women to undergo, I don’t see anyone standing up and asking him for citations beyond his own experience. Moreover I don’t see anyone shaming him about his body as a result of it. His opinions are heinous and vulgar and would guide him to requiring an extremely invasive procedure that is admittedly designed to manipulate women into keeping unwanted pregnancies, but there is no large internet presence telling him he’s got a limp dick and a balding head and to fuck off.
There are numerous in depth accounts of what it is like to be a woman on the Internet, vlogs, NPR coverage, op-eds, forums of support, and most major news outlets have had something to say about how harassment of women online goes beyond the pale. We repeat ourselves over and over again, we talk about how we feel threatened, we feel unsafe; we talk about how we grow numb to these threats, how they become another part of our lives like the violent background music of our day. Women move and change careers over these things, trying to move on and to forget the fear and pain inflicted by people with too much time, and too little empathy online. We cannot afford to forget that:
1. Women receive unsolicited sexually explicit content in chatrooms more than men
2. Women receive threats of violent abuse, include rape and death, for speaking up about the way they are treated on the internet
3. Law enforcement treat threats received on the internet with nonchalance and do not take threats of violence seriously
4. Social Media companies like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram have inadequate protections for women experiencing harassment
5. Dating services like Tinder and OKCupid have few effective measures to prevent sexual harassment and repeat offenders
6. Women are often shamed about their physical appearance and sexual value regardless of the subject matter of their postings
7. Women have their personal information including addresses and phone numbers posted online in order to intimidate them into silence
8. Women are more likely to be stalked online.
9. Women are more likely to be the victims of revenge porn, the posting and distribution of sexually explicit materials, salacious commentary, and personal information meant as a form of retaliation after a relationship has ended
10. Women are harassed online specifically because they are women. We are targeted as victims of hate crimes not because of simple disagreement or matters of opinion, but because of our gender expressions.
Being a black woman on the Internet or WOC in general combines ugly misogyny with vile racism. One contributor named Sydette noted some of the insane double standards that happen when people think you are a white man: “sometimes she’ll use a non-human image, hoping that racist trolls will be less prone to attack her over her racial justice or womanist views. Once, she used a photo of a white man in her profile photo and the harassing and racist tweets virtually stopped. As a white man, that was the most fun I had online in terms of actually getting to talk to people and not be insulted by them,” she said. “People thought I was wrong, people thought I was ridiculous but nobody thought I was stupid. I received fewer slurs and people were a lot more interested in my thought process than when I was anything else.”
Transwomen* also experience significant levels of hate speech and harassment on the Internet, including suicide threats, gendered comments, and derogatory slurs. They are mocked and demeaned for their non-conforming genders, experiencing harassment not only from misogynists determined to put them in their place as women, but from others who would effectively reduce and erase their experiences, gaslighting their stories and feelings by telling them they cannot claim ‘womanhood’.
It wasn’t until I started getting serious backlash from my Mansplaining article that I learned about ‘GamerGate’, ‘Sad Puppies’, and began experiencing the shocking (and often sad, and scary) realities of being a woman on the Internet. Author Lesley at XO Jane hit the nail on the head when she pointed out that “as more women discuss their experiences, and those experiences sound so similar, the response rarely includes an acknowledgement that this is a growing problem in need of a solution. Bafflingly, the loudest responses are often those that accuse said women of lying, usually at the same time as they employ the exact harassment they claim does not exist.”
When will the madness stop?
In the meantime, I suggest you don’t read the comments.