By Caitlin Kelly
Have you read this long and thoughtful piece from Pacific Standard, an American magazine, by Amanda Hess about women bloggers being harassed, threatened and vilified?
The examples are too numerous to recount, but like any good journalist, I keep a running file documenting the most deranged cases. There was the local cable viewer who hunted down my email address after a television appearance to tell me I was “the ugliest woman he had ever seen.” And the group of visitors to a “men’s rights” site who pored over photographs of me and a prominent feminist activist, then discussed how they’d “spend the night with” us. (“Put em both in a gimp mask and tied to each other 69 so the bitches can’t talk or move and go round the world, any old port in a storm, any old hole,” one decided.) And the anonymous commenter who weighed in on one of my articles: “Amanda, I’ll fucking rape you. How does that feel?”
None of this makes me exceptional. It just makes me a woman with an Internet connection. Here’s just a sampling of the noxious online commentary directed at other women in recent years. To Alyssa Royse, a sex and relationships blogger, for saying that she hated The Dark Knight: “you are clearly retarded, i hope someone shoots then rapes you.” To Kathy Sierra, a technology writer, for blogging about software, coding, and design: “i hope someone slits your throat and cums down your gob.” To Lindy West, a writer at the women’s website Jezebel, for critiquing a comedian’s rape joke: “I just want to rape her with a traffic cone.” To Rebecca Watson, an atheist commentator, for blogging about sexism in the skeptic community: “If I lived in Boston I’d put a bullet in your brain.” To Catherine Mayer, a journalist at Time magazine, for no particular reason: “A BOMB HAS BEEN PLACED OUTSIDE YOUR HOME. IT WILL GO OFF AT EXACTLY 10:47 PM ON A TIMER AND TRIGGER DESTROYING EVERYTHING.”
Here’s a response from a female writer, in the progressive magazine Mother Jones:
She’s done exhaustive reporting on the failures of law enforcement at all levels to comprehend, let alone address, the emotional, professional, and financial toll of misogynistic online intimidation. She’s called local police, 911, and the FBI on a number of occasions when she feared for her safety IRL; law enforcement officials have recommended to her and other women that they stop wasting time on social media. One Palm Springs police officer responding to her call, she recounts, “anchored his hands on his belt, looked me in the eye, and said, ‘What is Twitter?’” “When authorities treat the Internet as a fantasyland,” she writes, “it has profound effects on the investigation and prosecution of online threats.”
It’s a painful read, but Hess’s piece should be required reading for anyone with an Internet connection. And check out this excellent response by Conor Friedersdorf at the Atlantic (a “6-foot-2, 195-pound man”), who recalls guest-blogging for a female colleague there who was on vacation. “I’d never been exposed to anything like it before,” he recalls.
I’ve fled a public space on the Internet — Open Salon — years ago after a really frightening experience there; my last post there is May 2012.
It’s a space — unlike some others on-line — that attracts some terrific writers but also some really weird, creepy people with a shitload of anger and animosity. I blogged there a lot for a few years, and usually cross-posted from this blog to that one. But what worked here just fine, there sometimes prompted some crazy-ass responses.
It got really ugly at one point, with dozens of commenters piling on to vilify me, mocking my resume (wtf?) and eventually escalating to the man who told me that he would physically hurt me if I continued there.
That was it for me.
I went to my local police station — I live in a small town north of New York City. The cop stood above me, barely listening, clearly dubious. Some woman whining about the Internet? Really?
Only when (too ironic) I started brandishing my legacy-media dead-tree credentials — 20+ years writing for The New York Times — did he start to pay closer attention. I also knew, (from a friend also posting at OS), that the man threatening me lived in Florida.
I wanted to be sure he lived very very far away from me, so his threats were highly unlikely to come to fruition.
I also know a District Attorney and have some knowledge of the law. I pushed hard and the cops finally did determine that yes, my harasser lives in Florida but — so far — had no criminal record. I also pushed hard, repeatedly, to get the guy removed from OS and, finally, management there did so.
I haven’t been back since.
Having been, in 1998, the real-world victim of a con man, a convicted felon, I have no illusions that the world is filled with unicorns and rainbows, nor that law enforcement gives a shit about how absolutely terrifying it is for a woman to be threatened and/or pursued by a malefactor determined to do us physical, emotional and reputational harm.
So women have to figure this out for themselves.
Interestingly, very few trolls find their way to Broadside.
I have very strong opinions on volatile issues like gun use, abortion, women’s rights and more, but rarely express them — for the reasons stated above.
I have no time or energy to fight with trolls or to keep running to the cops for help.
And, yes, it’s very much self-censorship.
Ironic, in a medium designed for the maximum freedom of expression.
Have you or other women bloggers been harassed in this fashion?