A couple of months back I wrote a piece here titled Always Read the Comments, about how ignoring comments sections for a writer means missing out on a lot of potentially constructive feedback amidst the usual slew of malformed trolling and hate. One of the most beneficial comments I actually got on that piece myself was that this was terrible advice for women in the media. This had not occurred to me while writing it because, well, being a man, it’s a problem I don’t often have to deal with. I think that’s called privilege.
A while later Amanda Hess published an enlightening, albeit disheartening, piece on Pacific Standard about her years of being harassed online through rape threats and gender-specific insults.
But no matter how hard we attempt to ignore it, this type of gendered harassment—and the sheer volume of it—has severe implications for women’s status on the Internet. Threats of rape, death, and stalking can overpower our emotional bandwidth, take up our time, and cost us money through legal fees, online protection services, and missed wages. I’ve spent countless hours over the past four years logging the online activity of one particularly committed cyberstalker, just in case. And as the Internet becomes increasingly central to the human experience, the ability of women to live and work freely online will be shaped, and too often limited, by the technology companies that host these threats, the constellation of local and federal law enforcement officers who investigate them, and the popular commentators who dismiss them—all arenas that remain dominated by men, many of whom have little personal understanding of what women face online every day.
Recently another woman who faces this sort of harassment online has shared her experience. Lindsay Bottos, an art student in Baltimore, has begun publishing the anonymous comments she gets on her Tumblr page, along with the same selfies that inspired the hateful comments in the first place.
The results are as bad as you might imagine, but made all the worse by their commonality.
While I’ve certainly been told I’m an idiot and a piece of shit and a horrible person many, many (many) times, it’s never with quite the perverted glee and real-seeming misogyny that women like this face on a regular basis. When someone disagrees with a man online, they simply tell him he’s stupid. That’s easy enough to deal with, and to be clear, a lot of times we deserve it. But when it’s a woman there’s often an underlying threat implied that lends the interaction the potential to spill over into real life violence. No one deserves that.