Every time the issue of feminism comes up in a blog post somewhere online, a number of misogynist trolls will soon show up. You could probably bet good money on their swift appearance—crawling out from whatever cave it is they live in. You also get the regular misogyny-apologist who usually is someone who simply don’t understand—or is willing to understand—that there is a problem with the way women are treated in today’s society. Even if progress has been made, we’re not there yet.
But that’s not all. As if this isn’t bad enough, when women speak out their opinion on any matter in the public media, these trolls may take it a step further and email threats to them; threats of rape and violence. This article from the Guardian talks about these kinds of threatening emails and letters. I was made aware of this article through a re-tweet by @rebeccawatson who herself has received numerous threats after she spoke about the elevator incident. She has received messages containing things like: “honestly, and i mean HONESTLY.. you deserve to be raped and tortured and killed.” —I can’t see how anyone should deserve that, let alone Rebecca Watson; and over this?
The article in the Guardian starts:
Crude insults, aggressive threats and unstinting ridicule: it’s business as usual in the world of website news commentary – at least for the women who regularly contribute to the national debate.
Laurie Penny, a columnist for the Guardian, has decided to reveal the abuse she’s receiving as a result of her writing. She points out that this behaviour is nothing new—it has been going on since the 18th century—but with the arrival of the internet this form of bullying has become much more frequent.
Is there a solution to this problem? Services like Facebook, and its integration into numerous websites as a tool for commenting and discussions, has certainly reduced the level of anonymity on many such comments. The marketing director of Facebook, Randi Zuckerberg, has stated:
I think anonymity on the Internet has to go away… People behave a lot better when they have their real names down. … I think people hide behind anonymity and they feel like they can say whatever they want behind closed doors.
While I don’t think Facebook is the right service to “police” the internet, websites that use Facebook-comments observe a significant reduction in trolling behaviour.
Also, earlier this fall, a Canadian man was arrested for making numerous threats to a number of people online; including PZ Myers, author of the blog Pharyngula. It seems authorities are becoming aware of this problem—and taking appropriate actions against some of the worst of the lot.
But back to the article in the Guardian: When the target is women, the threats—from men—tend to be sexual in nature. They often threaten with rape. Susie Orbach is quoted in the article, saying:
The threat of sexual violence is a violence itself, it’s a complete violation and it’s meant to shut the people up. It’s hateful and it raises the question, what do these men, or the people who are doing this, find so threatening? Is it that they feel attacked in their own masculinity and therefore sexuality in this violent form becomes the way that they establish a means to cover up their fragility by bringing their own vulnerability onto these women?
Hopefully more people like Laurie Penny will stand up and speak out against this kind of internet bullying.