When I write film reviews, lovely geeky nerds discuss my ideas, adding their own opinions to the thread and we have a lovely old time. When I post articles about food, or recipes and even veganism, the internet respectfully disagrees with my personal hatred of tofu and we all have a lovely old time.
But for some reason, whenever I write about feminism, or tweet to a hashtag related to feminism or gender issues, the trolls stir. They come out from under their bridges and we don’t have the same-old lovely time. When I talk about feminism, the Internet wants to shut me up. This negativity increased when I started blogging for the Huffington Post where my work is visible to many more readers.
Here’s an example. Last week I wrote about the LinkedIn ‘compliment’ debacle and was promptly told I didn’t understand sexism, labelled a ‘feminazi’ along with pretty much any other woman who commented Charlotte Proudman’s defence as well as receiving ironic jibes like this:
On Wednesday I tweeted to the trending hashtag #MasculinitySoFragile
which points out; ways in which masculinity restricts men, encourages damaging attitudes and behaviour, how easily men can feel their masculinity is threatened and how media reinforces these stereotypes which constrain men. But, obviously, the finer details of this hashtag were lost on some:
(I never claimed to know what it’s like to be a man, only to know what it’s like to be a woman, harassed often by men who appear to be struggling under the crippling weight of their unstable and socially constructed masculinity…but that was well over 140 characters).
(That last one is just bizarre…)
These are only recent examples of the irritation that feminism (the old ‘equal rights for men and women’ bandwagon *yawns sarcastically*) causes some people. Many feminists (most notably, women) have received much more graphic abuse. Last year, journalist Caroline CriadoPerez wrote about the torrents of violent, graphic abuse she received from ‘trolls’ online, that Twitter actually enables.
And, after taking a stand against Sheffield United’s potential re-signing of convicted rapist Ched Evans last year, Olympic heptathlete Champion Jessica Ennis-Hillreceived rape threats online whilst she was pregnant.
Even when Twitter users the world over discussed toxicity of constructed masculinity, through the afore-mentioned #MasulinitySoFragile, the responses from anti-feminists were misogynistic and violent as pictured below:
(Missing AND proving the point of the hashtag simultaneously – well done!)
(Ooh, ouch. Now maybe they STILL won’t go out with you).
(The hashtag is trying to ADVOCATE for those men too…come on).
A lot of the women being abused were advocating for men; exposing the external social pressures put on men to behave in a stereotypically ‘masculine’ way, or specifically challenging the actions of people who behave misogynistically. When I wrote about Charlotte Proudman’s response to unprofessional sexism, many people exclaimed rhetorically, ‘what world are we living in when you can’t even compliment a woman?’ – before promptly insulting many women who were speaking up about sexism in the workplace… And when a pregnant Jessica Ennis-Hill used her status as a sporting star to advocate for the respect of survivors of sexual abuse, she was threatened with that same abuse.
So, far from sexism not existing or feminism being ‘crazy’, it would appear that from these limited examples of oppressive responses to feminism, the Internet doesn’t want people to even talk about gender inequality. Especially not women.
Personally, I block most of the users who abuse, threaten or harass me and other feminists. As an activist and writer, I produce work that (I hope) opens people’s minds to considering another way of being – a way of acceptance, not hate. I’ll spend a few hours or days crafting a piece of work that I’m proud of, submit it to my blog or the Huffington Post, where fellow feminists and others can read it and respond kindly, often challenging me, in a respectful and productive way.
But then some cartoon AVI’d self-defining ‘meninist’ can roll in with an unironic ‘#FeministsAreUgly’ emblazoned bio. “Following: 14,000, followers: 47” – you’ve seen them. I imagine they’re the kind of people who love page 3 but would scold a publicly breast-feeding mother, or perhaps they’d describe Nigel Farage as ‘alright’. They’ll call me ‘sexist’ or ‘ugly’ or some other derogatory, uninformed or irrelevant insult, possibly before they’ve finished reading the headline of my article. They’ll lay in wait, cruising the #everydaysexism thread for users (mostly with ‘feminist’ in their bio) to bother or harass. They don’t care enough about your argument, or their own, to actually do anything about it, but in one poxy comment a ‘troll’ can (try to) poke a hole through your politics and, in turn your confidence. To put it simply: don’t let them.
(And if you’re poised, typing, “just don’t go on Twitter, idiot”, I must ask, why? Why should I opt out of an outlet where I can discuss issues of gender inequality, mine and others’ experiences of sexism and harassment just because some idiot with an iPhone and more free-time than sense decides that my feminist politics annoys them?)
Internet trolls are afforded a level of anonymity that other users are not – I am held accountable to my opinions because I base them in fact, and reasonable opinion. But when you base your opinion on little more than biased ignorance, you are accountable to nothing – because there’s nothing of substance to account for.
So, forgive me Internet ‘Trolls’, but I really don’t want to talk to you or allow you to abuse me.
It’s not that you’re not entitled to your opinion. We all are. The great thing about our modern age is that everybody is afforded an online platform for their views. Nowadays, anyone can stand atop a virtual soapbox and pontificate digitally. Sadly, this does mean that a lot of people who don’t put much thought or care into their armchair-views and opinions can also sit there; phone in one hand, probably a pipe of Pringles stuck on the other, spewing ill-thought-out and often plain-old mean rubbish into the timelines of others.
Trolls, you are allowed your opinions and nothing is stopping you from voicing them. Hell, you’re allowed to comment on my opinions in this post, for I have put them out there to be engaged with. But here’s the important bit: just having an opinion doesn’t make it valid. What makes it valid is whether it’s based in fact or ignorance and, if it’s the latter, I’m sorry to tell you that you’re probably an idiot and you’re probably going to get blocked.
But of course, that’s just my opinion, and you’re free to acknowledge or discount it accordingly.
This article was originally published on by The Huffington Post UK on 24th September 2015 and is view-able here.