Trolling with the Homies (February 21, 2015)

This week I read Anne Thériault’s piece for the website Vice, Let’s Call Female Online Harassment What It Really Is: Terrorism. Thériault, a frequent speaker and writer on issues surrounding sexual assault and violence against women, discussed her personal experience with the “pile on” effect ye olde Internet unleashes upon female voices. Those who dare to have an articulate opinion on issues that have plagued our gender since we began walking upright. Maybe before then. Thériault’s story of prolonged psychological torture at the hands of misogynist Internet trolls is very familiar to any woman who earns her bread and her soul’s sustenance by the keystroke. She says of a response to a piece she wrote about rape culture:

“The first comment was a man saying that I deserved to be raped.

I wish I would tell you that this comment was some kind of anomaly, but of course it wasn’t. Rape threats, death threats, and general threats of violence populate my inbox, Twitter mentions, and blog comments. I’ve had people target my family—one popular tactic is to threaten to report me to Children’s Aid as an abusive parent.

What makes these incidents even worse is just how common they are, not only for me, but for any woman who speaks out or takes up space, especially on the Internet.”

I can certainly relate to Thériault’s familiarity with online harassment, though I am nowhere near as famous, nor do I have an immediate family endangered by it. There are unfortunately a plethora of vignettes I could offer, but I think one will suffice. In January 2013 I wrote a piece for PoliticusUSA entitled, Wayne LaPierre and NRA Directly Responsible for Ricin Letters to Gun Control Leaders. Admittedly the headline is incendiary. It was meant to be. The more nuanced arguments contained in the column are based upon well-informed frustration with radical gun owners and the violence they incite.

 

In response, an NRA fansite called The Truth About Guns plastered a big picture of my face on its blog, “The Daily Digest.” In the body of the post, they asked the philosophical question on everybody’s mind: “If someone is killed in a home invasion or raped because they can’t own the arms they need to protect themselves properly, can we haul the Becky and the other gun control lemmings in and treat them the same way?” There’s nothing like reasoned intellectual debate, is there?

 

And if you can stomach a lower denominator of discourse, please have a gander at the comments section. Allow me to share just a few brief highlights:

“‘That [manjaw] should be powdered with a Ball-Peen Hammer. Stupid, evil libtards.’ I’ll wager dollars against donuts that if someone assaulted her with a ball-peen hammer, she’d like to have a .45 cal ACP at hand.'”

“Her chin looks like a golf tee, for some reason.”

“And that isn’t even why I want to smack it with a five-iron.”

“Mrs. Doubtfire was more attractive, not to mention more intelligent.”

“Becky Sarwate is proof that for every stupid position, there’s a stupid ho to advocate for it.”

“[She should be] feeding raw chicken to starved alligators by hand.”

Have we had enough yet?

Frankly speaking, this bullshit is more upsetting for the people who love me. As for myself, I’ve developed a rather thick skin over the years and am well equipped to hum along as I go. In fact, the venom I encounter as a woman with a voice and unafraid to use it only encourages. It is precisely because of this demented, perverted groupthink and the way it’s driven smart, strong women into the shadows or out of their minds for centuries (or longer) that it’s imperative to take a stand.

I am 36 years-old, twice divorced with an autoimmune disease, alopecia and a sprained left ankle. I have survived cancer, bleeding joints as a toddler, having most of my teeth knocked out, a crushed lower vertebrae, the death of my best friend, jail and two concussions. And most harrowingly of all, I made it through a childhood and two parents with more addictions and mental illnesses that a full cell block of Oz inmates. I have reinvented myself more times than Madonna and have a thick candy shell to show for it – hard but sweet.

Really Internet pigs, you think I went through all of that just to run away from the computer because I’m scared of you? Let me tell you something. You don’t know me. You don’t know my sisters-in-arms, my fellow poetesses, authors, journalists, artists, dancers and thinkers. The mothers, wives and aunts who grow a little taller everytime they create something special out of your opposition.

The cause of turning the shame right back on the dudes (yes, yes #notallmen) who use fear and violence to try to silence us is furthered everytime a professional like Anne Thériault shines a spotlight on its pervasiveness. I’d like to try to make a small contribution with my own work. So I wrote this. And I’ll keep writing. Bring it bullies.

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