Men Call Me Things
If you use Twitter, you have probably seen the hashtag #mencallmethings coming up in your feed over the last week or two. If you don’t use Twitter, and talk of hastags and feeds causes your eyes to glaze over, then what I’m referring to is the world-wide discussion taking place about the verbal and written misogynistic abuse that women face, particularly as a result of expressing themselves online.
There have already been many articles and blog posts written about the #mencallmethings discussion, but I was particularly interested in gathering some stories from Australian women.
When I asked, via the Meanjin Twitter account, if anyone had any stories or experiences they’d like to share, several people replied, both publicly and privately, and graciously agreed to contribute to this post. Some of them asked to remain anonymous, and a few later decided they’d prefer not to be involved after all, wary of provoking further abuse.
Below is a selection of stories that were sent to me. I want to thank everyone who got in touch, whether or not your story appears below.
— Zora Sanders
My name is Kath and I’m a fat activist and feminist. I have been blogging now both personally and in a professional capacity for about 5 years. As my online presence has grown with my activism, so has the amount of trolling and abuse I have been subjected to. There has always been abuse for being a woman with an opinion—forums, message boards, mailing lists, comment threads are all rife with trolls and haters who feel the need to tear women with opinions down simply because they are, well, women with opinion. There is a distinct difference between disagreeing with someone, and trolling or abusing them. The minute it gets personal, and the attacks become ad hominem, you know that line has been crossed.
Over the past couple of years, as I have made a name for myself not only in Australia but around the world as a passionate feminist and fat activist, the abuse has taken a more sinister turn. I have been threatened with rape and murder, I’ve been called the most horrific names, and I’ve had my appearance and weight used as abuse to be hurled at me, no matter what I write. Sometimes I’m tempted to change the name of my blog to ‘Ugly Fat Cunt’, since that is how I am most regularly identified. I have also had people write to and call my workplace (usually anonymously) and use my name, workplace phone number and email address to sign me up to every gym, weight loss service, obesity clinic and diabetes/heart clinic in Brisbane, which wasted both my time and that of the businesses and organisations that contacted me in good faith.
The usual response to complaints of trolling and abuse online is ‘Don’t feed the trolls’, ie don’t respond to them or pay them any attention and they’ll go away. They don’t. They’re still there, no matter what you do. But not feeding the trolls creates a culture of silence, where women feel that they are alone in the abuse they are suffering. Only by exposing it can we beat it.
—Kath Read, Fat Heffalump
I was the sole content editor of a mountaineering website for several years. I ran the site with my husband—he moderated the forum and took care of some of the technical aspects of the site. I did the bulk of the work on the site, mostly content production, and posted often on the forum, whether to promote new content that had been published, put out calls for new content, or to contribute to and start discussions.
I was regularly insulted on the forum—I was once told I needed a bitch slapping after I stood up to a guy who insulted me. I was regularly told I was a ‘crap climber’ and a ‘desk jockey whose talk was cheap’, meaning that I didn’t climb hard enough to be allowed to have opinions on climbing. When I stuck up for myself or for other women climbers, I was accused of ‘publicly denigrating’ my attacker and received comments such as: ‘I’m gonna call it as I see it. Stop playing the victim. Quit acting like we’re all mean men trying to bring you down.’
My husband and I shut the site down in July this year after enduring a two-year hate campaign that had been waged against both of us (but especially me) via email, another rock climbing website and a climbing blog, which were both run or dominated by men. This hate campaign saw both my husband and I, and my husband’s business, being routinely ridiculed and slandered. We don’t have the money to go after our online attackers for defamation, but I kind of wish I could.
When we shut down our website, I also shut down my Facebook account and my freelance writing website to remove myself from the Internet as much as possible. As a result of shutting down these sites I have lost the online record of around eight years of my published writing and editing work, which hurts. I was proud of my online CV and the website I worked so hard at.
Like many of the women who have commented on Twitter, the consensus among the men who insulted and slandered me is that they’re just ‘stirring’ and ‘poking light-hearted fun’. But when I stick up for myself, I am ‘going postal with baseless allegations aimed at destroying their (the men’s) social standing’.
All of the men who have attacked my husband and I are adults. Most are professionals in their 30s. One is even in his late 40s. Some have wives and kids.
I have to acknowledge that one of the people who consistently attacked me was a woman. She did this by spreading lies about me both online and in real life, to poison other people against me. She was quite successful. She even took it so far as to email my own husband and lie to him about me, accusing me of having insulted her friends. I think being attacked by another woman can be more painful than being attacked by men. I would like to think women would take the ‘we’re all in this together approach’ and have each other’s backs. But sadly, this is so often not the case. Not only did this woman stand back silently while the men insulted me, she also joined in.
I feel better knowing I am not alone and seeing that other women are going through this too and fighting back.
My blog The Chook House is a literary blog and so probably doesn’t attract the kind of abuse being mentioned. Weirdly though people will stumble upon your blog who have not sought it out and who have got there through searches quite unrelated. That’s not always a bad thing. Being called The Chook House sees people with an interest in the feathered type end up here, but I guess they are quick to find their way out of the coop.
Early on in the blog I wrote a lot about my father’s demise from dementia and penile cancer. It was pretty gruesome and not being one to shy away from grotesqueness I was blunt and open in my descriptions of what he went through. The mention of the word ‘penis’ probably didn’t help me get the literary types I was hoping to attract and maybe I ended up with all that spam advertising Viagra because of my frequent mentioning of male genitalia. I just deleted it.
As far as the abuse suffered by female bloggers—it hasn’t come my way. When I think about the blogs I follow—they are nearly all written by women. It seems a wonderfully engaged and connected community. I would never comment in a mean way on someone’s blog and likewise only receive supportive comments on my blog- mainly from people I know. When you blog you are writing a diary to the whole world, but of course, as you write, you seem easily to forget this, and it is like writing to a penpal, a real and concrete friend. Those are the blogs that read the best to me.
—Nicole Lobry de Bruyn, The Chook House
I’ve been pretty lucky in my four and a half years of blogging. There has been the odd sexist comment, but not many. There was one more disturbing incident, where a man began leaving cryptic comments, which then became more critical. At first I though he was perhaps a bit mentally ill (the comments were quite odd, drug-fuelled?) and I tried to reply, when I understood them or if I deemed a criticism worthy. He started to talk about how he emulated certain violent movie characters, came back to comment several times on issues not relating to the immediate blog post and haunted the rest of the blog. Then, when he didn’t agree with one review, he let loose the personal insults. I decided to block his comments, as they were becoming abusive. From here, he flooded my inbox with emails. I had to block his email, and block him from the blog, Twitter and Facebook. I have to admit, when I think about it I feel very anxious. Some people I know have had much worse experiences. It really just makes you feel upset that there are some very bored and angry people out there who seem to enjoy this kind of trolling.
The commenter really does still give me a chill. I still feel like he might show up at something one day, but then again, these people are often much braver when they have a screen to shield them.
Most of my experiences through blogging have been quite positive. However I have encountered some malicious behaviour. This usually comes in the form of personal emails sent to me. I find it interesting that many of the things I get sent via email aren’t posted online as comments. I write about a range of subjects on my blog, but some of the recurring ones are feminism and the Holocaust. Some of the most vicious emails I’ve gotten, sometimes repeatedly from the same individuals, have concerned these two subjects. I’d like to point out that most these emails have been from men. I’ve been called a bitch, stupid, man-hating and pretentious for daring to raise the subject of feminism on my blog. Similarly, my posts on the Holocaust have been met by some pretty disturbing anti-Semitic emails from Holocaust deniers and others who are simply racist and prejudiced.
One of the most striking things for me about the general tone of these emails is the assumption that it’s somehow acceptable to physically threaten and crudely insult women when they have a strong voice and dare to share it online. I have male friends who blog about some pretty serious issues themselves, and they haven’t received such nasty emails. Most of the time, I don’t talk about such emails publicly. But recently I’ve started to respond to them on my blog through what I hope to be mature discussion that bypasses the call to silence of these emails. I think one of the functions of such emails is to keep women in silence, or even to infantilise them by suggesting they should only blog about light-hearted topics. Even the less threatening (though, still critical) emails I’ve gotten suggest that it’s somehow okay for a man to send a women an email ‘correcting’ her on her own subjective interpretation of a piece of art, film or book. Like I said, this doesn’t happen to my male friends. Ironically, the personal attacks I’ve received have convinced me of the need to talk about such issues, despite the demoralising affect they sometimes have on me personally.
—Hila Shachar, le project d’amour
- Alien Onion
- Ampersand Duck
- Andrew McDonald
- A Pair of Ragged Claws
- Arts Victoria
- Australia Council for the Arts
- Bookshow blog
- City of Tongues
- darkly wise, rudely great
- David Astle
- Dorothy Johnston
- Elmo Keep Does Stuff
- The Ember
- Going Down Swinging
- Griffith Review
- Killings blog
- Lorraine Crescent
- Lynden Barber
- Mandy Ord
- Marcus Westbury
- Melbourne University Publishing
- Mel Campbell
- The Monthly
- Musings of an Inappropriate Woman
- Oslo Davis
- Paul Callaghan
- Read, Think, Write
- Right Now
- Sleepers Publishing
- Sorrow at Sills Bend
- The Stella Prize
- Tom Cho
- Wheeler Centre
17 Nov 11 at 15:02
I write an activist, feminist, blog. The main consequence for me has been ‘in real life’, where people in comparatively powerful positions—men and women—have said unkind/cruel/untrue things about me as a result of what I’ve written. Others have told me what has been said, to explain why behaviour towards me has changed and why some doors have closed. Abuse towards women, on- and off-line, is real and it’s painful and I think it’s important to acknowledge that women can be abusive too, often subtly than men and to develop strategies for dealing with the pain. If I’m tempted to feel sorry for myself I watch Vanessa Redgrave’s 1978 Oscar speech: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IAcOsK9gRLk or a recent interview where she talks about the role of artists in society http://www.youtube.com/embed/hBALyt8VAhY. And/or have fun with a friend. Many thanks to those who’ve posted about this problem here (& elsewhere) because it’s an important and necessary ‘coming out’ I think, and all strength to all of you!...
17 Nov 11 at 15:24
Firstly, and most importantly, thank you to the contributors here. These experiences, some obviously still quite painful, are really worth sharing so that misogynist abuse online can be discussed properly.
Reading web comments can be a heart sickening experience, as some see abuse as far more potent than argument. Except in terms of damage, that is exactly wrong. As one of the contributors pointed out, it is not just men that indulge in this type of behaviour but my sense is that men make up the majority of commenters whose descension into abusive remarks about weight, looks and sexuality marks them out as not only possessing misogynist attitudes, but as lacking a fundamental inability to argue their own case. Under the bile, they might have a point, but you would never know because of the vile carapace that surrounds their web character.
As a small means to combat this, I suggest that we devise our own version of Godwin’s law, Germaine’s Law perhaps, that says when abusive comments are made about a woman online based on who she is, what she looks like or who she shares a bed with, the conversation is over. This won’t stop abuse, no, but it needs to be named and, eventually, shamed....
17 Nov 11 at 17:12
I agree that there needs to be both naming and shaming, and I am ashamed that this crap comes mainly from my fellow men. Having experienced a life with strong, corageous women, and having shared this world with them, the very least I can try and do is to call out the misogyny of others, and to be active and out there in being pro-Feminist....
18 Nov 11 at 4:44
My brother and I have had an on-going discussion since the early days of the internet about whether the consequence-free environment of the anonymous internet creates horrible behavior or whether we’re just surrounded by people who are generally colossal assholes, but are too concerned by potential retaliation of various sorts to behave that way in person. It used to seem possible that the lack of face-to-face interaction heightened the cruelty, people not understanding the effects of their words. This post would seem to indicate the opposite: the words are chose specifically to cause harm.
I’m glad that women writers are unifying to bring this horrible behavior to light, though it seems to confirm the more troubling possibility that a sizable percentage of the male population harbors intense loathing and feelings of inadequacy directed at women, especially those who unapologetically voice their opinions or publish their art or generally have some profile online.
Please, keep publishing articles like this, remain brave, don’t let them silence you. I know those words seem trite, but for what it’s worth, I think the effort is important....
29 Dec 11 at 23:32
But you know what is worse. When someone criticises your writing or work when they are really just finding a veiled way to express their hatred towards you. They are hitting you where it hurts by trying to undermine your reputation and career but it is not obvious to anyone who doesn’t know their history of hatred. And sometimes they can influence people not to buy your book or to see your writing in a certain way. I am getting better at detaching myself from hatred that is expressed towards me and about me but it bites sometimes. The internet is such a double-edged sword....