Online Harassment and “Oversensitivity” (Trigger Warning for Threats)
This comic was inspired by a number of conversations I’ve had online.
Look, it’s not that men don’t get harassed or threatened. But for guys to go around stating that they’ve had people talk crap about them online too, and using that as the basis to declare that women are too thin-skinned and are overreacting to harassment and threats, is just overflowing with wrongness. Not to mention an utter lack of sympathy, and a profound ignorance of the very real epidemic of violence against women.
Trigger warning: the comic’s final panel includes graphic threats of rape and violence.
January 9, 2014 @ 2:44 pm
I feel like you’re missing a component here. This is good and it makes the point, but there’s another aspect in that, as you know I’m sure, these threats seem very real to women. We’re conditioned to see rape as a think that has a good chance of happening to us, and to think that there’s a good chance that some random dude does want to rape us. Because it’s true, statistically speaking.
Even if a straight cis dude got the same threats, or some of the same threats, the level of seriously they got taken would be very different, I think. The chances of someone actually perpetuating sexual violence against them is just so much lower, I don’t think dudes would take it as seriously.
All of which you know, but I feel like it’s a big aspect that the comic leaves out.
Jim C. Hines
January 9, 2014 @ 2:48 pm
It absolutely is. And I struggled for a while with this, trying to add a third panel that would have captured that aspect. There was a third panel with the guy writing about how you should just ignore the trolls, and the fourth was going to be … something. Statistics or charts, maybe. But I couldn’t make it work in the context of the comic.
ETA: I updated the wording at the beginning of the blog post, before the comic. It’s definitely not perfect, but do you think that addresses some of what you’re saying?
January 9, 2014 @ 3:50 pm
I have read a lot lately regarding the sorts of responses women get online. You and John Scalzi seem to post on issues that are relevant to fair treatment of women. I know that Scalzi gets a fair bit of flack from a certain population of people. When you post things of this nature, do you find that the level of vitriol reaches the same level represented in this comic?
I find myself self-censoring on the internet a great deal. I don’t always say what I think and I didn’t realise the large burden of fear that has kept me from saying things very loudly or broadly or with my name attached.
In other words, do you find that you receive similarly charged messages/threats as you might if you were saying the same things and were also a woman or a woman of color? Do you feel afraid also, or do they mostly insult your virility?
January 9, 2014 @ 3:54 pm
A few comments on both the blog and the comic and the comments so far.
1) I don’t see this type of threat stream (this level of vitriol) made against males or against Internet personas who are perceived to be male. Your panels make this point. This doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen. I would like to know if it does or if anyone has data on this?
2) I worked in Rape Prevention and Counseling. I would say that men are attacked. It’s not widely acknowledged or discussed but it definitely happens. Some men would trigger just as strongly. Just wanted to acknowledge that.
3) Threats of this type can be followed by physical action. For anyone to react with shock, horror and fear to these statements, would be appropriate I think. Unfortunately, it’s what the writers want. It’s also unfortunate that anyone would dismiss those reactions as somehow “thin-skinned”.
I suppose I would ask those who dismiss this as somehow a form of Internet “playground” rhetoric – what would you think if someone said any of this in person to you, to your mother, daughter, sister? Is any of it really “ok”?
I think the larger discussion is why or how blatant intimidation is an acceptable form of dialogue with an entire group. If “they” don’t like what you say (female, black, bi-, male, etc), “they” will threaten to kill you, torture you, and essentially terrorize you until you stop saying it. Or even what can be done about it… I often wonder if the Internet provides anonymity that allows people to do things from a distance they would never do face-to-face.
Jim C. Hines
January 9, 2014 @ 3:55 pm
I’ve never gotten anything remotely close to the level of hatred in the second panel.
The nastiest thing I ever got was an anonymous comment that said only, “I will rape you.” It’s the only rape threat I’ve ever gotten. The only threat period, actually.
As a commenter on LJ noted, when people do try to tear me down, they frequently do it by accusing or portraying me as feminine. Because apparently that’s a horrible insult to some folks. Which kind of supports the points I try to make. [Lion King Music]It’s the circle of misogyny.[/Lion King]
January 9, 2014 @ 4:04 pm
I sometimes wonder if the anonymity of the internet allows people to speak the things they would do face-to-face. That’s why it is intimidating, to me.
January 9, 2014 @ 4:28 pm
I think one reason I like to come back and read and discuss here is because I do feel safe. So there that’s Jim. 😀
January 9, 2014 @ 4:29 pm
Oh – and scarrrry thought Cora… brrr
Jim C. Hines
January 9, 2014 @ 5:16 pm
I don’t think anywhere on the internet is fully safe, and I’ve certainly had occasional trolls and nastiness show up here, but I try to make sure the goblins are devouring the worst of it.
January 9, 2014 @ 5:46 pm
That’s great Jim. Thanks. I don’t see how that would have worked either, in context of the comic, it just felt like it needed to be mentioned somewhere. I like the new text.
And of course, as pointed out below very rightly, many straight cis dudes have been sexually assaulted and would be triggered by rape threats. I didn’t mean to diminish that, especially with all the pressure on them not to report.
Jim C. Hines
January 9, 2014 @ 7:10 pm
Yep. I like the comic format because it can make a point much more quickly than mere words, sometimes. But it’s harder to get into the more multilayered and complex aspects of things. It’s a one point at a time approach, at least with my level of what I’ll charitably call “skill.”
January 9, 2014 @ 7:31 pm
” I would say that men are attacked. It’s not widely acknowledged or discussed but it definitely happens. Some men would trigger just as strongly. Just wanted to acknowledge that.”
You know, I see someone bring this up every single time there’s a conversation about how prevalent the rape of women is, or how the threat of rape is used as a silencing tactic specifically aimed at women in a way it’s not against men. And, oddly, I hardly ever see it mentioned in any other context. Just when it can derail a conversation about how rape affects women. “But men get raped too! We must always talk about how men are affected! WHAT ABOUT THE MEN?!”
And yes, men do get raped. And yes, that is terrible. And yes, male rape victims/survivors need help and support and resources. But can’t we give them those things without derailing conversations about how rape affects women, specifically? Can’t those be separate conversations? This isn’t even a conversation about rape as a general phenomenon, it’s specifically a conversation about how rape and the threat of rape are used against women in a way that they are standardly not used against men, not in a widespread fashion. That doesn’t say that men aren’t raped, but it does specify the conversation to be about women. Not every conversation has to be about how things affected men.
January 10, 2014 @ 12:49 am
I think at least part of the problem is that these threats to women exist in an external context, not just in an online one. Men walk through a world which is, by and large, designed for and by them. A man can walk down the street, and not be harassed just for physically being in a place. They can walk through the world, and know that even at their worst, the culture they exist in doesn’t just see them as being only their potential useability for sex. Men are the personified gender, rather than the objectified one.
A woman walks through the world and sees objectified femininity reflected back at her from every billboard. She walks down the street and is sexually harassed simply because she’s present on the street – not for anything she’s done, but rather simply for BEING. We are habituated to thinking we’re in a dangerous situation whenever we leave the house (because with a 1 in 6 lifetime risk of rape, that’s pretty damn accurate) and we’re taught we’re the ones who are wholly responsible for preventing ourselves from being caught by this dangerous situation – and should we fail, it’s going to be wholly and solely our fault. Basically, women are subjected to ongoing micro-aggressions all day, every day, and we’re taught to gaslight ourselves about them (oh, that wasn’t intended as a slight; oh, he didn’t mean it; oh, that was just a joke; oh, he wasn’t talking to me; etc) and minimise their impact.
Then we go online. But what happens when we get online is that we’re confronted with a barrage of actual, active aggression that we CAN’T laugh off. We can’t deny this is happening, because the harassment we get online is the same damn harassment and niggling and aggression we face all day every day – but online it’s stripped of deniability. We aren’t allowed to deny ourselves the truth: there are a lot of men out there who hate women and want us all to either die, or give up all pretension to personhood entirely. Online abuse is our culture writ large, in bold print, huge fonts:
“You are lesser. You are nothing. You are worthless unless you are actively satisfying this particular man’s sexual desires – and once you’ve finished, you’re nothing again. You are not a person. You should never pretend you’re a person. How dare you pretend to be a person, to feel, to think, to even BE? You are nothing. You have nothing. You must remain nothing. If you assert yourself, we will counter with the threats you have been raised to fear. We will impose our power on you, as violently as we can, and you will be able to do nothing about it. Because you are nothing.”
January 10, 2014 @ 5:08 am
There was a university of Maryland study done back in 2006 where the investigators set up internet chat room accounts with male and female names. The accounts with female names received well over 90% of the sexually explicit and harassing messages. Pew research polls also suggest that the majority of internet harassment (over 60%) is directed at female users, and other polls suggest the majority of teen cyberbullying is directed at girls (and yes, I know girls bully each other online too). Yes, men can get harassed too, sometimes in scary ways. But a disproportionate amount of internet sexual harassment, rape threats and so on is directed specifically at women because they are women.
I think it’s also true, that on average, women are more frightened of men (physically, at least) than men are of women.
I’ve no doubt that sexual harassment and threats of violence and hate crimes are also visited against men (we’re not discussing racial, orientational, and religious harassment here, but they certainly occur on the web and affect both genders). A man who has been a victim of violence or who is a member of a traditionally harassed and marginalized group, will also find it terrifying, for the same reason women do. But I’m not sure why that point had to be made here and now, while the issue of the internet being a haven for misogynists in particular is being discussed.
Jim C. Hines
January 10, 2014 @ 8:33 am
“I think it’s also true, that on average, women are more frightened of men (physically, at least) than men are of women.”
Which makes sense, given the statistics on violent crimes.
January 10, 2014 @ 2:22 pm
What I was trying to say specifically was this might trigger men too, based on my experience as a rape counselor. Your point is valid.
January 10, 2014 @ 3:25 pm
Maybe you could put in a fourth panel showing the woman reading a newspaper with articles which show violence against women…
January 10, 2014 @ 3:27 pm
Pharyngula at Freethoughtblogs posted on this exact theme today. It’s interesting reading:
January 10, 2014 @ 4:16 pm
I got what you were trying to say. I object to it being said in this conversation. It deserves its own, separate conversation, but in this one it is derailing and centers men.
January 12, 2014 @ 11:07 pm
Interestingly, a friend of mine linked to this today – it’s scary…: