Apparently, the Internet has gotten nicer. I hadn’t noticed, but according to Nathan Heller of the New York Magazine, people of the Internet are all sugar and spice and everything nice.
For those of us who learned to love the web best as a hostile, predatory, somewhat haunted place, this kindness is startling — but not as startling as it might once have been. These days, life online has become friendly, well mannered, oversweet. Everyone is on his or her very best behavior — and if they’re not, they tend to be quickly iced out of the conversation.
I sort of see his point. Heller is saying that we’ve bullied the bullies into being nice. Sort of a reverse bullying, if you will. And it’s a nice idea, in theory, but I’m not sure I buy it. As a woman on the Grand Internets, I still see it as a hostile, predatory, and somewhat hostile place. It’s as if no topic is safe for women to write about or comment on, as if the Internet is a topic minefield of sorts. It’s a virtual bingo card of touchy subjects and, if she’s lucky and lands on enough touchy subjects, she wins! Just like partybingo.com!
Katie J.M Baker of Jezebel agrees:
If you’re a woman with an internet presence, you need skin as thick as a redwood trunk to deal with the barrage of insults and threats that you’ll unquestionably receive from misogynist trolls who want you to stop writing about topics that men also like to write about, or stop writing about feminism, or just stop writing, period. This has always been the case, but it’s not getting better for most women I know. In fact, it seems to be getting worse.
I hear you, Katie, I hear you. But, before we talk about the misogynist trolls, which, don’t worry boys, we will, we have to talk about girl on girl violence. Women aren’t nice to each other online. We just aren’t. If you talk about sex, you’re a slut. If you talk about a lack of sex, you’re a prude. If you talk about men? Well, you’re a witch and you must be burned at the stake.
And if you’re a mother? Well game on. Other mothers will have an opinion on what you’re doing wrong, and, trust me, you’re doing it wrong. All of it. Your kid is going to die a horrible and painful death or, if he lives, is going to become a serial killer because you fed him the wrong food or taught her to read too late or purchased the wrong clothes, sippy cups, books, and toys. You are a horrible mother and you’re even worse for talking about it. How dare you exploit your children like that!
Sound familiar? Girl on girl violence is real, people. It’s real. Makes me happy I’m not a mother and I just get called a slut and a man hater on a regular basis.
Which brings me to the misogynist trolls. It should go without saying that I love men. I do. Just ask any of my teachers who confiscated notebooks with Mrs. (fill in the blank) doodled with hearts all over them. I love men. And most of the real men I know, including all the guys here at Sprocket, are lovely, smart, enlightened guys who treat women with respect. I’m not talking about those guys. I’m talking about trolls.
Just like anyone who must harbor their hatred in private, like racists or necrophiliacs, the Internet is a safe haven for trolls who can spew their vitriol with ease and anonymity. Ahhhhh. Feels like a warm blanket. We often comfort ourselves knowing that these trolls wouldn’t attack us if they knew we were also real people with real feelings and they only spew such hatred because they’re scared, blah blah blah. I don’t think that’s the case. I think these people are truly, truly hateful and their online behavior is indicative of some very deep issues.
For example, I am constantly shocked at the misogynists who comment in the “women” sections of different online publications. For one, they know what they’re getting: articles for and about women. But they go there looking to start a fight, looking to find proof that women are all ball busting feminazis looking to exterminate men with our roided vaginas. HULK LADY SMASH BALLS!
Which is just ludicrous. Of course some articles are going to be unfair to men, just as some articles in men’s publications are unfair to women. Do I like it? No. But that doesn’t mean all women are horrible creatures bent on world domination. Just some of us are. Like me. Ahem.
Yet what I really see here is men who are hurting. It’s the only explanation for such pure hatred. I suspect they’re all been hurt by women in one way or another, been cheated on or out down or kicked in the balls, and their outlet is barfing their misogyny all over every women they come into contact with online with as many hurtful words as possible. Some of these guys finally cross the line and get banned, but many skirt the rules, skating around the hateful tones and cruel words, attacking at will. I see it constantly. And it’s so not cool.
So what’s the answer? I know that part of it is that we can’t shut up. Women have to keep talking and ruffling feathers and pissing people off. We’ll get attacked and that hurts and it’s not fair that in order to stay online, women just need thicker skin. I know I try my best to talk to these guys like human beings, to not get defensive, to get them to see me as a real person with reasonable points. Sometimes that works, most often it doesn’t. But it can’t hurt, right? Maybe it’s foolish to try, but the nurturer in me needs to.
After all, feminism wasn’t ever about world domination; it was about freeing the sexes from gender roles. Both sexes. We can’t forget about men in our struggle for equal rights and equal pay and reproductive freedom.
But the trolls? We need to make sure they’re on the wrong side of history.