It's never a great week for women on the Internet, but this one has been particularly troubling.
Starting last Friday, Guardian writer Jessica Valenti posed a simple question on Twitter:
Twitter friends: Anyone know a country where tampons are free or somehow subsidized?
— Jessica Valenti (@JessicaValenti) August 8, 2014
Among some of the many distasteful responses: "here's a thought: get married. Then your husband can pay for it. As long as your [sic] putting out...." Trolls and men's rights advocates streamed in from every dark, dingy corner of the Internet to tell her about how she could have her vagina sewn shut in parts of the Middle East, or that she needed to insert other foreign objects into parts of her anatomy to stem the bleeding. If you have the stomach for it, you can read it all in a Storify that Valenti put together. By the time her story was published on Monday, the trolls were in full force. Just scrolling down, you can see how many comments had to be deleted by moderators. Some of the ones that made it past moderation still had a sexist tinge to them: "Use menstrual cloths - they are free, and can be re-used."
It was unclear at press time where one can procure menstrual cloths for free.
On Tuesday, as most of the Internet respectfully mourned the passing of comedian Robin Williams, his daughter Zelda was forced off of Twitter by misogynist vitriol and violent Photoshopped images of her father's death. One tweet with such an image read, “look at what he ... did to himself because of you ... you heartless bitch.”
I'm sorry. I should've risen above. Deleting this from my devices for a good long time, maybe forever. Time will tell. Goodbye. — Zelda Williams (@zeldawilliams) August 13, 2014
Meanwhile, Jezebel is battling its own recurring problem of trolls posting rape GIFs to their comments section. Their parent company, Gawker Media, has finally taken steps to protect female writers and commenters on the site. Still, when the staff of Jezebel first wrote their open letter, commenters often pointed out: Don't men suffer just as much as women from the rape GIFs in comment threads?
The answer is no. As the Jezebel staff notes, "The trolling — which, in the wake of our post, spread to other sites in our network (to our colleagues: oof, really sorry about that) — has been nothing short of a nightmare." In other words, the rape GIF problem (pre-open letter) was mostly limited to Jezebel—the sole female-focused website in the Gawker Media network. While male Gawker readers surely feel discomfort when confronted with rape GIFs, they were generally less likely to come across them unless they frequented Jezebel.
If you're still not convinced that women disproportionately suffer from violent threats on the Internet, you must read our January/February cover story, "Why Women Aren't Welcome on the Internet." In it, writer Amanda Hess details the personal threats she has received:
This guy took it to another level: “I am 36 years old, I did 12 years for ‘manslaughter’, I killed a woman, like you, who decided to make fun of guys cocks.” And then: “Happy to say we live in the same state. Im looking you up, and when I find you, im going to rape you and remove your head.” There was more, but the final tweet summed it up: “You are going to die and I am the one who is going to kill you. I promise you this.”
It's hard to imagine men receiving the same types of threats. And this phenomenon is not limited to professional writers:
In 2006, researchers from the University of Maryland set up a bunch of fake online accounts and then dispatched them into chat rooms. Accounts with feminine usernames incurred an average of 100 sexually explicit or threatening messages a day. Masculine names received 3.7.
Many people recognize comment sections as the cesspools they often are. But it will take more awareness for men (and some women) to understand why Internet culture promotes a misogyny that should enrage both men and women alike. Meanwhile, perhaps we should just kill all comments and hope for more responsible, accountable Internet communication. —Bettina Chang