I am an outspoken woman.
I’m outspoken in real life, and I’m outspoken on the Internet. I don’t shy away from a debate. I have Opinions, big ones, on anything from TV shows to social justice. I like discussions, and I am happy to sit down and go through a subject with a fine-tooth comb to pick out nuances and discuss them with like-minded folks. For me, the Internet has been great for allowing me to find and learn from all kinds of people. But there’s another side to it.
I am an outspoken woman. And because I am, I’m often scared and worried, because I have received online threats for speaking out on topics that people don’t like. And the majority of threats that I have gotten have been from angry men.
A friend of mine recently had a Facebook argument with a longtime friend of hers about an image that could be construed as racist. She pointed that fact out to her friend on his Facebook wall, and instead of having a discussion about why it could be racist and hurtful, she was met with a barrage of insults from his friends, making fun of her intelligence and suggesting that she was close-minded and stupid for daring to raise another point of view. The friendship was lost that day over the fact that instead of slinking off into a corner to lick her wounds, she stood up to these people. According to her friend, she caused “too much drama”. He threw away a friendship and allowed her to be harassed over the fact that he didn’t like what she said.
On Twitter, a number of women that I follow have received threats and angry tweets from members of different online websites for articles that they have written on body positivity and being fat. One of them was actually impersonated by what Twitter called a “parody account”, and all manner of hurtful and disgusting things were said using her name. Twitter took their sweet time pulling down the impersonator, stating that parody accounts weren’t against their TOS and there was nothing that could be done. Meanwhile, she got dozens of tweets from angry men (and some from angry women) while this was going on.
In my own experience, I have been told to die, that I deserve to be raped, that I need to shut up and learn my place, and that I am a drama queen and full of myself. All for simply sharing my opinions online. While no one can guarantee a positive experience online and no one certainly expects everyone to agree with their thoughts, one would think that you should be able to exchange information and share your thoughts without a barrage of abuse and threats being hurled at your head. However, for women online, that’s not the case.
This article, by Anne Theriault, explains a little more about online harassment that women experience. Women have traditionally been silenced, made less important, and told that they’re “hysterical and emotional” for having opinions. Men see women being successful writers and voices in the public sphere and they freak out. Someone is challenging the patriarchy! Those horrible feminists! What will they do now? Who will recognize THEIR importance over everyone else?
If Gamergate and the resulting abuse being hurled at women like Anita Sarkeesian and Brianna Wu has told us nothing, it’s because currently, women who are outspoken apparently need to be punished in the eyes of the many men online who can’t listen to any other opinions than their own. I am very aware that writing this article alone may place me back in the line of fire when it comes to online threats. However, I refuse to stay silent because certain men feel I should. And that’s what bothers these men about folks like Theriault, Sarkeesian, and Wu: that they’re saying things that make men uncomfortable, and that they won’t shut up because those men command them to do so.
Women are in the online sphere, speaking out about things that matter to them. We speak out against oppression and harassment. We do it because we want to change things for our generation, and future generations. Men shouldn’t feel upset because the patriarchy is toppling – what they should feel is excited and relieved that we are working to get one step closer to equality for everyone. And while no one requires anyone to agree with everything they say, we do require the same modicum of respect that you would give to another man or even another person. Pointing out issues in video games, with street harassment, or even in the workplace isn’t decrying all men as evil and oppressive; what it’s doing is pointing out the flaws and inequality in the institutional structure of our society. Pointing out the flaws allows us to examine them, and then to change them. Fighting against the flaws is understandable, especially if you are in a comfortable position in society, but it isn’t the fault of the person pointing them out. Get angry at society, not women.
Women who are harassed online live in some amount of fear. They fear for their families and for their safety. They fear for their jobs and for their freedom to walk the streets unscathed. Women do experience death threats and rape threats. Whether or not the men on the other end of those threats are serious isn’t the point here – the point is, no one should receive harassment for simply expressing an opinion. If you’re upset with what’s being said, by all means, be angry. But be angry constructively. Write your own article. Film your own video. Counter their points and open up a discussion. Don’t threaten women’s safety because you’re angry.
The overarching takeaway from this is that women won’t be silent in the face of harassment. We shouldn’t have to. What needs to change is society’s attitude towards women.
What needs to change is that the paradox of the outspoken woman needs to not be contradictory at all: we have a voice, and we shouldn’t have to be silent in order to be safe.