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The Circular Logic of Internet Misogynists

Yesterday–the same day, incidentally, that I discovered that I’ve inspired my first pathetic little hate club–a blogger I respect announced that she’s taking a hiatus from blogging after enduring constant abuse and harassment for daring to be a woman with opinions on the internet.

Jen McCreight wrote:

I wake up every morning to abusive comments, tweets, and emails about how I’m a slut, prude, ugly, fat, feminazi, retard, bitch, and cunt (just to name a few). If I block people who are twisting my words or sending verbal abuse, I receive an even larger wave of nonsensical hate about how I’m a slut, prude, feminazi, retard, bitch, cunt who hates freedom of speech (because the Constitution forces me to listen to people on Twitter). This morning I had to delete dozens of comments of people imitating my identity making graphic, lewd, degrading sexual comments about my personal life. In the past, multiple people have threatened to contact my employer with “evidence” that I’m a bad scientist (because I’m a feminist) to try to destroy my job.

[...]I don’t want to let them win, but I’m human. The stress is getting to me. I’ve dealt with chronic depression since elementary school, and receiving a daily flood of hatred triggers it. I’ve been miserable….I spend most of my precious free time angry, on the verge of tears, or sobbing as I have to moderate comments or read what new terrible things people have said about me. And the only solution I see is to unplug.

 

In case you don’t follow Jen’s blog and aren’t familiar with what’s been going on, here’s an example, and here’s a post she wrote about it once. I don’t really have the words for how awful and unconscionable this is, so I’ll just quote JT Eberhard: “the people who have harassed her into quitting are inhuman shitbags.  As the atheism movement gets bigger, the tiny percentage of just rotten folks will continue to be comprised of more and more people who would sooner destroy a person than an idea. Those people don’t deserve this community.”

But what I really wanted to talk about was these misogynists’ reactions to Jen’s decision to quit blogging (for the time being). Sure, some of them made the typical “good riddance” comments, but others actually blamed her for being “unable to take the heat” and claimed that the only reason she quit was to get sympathy.

The interesting thing is, these people purposefully harassed Jen–you know, to make her feel like shit–and then blamed her for being too “weak” to take the harassment without quitting.

This sort of circular logic completely baffles me.

(It’s not the first time I’ve seen this convoluted reasoning in a community that prides itself on its supposed ability reason clearly. An idiot once saw fit to inform Greta Christina that he had lost all respect for her after she released a naked photo of herself for a good causea photo that he masturbates to. Somebody explain this.)

What many of these misogynists seem to be saying is that the fact that Jen quit retroactively justifies their treatment of her. Because she wasn’t able to “deal” with their harassment, the harassment was justified. Ridiculous.

Also, it disgusts me how clueless these people seem to be about mental illness. People who stop doing something because that thing is giving them a mental illness are not being “weak.” They aren’t “letting the trolls win.” They aren’t “flouncing.” They aren’t “looking for sympathy.” They’re taking care of their own health.

And that comes first, even if their mental illness was caused by something that seems like no big deal to healthy folks. For instance, if dating makes you depressed, you’re completely justified in staying away from dating for a while. If your job is making you depressed, you’re completely justified in finding a new job. But what happened to Jen, by the way, is not something that should seem like “no big deal” to any halfway-decent person.

I likewise take issue with people who refer to what Jen went through as “trolling.” There’s a difference between trolling and harassment. When I make a blog post and someone comments “lol your an idiot, go fuck yourself and stop writing,” that’s trolling. When someone continually harasses someone on various internet channels (email, Twitter, the target’s blog), recruits more people to help with that, writes their own blog posts trashing the target, impersonates them in a derogatory way, that’s not trolling anymore. That is harassment.

Trolling is usually mindless and casual, something done by an immature, inconsequential person who’s bored and wants to mess with someone. Harassment is calculated, targeted, and done with a purpose. Trolling is annoying and stupid; harassment is harmful and can be scarring.

Trolling is something we all run the risk of when we put our work out there on the internet. Serious political posts get trolled; silly YouTube videos get trolled. Delete the comments and move on.

Harassment is not something we all run the risk of. Harassment is targeted at people who are being “uppity,” who don’t “know their place.” A feminist on the internet–and especially a feminist in the atheist blogosphere–is one such person.

I don’t care how strongly you disagree with someone’s ideas–harassment is unacceptable no matter what. There is no justification. The fact that your target developed a serious mental illness and had to quit is certainly not a justification. The fact that you disagree with their vision for atheism is not a justification, either. If you think harassment is an appropriate response to ideas you disagree with, then guess what–you’re a terrible excuse for a human being.

I rarely make statements as categorical as that one, so you know I really mean it when I do.

Comments

  1. Classical Cipher says

    This is excellent. Thanks for pointing out how little sense that whole “we harassed her for the purposes of silencing her and it silenced her, and this is all evidence of how weak she is” thing makes – it was weirding me out too, but I couldn’t place why.

  2. rip lyl says

    this is fucking stupid. Just because you have one idea of how society should work doesn’t make it the right idea. That’s just about being as ignorant as the people you feel are being ignorant too

    • Parsley Victorious says

      Racism is bad. People shouldn’t be harassed just because they’re black.
      Homophobia is bad. People shouldn’t be harassed just because they’re gay.

      Misogyny is bad. People shouldn’t be harassed just because they’re women.

      Why is that last one the only one that’s so hard to swallow, for so many people?

    • says

      This isn’t a theoretical dispute over “idea[s] of how society should work” — this is a group of anonymous thugs waging a campaign of intimidation against one woman just because of what she writes.

      Reread the last paragraph of the post.

      • Parsley Victorious says

        “Just because you have one idea of how society should work doesn’t make it the right idea.”

        This is what you said, and this is what I was responding to. As much as I don’t believe in objective morality, or objective societal goals, this one comes as close as can be; harassment is wrong. People ought to be free to express their ideas without receiving threats and heaping sacks of vitriol.

        Yes, it’s a group of anonymous thugs. And the point of this article, and so many others like it, is that these thugs are being complete pricks, we want nothing to do with them, and measures should be taken to limit their ability to spew bile all over everyone.

        I don’t see that her last paragraph has anything especially to the point here; I agree with it strongly, even to the last sentence. Those who seek to do nothing more than harass and cause misery are horrible people. Seems fairly straightforward to me.

        • says

          Lindsay didn’t write that text you just quoted, rip lyl wrote that and Lindsay was challenging rip lyl, not challenging you (that’s why Lindsay’s comment was nested within rip lyl’s comment rather than being nested within yours). I think you’re misreading Lindsay entirely.

        • says

          Yeah, I thought we were on the same side. I thought the earlier commenter (rip lyl) was wrongly equating two things (Jen writing posts in which she condemns sexist behavior; anonymous thugs endlessly harassing her, threatening her, stalking her because they don’t like what she wrote) that aren’t at all equal! Jen was doing something she is entitled to do in a free society, which is speak, and they were doing something they are not entitled to do, which is stalk, threaten and harass her. I thought the last paragraph of the post came closest to expressing that thought: that Jen’s harassers crossed a line, that what they did is a lot more than just disagreeing with her.

  3. Parsley Victorious says

    Superbly written. Thank you. All the reports of bile and abuse that I see being reported surrounding this whole thing gets me riled up; it’s good to have my faith in humanity and in this community in particular restored once in a while.

  4. says

    This is very reminiscent of the cyber bullying phenomena that has lead to many suicides in the young adult and adolescent community. It’s really saddening to hear that people derive pleasure from cutting others down, and then they play the “blame the victim” game for “not being able to take it” when it’s the attackers goal to silence and tear them apart. People do not deserve this kind of treatment.

    Another brilliant post. You have my full support :).

  5. says

    All true… but I don’t think she should have quit. I also think A+ would’ve been more successful had the approach been different (although that’s entirely unrelated to what you’re writing about).

    • says

      Really, though? Blogging was literally making her depressed. That’s a serious mental illness that greatly increases one’s risk for suicide. I don’t know what could possibly be more important than quitting something that’s doing that to you.

      • says

        Blogging wasn’t depressing her, the jerks were. As you put it very clearly, what she suffered could be classified as harassment and she should have gotten (should still get) authorities involved.

        She should have closed comments on the blog and continued the very good work she’d been doing.

        • says

          I guess hindsight’s 20/20. By the time she quit, it seemed like she was depressed enough already that closing comments wouldn’t have made a difference. Also wouldn’t have prevented the Twitter stuff. In fact, it would’ve just provoked more hatred and cries of “censorship.”

          Also, I don’t think the authorities can really do anything about this sort of thing? The Internet is basically unregulated (as it should be, really).

          I obviously agree with you that she was doing really awesome stuff and I wish she would’ve stayed, but she knows what’s best for herself. We don’t.

          • says

            Harassment is a crime in most jurisdictions, so is slander, identity theft and so forth.
            I’m not talking about censorship, but this was a concerted effort, and if not authorities, real people (Freethought blog admins etc.) should have stepped up to intervene.

          • says

            Well yeah, but you can’t prosecute Internet personas that are not attached to real-world identities.

            This is why online bullying is such a pervasive and difficult problem to deal with. If traditional law enforcement worked, things would be easier (although, judging by our continued failure to stop bullying IRL, not by much).

            What do you think the rest of FtB could’ve done?

          • says

            I think FtB should’ve launched a zero tolerance on bullying campaign and put a moderator in place for her blog so she didn’t have to personally deal with harassment.
            I’m sure there are lots of people (including myself) who would’ve gladly volunteered time to help. We have to stop waiting for people to have breakdowns or kill themselves before we intervene…

          • says

            Yeah, it would’ve been nice if that happened. But it didn’t, and given the way things played out (as opposed to how we wish they would’ve played out), I don’t see what she could’ve done other than take care of herself and quit.

  6. says

    I was going to say something like “I hope that these bastards have something very dear to them taken away someday” and then I realized that they’re probably the way they are precisely because they already feel like something dear has been taken from them.

    It’s hard to fight people who always see themselves as victims, but I suppose that the rest of us can’t stop even though we’ve lost a fellow-writer. We mourn and keep up the struggle.

  7. says

    Reading what happened to her, and what people said to her, literally made me sick. I don’t even know how to best respond to these kinds of things. But I think about people like President Obama who is often called terrible things – from the ‘N’ word to Hitler – and the only thing I can think is that he completely and utterly tunes them out. But how do you do that online? Even when you delete comments, you’re likely to see part of them. And truly, in any situation you can’t tune out everything.

    I cannot blame her whatsoever for not being able to deal with this. And it’s not because there’s anything unusual about her. The fact that she’s had depression doesn’t even matter (though it’s good that she’s aware of that.) The reality is that these people represent what hate is. It is the kind of hate that fuels people to throw bombs at each other, to commit violence against one another, to justify destroying and taking over entire communities. It’s a part of being human that you either indulge in or you stray from. The unfortunate reality is that you don’t have to be a bigot to fall into former and sometimes by entertaining these people, you become one of them. They can make you that angry.

    So I don’t blame her for taking a break. Because she’s seen a dark side of humanity and instead of participating in their game, instead of possibly letting herself get to that same dark place, she said no.

    Regardless, I hope she returns and finds a way to mitigate these people. Freedom of speech is important in public life, but you don’t have to entertain it on your blog, especially when that freedom of speech = hate speech.

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