Soraya Chemaly explains, again, that internet harassment and threatening are not trivial or no biggy or “harmless expressions of free speech.”
Often, these incidents come down to a group of men targeting a woman because they perceive a potential threat to men’s “free speech” and that this threat trumps a woman’s rights — to free speech and to actual, physical safety.
Take Rebecca Meredith. Two weeks ago, as she wrote about in an article in the Mail Online, she participated in a formal university debate. Some students, most, if not all, of whom happened to be men, heckled her. Fine, everyone gets heckled. But then, when she and her female debating partner confronted the hecklers for the sexist tone of their “critiques,” the responses included, “Get that woman out of my union,” “What does a woman know anyway,” and “Frigid bitch.” Whatever. The educated, elite young men, their academic peers, went on to make crass comments regarding their breasts and other aspects of their physical appearances. Detailed sexual commentary was part of the “feedback” they received. They, like Richards, felt “uncomfortable” with the tone and content, especially in a professional context. “Naturally,” as this event migrated online, some other men publicly decided to parse Meredith’s “rape potential,” while others piled on to describe their “rape-her” preferences.
That’s unpleasant at best and intimidating at worst. That’s not “free speech” – it actively discourages free speech.
The massive amount of social sanction and support provided online for violent, ugly, trolling mobs making physical threats like these about women they don’t even know isn’t outside of mainstream culture.
But it should be. We’re trying to make that the case. No prospect of success so far though.
Sexist commentary — the jokes, the asides, the slights, the tweets — is hostile, but it’s just the very surface of what we’re dealing with. This isn’t about being “offended,” it’s about feeling marginalized as a result of hate and disdain. Women like Richards and so many others reach a saturation point where staying quiet about it is no longer possible.
What online thugs and their defenders are actually saying is, “How dare you mess with my privileges? Stop challenging norms that I benefit from or invading public spaces where I’ve historically dominated without this kind of restraint.” What elite has ever given up its privileges willingly and without a fight? It’s such an inconvenience.
I would like it if we could do that.