Eric Michael Johnson, who writes the Primate Diaries column for Slate, takes a primatologist look at the culture of online misogyny. He starts with “the Fappening”: a 4chan gathering to celebrate the hacking of those celebrity naked photos.
While some reveled in a shared orgasmic intensity, others tried to be as descriptively misogynistic as possible, to the delight of lurking males. The more dehumanizing and demeaning the commentary about women, the more popular it would be, as demonstrated through the upvote feature on the website.
The online gathering was called “The Fappening” by users on the digital bulletin boards Reddit and 4chan. But the event was not really about the hacked celebrity photographs of Jennifer Lawrence, Rihanna, Kate Upton, and many others that became the focus of mainstream discussion. Ultimately, this was a virtual sex crime in which men sought to outdo one another and gain popularity for themselves through the objectification of women’s bodies. It was the same performance of gender and power they had learned from the wider culture.
This can’t be good. This can’t possibly be good. Enraged hatred of women is a pastime, a popular pastime. This does not bode well for the future. Men like this are going to fill up the place, and what will that be like? I won’t find out, but a lot of women will.
There were the onslaughts on Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian.
As in the case of the leaked photographs, young men gained status among their peers by using the most violent, sexually explicit, and demeaning language possible to abuse these women.
What kind of world are these guys creating? I can’t even see how it will function.
There is no question that these are vile, exploitative, misogynistic behaviors that reduce women to fetishized, digitized objects,” said Whitney Phillips, lecturer in communications at Humboldt State University. Her forthcoming book from MIT Press, This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things, investigates the culture of power and cyberbullying among people who have come to beknown as trolls, Internet users who intentionally provoke or even assault others online. This is a culture that follows what is called “the logic of lulz,” a digital remixing of schadenfreude in which the misfortune of others is publicly exploited for maximum amusement and personal prestige. In this way, lulz (the phonetic plural form of LOL, or laugh out loud) are a kind of cultural currency that these trolls use as their stock in trade. Their targets are women, people of color, so-called white knights who criticize their behavior, and virtually anyone that does not belong to the trolls’ cultural in-group.
Those are the people that Michael Nugent has commenting prolifically on his many blog posts rebuking Adam Lee and PZ Myers and me – and he seems to think, with stunning naivete and cluelessness, that they are commenting in good faith.
The trolls like to say it’s just human nature, Johnson says. It’s a guy thing, it’s natural, there’s no use trying to mess with it.
The Forest Troop illustrates how wrong that is.
In the early 1980s, a group of olive baboons known as “Forest Troop” underwent a unique natural experiment. The territory of their neighbors, “Garbage Dump Troop,” overlapped with that of a tourist lodge. The Garbage Dump Troop had access to the leftover meat that had been discarded into the lodge’s dump. The most aggressive males from Forest Troop began invading their neighbors’ territory to access the meat for themselves. Soon afterward, tuberculosis ravaged the baboons from both troops who had been feeding at the garbage dump. Because it was only the most aggressive males of Forest Troop that died out, the results were twofold: Less aggressive males were more common in the population, and the female-to-male ratio had now doubled.
The social consequences were startling. According to Stanford University primatologist Robert Sapolsky, who documented the event and followed the troop for the next 20 years, the brutal hierarchy that was common among male baboons disappeared, and the amount of affiliative behaviors—such as males and females grooming one another—increased markedly. What was most surprising was what followed over the intervening years. Males always migrate to other troops at puberty, and new immigrant males to the Forest Troop adopted the local culture that they encountered. Even though none of the original population is alive today, this highly cooperative baboon society remains intact. As Sapolsky wrote in Foreign Affairs, “Forest Troop’s low aggression/high affiliation society constitutes nothing less than a multigenerational benign culture.”
So…can we infect all the trolls with TB? Right away?
Perhaps there is a solution to the problem of online misogyny that does not require invasive government surveillance or restrictive practices like those taken by authoritarian countries. If female empowerment is ultimately better for everybody, then male Internet users would be helping themselves by opposing misogyny and harassment in online forums. A supportive environment would go hand-in-hand with increasing the number of women in those spaces currently dominated by bitter baboons. Patriarchy gains support from the passive acceptance of men who are actively hurt by its influence. If baboon societies are able to change the interaction between males and females based on the influence of culture, surely we can too.
Or that. We could do that instead. Whatever works.