Laurie Penny describes the terrible reactions she gets from readers on the internet for daring to have opinions that are outside the mainstream. It is really quite horrific what she has to put up with.
You come to expect it, as a woman writer, particularly if you’re political. You come to expect the vitriol, the insults, the death threats. After a while, the emails and tweets and comments containing graphic fantasies of how and where and with what kitchen implements certain pseudonymous people would like to rape you cease to be shocking, and become merely a daily or weekly annoyance, something to phone your girlfriends about, seeking safety in hollow laughter.
I’d like to say that none of this bothered me – to be one of those women who are strong enough to brush off the abuse, which is always the advice given by people who don’t believe bullies and bigots can be fought. Sometimes I feel that speaking about the strength it takes just to turn on the computer, or how I’ve been afraid to leave my house, is an admission of weakness. Fear that it’s somehow your fault for not being strong enough is, of course, what allows abusers to continue to abuse.
I believe the time for silence is over. If we want to build a truly fair and vibrant community of political debate and social exchange, online and offline, it’s not enough to ignore harassment of women, LGBT people or people of colour who dare to have opinions. Free speech means being free to use technology and participate in public life without fear of abuse – and if the only people who can do so are white, straight men, the internet is not as free as we’d like to believe.
What is it about women in public life or positions of authority that drive some people up the wall? In real life person-to-person interactions, we seem to have reached a stage where women can express opinions in public without too great an expectation of being subject to abuse. Those who dislike it have learned that it is best to keep their views under wraps for fear of being viewed as troglodytes. But the anonymity of the internet seems to release their violent id in really ugly ways.