Detailed sexual commentary was part of the “feedback”

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.

If “we” want women to “lighten up,” or we want stop telling women to be afraid, then “we” have to stop threatening them with rape and raping them.

I would like it if we could do that.



  1. says

    Hmmm what is allowed or ignored online could mayhap pass over into real life? It could have real harming effects on womens participation in an intellectual pursuit and not be all “just trolling” to be ignored… I’m shocked!

    I wonder if the thick skinners would say this IRL incident required them to “grow a thicker skin” or would they see a real issue here? Probably some justification I’m just not seeing…

  2. cheesynougats says

    The vengeful part of me wants to go to one of these debates and spend most of the time commenting on these men’s sexual inadequecies. Wonder whether they’ll find it as inoffensive then.

    I know this reaction is normal and should not be acted upon, but sometimes I wonder if it’s the only way these people will ever learn.

  3. Jimmy Boy says

    What happened in Glasgow was horrible. Shameful really. I hope the day comes when this will no longer happen, when public misogyny will be as politically unacceptable as public racism has become.

    I don’t understand though, why – having been through that – Rebecca Meredith would choose to write an article for the Mail Online. But then I don’t understand why reasonable people will appear on or work for Sky (or Fox in the US), why people will buy Murdoch’s products.

    But the Mail? Really? They are the really at the heart of our problem here: for those of us who rant and campaign against the DM it is sickening to see that undermined by folks who are very much the target of their hatred (hint: that’s uppity women, gay people, “socialists”, and the like). The failure to find common cause with the wider group of people who care about social justice in confronting the DM is the problem. I look like the freak because I object – and am in such a tiny minority.

    Does Rebecca not understand the link between the DM and the behaviour she experienced? Or is she completely skint and just needs the cash?

  4. Stacy says

    @cheesynougats, I feel that way all the time.

    I get so tired of trying to be better than the assholes. Sometimes it feels like the only way they’ll learn is if you turn the tables.

    But–well, no. No. That might silence the asshats–for the same reason it silences some of their victims–but it won’t move the ball.

    Still. grrrrrrrrrr.

  5. theoreticalgrrrl says

    God, the Mafia isn’t this arrogant. They don’t threaten people online or plan hits or beatings online. They certainly don’t post photos of their victims online and text them to the whole world and joke about it.

  6. Martha says

    This isn’t about being “offended,” it’s about feeling marginalized as a result of hate and disdain.

    QFT. And the harassers damned well know it, or they wouldn’t fight so hard to retain this power.

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