‘Cybersexism’ by Laurie Penny: a review and essay

I wrote a review for Laurie Penny’s book Cybersexism at Big Think.

In it, Penny, a well-known and much loved (and of course hated) British writer on politics, feminism and many other topics, outlines the current model of sexism online. Using her own and other women’s experiences, she outlines why it occurs, the ground from which such terrible treatment springs, sexism in general and what sorts of responses we can muster. Her insight, as always, is invaluable and potent.

I used this opportunity to give a perspective as someone who is not the target of sexism; I outline why I care (because we need to do that nowadays?), why others should and related matters.

I am a long-time fan of her work and it’s fantastic to read her in long-form.


  1. smhll says

    I played an MMO for a few years. I follow some of the discussions about how people talk to each other in games. I understand the argument that gamers “talk trash” to each other all the time. (Or some people who like hostile vocal expression do.) But I don’t accept that as a complete excuse. It is unfair and rotten that there are special and severe words and phrases and attacks that are aimed at people of color, LGBTQ people and women online. Hostility mixed with racism, sexism or any other ism is hideously ugly online. (I’m glad that in my offline world I’m fortunate enough that I don’t get it thrown in my face.)

    How (some) people talk to each other in games can be extrapolated to how some people talk to each other online generally.

    It amazes me that people who let it rip that much when “expressing themselves” online want us to think that they are normal or ordinary or “just fine” and seem bothered if you or I conclude that they are assholes. I look and I think, behind that facade that they put up on social occasions and at the office, they are anger-fueled, cruelty-embracing, morally-repugnant, toxic and repulsive individuals. It’s strange to me that they can’t own the impression they create.

    • prodegtion says

      Get over it. It happens to everyone, anyway. I’ve been called a nigger, a cunt, and a faggot online, and I didn’t care, and neither should you.

        • Tauriq Moosa says

          It’s as if Laurie Penny and other women who write on this – and others like me who care a little – have never wondered this ourselves; as if we haven’t empathised with every person who gets terrible treatment. Apparently the more immoral things that happen, the more it means we should be silent about it. It, as you say, boggles the mind.

  2. prodegtion says

    Women are the truly deluded privileged ones if they honestly believe they are the only ones who get rape threats online.

    • somesome says

      No, they aren’t the only ones but they get ‘special’ attention. That’s the whole point and it’s absolutely true w.r.t. gaming, at least.

      Btw, are you saying that women should shut up about *their* mistreatment since *everyone* gets rape threats online? Do you think anyone here would criticize you in such an inane manner if you put up an article recounting *your* bad, online experiences? Nope, the critics would be only people like you whose best advice is “toughen up” by which they mean “don’t even think about discussing your experiences or I’ll accuse you of being thin-skinned.”

      Boggles the mind.

      • prodegtion says

        No, that’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is that they are not being mistreated. In fact, the Internet the ONLY place were women ARE treated the same men. All of a sudden you don’t like that, do you? You’re complaining about harassment online? Welcome to the everyday life of men.

        • somesome says

          What I’m saying is that they are not being mistreated

          Erm, well, in that case wouldn’t it just mean that *both* men and women are mistreated? Surely being called “nigger” and “faggot” is mistreatment (not to mention that it insults the groups to which these epithets were traditionally attached).

          In fact, the Internet the ONLY place were women ARE treated the same men

          They’re treated much worse in my experience. I can compare my experiences to those of the women I’ve gamed with since the early days of battle.net, for example. Perhaps it isn’t your experience but I can’t discount mine like that. If someone comes along and tells me he thinks men are treated worse online than women are, I’ll consider that as well if he offers compelling evidence. For my part, I’d say people *have* offered compelling evidence that women are treated worse online than men. *shrug*

          Welcome to the everyday life of men

          Not sure what you mean here.

          • prodegtion says

            No, being called nigger or faggot is not mistreatment. Speech is not mistreatment unless it can cause damage to a person’s reputation (which is why what PZ did to Shermer was immoral and criminal).

            How are women treated worse than men online? As far as I can tell, the only things feminists complain about happening to women online, not only also happen to men online, but happen to men on a routine basis in their real world, everyday life.

          • says

            Speech is not mistreatment unless it can cause damage to a person’s reputation

            Then I’m sure you wouldn’t mind my phoning you at midnight Pacific Time each day in order to remind you that you’re a douchecannon. It’s just a private, personal reminder after all. Oh, and you can’t tell anyone that I’m doing this, because that could cause damage to a person’s reputation — mine, specifically — and is thus mistreatment.

  3. sillose says

    theres a simple test, if you think women arent treated worse in online games than men. anyone can do it. go to a game w/out voice chat, one you have recent experience with, and then create an alternate account with a distinctly feminine username (maybe adopt some different typing quirks?) play there for a while. its not as bad as it used to be, but depending on the place it can still be quite toxic. hell, try it on forums you regularly comment at too (WITHOUT telling anyone what youre doing), and then review your experiences.