Victim-blaming, an online sport

Oh god, I could tell exactly how this was going to turn out. A woman did an experiment: when she received abuse on Twitter, she tried being nice and asking them politely if they wanted to talk about it. I’m sure you can guess how it went. She boiled the results down to 6 observations/conclusions.

1. None of these people considered themselves misogynists. Yeah, I’ve noticed. They can spew out the most horrific sex-based insults, but they’ll insist to the end that they really love women.

2. They later doubled-down on the sexist insults. It only escalates. I’ve never seen a troll realize that what they’re doing is disgusting.

3. According to them, all of this was my fault. They think they can avoid all blame/guilt by shifting responsibility for their actions to the target.

4. This wasn’t harassment; I’m just too sensitive. This is part of #3. The real problem, they think, is that everyone else is too thin-skinned.

5. They accused me of harassing them. You want to see an affronted yawp? Block ’em. They react as if their rights have been abridged by your callous action.

6. This was about power. Exactly! It’s always about silencing someone with harassment.

And then the wrap-up:

There’s a lot of discussion about how we need to reach out and talk to people who disagree with us – how we need to extend an olive branch and find common ground – and that’s a lovely sentiment, but in order for that to work, the other party needs to be … well, not a raging asshole. Insisting that people continue to reach out to their abusers in hopes that they will change suggests that the abuse is somehow in the victim’s hands to control. This puts a ridiculously unfair onus on marginalized groups – in particular, women of color, who are the group most likely to be harassed online. (For more on this topic, read about how Ijeoma Oluo spent a day replying to the racists in her feed with MLK quotes – and after enduring hideous insults and threats, she finally got exactly one apology from a 14-year-old kid. People later pointed to the exercise as proof that victims of racism just need to try harder to get white people to like them. Which is some serious bullshit.)

I spent days trying to talk to the people in my mentions who insulted and attacked me. I’d have been better off just remembering that when someone shows you who they are, believe them the first tweet.

Yeah, I’ve seen that: my first reaction has been to block, because I’ve learned that there is no point in trying to engage with someone who shows you that they are an asshole with their first words.


  1. rpjohnston says

    Yeah. #6 is the key point. It ties all the other ones together, and it’s the key for us, too.

    Hell, even David Duke “denies” being racist. You’re never going to convince bad people to stop being bad people. But you can convince them that there are consequences to being bad people. What we need to do is take back government and society (hey, ever think of maybe doing that Seven Mountains thing for our side?) and come down on those people with that power. They’ll either shape up, or get themselves removed.

    For now, we use the power that we have where we can, including with blocks and such. No need to justify shit to shitty people.

  2. lotharloo says

    This is about power but more about them losing power. It is the same as racist America waking up and voting for a racist president after having the first black president. They are lashing out because the number of places this type of behavior is tolerated is shrinking. There is no point in discussions, dialogues, etc. with these assholes. We can hope their children are slightly wiser and thus after they die we get a slightly better world.

  3. pipefighter says

    That’s why I don’t bother with a lot of people. Some you can reach out to, many you can’t. sometimes you can talk to the more sane ones face to face by themselves, but the second they are in a group forget about it, and I’m just talking about the calm ones. Not the crazy raging assholes that harass people on line. I think I’ve only managed to sway a dozen or so people in my whole life. It is usually not worth the effort. Fuck em.

  4. blf says

    Very related, I presume must people here are aware of an incident here in France, in Paris, about a week ago, Uproar in France over video of woman hit by harasser in Paris street:

    The scene outside a Paris cafe is as short as it is shocking in its almost casual violence.

    A young woman in a scarlet red dress passes a bearded man in a black T-shirt with his jacket slung over one shoulder. Both are walking briskly. The man says something to the woman. She turns her head and replies. Both continue walking.

    Then the man picks up an ashtray and throws it in the direction of the woman, who is by now off camera. A second later the man is striding purposefully towards her and she has returned into view.

    He approaches her and without warning hits 22-year-old architecture student Marie Laguerre with a blow so violent she stumbles and falls against the glass barrier of the cafe terrace.

    As shocked customers drinking coffee and beer jump to their feet to remonstrate with the attacker, one brandishing a chair, he appears to argue with them briefly before walking off.


    Laguerre shouted back at the man. “I felt hatred. I refused to be demeaned, it was humiliating.” The man walked back and as she stood facing him, hit her hard.


    Posting the [CCTV security camera] video on YouTube, Laguerre wrote in French: “This is unacceptable behaviour. It happens everyday. These men think they can do anything in the street, who think they are allowed to humiliate us and who don’t like it when we are offended. It’s unacceptable.

    “I am sick of feeling unsafe walking in the street. Things need to change, and they need to change now.”

    After some criticised the response of witnesses in the cafe, Laguerre added: “To all those who want to say the witnesses didn’t reacted well enough, everything happened very quickly and they didn’t have the time to understand the situation. The attacker was dangerous. After the aggression, I went back and the witnesses gave me great support. Please don’t lynch them.”

    We see here OP behaviours 3, 4, 5, and 6, probably 2, and very presumably 1.

    Since then, Ms Laguerre has given an interview, entirely in English, to France24, Marie Laguerre on being harassed, assaulted […] (video).

    It must be pointed out, as Ms Laguerre does in that interview, this behaviour is not-at-all unusual, which the exception of being videoed and the video circulated publicly. (I supposed one could argue being punched is unusual, but as Ms Laguerre notes, being groped, touched, pushed, shouted-at, insulted, and on and on is not.)

  5. unclefrogy says

    I no longer go out of my way to “argue” or get into long discussions with everyone I meet who spouts some irrational BS, I know longer feel the need to interrogate people to find out what they think and point it out to them just what it is they say they think and how irrational it really is. I know longer feel the need to grind their noses in reality no matter what belief they hold.
    I still will state my thoughts about the issue at hand I just stand my ground and not just agree for the sake of peace. It is seldom worth the effort to enter into a 2 hour interaction with irrational people in order change their minds or enlighten them it just ain’t my job nor is it in my abilities
    I have toyed with a fantasy movie idea for some time in which the main character is someone just like that young women in that incident who has a series of escalating encounters to which she is forced to react in ways that are somewhat similar to those that would be expected of Jessica Jones.
    uncle frogy

  6. anchor says

    “There’s a lot of discussion about how we need to reach out and talk to people who disagree with us – how we need to extend an olive branch and find common ground – and that’s a lovely sentiment, but in order for that to work, the other party needs to be … well, not a raging asshole.”

    Quoted precisely for truth.

  7. chrislawson says

    The other thing about trying to engage reasonably with abusive trolls is that it carries an emotional cost to non-trolls in the thread — including readers not actively adding to the discussion.

  8. Meg Thornton says

    Comment from the Captain Awkward site: “reasons are for reasonable people”. Extended version: reasonable behaviours, such as discussing things politely, figuring out whether there’s any mutual common ground to work from and so on, should be reserved for people who can be guaranteed to be reasonable in response. If they’ve started an interaction with a mouthful of abuse, well, that’s not reasonable, and the best they deserve in response is a rapid blocking. If and when the people who are starting conversations by throwing around slurs and abuse are willing to actually have a reasonable conversation, they’ll signal this by being relatively polite in the first place.

    (On twitter, I prefer to mute rather than block – there’s something infinitely satisfying about thinking about your would-be antagonist screaming into the void…)

  9. blf says

    (Slightly edited cross-post from poopyhead’s current Political Madness All the Time thread.)

    Follow-up to the violent attack on Ms Laguerre in Paris (the attacker has still not been found) [see @4], ‘They just don’t see us as human’: women speak out on France’s harassment problem:

    She was slapped hard in the street in broad daylight by a man whose “animal noises” and wolf-whistles she had dared to challenge, but student Marie Laguerre felt lucky. Being harassed, whistled at and made to feel uncomfortable in the street was not a new experience. Laguerre had complained about it many times before. Nobody took much notice.

    But this time she had proof, with video footage of the attack going viral.

    “It’s not the first time I’ve had to answer back to harassment, but this time I had the video,” Laguerre said. “I’m lucky to have it because it shows how unsafe I feel. Every woman is a victim of this kind of behaviour … It’s never hitting on someone, it’s always violence. The video shows if you say no you can be hit. It’s a very powerful video.”

    Catherine Nicholson, Europe correspondent at France24 television, knows exactly how Laguerre feels. In a tweet in response to a Guardian headline, Nicholson wrote:

    There SHOULD be uproar, this kind of thing is common and has been for years.

    I’ve been:
    Spat on
    Chased & shouted at for not saying “thank you” to a “compliment”
    And more…

    All in broad daylight, in different neighbourhoods.

    May the uproar (& change) continue.

    “I’ve had this almost the whole time I have lived in Paris. It’s at the back of my mind every time I go out,” Nicholson told the Guardian.

    As Laguerre’s satisfaction in having proof of harassment suggests, being believed is not always a given.

    “The number of men who say ‘oh you’re imagining it’ or are overstating it …” said Nicholson. “For years I’ve told people about this happening, asked what it’s all about and what I could do. Often the response is: stop moaning; change your attitude; change your clothes; your hair; your neighbourhood. […]”


    After one assault, Nicholson was so shaken she asked a passerby to walk her to the metro station. “I told him I was scared … By the time we got there he’d asked me out.”

    Sexual harassment of women in France is not confined to Paris, but is a particular problem in the capital.

    A survey of the world’s most dangerous megacities for women by Thomson Reuters last year ranked Paris 17 out of 19 cities. London was 19.

    Before glancing at the survey results, The world’s most dangerous megacities for women 2017 (link embedded in above excerpt), I’d assumed first spot would be “awarded” to someplace in India (e.g., (New) Delhi). I was wrong, it was Cairo (Egypt). Delhi was 4th. New York 13th. However, that’s the somehow-computed aggregate over multiple categories (Sexual Violence, Access to Healthcare, Cultural Practices, and Economic Opportunities).

    Considering Sexual Violence alone — defined as “Women can live in this city without facing the risk of sexual violence including rape or sexual attacks and harassment” — Delhi is 1st (as I suspected), Cairo 3rd, New York 12th, London 14th, and Paris 16th, which is not quite what the Grauniad implied. (I don’t see any information about the survey’s methodology or raw results.)

    For French critics of #MeToo — who view the movement against sexual harassment and assault as American puritanism and argue women could deal with any problems by standing up for themselves — Laguerre’s video showed this was not always the case. Laguerre refused to let a strange man insult her in the street, and she was violently attacked for it.


  10. wcorvi says

    I wonder why anyone even uses these ‘social media’ outlets. I’ve never posted, or even read, a tweet – I could care less what some random person thinks. I have no facebook page; occasionally a restaurant has their details on facebook – I just don’t GO there.

    I read the news, think about what it says, form my opinions, and am happy with them. I feel no need to tell the world what I concluded, and I’m sure the world doesn’t give a rodent’s hinder about what I think. How about we all just cancel our accounts, and actually meet real human beings (friends) to discuss anything we have to talk about?

  11. blf says

    Crip Dyke@10, I assume you are referring to the Thomson Reuters survey, The world’s most dangerous megacities for women 2017. I have no idea. As I said in @9, “I don’t see any information about the survey’s methodology or raw results.”

    My opinion is the survey’s result are broadly accurate, in two senses: (1) Cities in the first ten-ish or so rankings — be it aggregate or on specific issues — are very dangerous and should be avoided by EVERYONE; and (2) The remaining cities, whilst not comfortably safe, could be visited with precautions and care.

    It’s certainly true that, despite living in France, I avoid Paris like it has the plague. I really really don’t like what I consider to be an (almost) septic tank. And, despite living there last century, that is more-than-less my opinion of London. I’ve only visited New York twice, and have no intention of ever going back to that blatant concentration camp.