Monday, November 7, 2011

Sexual targeting in the online world

I read an interesting article today on the increasing problem of anonymous misogynistic attacks on women writers (Women bloggers call for a stop to "hateful" trolling by misogynist men).

A group of British journalists and bloggers have banded together to address the issue, some of them publicly revealing the details of abusive and threatening messages they receive.

What is notable about the messages is that regardless of the topic under discussion (politics, finance, etc.) the comments are generally aggressively sexual in nature and target the writer's gender and personal safety. The threat of rape seems to come up most often in the invective.

Linda Grant, a former columnist for the Guardian, has stopped writing because of the vicious attacks. “What struck me forcibly about the new online world were the violence of three kinds of attitude: islamophobia, antisemitism, and misogyny. And it was the misogyny that surprised me the most. British national newspapers have done little, if anything, to protect their women writers from violent hate-speech."

I've noticed this kind of attack in my own blogging circles, though the frequency is far less, likely due to the smaller readership we have relative to national media outlets.

Lori at RRSAHM, in particular, has received a lot of backlash from male readers (mostly anonymous or with linkbacks that lead nowhere) since she began speaking out publicly about her pain in the wake of her husband's suicide, and her recent foray into online dating.

While I get very few nasty comments, this may have to do with my publicly stated policy of deleting abusive and/or anonymous comments. If you don't come out to play, they tend to go off in search of more fertile grounds.

What I do receive, however, are occassional abusive and threatening emails. I have also had to put up with a slew of legal attacks by my husband who is angered by the fact that I am speaking publically about his various criminal activities. He has leveled attacks on my parenting and mental health, and made up ridiculous stories to try to minimize his own culpability and blame me for his assault charges and child pornography investigation.

Psychotherapist and writer Susie Orbach is quoted in the article as saying: "The threat of sexual violence is a violence itself, it's a complete violation and it's meant to shut the people up. It's hateful and it raises the question, what do these men, or the people who are doing this, find so threatening? Is it that they feel attacked in their own masculinity and therefore sexuality in this violent form becomes the way that they establish a means to cover up their fragility by bringing their own vulnerability onto these women?”

There is, and always has been, a percentage of the male population that is threatened by women exerting their personal power. There is still an underlying vein of belief that women are simply sexual vessels and should stay at home with their mouths shut. Public opinion, it is believed, is the mileau of men.

I find it hard to believe this kind of attitude still occurs in the 21st century, but it does. I've seen it in American, British and Australian politics. This attitude is typically paired with an aggressive, abusive nature that thrives on secrecy and anonymity. Afterall, though it's still all too common, it is no longer publically acceptable, hence the anonymity.

I love seeing women (or men, anyone really) rise up and claim their personal power. I love seeing them speak their minds responsibly and with compassion. It makes me want to cheer. I think the more we all embrace our own power, the better place this world will be.

Exerting personal power is a byproduct of confidence and self-love. As Orbach goes on to say, "With sexual violence, what the victim is receiving is the self-hatred of the individual who is expressing that pain and upset that is inside of them in a very explosive manner.”

This conversation is especially pertinent in the realm of domestic abuse, where the dynamic is based upon one individual trying to exert control over another through violence or coercion. When the victim begins to heal and become stronger, the aggressor reacts by ratcheting up the abusive behavior. It can be a frightening cycle for someone trying to escape violence. Statistics show that women are most at risk when trying to leave an abusive situation.

Leaving is a scary, dangerous, but necessary step in healing from abuse. It's the hardest part of the journey, but also the most important. It's why we need to have strong support systems in place for theose women (and men) who have the strength to get out.

It's also why we need to keep talking openly about any form of sexual or aggressive violence. In talking openly, we shed light on the darkness and replace lies with the truth.

This world needs more authentically powerful men and women. It needs more individuals who define power not in terms of aggression or subjugation, but as confidence and inner strength. I am so honored to have found a circle of writers who are doing just that.

I hope all of you reading never stop speaking your truth loud and clear.

I know I won't.

because truth rocks


  1. I always read your posts but don't often comment - you say it all so perfectly and all I can say is "Yeah!" which doesn't add much to the discussion. =) Thanks for an always interesting and thoughtful read.

    We have a female Prime Minister at the moment as you would know. The level of invective against her that is directed solely at her gender makes me ill. It is so wrong. We appear to have come a long way in some respects but in others, remain very behind.

  2. Thanks Melbo. I've noticed quite a few comments about her hair color too (said the fellow redhead). As if that has anything at all to do with her performance. Such comments are meant to be demeaning and belittling.

  3. out of curiostity - did the papers say anything about the female PM's rack?

    Just wondering.

    I've seen thos odd anti american Women comments that pop up now and again and just can never really get my head arround it.

    Sure I'm threatened by women - we all should be - they are a nightmare. Especially red heads ;-)

    On a more serious note - keep going with this. It needs doing and I know just how devastating it has been for you - How? Because I've read about it.

  4. I feel genuinely shocked and deeply saddened that this occurring. So much for the online world being a forum for free speech for everyone, men and women of all ages and doenominations. I guess the internet merely reflects the real world back at us - it's beauties and its poisons. It's good that people are banding together to address and stop this. Numbers is always the key.

  5. I think it's a real bloody shame, no less so than for the hundreds of wonderful, encouraging, respectful men out there (including my husband, lucky me). it upsets me that women feel the need to stop speaking out because of the abuse they have received.


  6. I am with you all the way on this one dear lady. I just do not understand the squirrelly little minds of these strange dudes.

  7. The thought of all this sexual aggression against women and men is so degrading and disgusting. I have just recently watched the Miss Representation ( clip and joined the movement. It is such an eye opener to how media company's use women, and belittle them in so many ways. It's so dangerously scary for the growth of young women today.

  8. As I said, I hang with the good ones!

  9. You, my love, will be heard above all that disgusting noise online.
    You are inspiring.

  10. There are some sad and sick men out there. I keep thinking that they must have had terrible childhoods to feel so insecure as adults. It's disgraceful that women bloggers are made to feel so threatened online. This is when the blogosphere can become a scary place of unknown quantities.

    Bravo to you for your strength and for speaking your truth loud and clear.

  11. What a sad blight on the world that we even need to worry about this. Love your stance!

  12. It's so... frustrating! Infuriating! Nauseating! To have to listen to such small-mindedness and know it has a voice that harms. It is so sad that many women are censored by the threat. Understandable, but sad. Never let them win, I say. Perhaps ultimately there are worse things than physical violence. Big thought.

    I love your writing, K. x

  13. I've been following this campaign and think that it's a brilliant idea, mostly because it's clearly such an eye opener to some people. When journalists started re-tweeting some of the messages they received the predominant reaction was one of shock, to them it had become "normal" but their readers had no idea that it was going on. This clearly makes the point that just shrugging these things off is pointless if no-one else knows they are happening. Only by telling everyone, letting everyone know it's happening in the first place can any change take place.

  14. Sending me to the Guardian article has led me on a reading binge - I have now read about ten different articles by journalists and bloggers about the abuse they have received. I am stunned. I tend to avoid reading comments on blogs where I know there will be a lot of trolls, but there is being an arsehole and then there is being scary and abusive. This is just. Wow. Sorry, I'm rambling and making no point. I am horrified at what I'm reading, I cannot believe people would behave this way - I work in construction, I'm an engineer on a construction site and I have never come across anything near this level of vitriol despite working in such a male dominated industry.

    Okay, what I'm saying is thankyou for raising my awareness of this. Thankyou.

  15. @purplefroglet - that's just it, the lack of awareness. People can't help solve a problem they don't know exists. Also, talking about this sort of thing normalizes it and makes it easier to discuss and respond to.

    @Sarah - I think you've done more reading on the topic than I have. I'll have to keep digging. I remember having that same reaction to comments made about Obama when he was elected (shock at the vehemence and just hatred inherent in them). It's frightening to realize this sort of attitude exists and that there is so much emotional energy behind it.

  16. Keep doing what you're doing, speaking out. There will always be idiots out there, that's the nature of the world but you are decent people and these are truths that need telling.


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