Battleground Twitter: Women, Misogyny, and #MenCallMeThings

You’re not the only one whose inbox is occasionally flooded by unsolicited nastiness. It turns out that almost all women are targets of a special kind of Internet bully–the misogynist.

Brendan O’Neill’s essay in The Telegraph was the last straw for Sady Doyle, who decided to publicly  take on anonymous online sexism. Because, really, why do people talk the way they do, especially to women, when they’re hiding behind a screen? Sady thinks it’s all part of a plan to scare women into shutting up, and I’m pretty much with her on that one.

Sometimes, there isn’t actually that much difference between someone saying ‘I want to rape you with a chainsaw’ and someone saying ‘I hope you get raped with a chainsaw.’ If the first comment contains information that leads you to believe the person can find you, you report it. But often, it doesn’t. It’s just someone sending you some words, in the hopes that the next time you sit down to write, you’ll remember that yikesy chainsaw-rape thing and think, ‘you know? Maybe this isn’t such a great idea. Maybe I don’t need to say this. Maybe I’ll piss someone off, and maybe it will be more than I can handle, and you know, maybe my thoughts on this topic just ARE NOT IMPORTANT ENOUGH for me to risk the headache/fear/irritation/distress/panic attack I know I will get.’

Of course, she points out, actually calling a spade a spade is practically begging to get called a hysterical woman. Because, you know, aren’t we always asking for it. Being the badass that she is, Sady launched the Twitter hashtag #mencallmethings. Before you argue that tweeting isn’t exactly revolutionary, let’s talk about what’s going on here. When you have angry men who really really want to silence women, talking–even on Twitter–can be pretty loud.

The Internet puts a lot of discussion that was once private into a public space. This applies to “men calling us things,” in that attempts to silence or denigrate us are now a pastime that can be shared by large groups of people in a public domain, with little to none of the consequences, even if they are only social, that might occur in a private space. But it also means that we have a platform to talk about it, and to call attention to our own marginalization. Misogyny is nothing new and neither are stories about it. We can still chat over needlepoint or plot the dismantlement of the patriarchy in consciousness raising groups, but now we’ve also got the Internet. We make friends, create spaces, and share ideas with people from all over the world–something that makes me happier than I can put into words. I can only imagine that the fairly permanent place that women’s voices are claiming in online discussion is threatening to the type of men who call Amanda Marcotte a “whiny blubbering baby” and suggest that she kill herself. Because while the things you can read about in #mencallmethings and the fact that it’s such a frequent phenomenon in the first place are reprehensible, it’s also a sign of the times. The vitriolic and hateful responses are a reaction to a scary and irreversible social change — the fact that women now say what they want, and what men call them for it can finally be a response, albeit an awful one, and not the whole conversation.

Trolls will eat you alive

Trolls are everywhere, but women are usually subjected to a special, gendered and sexualized form of silencing. Women get dismissed as unimportant because we’re meant to be sex objects, not human beings. We’re either sexy–who wants to listen to a hot girl when you can just look at her?–or ugly–and why would anyone care what some busted chick has to say? Deciding that our opinions and our stories matter regardless of that is a political action in and of itself; the men who call us gendered slurs and suggest that they wouldn’t mind our violent deaths is a reaction to the fact that our voices don’t work in their paradigm, but also a reaction to the fact that we’ve clearly decided we don’t care about that anymore.

Sady cites Rebecca Solnit’s “Men Explain Things To Me” to explain the frustration women encounter when, er, talking. “Most women fight wars on two fronts, one for whatever the putative topic is and one simply for the right to speak, to have ideas, to be acknowledged to be in possession of facts and truths, to have value, to be a human being.”

What’s you’re best/worst contribution to #mencallmethings?

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Laura is a tiny girl who wishes she were a superhero. She likes talking to her grandma on the phone and making things with her hands. Strengths include an impressive knowledge of Harry Potter, the ability to apply sociology to everything under the sun, and a knack for haggling for groceries in Spanish. Weaknesses: Chick-fil-a, her triceps, girls in glasses, and the subjunctive mood. Follow the vagabond adventures of Laura and her bike on twitter [@laurrrrita].

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  1. I’m just living a nice example of this…There is an article about a girl who had sex in the first week in the program BigBrother, argentine version.

    The firstten replies say: “Todas putas” (“All whores”) I try to explain the error in their phrase, about how wrong it is generalizing…And their responses was. “No, todas putas”

    I don’t have anything against men…But surely I have big problems against morons

    • Exactly, it is way easier to type that kind of crap into a screen. The chances of any of these people actually saying the same thing to someone’s face is probably zero….so, it’s pretty cowardly really.

  2. argghh thinking about misogyny or gender inequality makes me feel so angry and frustrated and helpless! i lived with 3 guys last year and that last quote by Solnit pretty much sums up my experience. i even tried to explain it to them because i wouldn’t say they follow “typical” norms of masculinity but they just didn’t get it! and then a few days later one of them even tried to argue with me that sexism only exists in other countries but that’s a whole nother story. one on one i found conversations to be okay but i still didn’t feel validated in the same way. argghh down with the patriarchy!! oh right, but not all men are this way so nvm i’ll stop ranting.

    • The joys of privilege. It makes other people’s problems invisible and even inconceivable.

      When I was 18 I stayed in NJ for a few months, with a highly educated, intelligent, professional, politically-aware black family. I commented one day that there was a huge difference between soaps in the UK and those I’d seen in the US, in that the UK soaps focused on working-class people struggling to make ends meet, whereas the US soaps I’d seen focused on the wealthy, and even the ‘poor’ people were pretty middle-class really. This intelligent woman’s answer? ‘I think it’s because we don’t really have poor people in the US like you do in the UK.’ I was actually dumbstruck!

  3. Ok, first, I laughed out loud at your use of the troll from Harry Potter. Thank you for that.

    Second, I’m glad that somebody is standing up and saying something about all the misogyny that is so carelessly thrown around online. It makes me so sad how normalized it has become, and fighting back, as is so clearly demonstrated in men’s reactions to this hash tag, just results in more misogyny.

    I think I need to make my campaign to bring more hugs and less trolling internet-wide. Except I’m reasonably certain I have no desire to hug those men. Hmm, I’ll have to work on the logistics of that.

  4. As women voicing our opinions, I think we’ve all come across some form of these types of comments. What I’ve been noticing recently is that a lot of sexism and misogyny expressed by trolls like these isn’t just coming from men.

    Yes, most of truly appalling vitriol (like the raped by chainsaws thing) does come from men sending emails, tweets, and anonymous comments on tumblrs. However, I’ve been noticing a lot of women online reflecting the slut-shaming, whore accusing, violence against women and how dare you have an opinion comments at other women. That needs to be addressed as well.

    • my thoughts exactly. while mysogynists tend to be depicted as male figures, there is much infighting amongst women-identified persons- so terribly sad and confusing. Womankind has been brainwashed so deeply into the chauvinistic mindset that they turn against one another in order to gain approval from their prospective partners. its a shame that each and everyone of us are forced to fight for our right to be respected on every public and private aspect of our lives, even amongst those persons who ought to be our allies. Let’s practice philogyny, admiration towards women, in combination with mutual respect. Only then can the feminist movement point the finger at non-women and not have three pointing back at us. I think this website is a step in the right direction, but as always, its never enough unless the entire body is moving forward as well.

    • Yeah, the misogyny coming from women is just as much a problem and doubly as frustrating in some ways.

      I was actually just reading a blog post a few days ago written by a feminist lesbian kind of working through her feelings about her women friends. She was saying she’s realized recently that she has a really hard time trusting or getting too close to straight women because it seems their first emotional allegience is to men and they so often end up doing what she referred to as “emotional dick sucking” that they end up perpetuating a lot of sexism in a (mostly) unconscious attempt not to alienate men.

      I’ve noticed some of that too in the past, but hadn’t articulated it like that. Sadly, I’ve seen that even in vocally feminist women. Like, they’re plenty radical when it’s just us women, but get a man in the room and they trip all over themselves to reassure him that when they say they’re a feminist, it’s not *him* they have a problem with (even when they really, really should). It’s very disheartening.

  5. I feel like the nastiest things people have ever said about/to me online have come from other lesbians, actually, which is unfortunate.

    Actually I hate that I am even leaving this comment, because i hate when conversations about sexism become conversations about in-fighting or really anything that takes away from the conversation about what men are saying/doing w/r/t sexism.

    But, I think it’s interesting and I wonder if it’s different when you’re queer — men often insult other women by calling them dykes or lesbians when they aren’t dykes or lesbians, but we actually ARE, so that’s not an insult, that’s just re-stating the obvious. It’s like whatever — I already know that there are a lot of men who find our very existence to be ridiculous and offensive and that we’re all just in need of a good poking, and that’s just part of being who we are, really. But I also wonder if the tone changes when sexist men are attacking women who are walled-off sexually, such as lesbians.

    That being said, hands down the comments on my first Lezberado video for showtime were the nastiest — the typical “you’re ugly” stuff, homophobic stuff, threats to rape me with a broken beer bottle, threats to rape my mother, etc — but youtube is a special place in that regard!

    What I’m most bothered by from sexist men who comment here (there are plenty of wonderful men who comment here as well) is just the condescending tone, it’s infuriating. It’s more subtle than a death threat, and all the more insidious too.

  6. The hashtag only addresses half of the problem. Women perpetuate misogyny despite (and in spite of) experiencing the consequences of it.

    Also being on the internet and anonymous you can’t even know it is a man saying that to you.

    I have seen a lot of female comic artists address this issue, but they never had a clever hashtag to deflect it. I really love this article/concept.

    • While I agree that women also perpetuate misogyny, especially on the internet, I think most of the really horrible death and rape threats come from men. I think the scary thing about these is when women feel like their personal safety is threatened in a way they don’t when other women call them a slut. I just read an article about a female political writer who had people trying to find where she lived presumably to carry out the threats they had made. That freaks me out. I dunno, maybe it’s just me, but threats of violence make me sick to my stomach in a way that other negative comments don’t. Obviously, that’s not to say that general misogynistic comments aren’t horrible. They totally are.

      • I guess what I’m feeling is that by making it specifically about *men* rather than the cultural institutions that cause the men to say what they do and act how they do, we are treating the symptom and not the cause.

        I believe that men wouldn’t make such threats nearly as often as they do if it weren’t for the implication from our society that it is *okay* to do so. Women participate in encouraging and perpetuating these behaviors by engaging in misogyny themselves. And I have definitely heard women say things like “she should get raped,” etc., which maybe is different from “I want to rape you,” but maybe also not?

        Not that violent threats aren’t absolutely horrifying and that they shouldn’t make you sick to your stomach, but I feel like addressing misogyny from all its angles and getting to the root cause is just as important in stopping them.

        • Word. The most horrific things I see say, on my twitter feed tend to be from people who self identify as cis women. The one time a self identified cis male said something I thought was awful and I took him to task, he explained and apologized. Everything is so terribly complicated it’s crazy. The “emotional dick sucking” comment further down resonates with me because I once saw retweeted a man saying something like, stupid sluts get what they deserve, and the NEXT tweet was a woman assuring him SHE wasn’t a slut, and yeah fuck those ladies! Ugh.

      • I couldn’t agree more. Yeah, lots of different people say terrible things on the internet and misogyny is in all of us. But the really chilling comments are threats that seem like they could actually happen. That make me think, is this what even a small percentage of men I encounter in real life are thinking? Women say mean things sometimes too but rarely do I feel physically unsafe with women. If I thought there was no chance a guy could ever harm me I wouldn’t even really mind catcalls. But the threat of real violence is underlying.

  7. My personal favorite is “who told you that?” (w/ condescending tone) in response to any opinion I’ve ever had on anything. Even something as minor as whether a toaster oven is considered a conventional oven. Which it is not.

    It’s shiznit like this that further supports how important visibility is in general. Thanks, AS.

    And thanks for linking to the “Men Explain Things To Me” article.

  8. My favorite distraction from studying is to go on sites (CL rants and raves is a great one), write a misandrous comment and then wait to see the s**t hit the fan, so to speak. Guys are so easy to provoke, it’s so funny. I know this article is about misongyny, but sometimes fighting fire with fire is more entertaining.

  9. Actually, some of the worse things that men have said and done to me have be sexual harassment and groping in person. I basically tune out the shit people come up with online, but some of the things that I’ve been subjected to in the past made me incredibly fearful for my life/personal integrity.

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