by Robin M.
Why So Many Feel Big When They Hide Behind A Screen
I’ve often joked that the internet is the last place that beating up women in public is still considered acceptable. Ask any woman who writes online, be it politics, women’s rights, often even parenting and more mundane social issues, and you will hear a nearly universal admittance that she has at some point been attacked for her views by at least one anonymous commenter. Not an “I disagree with you because x, y,z…” response, but a “You stupid bitch, why do you think you can write what you write.”
I used to be amazed by the vitriol. Then I was saddened. Eventually, though, I saw that as just another part of the territory when you open yourself up as a writer online.
I accepted it. We all pretty much accept it. That is the part that should make us all angry — our now inherent acceptance of the idea that if you write online, you will be harassed, especially if you are a woman.
As Nina Funell explains in this piece in the Australian, “The internet has absolutely changed the nature of public debate. The anonymity and the immediacy it gives people who want to indulge in abuse and hate… I don’t know if it actually makes it more or less dangerous [to have a public profile] but when you’re seeing a whole heap of hate speech written about you in separate forums, targeting you via email or in comments, I do know that it has a profound impact on your sense of safety…”
I’ve always been lucky to feel safe, despite opening a great deal of my private life online because of my writing about infertility and reproductive health. Although I have had my own share of comments, both with real names (I assume) attached or sent anonymously, I have learned to ignore them as simply a part of my work. I never stop to question why it should ever be a part of anyone’s “work” to deal with online harassment.
Once, things escalated beyond just comments and insults. It was a shocking realization of not just how exposed you actually do leave yourself online, but how free those who disagree with you feel it is allowable to step beyond the normal bounds of public and private life in order to “teach you a lesson” about how wrong you are about the things you believe.
I learned my lesson well. I learned that to allow someone to silence you online is to lose your power, and that when your personal life goes on line, you don’t go quiet, you identify it for what it is — an attack by someone who wants to intimidate you from acting on your beliefs. You must learn to change that attack into something that can become a positive for you, a chance to show your strength, expand your audience, whatever it is that they are trying to stop you from accomplishing.
The internet may always be the last place for attacks, especially attacks on women, to thrive. But we don’t have to accept it, we have to fight it.