The price of being female and on the internet

A must-read by Feministe friend Amanda Hess on online sexual harassment, and how legal mechanisms need to be updated to deal with the reality women face. As someone who has lost countless hours dealing with stalkers and harassers — and actually did see one of them go to jail eventually, although for threatening someone else — it was nice to see a story that didn’t just document the harassment, but that highlighted the sheer ineptitude of law enforcement, the American court system and male-run tech platforms in dealing with it.

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46 comments for “The price of being female and on the internet

  1. TomSims
    January 6, 2014 at 3:41 pm

    Jill, I’m no lawyer and you are but , aren’t these online threats the same as terrorist threats made in person, and can’t they be prosecuted with some degree of success?

    • ldouglas
      January 6, 2014 at 4:48 pm

      If you read the article about six inches above your post, you’ll find your answer.

  2. Xexyz
    January 6, 2014 at 3:58 pm

    Linky no worky =(

    (think the problem is on the other end, though)

    • January 6, 2014 at 4:13 pm

      Hmmm I just tested it and it worked for me!

    • PrettyAmiable
      January 6, 2014 at 4:34 pm

      I can’t access that entire site – I’m at work and am running an old version of IE. Maybe that’s what’s happening with you too?

  3. January 6, 2014 at 4:04 pm

    As I’ve written before on my site, as a man, I’ve gotten some hate mail, but it’s nothing compared to if I was a woman. The few persistent trolls I’ve somehow attracted really have sought to find a way to get into my head. Sad to say, sometimes they have.

  4. Amanda
    January 6, 2014 at 4:49 pm

    Why prosecute such things? This really seems like something that’d make harassment worse.

    • January 6, 2014 at 5:07 pm

      That’s a pretty defeatist attitude.

    • SophiaBlue
      January 6, 2014 at 6:39 pm

      It seems to me that a lot men do this because they can hurt women without any negative consequences for themselves. Prosecuting (as well as other approaches, like exposing their harassment to their family on Facebook) destroys that appeal.

    • Jenjena
      January 6, 2014 at 8:11 pm

      What do you suggest might make it better?

  5. karak
    January 6, 2014 at 4:59 pm

    If I said to a cop half the shit that’s been said to me, I’d be arrested. If I managed to send it to various media head honchos, they’d scream and rant about how awful it was.

    But fuck it, I’m just a woman, so I guess I should feel complimented that people think this is okay.

    Sometimes, I wish I could find the people that say this shit, show up at their house, and beat them bloody. Then they can enjoy being hurt and afraid for a while.

    • david
      January 6, 2014 at 8:24 pm

      ^should we take that as a serious threat?

      the problem seems to be enlarged when people complaining about online threats make online threats themselves….

      The issue to me is the ease and anonymity these threats can be made with compared to the cost of getting a restraining order, having the cops properly investigate it or just identifying the seriousness of the threat itself is the threatening person 12 and lives in Australia or are they a local individual who may pose a direct threat.

      It seems the best solution would be a direct response by the platforms involved such as twitter were they control such offensive statements and can call in more serious authorities in situations were the threats seem more credible.

      • pheenobarbidoll
        January 7, 2014 at 6:44 am

        Yes, women finally pushed to the point of defense enlarge the problem of men who target women for attack for existing as women in public. Not.

      • david
        January 7, 2014 at 6:41 pm

        casual nonserious threats made online masking serious threats making it harder for the cops and other online authorities to protect women from said threats does seem to enlarge it imo.

      • pheenobarbidoll
        January 7, 2014 at 6:43 pm

        Yes. Thats the culprit. Not misogyny or anything. -eye roll-

      • david
        January 8, 2014 at 4:00 am

        the head of a giraffe against a bright blue sky: its mouth is pursed sidewaysClearly I was claiming that was completely the reason this happens glad you picked up on that pheeno….

      • pheenobarbidoll
        January 8, 2014 at 8:26 am

        Clearly you don’t grok that women can’t make it harder for cops to protect them when the cops have no interest in doing so to begin with. Which is the whole goddamn point of this article. Women are attacked for existing online, and the authorities don’t give a shit. Regardless of our reactions.

      • pheenobarbidoll
        January 8, 2014 at 8:27 am

        But don’t let that stop you from focusing on the women’s reactions instead of what provoked it. Can’t let the chance of informing us we’re doing it wrong pass by.

      • January 8, 2014 at 11:54 am

        casual nonserious threats made online masking serious threats making it harder for the cops and other online authorities to protect women from said threats does seem to enlarge it imo.

        Karak did not threaten anyone. She talked about what she ‘sometimes wished’ would happen to a vague group of people.

      • david
        January 8, 2014 at 4:36 pm

        I don’t think I am focusing on womens reactions that is just the part of the post you focused on and responded to. And it relates to peoples conduct online rather than how you should react to online threats.

        I can’t personally address what provoked it as it amounts to nothing at all… what provoked it was being a women online if I could fix the hatred that sometimes causes I would.

        And we live in such massively different worlds that there is no point talking if you experience cops as having no interest in protecting women from threats.

        And Fat Steve they said what they wished they could do to someone if they could find them to make them enjoy being “hurt and afraid for a while” I didn’t view it as a serious threat but in a thread about online threats and the lack of response to them making more, again just seems to enlarge the problem as I outlined above. I get that it was vague and unfocused but i still think it reinforces that online threats are ok.

      • TimmyTwinkles
        January 8, 2014 at 10:52 am

        Fuck yourself bro

  6. January 6, 2014 at 7:57 pm

    In my experience the antagonism starts long before any sort of harassment starts, and certain men (who might make up >.01% of an audience yet make up about 95% of the people who comment) are wired like a coiled spring just for something to use an excuse to harass a female who makes herself a public entity.

    I have seen this every time I’ve had female co-host or a guest who leans towards feminism (even in the most basic way.) For example:

    When I got frustrated with my show on W**C (censoring the name of the station because of legal issues, but if one looked up my bio it would be easy to figure it out, based on the call letters there) being just me and the callers, I convinced the bosses to let me have a co-host, and specifically was looking for someone who would be different than me, both in point of view and in voice, so a female co-host was a natural choice. I announced it on the station blog and immediately, first comment was ‘Why does a radio show need eye candy?’ Now, as people have probably noticed, I tend to try to resolve tensions through humor, so I just replied ‘I can’t help it if I’m beautiful.’ At which point he posted a much more deferential thing, all LOL’s (because once they are dealing with the male host it immediately turns ass-kissy) saying he was just kidding. As soon as she got her own email address at the station her inbox contained, of an evening, about 5% serious email about the show, and 95% jerkiness, split between men telling her how awful she was (frequently using the sort of language we didn’t allow on the blog,) and men telling her how much in love with her they were (frequently using the sort of language we didn’t allow on the blog.) Now, she had an extremely broad sense of humor (far better than mine on this issue,) and it seemed to make her laugh more than bother her- until a really scary one came through. We ultimately did have an arrest/prosecution situation, as one person using several sock puppets turned out to be responsible for much of the negative feedback about her that came to her, me and the station. Much of what he wrote was legitimate non-hateful constructive criticism, that you wouldn’t have thought came from the same person. Yes, you guessed it…the same person who wrote the comment about eye candy.

    • January 6, 2014 at 9:08 pm

      I just remembered that this little clip is also online…

      This is a clip from a station that I used to work for, and the listeners are basically being called out because the PD gave a show to the woman who produced my show, and basically did everything around the station. She had been on the air before plenty of times so it wasn’t like she was a total novice, but as soon as she did her show the knives came out on all the forums (fora?) which used to have threads about our station and all sorts of posts about how terrible she was appeared. So, the PD, who also did the morning show, made a long diatribe against what he referred to as ‘forum wankers,’ (because it was 2008ish and at that point most people of his age wouldn’t have been au fait with the term ‘troll,’) which I joined in as well. Not sure if I’m referred to by name or just as ‘our evening host’ but I’m the only guy with an American accent.

      I’m not sure if it’s obvious but we are both just making a concerted effort to get the attention directed towards us rather than the producer in question, because we both know what she’ll be in for if the trolls/wankers turn against her personally as apposed to just disliking her show.

  7. anna_k
    January 6, 2014 at 8:17 pm

    yeah, nope. i’m gonna go with the twitter voices on this and call basic intersectionality fail. “why women aren’t welcome on the internet” as an article is not a thing when so much of women being unwelcome is the way in which WW with relative power make relatively powerless WOC unwelcome every single day. So nope.

    Particularly tasteless to use Criado-Perez as your flagship anecdata just days after she got done labelling WOC calling for intersectionality as bullies who’d sent her rape/death threats (on BBC radio, twitter & storified), piggybacking on Reni Eddo-Lodge’s actual points about intersectionality to do so, and then sitting back and saying nothing while Eddo-Lodge was attacked by pretty much every single powerful mainstream white feminist in the UK.

    (CP then back-tracked that she was not piggybacking, was actually targeting “mostly white” women with her comments, and cried a lot of tears via blogpost about how mean people were to her, and how much she admires Eddo-Lodge. Because of course she did.)

    Done with staying quiet at instances of the same old “white feminist experience=universal” writing for 2014, me.

    • anna_k
      January 6, 2014 at 8:27 pm

      + forgot to add, as @DrJaneChi pointed out on twitter, the title of the piece is also terrible: “white folks appropriating civil rights movement language & imagery wo supporting actual black ppl.”

    • david
      January 6, 2014 at 8:36 pm

      so you honestly think its only white feminists that experience this kind of cyber bullying/threats?

      • January 6, 2014 at 9:03 pm

        david, who is saying that only white women experience this? I think the point is that once again, the experiences of white women are being held up as universal and central, to the exclusion of the experiences of women of color.

      • anna_k
        January 6, 2014 at 9:25 pm

        yep, this.

      • Tony
        January 6, 2014 at 10:43 pm

        No, but – I didn’t see any WOC mentioned in the article as examples of harassment victims. If I’m counting correctly, ten women were mentioned as examples of harassment victims and all of them were (or at least look) white (Amanda Hess, Alyssa Royse, Kathy Sierra, Lindy West, Rebecca Watson, Catherine Meyer, Jen Doll, Caroline Criado-Perez, Jill Kelley, Jessica Valenti). I couldnt find a single black feminist mentioned in the article.

        I noted only two WOC mentioned at all- both South Asian and both highly accomplished. Dr. Sameer Hinduja was cited for her expertise as a criminology professor and Vijaya Gadde was named checked because she is Twitter’s general

        But nothing from racial/ethnic minority feminists or women from groups traditionally undertepresented in the US such as black, Hispanic or Native American women activists. They could have easily highlighted Zerlina Maxwell for what she got standing up against rape culture on Fox News. If my count is right you can see why it looks exclusionary.

      • Tony
        January 6, 2014 at 10:45 pm

        And it’s a shame because it’s a really good article, and online harassment is a form of terrorism designed to shut down women. But this one seemed to take place in a white only world.

      • January 7, 2014 at 2:58 am

        “But nothing from racial/ethnic minority feminists or women from groups traditionally undertepresented in the US”

        South Asian women are traditionally underrepresented in the US, surely?

      • Tony
        January 7, 2014 at 9:30 am

        That depends on what you mean by underrepresented. South Asians have among the highest average incomes in the United States, and in my impression are well represented in media, business, and technology in comparison with the other groups I mentioned, although admittedly I don’t have hard statistics on hand to back that up. In any case, pointing to a narrow slice of the WOC population shouldn’t be an excuse to avoid true inclusion. Also, my point is that these 2 women in particular were only mentioned in the article because of their expertise/achievement, not as examples of victims of harassment intended to be defended. All WOC are less likely to be defended and more likely to be ignored when they face harassment (or any kind of victimization), which is part of why excluding them from the examples of victimization is particularly disappointing here.

    • January 7, 2014 at 9:56 am

      The title “The New Civil Rights Issue” made me cringe…. :(

      • January 7, 2014 at 5:26 pm

        If it had been called “The New Civil Rights Movement” I would have cringed too. But civil rights are a class of rights centered on the ability of everyone to participate in society without discrimination or fear of retribution. And gender discrimination online is in fact an emerging issue in that field, so I think it’s pretty accurate phrasing.

      • Ledasmom
        January 7, 2014 at 6:15 pm

        But why couldn’t the title have been something like “A New Civil Rights Issue”? Using “The” suggests that it’s the only or most important new civil rights issue, which, considering that there’s a lot of old civil rights issues that haven’t exactly been resolved, seems problematic to me.
        It’s not a negligible difference, the one between a definite and indefinite article.
        For that matter, referencing a few more WOC would have made this title less uncomfortable. While it’s true that the term “civil rights” doesn’t apply exclusively to discrimination based on race or skin color, in the U.S. it’s heavily associated with that.

      • Ledasmom
        January 7, 2014 at 6:16 pm

        I note on rechecking that the title is actually “The Next Civil Rights Issue”, which doesn’t seem better to me. I mean, did we solve the last civil rights issue? When did that happen?

      • January 7, 2014 at 6:43 pm

        Aren’t civil rights issues overlapping? I’ve never thought that just because a previously unhighlighted issue starts to get more attention that it means that previously highlighted issues are necessarily solved.

    • pseudalicious
      January 13, 2014 at 8:20 am

      So white women shouldn’t complain about being abused with vile rape & death threats because those same white women, or other white women, have been racist to woc? Okey dokey. That’s cool. That is definitely 100% Grade-A social justice work right there. Never complain about the axis you’re being oppressed on if you have privilege on another axis and have ever invoked it, consciously or subconsciously. And if you’ve ever been an asshole, you’re never allowed to complain. Got it, thanks.

  8. GayDahlia
    January 6, 2014 at 11:27 pm

    Premise 1) Women using the internet receive threats of rape and murder from men using the internet.
    Premise 2) It is impossible for a woman receiving a threat of violence to distinguish a credible threat from a non-credible one.
    Premise 3) It is possible for the State to determine a credible threat of violence from a non-credible one because the State reserves powers of coercive discovery that are not available to the citizen.
    Premise 4) The State reserves powers of coercion with the justification that the powers are ordered against the actions of the law-breaking citizen, and the laws are ordered in support of the law-abiding citizen to be free from violence or law-breaking.
    Premise 5) The State justifies its ability to support the law-abiding citizen and censure the law-breaking system by containing mechanisms for reordering its powers of coercion to address new forms of law-breaking or violence.
    Premise 6) The State contains no order or procedure for addressing the law-breaking of the men threatening law-abiding women through the internet with rape and murder.
    Premise 7) The State refuses to use existing powers of coercion to address the violence and law-breaking committed by men on the internet towards women on the internet.

    Women are not citizens,


    The State is unjust.

  9. Zoebird
    January 7, 2014 at 1:52 am

    Hello all, I’m a long-time reader, first-time commenter and I felt this was a good article to chime in about. (Apologies in advance for the wall of text, I promise not to make a habit of it.) I had a terrifying experience in high school with a real-life stalker (as in a stalker physically present in my immediate vicinity, not at all to discount the realness of online stalking/bullying) and it really changed my view of threats against women in general.

    I met a guy in art class senior year and spoke to him occasionally, never thinking our relationship was more than one between acquaintances, but obviously he thought differently. He made some inappropriate comments and advances, I told him firmly that I wasn’t interested. He escalated – verbal and emotional abuse, manipulation, threats against my artwork, my friends and family, and eventually my person. When I finally told my teacher how uncomfortable it was making me, I was laughed off and told I was exaggerating ‘for attention’ and that I should be flattered by his interest in me, or else just ignore him.

    I tried that for a while – until he created a graphic novel for class in which a guy (looking uncannily like him) murders the family of a girl (looking uncannily like me) and then rapes her, after which they live happily ever after together. I was to shocked and disturbed to ignore him any longer – I showed the comic to the administration. Again, I wasn’t taken seriously, again I was accused of ‘playing the victim for attention’. Apparently, they couldn’t do anything because it was my word against his, there was no concrete proof.

    I got my proof less than a week later, behind the school as I walked to my bike. He attacked me – I got away, barely. It took showing the principal the bruises his fingers left on my neck before they would believe me. Even then, they measured the finger marks – not to identify them as his but to make sure I hadn’t made them myself, again ‘for attention’.

    All this is to say that before, I agreed with anti-bullying platitudes saying that ignoring the offender is the best course of action – at least until there is some prosecutable proof, as was mentioned in the article. But now, when the proof it took to be believed was physical injury to my person, received in a situation in which I feared for my life, I know how far-reaching the consequences can be. I now struggle daily with social anxiety, especially dealing with strangers and authority figures, and I still have nightmares 3 years later.

    I don’t claim to know how a system for investigating/assessing the danger in online threats would be implemented practically, but I hope at least that the need for one is acknowledged. Threats – in any form – carry too much potential for damage to simply be ignored.

    • January 7, 2014 at 3:00 am

      In my experience, to paraphrase Captain Awkward, when people tell you to ignore a bully, they are really saying “I can’t be bothered/don’t know how to deal with this”.

    • PM
      January 7, 2014 at 9:39 am

      Holy shit that’s awful. I am glad you made it out OK. In the words of one of my best friends, “fuck that guy.” And fuck the administration, too, for their appalling handling of the situation.

    • PrettyAmiable
      January 7, 2014 at 11:56 am

      Sometimes it’s just as hard dealing with the fact that authority, and the people who were supposed to protect you, have failed you. I’m sorry for what you’ve been through, and I’m sorry about the lasting impact.

    • EG
      January 7, 2014 at 1:29 pm

      That’s fucking horrifying–the way that they were more willing to believe that a girl would make shit like that up “for attention” than that a boy would be threatening–women are just considered inherently unstable and untrustworthy, aren’t we? I’m so sorry.

  10. Angie unduplicated
    January 7, 2014 at 9:13 am

    Anyone wishing to invalidate female journalists’ experience with sexual cyberbullying should be informed that journalists all over the world are murdered for their work.
    The only reason that LEOs prosecute domestic violence cases is that police departments nationwide have been sued for ignoring DV. The experience with LEOs declining to file a report is painfully familiar. Look for officers with no name tags, fake numbers on police report business cards, and allegations of false complaints as potential evidence for litigation.

  11. Angie unduplicated
    January 7, 2014 at 3:23 pm

    I just found this while researching online consumer complaints for my boss. It’s a joint project between FBI and White Collar Crime Center. Online sexual violence threats are not your typical white collar crime, but anything is worth a try when your life is being threatened. Sorry about the link: for some reason my aged laptop will only highlight the “h” in http.

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