How Some Men Harass Women Online and What Other Men Can Do to Stop It

Harass(Trigger warning: for abusive, woman-hating language and threats of violence)

When I write about feminism and men’s violence against women, I often receive supportive comments. While some of the praise is earned, much of it gives me a lot of credit for doing very little.

When women write about those same topics, it’s a different story. We men threaten women bloggers and writers with rape and murder. We call women “man-haters,” verbally abuse them, hack into their email accounts and stalk them. We alter photos of women, putting cuts and bruises on their faces. Then we excuse ourselves, saying we were “just joking–can’t you feminists take a joke?”

Racists harass people online; so do homophobes. Most people agree this is harassment. But my gender’s online harassment of women seems to go unquestioned, even defended, in most circles. Yet men’s online abuse of women has been well-documented by women such as Laurie Penney, Jennifer Pozner, Emily May and many other women.

“The sad part is that it works,” says feminist blogger Soraya Chemaly. “I have spoken to many, many women writers who ‘tone down’ their voices or stop writing entirely as a result of threats. … I mean, who wants to wake up in the morning to ‘Stupid, cunt’ or ‘I’ll go from house to house shooting women like you.’”

“The death threat was pretty scary,” says HollaBack! cofounder Emily May. “And there have been several rape threats. But it’s mostly ‘I want to rape you’ or ‘Somebody should rape you.’ Most are not physical threats–they’re more about how ugly I am, how nobody would bother raping me because I’m so fat and hideous. Once, after reading all these posts, I just sat in my living room and bawled like a 12-year-old.”

Jennifer Pozner agrees. “Very rarely have I gotten negative feedback that doesn’t include either a rape threat or calling me ugly and fat. Or sometimes they tell me I’m hot, but they hate what I’m saying– they’d rather watch me on TV with the mute on.” Pozner’s threats have not been limited to online: One man left a letter at her door saying he’d “find you and your mom and rape you both.”

Chemaly adds, “The point of the harassment, like harassment on the street, is to make the public sphere seem dangerous and to portray women as provoking a violent response through their actions.”

Pozner agrees. “It’s about the policing of women … using threats to keep us silent.”

Richard Rogers and Vanessa Thorpe called for a stop to such harassment in the Guardian two years ago. But most men have remained silent, as we do with many forms of our gender’s violence against women. Many of us blame the victim, suggesting things women can do differently to ameliorate the problem. We tell women to grow a thicker skin, not to “feed the trolls” and not to assume all men feel that way. Or we ride in on a white horse to “save” the poor damsels by insulting the insulters or threatening violence against those who are threatening violence. This makes us feel better, but often does little to help the women being attacked or stop the violence from happening.

When men are harassed online, it’s often because they are speaking out against rape culture. Comedian Jamie Kilstein reports receiving a few combative emails after questioning God’s existence or challenging Glenn Beck–but he received “thousands” after challenging rape culture . “There is a cost for betraying one’s privilege … [although] nowhere near the costs borne by the marginalized,” says Don Bell of the National Organization for Men Against Sexism:

Men could be silenced by the fear of being labeled as emasculated (weak), not linked to women sexually (gay), or dominated. …Men should be challenged to face their fears and risks because it is the right thing to do. Allying with women in support of feminist values–becoming pro-feminist–makes for better men and a better world.

Men’s online abuse results in women hesitating to write, stopping writing altogether and fearing for their physical safety. Many women have told me that such abuse doesn’t just happen when women are writing about feminism, it happens to them all the time. Amy Davis Roth blogged about atheism and was subjected to daily harassment as a result. Roth described a “typical day” as “Wake up. Make coffee. Block hateful messages on Twitter or other social media … Make art.” Sarah Sentilles was disparaged and ridiculed when writing about theology, attacked for being “childish,” her words called “chatter” despite her two doctorates.

In the early 90s, Rush Limbaugh popularized the term “feminazi.” Across the country, we men opened our mouths to laugh, and closed our ears to feminist wisdom. In the name of “humor,” male comics and pundits call women names and threaten them with violence–the rest of us don’t challenge it, but further attack those who do. When we apologize, it’s a fake apology, like comedian Daniel Tosh’s.

Ironically, when women call men out on our harassment, they are harassed even more. I wrote a Ms. blog about Tosh last year and it drew some criticism but mostly praise. But when feminist blogger Cristy Cardinal wrote about it she was threatened with rape and murder and her email and Twitter accounts were hacked.

Yet, most men care deeply about the women and girls in our lives. It pains us to hear that you stop yourselves from writing online, walking outside or wearing certain clothing because of the harassment and violence our gender heaps upon you. We’d rather it never happened to you, so we often pretend it doesn’t. We move from denial to anger at you for bringing it up, then from anger to bargaining–we question the statistics you cite, or distract with anecdotes of women who abuse men. We sometimes go through the whole Kubler-Ross cycle of death and dying before we’re ready to move to “acceptance.”

But some men do not seem to care about anyone but themselves. These men seem to take glee in making anonymous online threats, sometimes as part of a political movement that refuses to acknowledge men’s violence against women as an epidemic. Instead, they see men as the real victims–of feminism. Their self-appointed victim status gives them the right to call women names, threaten and intimidate at will.

For me as a man, the “acceptance” stage involves really listening to what women’s lives are actually like. It means getting sick to my stomach when I hear my friend Cristy Cardinal has been threatened, or admitting that I benefit from male privilege even if I don’t harass women online myself. It means that when I laughed at Bill Maher calling Sarah Palin stupid or a bitch, I made writing and life that much harder for Soraya Chemaly.

The “acceptance” stage also means I’m ready to do something positive. It’s not enough for me to simply not harass women myself–if I don’t raise my voice when I see this, I’m letting the Limbaughs be the lone voices of my gender. So I’m proud to be part of a growing movement of men who are listening to women, learning from women, becoming active bystanders and “aspiring allies.”

Clearly there’s no one “right” way to intervene, but I’ve already heard several suggestions. Men, we can’t remain silent any longer. Let us:

1. Listen to women’s experience of online abuse and threats by men. Let us read articles about it – the ones linked here are a good place to start. Instead of suggesting solutions, we can take in how hurtful the comments are.

2. Reach out to the target of the abuse. Ask her what she’d like to you do, if anything.

3. Write, “I think you’re right,” in Comments sections of articles, Facebook postings etc. of feminist women.  Whether or not they’ve been harassed or attacked, agree with them and do so publicly.

4. When men harass women online, speak up. We can say something like, “As a man, your harassing comment offends me,” in the Comments sections.  Say how it hurts you rather than speaking on behalf of the target.

5. Name the specific silencing tactic being used: name-calling, focusing on a woman’s appearance instead of her argument, etc.

6. Use humor. We can post something like, “Dude, put down your club–your caveman is showing!” Search online for feminist comedians of all genders who have done entire routines on this.

7. Watch for “professional trolls” from the “Men’s Rights” or “Father’s Rights” groups. They will often use terms such as “misandry” and refer to the feminist movement as anti-male or the domestic violence movement as an “industry.”

8. Send supportive emails, letters, candygrams, etc. to feminist women. Thank them for the good work they are doing–not just when they are targets of online harassment, but all the time. “If you see someone doing good work, you can be sure they’re being told they’re fat and ugly,” says Emily May. “Nice emails counterbalance the noise.”

9. Flag Facebook posts (or pages) when they’re abusive. If it’s a comment, click on the X to hide the post.  You then have the option to flag it as abusive.

10.  If the perpetrator isn’t an individual but a company, boycott the company. Write negative reviews of it on “Yelp” or other review sites, or  suggest policy or legislative changes.  (See the Ecological Model for Social Change for the philosophy behind this. )

What else would women like men to do? What would you like us not to do? I’d love to hear your responses in the comments section.

Photo by Flickr user Steve Meyer Photo under license from Creative Commons 2.0

Comments

  1. My suggestion is to never stop being so awesome.

    • Audrey Goodspeed says:

      Men, just be a little more understanding of how we feel after dealing with those type of men. Just do things to show us you’re not those men. Thanks

    • Audrey Parramore says:

      Men, just be a little more understanding of how we feel after being sought by so many men like that. Just do things to show us you’re not those men. Thanks

  2. Thanks for writing about this. The phenomenon is so rampant that I’ve taken to incorporating a regular feature into my blog where I share a sampling of the truly nasty stuff sent to myself and other feminists & women’s organizations. Awful though it is, I think many of the men who are on-side with what we’re doing don’t really know how bad it is unless we direct them to the specific comments we receive. Trigger warning for discussions of physical and sexual violence; racism; threatening, profane and obscene statements about women: http://stephguthrie.com/2013/01/09/womens-organizations-we-get-emails/

  3. Thank you for speaking out and thank you for all the suggestions you give to men. (Women can use these ideas too, to support people.) May I reprint this on my blog? Thank you, Diana Fletcher

  4. After a homophobic waiter started yelling and calling my girlfriend and I names, I posted a negative review on Yelp. Yelp removed my review, because they said it wasn’t about a “unique dining experience.” So much for #10.

  5. Shreya Sen says:

    Thank you so much for your nuanced, non patronizing, self aware post. I am constantly harassed for voicing my opinions on the social media (even by close friends and family who think I shout “get a life”). Work like yours gives me a sense of solidarity and strength. More power to you.<3

  6. Shreya Sen says:

    I’ve also written a piece on the issue that can be found here: http://ultraviolet.in/2012/09/06/being-feminist-being-online/.

  7. As a chick, I appreciate this. Lots of awesome guys out there in the world. We just need to stand together against all this craziness!

  8. Thanks for this. I made this video yesterday, on a similar theme:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DhMFLogDHsQ

  9. David Jacaré says:

    Awesome article. If i find myself so angry at times being unable to stop other men and their sexist bullshit. The internet’s really a mess. /:

  10. So let me get this straight…..You want other men, to get into confrontation with other men for independent intelligent women? First of all if women ARE equals FULL STOP. They don’t need men rushing in white-knighting to protect them from negative comments or posts they find unpopular. 2) You are being sexist for suggesting and implying somehow males have this greater to step in a protection women, solely because they have penis. No offense, its 2013, your an equal, your more than able to fight your own battles. If the posts threaten credible violence, take it to law
    enforcement. But asking men to also, shut down free speech of other individuals and engage in pointless shaming tactics by suggesting they are cavemen, just how exactly better is that than the very males you dislike that do that to women? This entire article is nothing more than want males to your bidding and give a handout. Boycott companies where people work, including women…another bright idea. On the one hand you want equality, then other want men to step in save the damsels in distress. Well that world is gone, has been for a long time. When you post online, your going to get a reaction, not always positive. Deal with it.

    • SiegeMentality says:

      Andre S. I think you need to read the article a few more times and let a basic concept sink in… Would you let a pack of men surround a woman on the street and insult her, threaten her, and attempt to intimidate her? If your answer is not a simple no, then read it three more times.

    • Spencer Koelle says:

      Your repeated use of the word “equal” fails to disguise your willingness to say people shouldn’t care about harassment as long as it is not them getting harassed. It is 2013, and oppression is still real.

    • Ethan C-F says:

      Andre, to me it seemed that Ben wrote the article very specifically *not* from a damsel-in-distress perspective. If you look at his recommendations, they start with taking leadership and direction from women. He’s not implying that women are incapable of defending themselves, but the sheer volume of vitriolic comments could make defending oneself a full-time job, not to mention putting oneself at risk of physical harm. Because men are much less likely to be publicly threatened with physical and sexual violence, it ‘costs’ us much less to try to change online culture to be less misogynistic.

      There’s a difference between “coming to the rescue” and saying that women shouldn’t have to shoulder the entire burden of confronting sexual threat online. I’d guess that continuing to post online after receiving vulgar threats is enough of a burden on its own; for me to write a positive counter-comment pales in comparison by effort, but (it sounds like) it may may a positive difference.

      • “There’s a difference between “coming to the rescue” and saying that women shouldn’t have to shoulder the entire burden of confronting sexual threat online.”

        That’s a very good way of putting it!

      • Ethan, thank you for getting Ben’s point. Men of quality are not threatened by women’s equality, and can be supportive of them without the arrogance of “rescuing” the woman being attacked. A friendly, positive comment goes a long way towards easing the pain of the threats and incredibly intense, negative comments on many blog posts (it’s happened to me too; someone threatened my 13-year old daughter based on something *I* said on Facebook… that’s pretty chilling).

    • You understand that a MAN wrote this, right? This is not written by a woman who’s ‘looking for a White Knight with a handout’. Also, you’re quite naive to think that there is gender equality anywhere in the world. You are the exact person this writer is hoping to reach. You are a man who thinks everything is fine and that women are being over-dramatic. That there isn’t really a threat. Guess what? You happen to be very wrong. My only advise to you is to ask the women you love what their daily experiences are and truly, truly attempt to empathize with them. Put yourself in their shoes…and don’t imagine it’s hot women every time. Imagine it’s people you would not want to sleep with or even talk to. Just picture it.

      The reality of the situation is that male voices have more power than female ones. This writer is not talking about ‘saving’ women; he’s suggesting that men speak up for themselves and talk about how the negativity, violence, rape-threats, etc are hurtful to MEN. If men don’t want to be seen as these terrible things, or feared, then they’ll help turn the message around to make it positive.

    • Shaming tactics such as suggesting men who offer violence to women are cavemen are not pointless, because they should be shamed. They are exhibiting shameful behavior, unlike the women they’re offering violence to. The fact that you see it as pointless and no better “than the very males you dislike that do that to women” is suggesting that the men who offer violence or even mere harassment to women for simply speaking up are no worse than the women they offer violence or harassment to.

      This kind of comment is precisely the sneaky “if you can’t take it, shut up and go away” BS all too many of these harassing men hide behind. *clap* Congratulations for showing off the slightly more subtle side of harassment.

    • Dear Andre,

      Women in 2013 are NOT equal.

      Sorry, but if you don’t believe me, take a 100-level sociology class, or better yet, a women’s studies class. Or just ask yourself why almost all of our religious leaders, politicians, and CEOs are men. Or pay attention, next time there’s a fiery debate about something, to how many comments are voiced by men as opposed to women. Note also that the men are mostly talking to other men, not to the women. Notice the wage gap.

      Ask yourself too why almost all violence is perpetrated by men. Why almost all sexual assaults are perpetrated by men.

      I think this article made it pretty clear that men take other men’s voices more seriously, and that men can speak up with much less fear of reprisal. If you don’t get that, then I don’t think I can explain it to you in simpler language. I have to assume that you are CHOOSING to be blind to your own privilege at this point.

      Women are doing almost all the frontline work in the fight for women’s rights, putting their safety on the line. This isn’t about being a “white knight.” It’s about doing our part.

      There’s some debate about whether there is room for men in feminism, but most of the women I’ve asked about it want men to be involved. In fact, as a self-identified male, I get WAY TOO MUCH PRAISE from women for what little work I’ve done in the struggle against patriarchy. These women aren’t damsels. They are powerful, independent, incredible people who are fighting a battle by themselves – and I’m on their side. Whose side are you on, Andre?

    • Andre — how very indignant you are, how self-righteous about the right of men to sit on their flabby hairy butts and watch while an entire society of sexism and rape culture marches by in all its abusive finery! Thing is, *all* of us are responsible for helping each other. If some white jackass at a party tells a racist joke, should I, as a white person, ignore it because, you know, those people of color sure don’t need a white gal like me calling that jackass joke-teller on her bullshit? Screw that. The only way to move society forward is to call each other on our shit, including people of privilege calling our fellow people of privilege on stupid things we unthinkingly do.

      We can’t evolve out of extreme sexism unless many people of all genders come together, support women who are under attack, and increase awareness among our peers. You said, “Shut down free speech of other individuals…” Sure, yeah: lightheartedly calling someone out on caveman behavior is “shutting down free speech.” Read the First Amendment, read some historical accounts about how Russia, China, North Korea, Eastern bloc, Germany, etc actually “shut down free speech.” The day someone shoots you in the head, puts you in a concentration camp, or imprisons you indefinitely without trial, for being abusive in an online forum? That’s the day your free speech has been shut down. ‘Til then, consider toning down the indignant whining.

      • Origami Isopod says:

        “… sit on their flabby hairy butts”? Fat-shaming isn’t feminist, Magdalen. And it hurts women more than it does men.

    • I support the points the writer made here too, YOU deal with it.

    • James McKenzie says:

      Good grief. First, calling people out on bad behaviour is not “shaming tactics” nor is it shutting down free speech. It is EXERCISING free speech. Why should men abusing and threatening women get a free pass? Second, your claim that women don’t need allies if they are truly equal means you’re shrugging and sitting back enjoying your privilege. Would you say that if PoC were truly equals, no whites should have any role in the civil rights movement? You sound exactly like the sort of MRA troll the article mentions.

    • First, your grammar is horrible. 2) The perpetuation of the “it doesn’t happen anymore” myth is what allows it to still happen. In the age of information, ignorance is a choice.
      P.S. Put down your club, your caveman is showing.

    • There is, of course, a difference between free speech and offensive speech, . People should be able to trade views without resorting to crudity, threats, be subjected to hateful comments, as you say there are laws for that which freedom of speech doesn’t over rule. We are not attempting to shut down free speech, we are attempting to allow free speech without suffering the wave of hate which can follow.

    • Andre, I don’t think you get it. The author is merely asking us to call other men out when our brothers are acting in abusive and sexist ways. It’s just like asking white people to stop other white people from posting racist things. It’s just like asking other straight people to knock off the homophobia. And, my friend, free speech works both ways. If you exercise your free speech rights to slam a woman using sexist terms, I will use mine to call you on it. Like I am doing right now.

    • the thing is, Andre, the point isn’t that men are to be riding in white knight style, it’s that men can actually DO something for someone else. without having an ulterior motive! if you look at it this way, switch places with a female close to you. think about what they go through every day. not just how you feel about it, not everything you ignore, not just the things she says about it. think about Everything they go through. white knighting it doesn’t really help much anymore, true. but, being that dork in tin foil while she’s getting out of her plate armor… well, that could be the difference. i’ve seen girls get death/rape threats simply for breaking up with someone. that alone is ridiculous, and the fact that it is a regular occurrence makes it that much worse. it takes away a persons, not just female, right to free choice. and yet, people like you are the reason that they have issues with taking advantage of that free choice. because they’re just told to get over it. to deal with it. maybe they need an outlet every once in a while. maybe they need something they can’t get all the time, purely because everyone they know thinks, “oh, if I tell her to get over it, she will.” that’s not always the case. sometimes, people can be pushed far enough that they contemplate suicide. just because of one day. think about it.

    • Bruce McGlory says:

      Thank you, Andre, for proving the article’s point so perfectly. You hit all the misogynist talking points that so carefully avoid caling women names so you can cling to that plausible deniability.

      This isn’t about “free speech”, please learn what that is before talking about it. This isn’t about “white knighting”, but thank you for outing yourself as a sexist so early in your idiotic, dishonest screed.

      Please stop embarrassing my gender with your ridiculous cowardly nonsense.

    • You missed the point of the article.

    • 7. Watch for “professional trolls” from the “Men’s Rights” or “Father’s Rights” groups. They will often use terms such as “misandry” and refer to the feminist movement as anti-male or the domestic violence movement as an “industry.”

      “White Knight” – check
      “SEXIST, waaaah!” – check
      “Butbutbut free speech!!!” – check
      “Women wanting a handout” – check
      Terrible grasp of the English language – check.

      Yup, pretty much the perfect illustration of Ben’s point there. Well done, sweetie. [/irony]

    • Rei Malebario says:

      If you’re not the target of sexist attacks, speaking out against them is sexism? How very logical and sensible.

      I suppose it’s also racist to speak out against racism that you’re not personally targeted by. And homophobic to speak out against homophobia.

      Damn me and my racist, sexist, homophobic ways – what a bigot I am for speaking out against bigotry.

    • ailimhazel says:

      Andre,
      If you haven’t read “24-hour truce” from andrea dworkin; now’s the time.
      ’nuff said.

  11. All I can say is, thank you.

  12. Suzanne Scherer says:

    Thank you for your article. As to what can be done, MORE MEN who feel like you do NEED TO SPEAK UP. There needs to be a counterbalance to the lunacy that is posted by men who think it’s ok to make threats, jokes, etc at womens expense. I also want to point out about Facebook’s FAILURE to act when a site depicting/promoting/laughing at violence against women is flagged and complained about, even in numbers. Facebook will send a “b.s.” reply to the effect of, “well this doesn’t meet our guidelines for removal”, blah blah blah. One site many women complained about showed a woman with bruises on her face being pushed down a flight of stairs by her supposed boyfriend, husband, whatever, and it was supposed to be HUMOROUS. Facebook did not take the site down despite NUMBEROUS complaints. Their inaction promotes this sort of behavior because their inaction SANCTIONS this behavior.

  13. Thank you so much for writing about this. We need more attention paid to this topic and we need more to be done about it.

    As a writer, I’ve stopped applying for any online magazine/writing job that requires a contributor photo, and I’ve given up jobs once they instituted online photo requirements. It’s for this reason and this reason alone. I am honestly terrified about putting a photo online because I know this will happen. It doesn’t matter if I’m Marilyn Monroe’s twin sister; if a photo is there it’s going to receive insults. It needs to stop.

  14. Mark Edwards says:

    Consider me your newest disciple Ben. Gonna go post this link of FB.

  15. Thank you for acknowledging the problem. Your points about bargaining and passive justification for silence via “not all men are like that” really hit home for me and gave voice to my frustrations. I will be sharing this article.

  16. Great article, thank you for writing it.

    Since you’re taking suggestions: I’d suggest developing a ready response for the accusations of “white-knighting” and never letting that one go. That’s how men silence other men who are speaking up on behalf of women.

    I wish that had never become a thing; one news aggregate I follow has a lot of rampant misogyny, and the standard response to a man who defends a woman is “She’s not going to sleep with you, dude.” The idea being, of course, that no man could possibly side with a woman without that ulterior motive that rape culture seems to uniformly ascribe to all males: The desire to get laid.

    Anyway, if you have a good, cogent (I’d also go with snarky and dripping with contempt, because that’s how I roll) response to the inevitable accusations of white-knighting, other potential allies will see it too, and maybe not be so afraid of it.

    • Hi, Michelle! Not sure I have a good answer to your request for a pithy, snarky response for accusations of “white-knighting.” In fact, hadn’t heard of it as a verb until I wrote this!

      How about “Oh, so you think I’m supporting Michelle’s point just because I want to have sex with her? Thank you for giving us another example of sexism, and helping me prove MY point! Oh, you assume I want to have sex with women? Bonus points for heterosexism!”

      What suggestions do others have to confront accusations of “white-knighting?”

  17. Thank you for all the blog post links, videos and kind words!

    RJ: yes, men are also harassed and called names online, but it’s not an epidemic. Listen to the women in your life who post online, or to the women posting here.

    Cindy – sorry to hear about the homophobic waiter. Maybe we should ask Yelp to not erase reviews that point out discrimination at an establishment. I would not eat at a restaurant based on that kind of review, so I should be able to see that sort of review, right?

    I’m glad folks like the list of 10 suggestions. What should we add to it?

  18. Andre I can assure you in NO way is the author saying that men shoukd come in and rescue a woman who is being harassed online. Knowing him personally, I am aware of the conversations he had with women who have been harassed online and listened to their voices in what they would want from men if men witnessed harassment of female authors online. I am glad that you agree that we are equal and can speak for ourselves but to silence aggressive men who sit in anonymity threatening rape and murder it will take a collective of male and female voices to make a difference. Men who dont view women as equals are less likely to stop harassing women just because women are upset by it and speak out against it.

    Sorry for any typos…internet out and typing on phone. Ugh!

  19. Yeah, this is starting to get out of hand. Outspoken people get more heat, for obvious reasons. Women seem to get hit pretty hard simply for existing while female on the Internet. Feminists, male or female, get NAILED… for some reason, a whole slew of e-denizens seem to have a real bug up their butt about feminism.

    But the worst of it is borne by outspoken female feminists, the individuals with the temerity to hit all three of the trolls’ berserk buttons. I simply don’t understand it. Look at the harassment endemic in the online atheist community… it’s frightening. Look, I don’t agree with everything every feminist says ever. But this doesn’t mean that it’s okay to engage in an obsessive campaign of cyber-harassment. I just… disagree, and move on. Jesus.

  20. This is an important discussion. Thanks for initiating it. I have to wonder to what degree characterizing this as a man thing in general puts many guys on the defensive and makes them complacent about confronting it. I happen not to believe that most guys act this way online. I think it takes a certain type of guy to enjoy threatening to rape a woman, and to even seek out her place of residence and plant a threatening letter at her doorstep/ in her mailbox. These are dangerous guys. We need to talk about the type of guy who does this sort of thing, and about his motivations/ experiences. Because these really aren’t your garden variety trolls. They aren’t just ‘guys being guys’. They are certainly abusive (which is likely to be evident in their relationships), and possibly violent.

    • ailimhazel says:

      The sad thing is, in online games at least, the guys who engage in this kind of language are nice guys. Outside of game, they are funny and friendly and really good to the women they know. Something happens online that turns this hateful switch on and they go off. A lot of guys wonder where all the girls are on games. If they listened to their teammates just talking to other guys about disgusting and sexist things while gaming, they might understand why women would not want to subject themselves to that stuff. There are a lot of girls in on-line games, they just play in all female groups, stay off the mic so no one can hear their voices and use androgynous names to hide their identities. Women hide so they don’t get attacked.

  21. My new fb page that talks a men’s violence against women was just shut down with no explanation for two weeks. Was it really so threatening? You decide: “Social Construction”. Enough with the violence already.

  22. MICHELLE WERNER says:

    Money talks. I suggest men who think of themselves as feminists prove it by donating all their charitable contributions to reputable, women-run organizations fighting sex slavery.

  23. Ben, thank you for writing this in a way that doesn’t sorta celebrate yourself as the awesome Uber-Feminist Guy who worships the goddess and wants to celebrate my menarche, etc. Your piece seems quite straightforward, and I appreciate that.

  24. RJ, what you are missing is that anti-feminist comments are frequently accompanied by serious threat of violence.

  25. Francis Elliott Long says:

    I am learnig a lot about me through this site. I did not stop to think that calling S. Palin a moron was engaging in a subtle form of violence against women, but it is. I have not engaged in any of the other behavior, most likely related to the way that I was raised and because I was derided about my appearance as a child. For me, I handle offenisve and abusive men better in person. This may be shirking, but when I leave this site tonight I will unsubscribe to several FB feeds that casually use the word bitch in their humor. It is indulged by both males and females and i never have liked that. Sadly, I shall continue to respond to men in my presence that are bullys and abusers in a harsh fashion. I am not being a white knight by purpose, it is simply that I identify too closely with the victim, male or female, to allow it to pass unchallenged. My apologies.

    • Origami Isopod says:

      Calling Sarah Palin a “moron” is not oppressive (I don’t buy the anti-”ableism” argument that the word is oppressive). Calling her a “bitch” is.

      • ApostateltsopA says:

        Apologies for the derail but why don’t you see the ableism? Calling someone a moron establishes a certain kind of cognitive function as better and associates the behavior of the person you are replying to with it not having it. I suppose that dumb and lame are ok in your book too, after all if something is pervasive it is ok right? /sarcasm

        Me I’m taking the laundry list of ballistic insults out of my vocabulary and sticking with useful things like bigot and asshat. I really like bigot. Rolls off the tongue well and leaves a mark because it is true.

  26. If your intention is not to defend this harassment, why water-down the discussion with your vague experience of online man-hating?

  27. Allen Corben says:

    Thanks for this. Clearly Andre S thinks this is ‘white-knighting’, and I agree with Michelle: Andre’s response is “how men silence other men who are speaking up on behalf of women.” I hope this isn’t what Andre actually thinks, but it seems like the position Andre espoused can only end up in a “every blogger for themselves” attitude.

    “When you post online, your [sic] going to get a reaction, not always positive. Deal with it.” This comment dramatically downplays the reality. If you ask people whether they like the yellow or the green, you will get a reaction, and it won’t always be positive. That’s clear. When women call men on being sexist, they get death threats. They get stalked. Their mothers get threatened. I see this as a profoundly different thing, and not something anyone should have to ‘deal with’, and if they do, they do it in solidarity with those around them.

    The point of solidarity is that when someone becomes abusive online, there should be a hundred people who come together and say to the abuser “What you are saying is not right; it’s not respectful, and it’s not welcome.” Maybe they use the Feminist Three Comment Rule ( http://bit.ly/MUJw2Z ), or maybe they don’t, but those hundred people stand united against those who are enacting misogyny, who are voicing a systemic disregard for women.

    Andre, if someone you care about makes a statement on line, and the response is vitriolic and includes a letter pinned to their front door threatening to rape your friend and their family member, “Deal with it” is inadequate. I’m sure you think so, too. So what do you suggest is a better response? A better engagement of this article might be to suggest interventions that aren’t ‘white-knighting’ in your view, if you think that such interventions could exist. I think they do, and I hope you can think of some, too, but your comment makes it sound like there isn’t a response that doesn’t ‘come to the rescue.’

  28. @rj — your comment of 6:10pm. Yes, this exactly. We all need to keep this in mind, no matter the situation, be it gender, age, race, politics, religion, hobbies — anything. Reductionism is the enemy of good communication and decency. I have found myself doing it unintentionally when e.g., speaking to a French or Russian person in those languages when the situation calls for English, because I want to speak those languages. The French or Russian person isn’t there for me to practice those languages.

    And indeed we should speak up when such bigoted, hateful things are said toward women. I’d like to see everyone feel free to contribute as she or he wishes, without fear of such harassment.

    There’s one small suggestion, and that’s *not* to send Candygrams. Not unless you know the person really well. It would set off ‘potential creeper’ to me, and I think to others as well. (How would you even know where to send it anyway? Finding out that information alone might be possible, but creepy). I’m hoping that you meant that one humorously.

  29. Louise Chanarý says:

    Ben,

    It is hard to come up with anything to add to your list of what men can do, but I have one thing. My male friends (very kind, well-meaning etc.) are all still in the denial stages, they aren’t still ready to handle 8 points out of your 10. But I think that the main reason for this is that they seem to be incapable (or refuse?) to take my (or a general women’s) point of view on things and imagine what life must be like if standing in a woman’s shoes. For instance: I dance tango. My male partner and I were talking about buying high-heelded tango shoes for me. I said to him: ‘Well, they seem uncomfortable. How about you, do they seem comfortable to you to wear?’ and he just looked at me with a funny face and said ‘Of course, what a strange question, I am a man.’ So I said ‘Why would you think that I could walk in them if you say you couldn’t?’ ….’You’re a woman.’ he answered, as if I were a separate species with special abilities.

    This is a very simple example, not about serious issues, but on the serious issues the attitude of the men around me is the same. You see what baby stages we’re still in? This is a really nice, well-meaning man who helps women a great deal professionally (I also know him from work) and who is aware of sexism in its obvious forms. But he is incapable of leaving his own point of view and ultimately still cannot truly believe that I am just like him but only with a vagina instead of a penis.

    What I would add to your list is: ‘imagine being a woman every once in a while and see what certain situations would feel like from that point of view, especially in occasions where the problem does not seem obvious to you’ (the problem = perhaps a problem a woman talks about and you listen to but it seems just like she is being silly or exaggerating…before passing judgment, just imagine yourself in her shoes and see what you think then). But more importantly maybe: also do it just for fun every once in a while.

    Women take on male points of views all the time. Not just when watching a film but we are used to do it in everyday life. Especially in work situations: I have to figure out what the men are thinking because I work with mostly men and depend on them so I need to know the social norms. When we go for drinks I listen to them speak about their hobbies, their friends, their life and I have to sympathise and blend in with whitty remarks. And take a look at novels…..I recently was given Portnoy’s Complaint by a male friend because he had enjoyed reading it…..unfortunately (it’s supposed to be a great novel) I had to put it away after a while because I have become too much of a feminist to want to imagine myself being a sexually frustrated boy and be poisoned by all the sexist thoughts that come with that.
    And think about the women who have a job as a caretaker or who take care of the kids: they constantly have to imagine what the other person feels like. (The other persons being men, women, children….not only men…but you see that women are mostly the caretakers in society, they are trained to take on others’ points of view unlike men who have more leading roles.)

  30. A wiser man than I once told me that anger is always a secondary reaction to hurt, fear, guilt or shame. If we could only have the presence of mind to ask ourselves “Why does this make me angry?” BEFORE we make an angry comment, we’ll learn much about ourselves.

  31. Madlogician says:

    Ben, thanks for posting this.

  32. patschican says:

    There’s good and bad in this article. Yes, threats are horrific, and should be investigated and prosecuted, rallied against, exposed…all of that. But implying that Bill Maher, or anyone for that matter, shouldn’t call Sarah Palin stupid is to infantilize women. A man making a stupid comment is called stupid immediately. Dan Quayle and George Bush have been called stupid more times than I can count, and rightfully so. If you act in a stupid manner, then you’ll get called stupid. The suggestion that we should not apply this same standard to women is ludicrous. Or are you suggesting that we shouldn’t call any action or person stupid? In either case, I disagree. Let’s not make this world so sterile and PC that stupid actions/behaviors/statements are not identified for what they are, lest someone’s feelings get hurt.

    Further, you seem to imply that men’s rights and fathers’ rights groups are not valid. Perhaps it was just the wording, but that is how it came across. If that was your intent, you are mistaken. Family courts have favored women for centuries, and men are only now making the headway toward equal treatment in that system. Decent men who are not against women align themselves with the men’s rights movement while simultaneously aligning with women’s rights. Again, perhaps it was just the wording above, and you are not actually implying that identifying as a supporter of fathers’ rights or men’s rights equates being anti-women. I hope so.

    Finally, I just have to say that, as a woman, and to my fellow women, we really *do* have to stop being sensitive to the insults bandied about in online debate. I’m not talking about threats, or comments about how one should be raped, I’m talking about the usage of bitch and cunt. Men are called dicks, fucktards, assholes…etc. I’m not saying that slurs like this enhance debate or are productive, rather, I am saying that it is across the board, and what separates women from men is not the usage of slurs, but the response to them. Men shrug it off – “Meh, a commenter called me a dickbag and an asshole, s/he’s not worth debating anyway.” And many, many women shrug it off too. I am not the only woman who not only couldn’t care less about the word cunt, but uses it herself. It really is only as damaging as you let it be.

  33. Thank you for this.

  34. r.j.: What did they know and when did they know it tells the real story – it’s the chronology that’s important. One fact omitted, or out of order in the chronology, can change a story, entirely. If you were to chronicle and log the amount of rape mentality comments hurled by men at women, and do the same for derogatory comments made by women at men, you would see this pattern emerging: Men’s vulgarity and attacks designed to silence women come first, are in greater numbers, and are more vulgar than women’s towards men. So, the men initiate, and the women respond in kind (except not as violently, so it’s not exactly in kind). When the men initiate respect and honor towards women, they will find that women will return that too. There are good and honorable men. Ben is one of them. He and others are calling for more men to join him. End result: The two-way street you talk about. (If women must go first always, then they are in the mommy position, which causes many adult males to want to dirty the nest and separate, which in turn, does not solve the male violence problems we’re still experiencing today, and in fact, are escalating. We need good men to speak up and stand in solidarity with women to turn this tanker around. If immature and entitled men want to label that white-knighting, so be it. It’s still the right thing to do, especially since men who dishonor women don’t listen to women anyway. It absolutely will take men to tell them they’re wrong.)

  35. Those who stay neutral in the context of injustice, have chosen the side of the oppressor. ~ Desmond Tutu

    All that’s needed for evil to thrive, is for good men to do nothing. ~ Edmund Burke

  36. This is a great article, Ben.

    I have to say that I rarely take part in serious online discussions. My girlfriend is involved in domestic violence and eating disorder research, so I understand to a degree the situation women have in this society. I have felt guilty from time to time for my male privilege, but I cannot say that has motivated me past my general aversion to confrontation.

    That said, your words are inspiring. Specifically, “it’s not enough for me to simply not harass women myself–if I don’t raise my voice when I see this, I’m letting the Limbaughs be the lone voices of my gender.” I couldn’t agree more.

    I’ll end with a shoutout to comedienne Jen Kirkman who tweeted this article. [@JenKirkman]

  37. Hi Ben, thanks a lot for this article. I’ve read plenty of articles about the awful degree of harassment that women writing on the Internet receive, which I find a mixture of horrifying (because I initially had no idea about it, and even though I do now, it still shocks me) and deeply frustrating (because they rarely give any suggestion of what someone who supports them can do about it). So thanks for writing an article which actually gives some useful advice and doesn’t just leave me feeling angry and powerless.

    Even so… this advice is only useful up to a point. I mean, when I saw misogynist comments in open threads, I often do jump in and say something – trying to reason with them if they give the impression that the writer might be open to reason, or just deriding them as trolls if not. That can be somewhat effective – I think I have occasionally changed people’s minds and made them see things differently. But I get the impression that a lot of this harassment (particularly the most offensive stuff) is through private messages and emails. What, if anything, can I do about that?

    ‘Write articles telling them not to’ is another possibility, but I’m not one of those people with hundreds of followers on Twitter or whatever; anything I wrote would only be read by a handful of friends who all agree with it already. Such an article would probably never be read by the people who actually need to read it, the men doing the harassment.

    Personally, I wish there was a public site where women who’d been harassed could (anonymously) post the details of their harassers, so they could be tracked down and shamed (or for the most extreme cases, referred to the police). But I can understand why most of them prefer to delete the messages or ignore them rather than trying to go after the harassers; I guess if I were receiving dozens of messages a day I’d probably do the same.

    • I think the best thing that we can do is – as the article suggests – build and promote a community of pro-feminists, who stand up and say “this language and behaviour is not acceptable” publicly and openly.
      As it stands currently, those men who do abuse and threaten women can look across the social media, and see thousands of other men who make/support misogynistic remarks, and millions of other men who stay silent. As Danna quoted a few posts back, “All that’s needed for evil to thrive, is for good men to do nothing.” If every one of those silent men took a stand, and said “this is not right” those who publicly make the misogynistic comments would feel far less secure in doing so, and would likely stay silent. The knock-on effect would be, that the men sending the abusive emails/PMs would also feel less secure and supported, and therefore would also be less likely to carry this out.

      I realise that this may leave you feeling rather powerless; this is quite an indirect, long-term plan. But the frustration this may bring gives you an insight (but by no means the full picture) into the feelings that – I imagine – some women go through on a daily basis, due to the abuse they receive online.

  38. Hey Ben,
    Great article! I really like the 10 things that us men can do to support women and their views while showing that we discourage threats and verbal attacks. For some reason, I don’t know, men (me included) do not seem to understand some of these fears that plague women until we read about it from a women’s perspective. For instance, I knew that women feared rape (as does anybody who is sane) but I didn’t know that that fear can dominate their lives and their decisions so thoroughly until I read an article written by a women about it.

    Another topic you could talk about are the demonstrations that are put on every so often to protest rape culture and to raise awareness about women’s views and rights. In providence, RI and Boston, MA, I know that there is a protest called the “slut walk” (happens every September or so) where women (and men) dress up in their sluttiest clothes and carry signs in protest and solidarity.

  39. Onamission5 says:

    Thank you for this blog post. On line harassment of women is a far reaching problem that is not going to go away by itself, and the more men who speak out in favor of treating women like people, the better.
    May I have permission to repost to the Atheism Plus board for discussion of additional solutions?

  40. Hi Ben,

    Thanks very much for offering such an honest description of the online attacks against women. Unfortunately a lot of the hostility and adult cyberbullying I see through my work at CiviliNation http://www.civilination.org/ is aimed at girls and women. In addition to raising awareness, offering concrete suggestions for how to deal with this problem, as you’ve done, is an important part of eradicating it!

  41. Thank you for addressing men on this increasingly urgent issue. We all bear the responsibility to speak out against the campaigns of intimidation and censorship raging online both here in the US and in England against women journalists, bloggers, videographers. Battling recent attempts to censor my own book (Sex Changes: A Memoir of Marriage, Gender, and Moving On, St. Martin’s Press) and related writing, I’ve become aware of many instances of cyber-bullying and silencing of women taking place. I applaud you, and Ms., for taking this on.

  42. This is a fantastic piece and I thank you, Ben, for writing it. The organization that I work for runs a program called ‘Be More Than a Bystander’ where we, a feminist anti-violence organization, have partnered with our local CFL team (Canadian Football League). In sum, we have big burly football players (the epitome of stereotypical masculinity!) going into schools and talking to young students about the continuum of violence against women. They provide students with lots of options about how to intervene when witnessing men being violent towards women – whether it’s physical aggression, sexist jokes, or cat-calling. It is so invigorating to be part of this program! Engaging men and boys in the work is so important, and it always baffles me when I am accused on social media platforms of being anti-male, of being sexist, of ‘denying’ that men are also victims. Talking about the epidemic of violence against women does not negate that men experience violence. But we know that the most lethal violence is experienced by women at the hands of men – it’s just a statistical fact. Thank goodness there are so many wonderful men out there (including yourself) who are allies and who recognize that this is not just a women’s issue. Your article succinctly gets this very important message across.
    Here’s an example of our football PSAs that run in stadiums, on tv and radio:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X6h2qkYUltg

  43. Ben you rock. Thank you so much. I recently did a TEDxWomen talk in Albuquerque where I spoke about this, and also mentioned comments I got on my first TED talk (you can see it here http://tinyurl.com/7bfhkw8) about women and media. People were shocked when I showed them some of the comments people like Laurie Pennie receive. Now I know where that word misandric came from. That was used several times by one guy who kept commenting on my talk at Ted.com — thankfully other men did call him out, but the vitriol I got was amazing – but hey – no one threatened to rape me, so I feel luckier than others. I just looked again at the site and he is still putting up new rants even though my talk went up six months ago. The dude is obsessed. My payback was to use several of his and other comments in my latest TEDx talk and expose them to ridicule.

  44. This is great! Maybe a section on how to compliment members of the opposite sex? If I ever point out a friend’s comment is sexist or derogatory in some way, they always reply with ” oh but it’s just a compliment” I’m constantly looking for a quick verbal smack in the face to get people to understand. The problem is, some of my friends are female and I have a hard time explaining that sexism can come from male to male or even female to female.

  45. r. j. paré says:

    Looking at the rush of commentary directed at the few of us who have pointed out the flawed assertions and assumptions in this article, one cane easily see that internet debate is not inherently sexist – it is just inherently argumentative. A couple points I would like to make:

    We do not live in a rape culture [in developed nations] – that is one of the most inaccurate and offensive labels I see thrown out like a live grenade designed specifically to crush dissenting opinion. No one wants to be seen as “pro-rape” after all. We no longer have institutionalized sexism. Women have as much opportunity for advancement and success as their male counter-parts. It is important, when studying stats that purport to show the contrary, that one realize we are no longer talking about any instances where same company, same position, same experience, same hours worked = less pay – rather definitions of inequality in pay are broadened to include comparisons of worker A at one firm and worker B from another, or remove # of hours worked from the equation etc etc in order to massage the stats and make it appear we are all living in an episode of “Mad Men” and us fellas should be ashamed. Simply. Not. True.

    Bringing up examples of folks like Ann Coulter – has nothing to do with sexism! – she deliberately spouts racist garbage and is slammed for it by both men and women. Liberals could care less that she is a woman – we care more that she expresses vile hate speech.

    We need to stop portraying all men, or even most men, as some sort of sub-human creatures. In developed nations a very minute % of male population are rapists. This gets dismissed and denied quite often [despite overwhelming evidence from crime stats]. “Every man is a rapist – it is just that some haven’t raped yet.” Is a familiar refrain from those who would portray men as being inherently cruel or evil.

    If any person threatens actual violence against any other person – it is wrong – period. When discussion threads get personal though, we all know that flaming has always been a predictable outcome. It doesn’t necessarily mean the flamers are actually sexist – they may just be responding to personal attacks with the nuclear option.

  46. It's Bad That I am Anonymous says:

    I have done research in a group that has looked at online communities, flaming, trolling and the like. The equation goes something like this ‘normal person + anonymity + audiance = total !@#$%wad’. Obviously our papers used different language, but the point still stands. The issue is that given those ingredients you cant really avoid the hate and trolling, take bathroom stalls as an earlier example of this phenomenon.

    One of the only effective things we have found that helped across the board is to make people non-anonymous and to make the cost of being nonconstructive very high. Things like requiring a credit card or some other form of ID to register so once you are sanctioned you cant go make another account helps. But more than anything having a real name and a real picture of yourself is enough to make a very significant impact on a community.

    Any sort of responding to trolling comments often tend to encourage more. Attempting to silence or remove them will just create more controversy and stir up more discussion and make people feel like they are being silenced causing them to be more combative.

    The best advice I can give is to only visit communities that have these sort of precautions. The alternative is to have a very thick skin and be able to ignore a lot. Point 8 is the only one I can fully get behind in your list here. The rest will do nothing at best and often be counter productive at worst. The thing to remember is that these people making hate comments are normal people in their day to day lives but put in the right situation become something they are not usually. Look at the Milgram Experiment or the Stanford Prison Experiment to see other examples of this.

    I leave you with a couple links:
    http://xkcd.com/810/
    http://xkcd.com/386/

  47. Great article! It is good to have suggestions for what to do. While I think a lot of men support equality and are upset by the abuse aimed toward women, they often seem to have no idea what to do about it. This can at least give them a place to start, and maybe some new ways to think about and react to such behavior.
    I could just be too literal or expecting too much of spelling things out, but my one objection is:
    “3. Write, “I think you’re right,” in Comments sections of articles, Facebook postings etc. of feminist women. Whether or not they’ve been harassed or attacked, agree with them and do so publicly.”
    Someone being a woman or a feminist writer is not a reason to agree or disagree with them. I agree with someone when they make sense &/or express beliefs similar to those I hold. I don’t agree or disagree based on sex. Although I doubt (but am actually still unsure) you meant this in that way, that is what you said. I will, however, make it a point to comment publicly on those posts I do agree with.

  48. Thank you. That was such a remarkably reassuring post. Posts like that really help to heal the pain caused by sexist men (and their female sympathizers). You are the kind of men who are ‘my’ heroes.

    As women, we have to do our parts, too. By that I mean, don’t use and discourage homosexual/homo/gay as negative terms, encourage boys and men that being kind, sensitive, nurturing, and expressing emotion is an act of strength, and keep educating that sex is overrated and sex should be from an emotionally healthy relationship, first.

  49. Just closed out of my fb account “social construction”: talking about men’s violence against women. Couldn’t even create a new page with another email address: shut me out of that, too! Scary. Big brother censorship! Conspiracy. Need fair use regulation.

  50. Lynn Sahlem says:

    Ben I am so glad to know you! You and Frank show me that all men are not the same and that you can evolve! :) Keep up your excellent work.

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