A recently released YouTube video shows just how badly women sports commentators are treated online—and the abuse they face is guaranteed to make you feel uncomfortable, at a minimum.
In the video, promoting the hashtag #MoreThanMean, men are instructed to read out loud “mean” tweets to two journalists: Sarah Spain, a radio host and Sports Illustrated reporter, and Julie DiCaro, an espnW reporter and ESPN radio host. Spain and DiCaro had read the messages beforehand—the purpose of the video is to put the men in the uncomfortable position of speaking aloud the gender-based abuse, and to bring to light the harassment women face online.
The first few tweets, mild compared to the later tweets read in the video, were still gendered insults and a far cry from respectful disagreement.
“Sarah Spain sounded like a nagging wife today,” read one tweet.
The tweets only got worse from there, and the men became visibly uncomfortable. Before reading one tweet, the male reader hesitated and started with “I’m just reading this,” as if to distance himself from what he was about to say. The men began apologizing after particularly nasty tweets.
“So I have to read all of them, right?” asked one of the men, reluctantly.
“Cunt” and “bitch” were thrown around a lot, as was even noted by the men reading the tweets. Several of the tweets were overtly aggressive in nature, expressing their desires for Spain and DiCaro to be beaten or killed. One tweet expressed the hope that DiCaro would be “Bill Cosby’s next victim.”
“That would be classic,” finished the tweet.
In an opinion piece published by Time, author Soraya Chemaly argues that online harassment directed towards women is different from that directed at men, in that it tends to be gender-based.
Spain agrees, telling The New York Times, “Men get mean comments, too, but I think the context of it is quite different for women,” she says. “It’s not just, like, ‘You’re an idiot, and I’m mad at you for your opinion.’ It’s: ‘I hate you because you are in a space that I don’t want you in. I come to sports to get away from women. Why don’t you take your top off and just make me lunch?’”
Sports isn’t the only space where women face gender-based harassment online; violent language and threats are prevalent in the gaming space, too. In her 2014 book Hate Crimes in Cyber Space, law professor Danielle Citron finds that 70 percent of women in multiplayer games play as male characters to avoid gender-based abuse. And women who have advocated for a more inclusive gaming culture, such as Anita Sarkeesian, have faced online threats and harassment so severe they’ve had to cancel public meetings and talks.
Harassment online is difficult to prosecute, though, and more often than not women are told to simply ignore it. In a 2009 paper published in the Michigan Law Review, Citron found that internet harassment is routinely dismissed as “harmless locker room talk,” perpetrators benignly labeled as “juvenile pranksters” and victims called “overly sensitive complainers.” DiCaro has herself said that she never went to the police in response to the many violent tweets directed at her; she had been told that law enforcement wouldn’t be able to do anything.
The video closes with a call to action to all Twitter users: “We wouldn’t say it to their faces. So let’s not type it.”