Death threats are part of the game we play

Whether you paid any attention to Christopher Priest’s rant about the Clarke shortlist or not, you should go read Cat Valente’s follow-up post, about what would have happened if a woman had said anything even half that scathing.

This is the reality women live with online, and sometimes in person. It isn’t even just a thing that happens when we yell at somebody, when we criticize something, when we get angry. It can happen when we say anything the reader doesn’t like. Express a political opinion? Post pictures of yourself online? Root for the wrong sports team? “Bitch, I hope you get raped to death like the ugly cow you are.”

Because for a frighteningly large segment of the populace, that’s what you say to shut a woman up. It’s a knee-jerk reflex, like swatting a fly.

How large of a segment? Who knows. Any number larger than “pathologically unwell people who are or should be seeing a mental health professional” is too large. And they’re loud. They swarm the internet, they take over the comment sections on various sites, they poison the water and drive out the good, and for whatever reason, we let them get away with it. We don’t band together like we should and say, start acting like a human, instead of something out of Lovecraft.

(I’m laying off the hyenas, out of consideration for my commenters.)

Sometimes we say it. Some of us do. I don’t do it often enough because, to be honest, I stay away from comment threads most of the time. When I see things like the response Jim Hines dissects, my hands go cold, my fingers start shaking, and whether I respond or not I spend the rest of the day chewing that piece of foul-tasting meat over and over and over again; it’s easier just to avoid the trap. But I need to go to bat for human decency more often. We all do. Again and again, until we’ve sent this malignance howling for the shadows.

Have I gotten death threats, rape threats, any of the hatred Cat describes? I haven’t, actually. But the sad thing is, I know that isn’t because I’m a nice person who doesn’t deserve it, a good, demure woman who doesn’t need to be put in her place.

It’s because not enough people are reading what I write. Give me a bigger microphone, and the sewage will come to swamp me, too.

We need to cut this shit out. The men who spew this kind of thing need to get over whatever misogynistic reflex makes them say it, and the rest of us, men and women alike, need to keep telling them so until they do. I don’t know how we do that — I don’t know how we get it through their skulls — but we have to try. Even the attempt is a form of support for the ones drowning in the bile, and they need all the support they can get.

For fuck’s sake, people. That is a person on the other end of the things you say. Remember that. And summon up the basic compassion to care.

0 Responses to “Death threats are part of the game we play”

  1. auriaephiala

    So far, I’ve only had someone say online that he would organize a celebration if I got hit by a car (after I’d asked him an awkward question about his obsessions). But then I’ve considered this guy a jerk for years, so it didn’t bother me much (although I did make sure I archived the webpage in case he did it again).

    I agree that women tend to attract nastier venom — probably because they’re seen as easier victims or these jerks think women shouldn’t talk at all.

    But I also think that the whole level of discourse has got nastier in the last five years, even in person.

    • Marie Brennan

      I’m not enough of a sociologist to say if the level of poison has been rising or falling or doing loop-de-loops or what. But we do seem to have a general problem these days with empathy, yes.

  2. maladaptive

    Oh wow. I JUST turned in my law review article on threats against women online (like, 11 am this morning just).

    It was the most depressing subject. But apparently my presentation was amazing because I’m at my most articulate when I’m furious. The core of the issue was first amendment vs. constitutional rights to security/privacy, because the reason we don’t run them off? Because “they have a right to say it.” We, however, do not have a right to feel safe. Words! More important than worrying if the commenter that found your house is going to come over and bring their friends.

    It’s just so… absurd. And my time online means I wasn’t hurting for quotes, many of which raised eyebrows because they couldn’t believe people would say that. But, oh, I have sources for them all. Hell, the research was chilling enough that if I get a publication offer, I’m not sure if I’ll take it because I don’t really know if I want my name attached to it. I am not as brave as many of the women I quoted.

  3. aishabintjamil

    Unfortunately this has been a problem with on-line communication from the very earliest days of the internet, and not just for women. I’m not honestly sure if it’s worse for women – I haven’t noticed it being so, but then I haven’t seen this kind of crap spouted at anyone in the forums I frequent, so I may represent a statistical anomaly.

    I can pull up a copy of a very early netiquette document, back in the early 90’s, when the web was still this quirky new thing somebody at MIT was just starting to distribute software to run, talking about the necessity of remembering that the person reading your email or newsgroup posting was another human being, and you shouldn’t write something there that you wouldn’t say in person. It’s a recurring issue that we haven’t ever solved.

    • green_knight

      I was on usenet for a long time, and while usenet certainly could get nasty, I don’t recall death threats and ‘you should get raped’ in the groups I frequented. And those were _unmoderated_ forums, while the web boards and blogs that spew nastyness today have, at least in theory, someone whose job it is to say ‘oy, we don’t want that kind of discourse here.’

      • Marie Brennan

        Sadly, a lot of boards and comment threads are totally unmoderated, beyond the deletion of obvious spam. People think they can’t control the discourse, or don’t think they should, because they confuse the constitutional right to “freedom of speech” with an imaginary requirement that you let people be abusive asshats wherever they please.

    • Marie Brennan

      I think there’s enough evidence out there about the treatment of female bloggers to say that, whatever the percentage of us that get screamed at in this fashion may be, it’s a higher percentage than it is for male bloggers. Especially the rape threats: those are not nearly as common.

  4. teleidoplex

    Like the Swan, I don’t have enough of an online presence to have been on the receiving end of this, but even so, I’ve had someone comment on the intro to my manuscript for ‘Dragons’ that I need to feminize the main character, because she comes across as a butch dyke instead of a woman.

    Yeah. Chew on that one for a bit.

    • wshaffer

      I need to feminize the main character, because she comes across as a butch dyke instead of a woman.

      That’s…special. Although, what do I know? I’ve been told that I come across as a butch dyke instead of a woman on at least one occasion.

      • Marie Brennan

        My freshman roommate thought I was a lesbian, according to the journal she kept for the first week or so, and then left behind (along with a bunch of other crap) when she moved out.

        No word on whether I was supposed to be butch or femme or what, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

    • Marie Brennan

      Yeah . . . there are still so many problems with that comment, I don’t even know where to begin.

  5. wshaffer

    Hey, some Elder Gods are really quite nice once you get to know them. Although when Cthulhu calls, I tend to let it go to voicemail, because she does go on and on…

    Some days, the urge to shout, “What is wrong with all you people?!” at the internet is very strong.

    • Marie Brennan

      I’m thinking that I’ll switch to “rabid dogs” for my comparison. Because this behavior really ought to be the sole domain of creatures suffering from actual illness.

  6. maladaptive

    Probably not because it’s terribly written. The presentation was much better because I got to make all the informal cracks I was thinking, like threats made by an abusive guy in CA to his ex-wife in Oregon aren’t imminent/credible because he’s in another state.

    Because in 2006, cars hadn’t been invented yet and state lines are impermeable barriers.

Comments are closed.