One of the most difficult aspects of online life for women is that when harassment happens it is rarely limited to one platform. Cross-platform abuse takes a particular toll.
I am not a typical example of the kind of online harassment that often appears in media. For example, I am not a target of the well-known #GamerGate movement, nor am I the focus of anonymous right-wing racist trolls who gather together on not-so-secret message boards and coordinate massive social media attacks. While I empathize with prominent figures like Anita Sarkeesian and Deray McKesson, who are regularly subjected to this type of harassment, I cannot speak as much to that experience. However, because my name includes the word “Feminist,” I am regularly the butt of violent, disturbing imagery and vulgar insults.
Hardly a day goes by that I log onto some social media platform and do NOT see “Shut up, bitch!” Sometimes, though, instead, it’s “nigger” or “cunt,” words that aren’t family friendly enough to appear when most mainstream publications describe “harassment.” Often there is a more graphic and violent description of how I should stop talking, but the idea is the same: I should stop speaking and writing the things I do that are related to women’s rights, female empowerment, the dreaded “f-word”—feminism. The ugly insistence that I quiet the passionate fight against the evil “-isms” of the world is at the core of the harassment that I experience online. It happens, mostly, because I openly identify as a Black feminist woman in spaces where doing so is akin to coating oneself with blood and swimming in an ocean filled with famished sharks.
The ugly insistence that I quiet the passionate fight against the evil “-isms” of the world is at the core of the harassment that I experience online.
Unlike the harassment that is perpetrated by anonymous people, what I experience the majority of the time comes from people who make little effort to mask their true identities behind fake pictures and bogus profiles. These are people I could pass by on the train any given day or bump into while shopping; they are as “normal” as one could imagine offline, yet when they log on, they become attention-needy people seeking validation and attention from their “favs”. These are everyday people, engaging in everyday harassment to build social capital and make names for themselves online. And they don’t limit themselves to one part of the internet or another.
While having a social media presence is important to me, professionally, the more platforms I use, the more harassment I face. It is increasingly difficult to sign into my email, YouTube channel, Facebook account, personal blog, and Twitter every day because I know I will encounter insults and threats, as well as be inundated with graphic, violent images. One particular stalker has made no less than thirteen YouTube videos about me in the past two months, each one more obsessive and angry than the last. His blogs about me, posted on several “men’s rights” platforms, contains several thousands words each. He posts links to his videos and blogs on Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and other online spaces to garner attention and hits. He is known for clogging up comment sections on various online publications and popular blogs. Reporting him has done nothing to curb his obsession and I am currently seeking legal action and criminal prosecution because of how expansive his efforts are.
I realized long ago that all of this is focused on trying to make me stop saying whatever I am saying, and that what I’m saying resonates in some deeply threatening way with these people. However, that doesn’t make going to work any easier. “Block it out” is much easier said by those who don’t regularly experience abuse. If it was just one medium, maybe I could move away from using it and focus on other spaces, but it happens everywhere I have a presence.
“Block it out” is much easier said by those who don’t regularly experience abuse.
There is a significant silver lining, however. For every harasser, there are twenty people inspired by what I say and do. I remind myself every day that freedom work and the fight for liberation will never be easy. Understanding this dynamic is how I am able to continue on, though it isn’t without consequences. Reading “I hope you get raped, nigger bitch” is never easy. I am a human being and I have feelings and process hurtful words like anyone else. I have an anxiety disorder and I am occasionally triggered by some of the things people say to or show me. I take breaks when I can and I make concerted efforts to do what I can to protect my online space as much as possible. I often make requests of my supporters to establish boundaries, but that only goes so far, as people come and go and there are those who do not feel obligated to respect boundaries in online spaces.
I am passionate about making the world a better place for girls and women and I have no intention of giving up the fight that those before me began before I can pass the torch to those who will come after me.
I am still here and I have no intention of shutting up.
Copyright Women’s Media Center, 2016. For reprint, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed in this commentary are those of the author alone and do not represent WMC. WMC is a 501(c)(3) organization and does not endorse candidates.