The dangers of being a woman online

“You should have your tongue ripped out”: the reality of sexist abuse online
by Helen Lewis-Hasteley – 03 November 2011 12:51

Accounts from several women, some prominent figures and some more anonymous, describing the nature of abuse that gets directed at them online because they are women.

You always remember the first time someone calls you ugly on the internet. I imagine — although it hasn’t happened to me — you always remember the first time someone threatens to rape you, or kill you, or urinate on you.

The sheer volume of sexist abuse thrown at female bloggers is the internet’s festering sore: if you talk to any woman who writes online, the chances are she will instantly be able to reel off a greatest hits of insults. But it’s very rarely spoken about, for both sound and unsound reasons. No one likes to look like a whiner — particularly a woman writing in male-dominated fields such as politics, economics or computer games. Others are reluctant to give trolls the “satisfaction” of knowing they’re emotionally affected by the abuse or are afraid of incurring more by speaking out.

Both are understandable reasons but there’s another, less convincing one: doesn’t everyone get abuse on the internet? After all, the incivility of the medium has prompted a rash of op-eds and books about the degradation of discourse.

While I won’t deny that almost all bloggers attract some extremely inflammatory comments — and LGBT or non-white ones have their own special fan clubs, too — there is something distinct, identifiable and near-universal about the misogynist hate directed at women online. As the New Statesman blogger David Allen Green told me: “In three years of blogging and tweeting about highly controversial political topics, I have never once had any of the gender-based abuse that, say, Cath Elliott, Penny Red or Ellie Gellard routinely receive.”

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