“Feminist writers are so beseiged by online abuse that some have begun to retire”
1. Why would anyone do this in the first place?
What really strikes me about this article is that none of these women actually have any issues that they are interested in—they’re just “feminists.” They are in the media and they are ladies and they do lady stuff. They are famous. Do they want to end female genital mutilation? Are they campaigning for paid maternity leave? Are they running those clinics that try to get women to adopt out their babies because abortions are evil (and yes, I am stretching the usual definition of “feminist” here to include “any social cause that has to do with women in any way, shape, or form”)? Hell, do they have strong opinions on female pubic hair (thanks, third-wave feminism)? Well, I don’t know! But they sure as hell are being harassed on the Internet. That’s the important thing to know about feminists. They get beat up on a lot on the most important space on earth—the Internet.
OK, some of the women mentioned actually have causes, but the article is careful to obscure their work with their victimhood. Joanna Munson is a pro-choice activist who is giving up blogging to go to law school. That may not seem like the world’s worst trade-off. If you want to help support abortion clinic operations, being a lawyer is probably a hell of a lot more useful than being a blogger. However, Munson’s entry into law school is depicted as a defeat—her Twitter account is more important than her professional participation in the public sphere. (Although if you don’t want to deal with a high-pressure environment with the potential for personal abuse, why law school?) Munson is a victim, first and foremost.
Or here’s abortion rights activist Lauren Rankin:
Last year, [Rankin] pulled back from writing online and, for the most part, from Twitter because the threats and insults were becoming so wearying. She continues to serve on the board of the reproductive rights nonprofit A Is For and faces off against antiabortion protesters as a volunteer clinic escort, but she no longer engages publicly.
Wait a second, so she’s serving on an abortion rights nonprofit board and she escorts women to abortion clinics, but she’s not engaged publicly because she’s not fucking around on Twitter. On one hand, this definition of public engagement makes zero sense, but on the other hand it does make me more engaged than Rankin because I published something on the Internet, so I like this definition even though it’s complete mad bullshit.
Rankin makes feminist causes a part of her professional life and volunteers with women in dangerous spaces, but she’s still a victim. Like every other women out there. Why would anyone do something where they were just going to end up a victim, no matter what they did?
2. How does a woman become a victim?
These women receive all sorts of threats. Rape threats, death threats, various threats to various orifices. They also receive a lot of rough criticism in general.
[Jill] Filipovic, the former editor of the blog Feministe, says that, although her skin has thickened over the years, the daily need to brace against the online onslaught has changed her. “I doubt myself a lot more. You read enough times that you’re a terrible person and an idiot, and it’s very hard not to start believing that maybe they see something that you don’t.
Huh. That’s not really the way somebody with a cause would react… unless the cause is fundamentally yourself.
Anyway, Filipovic is a former blog editor because:
I have not figured out how to spend all day steeling against criticism — not just criticism, but really awful things people say to you and about you — and then go home and 30 minutes later you’re an emotionally available, normal person.
Over and over again, emotions come up.
“In order to work, have a nice family and feel like I was emotionally whole, I could not have one foot planted in a toxic stew.”
“Some young writers have told her, only half-jokingly, that they feel like they have PTSD.”
“It was just becoming really emotionally overwhelming to be on the front lines all the time,” she says.”
I’m not saying that the Internet isn’t a horrible hellhole for women (dudes, too, I don’t forget you). But it is interesting that the main fear that these women have isn’t that their abusers are going to make good on their threats—or at least that’s not the fear that the article focuses on. These women are afraid that the Internet is emotionally warping them out of their roles as human beings. The underlying assumption is that they are to be emotional providers and should present a “normal” face to the world at all times—even after years and years of feminism of varying kinds and strengths, that still holds true. A woman is a victim if she’s out of humor—if she can’t keep that essential balance intact.