“Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion;” – the old adage all of our parents used any time they heard something that contradicted something they practiced, preached, or otherwise believed. The family across the street is Catholic, and we’re Protestant. The new neighbors don’t eat meat. We come home from school and we thought our book report on Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was next-grade-level material, but we only got a C+, “everyone’s entitled to their own opinion.” We learn to swallow the begrudging feelings and spit out the phrase as we carry on with our lives, and keep our noses out of everyone else’s business, because how the rest of the world was raised to think, eat, and what church to go to is not what we should concern ourselves with. It gets a little tougher when the areas get “grayer” as we age, when what other people decide can become our business because it directly affects us in some way -our taxes, our healthcare, what we can or can’t do with our bodies or our families. Of course, just as we get to have our opinion, so do other people. Unfortunately, that opinion sometimes gets negatively and directly reflected on us. When exactly does it stop being “everyone’s entitled to their own opinion” and it becomes “cyber bullying” or “internet trolling?”
It’s no secret that feminism has become the target of choice for many internet trolls, mainly for its place in the media as a “hot button issue.” The trolls themselves admit to not having much of an interest in the topic, but they poke fun at those that do invest time in the subject and the mission simply because it “garners a reaction.” We’re one year past GamerGate, which has been seen as a sort of cultural war in the game world regarding diversification in the game world itself, but mostly in the social world surrounding it, pressing for more acceptance of “non-traditional gamers” and their ideas. GamerGate all started around female game developer Zoe Quinn allegedly sleeping with people to get more publicity for her games. It escalated when a big part of the gaming community decided it was fed up with people attacking Zoe Quinn, and other prominent figures like feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian (who often comments on feminist or anti-female language and ideas in games). The revolution of GamerGate has made some changes in the gaming world. EA’s COO Peter Moore has noticed that they needed to make some changes in their workforce as a result of GamerGate, and hire some more female game developers. While we’re starting to see more acceptance of women playing games, and women in games (I’m quite happy with all of my female champions in League of Legends, for example), GamerGate is still an issue, and while people are starting to use the hashtag #GamerGate as a symbol of breaking down the barrier, there are still people set in their ways that women cannot play games, shouldn’t play games, and have no place in the gaming community. It seems that International Women’s Day founder Amber Gordon has a sadly valid point with “Any time you give a women a voice on the internet, there’s always going to be someone to tell them ‘no.'”
Without a doubt, every member of Fem.2.0 can mention at least one moment they’ve dealt with an internet troll and how it made them feel. Isa Romby spoke out on something, and she got a Twitter comment that had nothing to do with her opinion, the comment had to do with her appearance. Soraya Chemaly wrote one of my favorite pieces on a real world examination of the simplest form of women’s “oppression” that none of us really think about: the public restroom. She then posted a follow up article about the 10 most sexist comments she got in response to the original piece. Everything from “stand up and pee like a man” (thank you, makers of the She Wee, for fixing that problem) to “you’re lying” and “your female opinion must be dismissed.”
I am no exception. Aside from one interesting Twitter user who took offense to my #StandWithPlannedParenthood tweet by then arguing with me about my stance all day and using the Hyde Amendment as part of their argument by saying it allows Planned Parenthood to use public funding for certain kinds of abortions (this is when I invite you to click on the Hyde Amendment link if you didn’t already know what it was and take a big, long, exasperated sigh like I did)… my most recent encounter with internet trolls came with the hashtag #ActuallyWomen. The idea was to finish off the phrase “Actually women” with something we’re trying to fix as feminists, and I had a lot of fun with it. I posted eight tweets with the hashtag #ActuallyWomen that day, six of them I wrote myself.
Since that hashtag was trending that day, I got a lot of feedback on those tweets. There are two types of people going after feminists it seems: people who genuinely don’t understand some of things we’re trying to fix, and they engage us to better understand our point of view – but not necessarily to say that they believe we’re flat out wrong, and then there are the internet trolls (like the ones that told Isa no one cared about her opinion because of her looks, or the ones that told Soraya she should pee standing up). I managed to get both, some on the same tweet. I had one person engage me on the wage gap tweet saying that some variables going into the wage gap cannot be discriminatory because they’re by choice… and as we got deeper into conversation, I found he wasn’t entirely wrong. He took a platform that education is a choice, though some professions require it and others don’t. I still believe that not all forms of education are entirely a choice when you take other factors like access to funding, or those that must be caregivers or breadwinners for the family before they think about education. He later pointed out some statistics that I had never heard before: never married women earn more than never married men, and that’s not discriminatory, it’s more likely due to the careers they chose, or other abilities they just happen to have. Of course, after that, another user decided that tweet was racist, and I was racist for posting it. Same tweet, two very different responses.
I clicked through to most of the profiles of the Twitter users who replied to my tweets that day. No surprise, the internet trolls all had “fake” pictures (cartoons, pictures that were otherwise not of themselves), and no personal information in their “about” sections. Most had something to the effect of “I abhor… feminists” or “I live to poke feminists.” I think my favorite one was a veiled poke at activists in general; “can’t abide professional victims who take opposing views as personal affronts.” The more disappointing ones were women that had spoken out against me either with the tweets themselves (“Those determined to find inequality see nothing else and need glasses. Grow up.” Thank goodness I already wear them! Or this one: “Crap like this makes me hate my gender”) or the actual profiles (a female twitter user again with a cartoon picture, false name, and a profile reading “Ladies, the world does not revolve around you, your whims, or your hoo-ha. Suck it up, buttercups.” Oh, wonderful, thankfully we want equality and not supreme control).
I can understand the engaging tweets like the wage gap one. I can even understand the user that decided the Hyde Amendment allows Planned Parenthood to pull public funding for abortion services. What I don’t understand are all of the personal attacks I got for those tweets. I headed to work after my stint on Twitter that day, and I managed to get stuck in traffic during my commute. Thankfully, I had my phone locked away and didn’t look at it during my hour-long start-stop drive. I likely would have caused more traffic had I looked at my phone at all. In one hour, the engagement went from problems with my tweets, and my opinions, to direct problems with me!
In response to the second class citizen tweet: “Go start your own business if you’re so smart.”
In response to the abused women tweet (a few responses later): “You live in America in 2015, the best place for women ever. You sound silly.” “Bitching about lack of options doesn’t create opportunities, [you’re] only promot[ing] defeatism. [Battered/abused] Women aren’t victims, so stop.” “No one should take you seriously because of your Twitter bio.” “Are you defeatist enough to discourage your female competition?” “[Battered/abused] Women have a lack of access to autonomy? How can [you] be that stupid and not drown in your own drool?” “So only successful men beat their women? Or women can’t get degrees and jobs? Why do women need you, naysayer?”
Those are just the negative comments directed at me, not necessarily the ones that had problems with the tweets I posted. Thankfully, I laughed when I saw all of the responses by the time I parked my car at work. I wasn’t too bothered. I instantly debunked all of their problems in my head. My inability to start my own business has nothing to do with my intelligence, it has everything to do with my current lack of capital and time. I happen to be part of the generation drowning in student loan debt because I “made the mistake of seeking higher education.” No one seems to be faulting my degree here, just my lack of a business license. You’re right, I do live in America in 2015, but it’s not the best place for women ever, if it was, we’d get maternity pay, and we’d have the reproductive rights we’ve been fighting tooth and nail for for… how long now? Yet I’m the silly one for realizing the drawbacks, and speaking out for change now that I’ve realized I can’t toss everything out the window and live in a country that treats its women a little better. If someone didn’t “bitch” about battered women, how would women’s shelters ever get funding to help them? Yes, they are victims, and no I won’t stop. If anything, I encourage all competition, I love competition, and I promote equality. I have never considered myself defeatist, I have only been called defeatist, and someone else just jumped on that bandwagon. I graduated Magna Cum Laude with two majors, a minor, I studied abroad and managed to get the equivalent of four A’s and a B in classes that were taught in my second language. I believe battered women who are stuck between a proverbial rock and a hard place have a lack of access to autonomy when they feel they have “no way out.” Especially if they have children they feel they cannot provide for them on their own. That’s how I can be that “stupid” and not drown in my own drool. Not all men beat their women. Not all women are battered, or otherwise abused. Let me be clear, male or female, no one deserves to be abused. Regardless of the status of the man or woman in the relationship, no one should ever feel abused. Women “need” people like me because I was taught to stand up for what I believe in, even if I’m standing alone, directly in the line of internet troll fire. I know there are problems, and I am not afraid to do what needs to be done to solve them. I have a voice, and I am not afraid to use it. Oh, and for the record, this is my Twitter profile. I have not changed a single punctuation mark on it since I joined Fem2.0.
Do tell, what here says I shouldn’t be taken seriously? I wrote my biography this way for one purpose: transparency. I am a real person. I have feelings. I happen to eat gluten-free, and own a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel (though he makes most of the decisions in the owner/pet relationship). If you land on my Twitter profile because of my feminist tweets, but you stay for a while, you realize I don’t just post feminist things. I am a filmmaker and a film connoisseur. If I find a good gluten-free recipe, I post it. When my boyfriend or my mom do silly things, I post about it. When my dog does something cute, that goes up too. The internet trolls, the cyber bullies, anyone who goes searching for any feminist to put down forgets one key thing about us: We are human. We have thoughts and passions that differ from the movement we all hold near and dear to our hearts. We have families, we have day jobs that are often so far from the feminist movement, we must take a break from screaming “repro rights” through our fingertips just to get our jobs done and our paychecks signed. Most importantly, they forget the thing that keeps us posting despite their attacks: We won’t be stopped, and a few silly comments from online aliases who are too afraid to show their faces won’t shut us up.
After I decompressed from the barrage of posts in my notifications feed calling me names that day, I had one last tweet to post before I clocked in at work, and clocked out of Twitter for the day:
I’ll be darned, but that quieted the online field quicker than a mute button. It appears that internet trolls are silenced by those who know the password over their bridges: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”