An inconvenient truth: mob misogyny is nothing new
Sometimes you really don’t want to be right. In June, I wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post, with the headline “Why can’t we hate men?”, offering a robust critique of the pervasiveness and corrosiveness of male power.
I argued that the logical consequences were women’s anger and a deep need to embrace women’s leadership, while suggesting that men could do the world good by stepping away from power.
I knew my piece would be controversial; after all, we live in a time when a person who bragged about assaulting women was elected president anyway. But the facts I cited are hardly debatable.
Feminists have been making similar arguments for years. While admittedly framed in a provocative manner, my remarks weren’t anything so “out there”.
And here is what happened: I received hundreds of e-mails and tweets describing, in horrifying detail, how I should be raped and murdered or should die from a variety of incurable diseases.
The social-media onslaught was fuelled by the usual suspects — Breitbart, Rush Limbaugh, Fox News.
Viewers and listeners were assured that I was mentally ill (Fox News’s Tucker Carlson) and a danger to male students.
Some messages were so detailed and emphatic, the police had to look into them. A petition circulated calling for me to be fired. A Title IX complaint, organised by the National Coalition for Men, was made against my university.
Alas, none of this will be news to women in the public eye. Women running for office are barraged with attempts to humiliate and scare them.
Female journalists, bloggers and pundits experience much the same, some of it exploding into the kind of terrifying harassment that was Gamergate.
Women of colour, no surprise, are attacked with that toxic mixture of racism and misogyny, and lesbians like me come in for particularly vitriolic fury.
Most targets are not protected by academic freedom, as I am. Some, such as Vermont state representative Kiah Morris, the only black woman in the Vermont House, leave the public stage after the online ugliness becomes too much to bear.
Others, such as Christine Blasey Ford, who came forward with allegations of sexual assault by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, are forced to leave their homes and hire security after receiving death threats.
And all of this hatred has been made newly legitimate by a president whose disdain for women is a matter of public record.
It wears one down, which is exactly what they want. You feel scared, angry, vulnerable. The normalisation of it all makes it all the more terrifying; it is cold comfort indeed to know that you share the same fate as any woman who dares speak her mind.
Many remove themselves from the public eye, leaving us all the worse for it. Some push back but bear the scars of wars they should not have to fight.
So, when it was my turn to be the target of the troll armies of misogyny, I was not surprised but still disgusted.
I was called a “hate-filled c**t” who “deserved stage 4 cancer” and to be sexually assaulted so that my “Jew dyke” self would either die or find Jesus.
The irony was not lost on me: I was threatened with rape and death because of an op-ed that asked how women should respond to violence and inequity. It all, unfortunately, proved my point.
For here is the truth: women, by and large, do not threaten rape and dismemberment when they read something they disagree with.
They do not organise mobs of Twitter warriors to stalk, humiliate and threaten harm to men.
It’s not because we are inherently kinder or less combative. It’s because we are not fuelled by a self-righteous male privilege that sees every challenge as a threat to that gender prerogative. It’s because we are not empowered by a pervasive culture that views women as objects and men as subjects.
I did get e-mails from women, some of them critical of my position but none of them threatening. Let’s be clear: like mass shootings, this is something men, with very few exceptions, do to women and other men. This is one of the inconvenient facts I wanted to discuss. And this is what got some men so riled up.
What are actually hateful and discriminatory, it should be obvious, are death and rape threats to women who challenge male power, not an opinion piece that offers fact-based analysis and argument. But mob misogyny takes us down a rabbit hole where up is down and down is up.
This is how men can spew threatening fury even while claiming they are victims of some imagined, all-powerful feminist cabal.
Instead of the fictional Red Queen, we have a real “red pill” on Reddit, where angry men gather to feed each other the hallucination that when feminists critique patriarchy we cause them harm.
Unfortunately, their ferocious reactions to any women who dare challenge male privilege are hardly fictional, nor confined to cyberspace.
This impulse is manifest in many ways — from domestic violence to mass shootings.
Their hatred and anger should concern us all.
• Suzanna Danuta Walters, a professor of sociology and director of the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Programme at Northeastern University, is the editor of the gender studies journal Signs
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