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Jane Austen and the Rape-Threatening Men

The face that launched a thousand threatening tweets.
The face that launched a thousand threatening tweets.

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So what sorts of things make some men so furious that they feel the need to send women they’ve never met literal death and rape threats on the internet? It doesn’t take much, apparently. A woman suggesting that it’s not such a good idea to hit on women in elevators at 4 AM. A woman making  videos suggesting that there’s sexism in video games. A woman captured on video telling some men to shut the fuck up. A woman complaining about sexist jokes at a tech conference.

Add to this: a woman campaigning successfully to have Jane Austen’s face put on the Bank of England’s ten pound notes.

Over the past week, writer and activist Caroline Criado-Perez, who organized the campaign to get Austen memorialized on the bank note, has been harassed relentlessly on Twitter by assholes and misogynists and trolls for her efforts. Some of this harassment has taken the form of literal rape and death threats. One 21-year-old Manchester man was arrested and questioned in connection with the threats.

Similar threats and harassment were directed at noted British classics professor Mary Beard and female Members of Parliament.

Here’s a sadly typical example of one of the threatening comments sent to Criado-Perez from an account that Twitter temporarily banned — then reinstated.

https://twitter.com/CCriadoPerez/status/362499703285358592

And a more graphic example:

And some even more graphic threats directed at female MPs.

https://twitter.com/JonathanHaynes/status/361967658087890945

https://twitter.com/JonathanHaynes/status/361964227516309504

For many more examples of messages sent to Criado-Perez and others, see  Catalina Hernández’ blog I Will Not Put Up With This: here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

And if you had any doubt about how little in the way of repercussion most of these harassers expected to get for their threatening tweets, some tweeted using what are presumably their real names. Here are some comments from one Ivan Garcia of San Diego, as collected by Hernández.

jazzmanivan

And here is his blog, where this fan of jazz, video games and threatening rape shares his poetry with the world.

The harassment obviously raises a lot of issues,most notably: Why the fuck does this keep happening? And: What’s the best way to deal with this sort of harassment — and these sorts of harassers?

Twitter has promised to add a “report abuse” button; some activists see this as a step in the right direction, while others worry that the “report abuse” button will be itself abused to shut down critics of harassment. Twitter’s record in dealing with harassers has not exactly been a great one; just ask Anita Sarkeesian.

British journalists and assorted bloggers have been trying to sort through some of these issues over the past few days. Here are some links to some of the more interesting pieces, from a variety of perspectives. (Well, I’m not including the pro-rape threat perspective.) Links aren’t necessarily endorsements.

First, for a little more background, see:

Twitter under fire after bank note campaigner is target of rape threats

Twitter faces boycott after ‘inaction’ over rape threats against feminist bank notes campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez

Caroline Criado-Perez Twitter abuse case leads to arrest

And here are some posts and pieces looking at the issues:

A ‘report abuse’ button on Twitter will create more problems than it solves, by Sharon O’Dea

A button will not, alone, rid Twitter (or the wider world) of mysogyny and abuse. These are complex issues that will take more than a button to resolve. But ‘report abuse’ buttons have been known to be widely abused on other networks. ….

Introduction of a similar mechanism on Twitter ironically creates a whole new means by which trolls can abuse those they disagree with. The report abuse button could be used to silence campaigners, like Criado-Perez, by taking advantage of the automatic blocking and account closure such a feature typically offers. In that way, it could end up putting greater power in the trolls’ hands.

Why does it always come back to rape?  by Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett and Holly Baxter of the Vagenda Magazine, in the New Statesman

Rape is the popular choice when women become more visible than they apparently should be, and that’s because it’s easy. …. Whatever their opinion, however they conducted their arguments, however well-researched and nuanced their replies to criticism are, they’re women and male trolls could rape them and that’s what really matters. …

[Academic] Mary Beard got called a “dirty old slut” with a “disgusting vagina” just as [Member of Parliament] Stella Creasy was being tweeted “YOU BETTER WATCH YOUR BACK… I’M GONNA RAPE YOU AT 8PM AND PUT THE VIDEO ALL OVER THE INTERNET”. …

The message is that women’s vaginas are, literally, always up for grabs. If they’re young, the rape threats will come thick and fast; if they’re older, maybe the trolls will settle for insulting their vaginas and telling them that they were “sluts” in the past.

If Every Male Troll Took a Walk in Women’s Shoes, Would He Finally Feel Our Outrage?  by Elizabeth Plank

Withstanding rape threats has become a right of passage for female writers or personalities, just as making them as become a right of passage for cowardly and anonymous misogynist trolls. If you’re a woman who happens to possess opinions, and write about feminist issues (god forbid!), chances are you will be violently trolled. … the issue is not that women receive more criticism than men, but rather that it comes in more violent and vitriolic forms. Men will be attacked for their opinion, whereas women will be threatened because they have opinions.

[O]ne study showed that female usernames in chat forums received 25 times more abuse than male ones. In an experiment conducted by the University of Maryland, researchers found that “Female usernames, on average, received 163 malicious private messages a day.” So all else equal, if you’re a woman online, you’re going to be on the receiving end of more hate.

I believe it. I get a lot of shit from misogynists for running this blog — and the occasional threat — but what I get is nothing compared to the harassment similarly controversial feminist bloggers who happen to be women have gotten.

What women-hating trolls really believe, by Emma Barnett

First troll up was Peter from Whitechapel. …

“She was asking for it,” he told me. According to this nitwit, if you campaign about issues such as keeping a woman on English banknotes, you should “expect to receive rape threats”. I delved further.

“If you put your head above the parapet, like she has, then you deserve this type of abuse. It’s what you get when you are a woman shouting about something,” Peter told me, starting to get a little irate. …

Then Gary from Birmingham decided to call in [and] told me in no uncertain terms that “feminists like Caroline were undermining what it is to be a man” and needed “sorting out”.

“Men are predators,” he explained calmly. “And this [rape threats] is what we do.”

And here, after all this awfulness, is a piece that manages to be funny about it all: How to use the internet without being a total loser.

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Quark
Quark
8 years ago

Fantastic article. The stuff with Mary Beard I found especially disturbing given her age (not saying it’s OK to harass younger women! Just that is seems particularly horrendous when the woman in question is old enough to be someone’s grandma). I think the important thing to remember about this so as to not become completely drenched in despair is that 99.9% of these “trolls” would never say so much as boo to a goose in real life. They are most likely terrified of real live women and their anxieties and frustrations get taken out from the safety and anonymity of behind a screen (apart from when the idiots use their real names).

You can see from how quickly the Mary Beard troll crumbled when someone threatened to tell his mommy on him that they are just buffoons full of hot air and no real threat to women in real life. (The same way men’s rights “activists” have never done a single bit of activism in their lives.)

Not that this in any way makes their conduct okay – it’s disgusting and they deserve to be exposed and punished. But just to reassure women who doubtless feel threatened by this – there is almost certainly no real-life threat.

pecunium
8 years ago

I have to say… I’ve got a strong stomach, and this shit turned it.

pecunium
8 years ago

Really, the U of Maryland piece is shocking, the AVERAGE is 163 hostile emails.

titianblue
titianblue
8 years ago

Just to clarify, Caroline wasn’t just campaigning to put HJane Austen on the tenner. She was campaigning to ensure that UK banknotes reflected the diversity of our country and the great people who had comtributed towards it, instead of (with the early removal of Elizabeth Fry from the fiver & her replacement by Winston Churchill) seeming to indicate that only white men had ever done anything of worth.

What has interested me with the twitter storm that followed is that these are men doing the attacking. Not teenagers, not sexually frustrated adolescents but grown men.

hellkell
hellkell
8 years ago

Emma Barnett’s exchange with the trolls turned my stomach.

titianblue
titianblue
8 years ago

there is almost certainly no real-life threat

Not all that comforting, actually.

hellkell
hellkell
8 years ago

Yeah, that’s not as reassuring as you might think. I’m guessing you’ve never been on the receiving end.

Quark
Quark
8 years ago

@ Hellkell, not specifically of rape threats, no, but I have received plenty of on-line abuse and even death threats! I think it is important to realise these threats are not “real”, because otherwise the trolls get what they want – people paralysed with terror into silence and inaction.

pecunium
8 years ago

The problem with looking at the one who folded is there is no way to give them all that level of attention, and some will be Eivind Berges, and Paul Elams.

Maude LL
Maude LL
8 years ago

I think the gaming industry is a perfect example of ‘men criticized for their opinion, women criticized because they have opinions’ thing.

Many men made the same argument as Sarkeesian about the objectification of women in video games. The ‘negative’ comments usually range from “I disagree because ABC” to “You’re an idiot, your argument is wrong because ABC.” The exact same argument made by a women is not debated. Even the tamer ones don’t actually argument the points.

Then they can go home and feel good about themselves, thinking ‘women just don’t like it when people disagree with them.’

Quark
Quark
8 years ago

Plus, it is valuable to confront disingenuous MRAs with this stuff, the ones who insist rape isn’t real, men never threaten women with rape, rape threats and even rape itself was made up by feminists, etc etc.

Mr Futrelle in this piece linked to The Telegraph, an extremely right-wing British newspaper which is certainly NOT known for it’s feminist credentials, and yet even they were decrying this terrible new “trend”.

I would like to see how MRAs argue this is all part of the international feminist conspiracy! I suppose they will claim all these rape-threatening trolls are really feminists trying to give men a bad name…

bodycrimes
8 years ago

Thanks for writing this and summing up the issues nicely. What astounds me – really, astounds me – is that many of these articles have attracted comments basically saying that (a) nothing bad has happened, it’s just internet chat and (b) that’s freedom of speech, you know? So on the one hand there’s this outpouring of violent filth and on the other, there’s a denial that such outpouring is actually happening, and even if it is, it’s just harmless trolling. Or, of course (c) which is that it’s just life on the internet, get over it.

Could you imagine how seriously these threats would be taken if they were tweeted from accounts apparently headed by Muslims, and aimed at male members of Parliament? Any public figure subject to that kind of threat would be offered protection.

katz
8 years ago

Hey, I’m just happy someone got arrested. Woo for non US countries.

hellkell
hellkell
8 years ago

not specifically of rape threats, no, but I have received plenty of on-line abuse and even death threats! I think it is important to realise these threats are not “real”, because otherwise the trolls get what they want – people paralysed with terror into silence and inaction.

The point, you’ve missed it. Bravo.

Argenti Aertheri
Argenti Aertheri
8 years ago

Twitter trolls, taking your standard fare “I hope you get raped” and turning it into graphic murder and rape fantasies. I wish I’d made coffee already. Or maybe not, gagging on coffee is not tasty.

Regarding averages. You generally use the median for outlier detection, as it is less susceptible to extremely high or low numbers. If we assume a fair chunk of women get a handful a day, or less (no point harassing accounts with no recent activity?) that’d make the top end well over 163. Pretty much the only way the average is actually what people think an average is is if it’s a bell curve distribution, which I doubt in this case.

Sorry, math is how I make sense of people who make me fear for our species.

Argenti — get out of bed! Make coffee!

Quark
Quark
8 years ago

@ Hellkell – no need for the sarcasm. Play nice.

Argenti Aertheri
Argenti Aertheri
8 years ago

Oh their freeze peach? I have a bag in the freezer they can put it in, but not before I open some of the other bags in that bag.

What bag you ask? The one containing the frozen food for my adorable little carnivares (I’ll post brain bleach if they come out for the camera)

Ally S
8 years ago

I think it is important to realise these threats are not “real”, because otherwise the trolls get what they want – people paralysed with terror into silence and inaction.

1) Discerning whether a threat is genuine isn’t as easy as you think it is, and
2) even the non-genuine threats are forms of manipulation via verbal abuse, and that alone makes them reprehensible.

Ally S
8 years ago

@ Hellkell – no need for the sarcasm. Play nice.

Complaining about sarcasm? Really?

titianblue
titianblue
8 years ago

I would like to see how MRAs argue this is all part of the international feminist conspiracy! I suppose they will claim all these rape-threatening trolls are really feminists trying to give men a bad name…

Given that some of the commenters on “How to use the internet without being a total loser” are already suggesting it’s a publicity stunt by fame-hungry women, you are likely to get your wish …

Quark
Quark
8 years ago

@ Ally – I absolutely agree they are reprehensible, and I think it is quite correct to see people get exposed and punished for them, up to and including arrest and even jail time.

My point is that there is not a single documented case that I have ever heard of of someone being threatened with rape or death on the internet then “actually being raped or killed”.

Think about it, if you planned to rape or kill anyone, you wouldn’t exactly announce your plans on the internet first, would you! There is no such thing as anonymity on the internet ultimately, as all sites record and store IP addresses, cookies track where you go, the CIA are probably spying on all of us right now, and so on – it’s actually pretty easy to track down “anonymous” trolls if you know how. They don’t tend to be the brightest sparks in hiding their identity anyway.

So that’s my point. It’s all designed to frighten and intimidate, but it is important for your own peace of mind to realise the huge, huge gap between someone typing a violent threat on a keyboard, and actually doing anything violent in real life.

Xen
Xen
8 years ago

These “men” are pathetic. They really feel that threatened? Excuse me while I mock them. Ohhh booooo hooooo. Someone call the wambulance!

Quark
Quark
8 years ago

@ All – sarcasm is a form of harassment, designed to embarrass and belittle someone into shutting up. It’s not cool.

girlscientist
girlscientist
8 years ago

I’m just stoked that my favourite author is going to be on a banknote, and there’s nothing these trolls can do about it – completely impotent, all of them!

titianblue
titianblue
8 years ago

@Quark – tone-trolling. Nice one. Read the header of the blog. Read a few other threads. Then read Hellkell’s comment and consider whether you had actually MISSED THE POINT!

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