Categories
#gamergate a voice for men antifeminism antifeminist women emotional abuse empathy deficit entitled babies harassment homophobia hypocrisy lying liars men who should not ever be with women ever misogynoir misogyny MRA oppressed men racism rape rape culture sarkeesian! transphobia

The war on female speech continues: Jessica Valenti driven offline by threats

Carole Lombard as the Targeted Woman
Carole Lombard as the Targeted Woman

The war on female speech can claim another victory of sorts.

Feminist writer Jessica Valenti — the longtime target of an organized campaign of harassment and slander by Men’s Rights activists and others — has been driven off of social media by death and rape threats posted on Instagram, aimed not at her but at her five-year-old daughter.

Valenti, a Guardian columnist and the author of six books on feminism and sexuality, explained her decision in a series of tweets yesterday:

Jessica Valenti ✔ @JessicaValenti This morning I woke up to a rape and death threat directed at my 5 year old daughter. That this is part of my work life is unacceptable. 12:04 PM - 27 Jul 2016 2,780 2,780 Retweets 2,408 2,408 likes Follow Jessica Valenti ✔ @JessicaValenti I am sick of this shit. Sick of saying over and over how scary this is, sick of being told to suck it up. 12:05 PM - 27 Jul 2016 689 689 Retweets 978 978 likes Follow Jessica Valenti ✔ @JessicaValenti I should not have to fear for my kid's safety because I write about feminism. 12:06 PM - 27 Jul 2016 1,840 1,840 Retweets 2,707 2,707 likes Follow Jessica Valenti ✔ @JessicaValenti I should not have to wade through horror to get through the day. None of should have to. 12:06 PM - 27 Jul 2016 440 440 Retweets 727 727 likes Follow Jessica Valenti ✔ @JessicaValenti I can deal with a lot of things, I've taken a lot of abuse over the years. But my child? No. 12:07 PM - 27 Jul 2016 395 395 Retweets 675 675 likes Follow Jessica Valenti ✔ @JessicaValenti Law enforcement needs to get their shit together on online threats. Social media companies need to fucking do something. 12:09 PM - 27 Jul 2016jvt2jvt3At this point, does anyone other than the harassers and their apologists doubt that what we’re seeing is a free speech issue — and, beyond that, a civil rights issue?

Every woman writer knows that the moment she puts her words online she could face literally years of abuse — insults and threats and often outrageous slander — if something she says manages to offend some thin-skinned dude who doesn’t like to see any of his opinions challenged by a woman.

This is even more of a danger if the women in question writes about feminism as anything other than a “cancer,” or offers her thoughts on topics that many men seem to think their gender owns the rights to — from videogames to the Ghostbusters franchise.

If women can’t express their thoughts online without facing the very real threat that their lives and reputations will be ruined by years-long campaigns of abuse and slander that social media companies and law enforcement authorities by and large refuse to do anything about, this is a threat to the free speech of women everywhere.

It isn’t simply a matter of a few “trolls.” The abuse is often organized, sometimes quite openly. The vicious harassment of Valenti began a number of years ago after a video of hers mocking Men’s Rights “activists” caught the attention of the misogynistic hate site A Voice for Men — a site whose “social media director,” Canadian antifeminist Andrea Hardie (aka Janet Bloomfield, aka JudgyBitch), stoked the flames by making up inflammatory “quotes” and attributing them to Valenti, knowing full well that many of her followers would believe even the most outrageous lies about the American writer. (Similar smear tactics have been used against feminist cultural critic Anita Sarkeesian by her enemies, including Hardie herself.)

Valenti is hardly the only woman that AVFM has targeted for organized campaigns of hate — not by a long shot — but AVFMers are so obsessed with Valenti that at a recent AVFM “men’s retreat” the attendees, led by the obviously drunken site founder Paul Elam, shouted out creepy sexual commentary about her and fellow feminist writer Amanda Marcotte; the reason we know this is that Elam, evidently quite proud of his behavior, put video of the bizarre incident online.

The harassment that Valenti and other feminist writers have gotten isn’t just intended to intimidate them into silence. It’s also meant as a warning to other women that if they speak up they could be on the receiving end of a similarly vicious hate campaign.

The harassers are often quite open about this intention. Jack Barnes, a Twitter “activist” who’s contributed numerous articles to AVFM over the years, has repeatedly made it clear that the point of his “activism,” such as it is, is to intimidate all feminists into shutting up.

Sometimes, as I’ve pointed out before, Barnes forgets to put “harassment” in scare quotes.

Jack Barnes ‏@Jackbarnesmra @Shotagonist @niaudesigns @TheFirstPaige no. We harass and abuse feminists. Bigots (feminists) don't deserve to be treated with respect.

These campaigns of harassment do indeed have a chilling effect. I know female writers who refrain from writing about feminism and other such “sensitive” subjects because of the abuse they know they would get if they did. Feminist writer Leigh Alexander has stopped writing about video games because of the abuse she endured at the hands of GamerGaters and their fellow travelers, many of whom openly rejoiced at the news.

Sarkeesian, meanwhile, has made clear that she’ll be moving on from video games after she finishes the rest of her videos in the Tropes Against Women in Video Games series. “For me, the work of Feminist Frequency has become synonymous with constant daily harassment, death threats, bomb threats, intense public scrutiny and profound violations of privacy that have spilled over into the lives of my friends and family,” she wrote in a Kickstarter update.

The enormous amount of stress caused by the harassment, along with how the project unfolded, took a huge toll on my physical and emotional health. I have been dealing with depressive tendencies for the better part of my life but with my physical health declining and the added pressure of this project, my depression became quite intense. Looking back from a place of greater clarity and balance, I don’t know how I managed to survive from day to day, let alone how I continued to step into the public eye online, in newspapers and magazines, and even on national television. Many of my personal relationships were strained or collapsing, and getting out of bed every day felt like climbing up a mountain. There was no end.

And all of this because she shared her thoughts about video games with the world.

Obviously, not all the victims of this sort of harassment are women. Indeed, I’ve been targeted for abuse and slander by some of the same people who’ve harassed Valenti. Nor are men the only harassers — AVFM’s Andrea Hardie is one of the site’s most vicious attack dogs.

But the people who have been on the receiving end of the most surrealistically over-the-top campaigns of abuse — Sarkeesian, Zoe Quinn, Brianna Wu, Chanty Binx, and many others — have been women, with black women enduring some of the worst abuse. And their harassers, for the most part, seem to be male.

That’s what makes this not only a free speech issue but a civil rights issue. Women bear a disproportionate share of abuse online — amongst Guardian writers, eight of the ten who get the most abuse online are women, with Valenti taking the top spot — and women generally have more of a reason to fear the threats they get online.

But women have little recourse when it comes to actually doing anything about this abuse. Police — with only a few notable exceptionsdon’t take online abuse seriously. Social media companies are glacially slow when it comes to shutting down obvious abusers, and arguably even worse about dealing with ban evaders.

I’m no lawyer, but it seems to me pretty clear that women are being denied equal protection of the laws.

That said, it is a bit of an oversimplification to talk about this in terms of the male-female gender binary, as Soraya Chemaly has noted. LGBT folks and others “who defy rigid gender and sexuality rules” are far more likely to be harassed and threatened online (and off) than their cis counterparts. They are also, quite clearly, being denied equal protection.

Threats against women online aren’t just crimes; in many cases they are hate crimes. Unless those who abuse and threaten women online face serious legal consequences for their actions, more women, like Valenti, are going to be forced offline.

93 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Chloe
Chloe
5 years ago

I am far from being a supporter of Valenti or of feminism for that matter but I have a daughter around that age and this makes me ill. There are some serious creeps online. I say publicly shame those pedos and tell their employers.

Joekster
Joekster
5 years ago

This isn’t meant to be a form of victim blaming, but has anyone attempted to organize a boycott of Twitter until they start actually enforcing their own rules?

kupo
kupo
5 years ago

@Stempke
Ugh. What is wrong with people? I mean, I know it’s YouTube comments and all, but still.

@Joekster
Quite the opposite; Wikileaks has threatened to create some competition for Twitter if they continue to enforce their rules.

Alan Robertshaw
Alan Robertshaw
5 years ago

@ Kupo

Wikileaks has threatened to create some competition for Twitter if they continue to enforce their rules.

An organisation run by a narcissistic rapist who bleats that he’s the victim rather than the women he abused would be the perfect partner for these aresholes.

Kevin
Kevin
5 years ago

@Ichthyic
Sorry you had to confront ‘the banality of evil’ in such a direct way.

Axecalibur: Middle Name Danger
Axecalibur: Middle Name Danger
5 years ago

@kupo + Alan
Fuckin Wikileaks… And to think, there was a time back in the day I thought they were the good guys

Alan Robertshaw
Alan Robertshaw
5 years ago

@ axe

Wow! So now they’ve added mass-doxxing to their repertoire.

Axecalibur: Middle Name Danger
Axecalibur: Middle Name Danger
5 years ago

@Alan
The government is irresponsible!
But, didn’t you edit leaked content?

Corruption!
But aren’t you taking cues from Putin?

Nobody should have this much power!
But, didn’t you just dox a whole country?

Jooooz!
Bruh…

And yet, Chelsea Manning is still in a cell and Julian Assange isn’t

Joekster
Joekster
5 years ago

I just read the huffpost article on wiki leaks that axcalibur posted. I read through the comments section, and noticed a number of men saying, ‘but men were doxed too!’

For those with more exposure to the Internet: is this a common reaction?

Back to twitter: I can’t honestly advocate for a Twitter boycott, as I’ve never used twitter (seriously, can you imagine me saying anything in 120 characters ?). Might be a good idea, though.

Axecalibur: Middle Name Danger
Axecalibur: Middle Name Danger
5 years ago

@Joekster

I read through the comments section, and noticed a number of men saying, ‘but men were doxed too!’ For those with more exposure to the Internet: is this a common reaction?

Common ain’t the word. Try constant. ‘But men too’ is a companion piece to ‘not all men’, that is ‘don’t blame me’. Except that nobody’s blaming you, unless you’re the shit that did whatever the thing is. There’s also an undercurrent (tho, at this point, it’s more overcurrent) of ‘not about me, don’t talk about it’
As a cisgender fella, I have a vested interest in pointing out when my roughly half of the population is getting the business end. Except that Ms Tufekci is a Turkish woman. Her focusing on the affect of the leaks on other Turkish women is entirely fair. More than that, she uses masculine and neuter language at least 6 times, so it’s not like she isn’t acutely aware that “men were doxed too”. Literally nobody was ignoring or disagreeing, so why the need to say it?
Preaching to the converted here, presumably. Point is, “reaction” is indeed the right word to use. They see something scary (a woman talking about women’s issues) and the kneejerk ‘this should be about meee’ is sure to follow

ETA: They probably just read the title anyway, so doubly stupid

OoglyBoggles
OoglyBoggles
5 years ago

Okay what pisses me off the most about Wikileaks now, are those who defend doing exactly the NSA does, and say that’s a good thing because they do it. Fuck no, this is not censorship this is literally dumping personal information of citizens for no other reason than “this may be/possibly take down Erdogan”, but now they actually hindered that by giving him free access to the personal information do millions of his citizens. You know yes the news are held captive by corporations ensuring they won’t be able to remove money in politics, but this is not related to money in politics, this is Wikileaks actively harming the very people they claim to be for.

Great fucking job, the Turkish Government Salutes you Wikileaks for your contributions to help support their regime.

Joekster
Joekster
5 years ago

@axecalibur: yeah, it looks like a lot of the commenters didn’t actually read the article. Maybe they were afraid of seeing something they found reasonable and wanted to avoid the cognitive dissonance?

PeeVee the Sarcastic
PeeVee the Sarcastic
5 years ago

It breaks my heart to read this, and the posts by fellow commenters about their online harrassment…so I will leave this quote from JudgyBitch to lighten it uo a bit.

Pamela is a Harvard educated lawyer, and friend to Derek Futrelle, who himself stalks me on social media and then writes using my legal name, all while making certain to never use the legal names of allies on the grounds that some harm might come to them. Watch. He will write a post about this, claiming the women who have harassed and stalked and threatened me are the victims. Futrelle is afraid of me. He should be. And he should think very carefully about ever showing up on my doorstep.”

Hear that, Derek?
I’m sure you’re quaking.

PteroNychus
PteroNychus
5 years ago

@PeeVee

JudgyBitch: Posts to twitter using her legal name.
Accuses anyone using her legal name of doxing her.
That’s the MRA way.

Nikki the Bluth Wannabe
Nikki the Bluth Wannabe
5 years ago

Teal deer on the way.
Note: I realize that I have the incredible luck and privilege of not having received any sort of death threats or really, any sort of major sexual/antifeminist harassment, so far in my life. Everything I say below is rooted in that privilege (I’m also probably not thinking clearly due to the facts that it’s late at night and I’m trying to write something else, but the privilege is the main factor here). If anything I say comes across as tone-deaf, offensive, or stereotypical, please let me know so I can address that privilege, add to my bank of knowledge, and adapt my thought processes and wording in the future.
I personally can’t imagine letting anyone threaten me offline, no matter how horrible/violent/sexual/etc. the threat was or who in my inner circle it targeted-I’d feel too much like I was letting the assholes win. Then again, I tend to be a very stubborn person-sometimes too stubborn for my own good.
I’m curious as to what factors drive so many women* who receive social media death threats to make the same choice Ms. Valenti has and leave social media and, in some cases, all of cyberspace. Is it related to the misconception that self-care is women’s work that we discussed Monday-are women generally more likely to rank their personal safety and mental health as their first priority and get out rather than staying in a threatening environment on principle with no guarantee that things will get better? Would staying on the particular site give the assholes more information/ammunition to use in their attacks, either in the real world or in their own perception? Is it that the anonymous, ubiquitous, permanent nature of the Internet gives the impression that the entire world’s out to get you and there’s no way to escape the danger, no safe place? Do they have particular mindsets and experiences that have made them more mentally/emotionally vulnerable? Or, as I’d tend to guess, is it all of the above?
*I’m sticking to the word “women” in an attempt to make the comment clearer and possibly a tiny bit shorter. If you belong to another marginalized group and have made the same choice in a similar situation, I’d like to hear your reasoning (if you’re willing to share it) as well.

LindsayIrene
5 years ago

Jessica Valenti details the harassment she’s received on-line and in “real life” in her new book, Sex Object. It started when she saw her first penis on the NY subway, and continues until… she has an entire book’s worth. I’m rather disturbed that someone here would question Valenti’s choice to leave Twitter when has experienced far more harassment than most, and yet she didn’t let that drive her off a platform until her daughter was threatened.

Patricia Kayden
Patricia Kayden
5 years ago

Perhaps women who have been harrassed on Twitter can sue for Twitter’s lack of taking any substantive steps to stop the harassment. Or women as a whole could threaten to boycott Twitter until they fix this problem.

There has got to be a way to force Twitter to address the use of its forum to harass women into silence.

P.S. Twitter is not the only forum that needs to be challenged about allowing harassers to use it, of course.

Nikki the Bluth Wannabe
Nikki the Bluth Wannabe
5 years ago

@LindsayIrene
I’ve read other works of Ms. Valenti’s but not Sex Object. As a result, I didn’t know the full extent of her harassment and I think she absolutely made the right choice for her and her family.
As for my previous comment, I think I took a complex personal decision and tried to oversimplify it, to look at it from a more general perspective. That was a bad idea.

%d bloggers like this: