Act One. Ask Not For Whom The Bell Trolls; It Trolls for Thee.
by Lindy West
In the summer of 2013, in certain circles of the internet, comedians and feminists were at war over rape jokes. Being both a comedy writer and a committed feminist killjoy, I weighed in with an article in which I said that I think a lot of male comedians are careless with the subject of rape.
Here’s just a sample of the responses I got on social media. A quick warning, these are internet comments about rape, so it’s going to suck.
“I love how the bitch complaining about rape is the exact kind of bitch that would never be raped.” “Holes like this make me want to commit rape out of anger.” “I just want to rape her with a traffic cone.” “No one would want to rape that fat disgusting mess.” “Kill yourself.” “I want to put an apple into that mouth of yours and take a huge stick and slide it through your body and roast you.” “That big bitch is bitter that no one wants to rape her.”
It went on like that for weeks. It’s something I’m used to. I have to be. Being insulted and threatened online is part of my job, which is not to say it doesn’t hurt. It does. It feels– well, exactly like you would imagine it would feel to have someone call you a fat cunt every day of your life.
This is an excerpt from a This American Life episode that focuses on how people behave anonymously on the internet. Click the link the listen to the whole episode. http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/545/if-you-dont-have-anything-nice-to-say-say-it-in-all-caps
The main character in this piece, Lindy West, is a writer and self-proclaimed feminist who tackles difficult subjects including the topic of this blog (sexism), racism, fat-shaming, rape, and others for a variety of websites, magazines, and newspapers. Although she is usually the one reporting on others, in her story for This American Life, Lindy expressed how writing about these issues has made her the subject of aggressive and violent sexism. In this story, she reports that after writing “literally anything” about rape, she gets a barrage of hateful feedback in her comments, on twitter, in her email, and on her facebook page. These “trolls” aim to shame Lindy because of her appearance and her weight, and they threaten her with violence and even death. And yet, she says she is used to this type of hatred; in fact, she’s surprised when others are surprised by it. It wasn’t until one person set up a fake twitter account claiming to be her dead father, that she decided to respond.
When we talk about sexism, we often refer to more institutional or cultural sexism: we talk about the wage gap, how women are still questioned about their work-home balance, and the lack of women in executive leadership positions. What Lindy West is talking about, is far more overt and far more personal than any of those types of sexism. Does that mean it’s worse? Not necessarily…after all there is no hierarchy of oppression. But this type of sexism is certainly more shocking for me. How is it possible that people like this still exist in the United States?
I can’t help but wonder, what are these trolls aiming to achieve? Do they wish to scare women to keep them quiet? Do they feel threatened by intelligent women who have an impact on how our society thinks and feels? Or are they simply mean and lonely?
These questions are all addressed when Lindy West confronts her troll. She wrote an article expressing how his behavior made her feel; she humanized herself for her readers, and an amazing thing happened. The troll contacted her. And he apologized. He spoke about his own struggles with his confidence and his weight, and he expressed that he was mad that a woman who struggled with similar issues could accomplish so much in her life. He figured out where his blatant, violent, and terrifying sexism came from, and he vowed to change his behavior in the future.
This story ended well, but sadly, there are thousands of other trolls making similar sexist comments about women in the media. This was just one example of the type of overt sexism that does still exist in 2015 in the United States.