It’s Not Just the Internet. It Never Has Been.


One of my favorite necklaces, by the fabulously talented Amy Davis Roth at Surly-Ramics.

You hear the lament again and again, while reading about anti-woman trolling online.

“Oh, the anonymity of the internet makes people behave badly!”

“If we just used real names, there people wouldn’t be as vicious.”

“Oh, that’s just 20-something guys in internet chatrooms. That’s how they all are.”

On the contrary, the viciousness we see, isn’t just a side effect of the internet. It’s a side effect of our culture.

No, I would go beyond that. It isn’t a side effect of our culture. It *is* our culture.

Why would I ever say this? I mean, everyone knows that those anonymous trolls on reddit would *never* act like that in the real world. It’s the structure of the internet that allows them to be assholes. Everyone knows that if we just avoid the problematic sites, like reddit, or the skeptics movement, or, well, anywhere else online, we wouldn’t have to deal with this.


People do act like that in the real world.

If you think that the nice guy ranting only happens on the internet, you’ve never had to deal with your thoroughly drunken friend shouting about how no girls would go out with a nice guy like him, even though he’s surrounded by single women he ignores because they aren’t attractive enough for him.

If you think guys getting pissy and escalating matters because you told people to stop making sex jokes is a feature of the internet, well, you’ve never asked anyone to stop making jokes that make you uncomfortable. (“Oh *that* makes you uncomfortable? Let me now tell you 10 jokes about dead babies and Nazis! Ha, that will show you!”)

If you think that inappropriate comments and requests for sex are an internet thing, you’ve never tried to stop a coworker or boss from hitting on you repeatedly, or a head of security, or the guy at the convenience store across the street.

If you think that being shouted at and asked to show people your tits just because you present as a woman only happens in chat rooms and online games, you’ve never walked past a frat house, or, unfortunately, through the main thoroughfares of either university I’ve attended.

If you think unasked for commentary on a woman’s looks only happens because girls post pictures on internet forums (which probably means they’re asking for it), you’ve never been at a bus stop, or the city square, or a mall, or… well, anywhere, really.

If you think insecure men trying to drive women out of activism only happens in online male-dominated communities, you’ve never paid attention politics. Or Fox. Or CNN, sadly.

If you think the reaction to rape victims is bad on twitter, try sharing that experience in person. Or try even standing up for a rape victim. Count how many minutes until someone points out “but men can be falsely accused! The woman just changed her mind! You just can’t believe those drunk *insert varying level of insulting reference to gender*!”

And people don’t just act like that for some undefined period between boyhood and manhood. They act like that their entire lives. These comments and insults and aggressions come from fifteen year olds and from seventy year olds. They come from every walk of life and every background. They come from every angle, and can often come at the time when you’re least expecting it, when you’re just sitting outside on a sunny day reading a book and enjoying the fact that spring has finally shown up, when the intrusion of someone aggressively pushing themselves into your mental space leaves you so shaken mentally that you’re shaking physically while trying to remove yourself into the closest approximation of a safe space that you can.

It’s not just the internet. And we can’t push the problem aside with a wave of our hands and an offhand comment of “Oh, that’s just how the internet is. Don’t you know better than to go to reddit?” For many women, reddit is not an isolated internet thing. It’s the community that we have to deal with face to face, day in and day out.  So yes, we need to change online culture, but we also need to change the culture of which the internet is a mirror image. Only then will our online community reflect the community we want to be a part of.

43 thoughts on “It’s Not Just the Internet. It Never Has Been.

  1. The summer before I turned 16 I frequently walked about 3 miles to visit a friend in another neighborhood. It involved walking up a stretch of relatively busy road. Every single day I did, a man over 50 would yell out his car window, or, on 3 occasions, cross traffic to pull into a parking lot, in order to comment on my figure and attractiveness. I was *terrified.* Grandpa (the male in my life at the time) said “Don’t mind ’em, Ellie. They get out of their car, then you worry.” Um. What then, grandpa? “Don’t worry about it, Ellie.” But how could I not? It’s not all online. Sometimes it’s in a chevy, blocking your sidewalk and demanding your attention.

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  3. Yes, but I’ve suffered a shitload of abuse from women during my life, so it’s not just men. If there is any general imperative, it’s that we as human being should become more decent and nice, but how do you achieve that? The solution is multifarious and probably involves such wide ranging things economic relieve, education, better living and stress relief. How about universal health care for starters? People are often horrible when they are themselves suffering. So basically the task before us is to better society, to relieve poverty, to increase wealth, to educate, to make people generally more sophisticated, etc. None of it happens overnight. You can’t just tell people to be nice, or ask politely. They’ll just tell you to fuck off and go on doing what they’ve always done, which is probably to desperately salve their own misery within a ruthless capitalist society.

    • You are not being decent. You are deflecting. The topic is misogyny but you don’t want to talk about that, you want to pretend that it doesn’t exist. Oh, and, I live in a place with universal healthcare and, surprise, misogyny still exists.

      • No, I’m for changing things so they get better, not writing another “man bad/woman good” post, which isn’t going to accomplish anything. How many of them do you think it takes before everyone “gets it.” Okay, so you think men are horrible. I’m telling you women are horrible too. So we’re tit for tat. But of course, that won’t be good enough. You’ll insist that men are more horrible. Then I tell you that women commit the majority of child abuse. Then you say, that’s because the patriarchy enslaves them into the childcare role. That claim is fine with me, but see what’s happening? We’re moving away from the “man bad/woman good” narrative and actually beginning to focus on social factors that are really amenable to action and change. We have some control over it. So when people are ready to actually get off their asses and change things and not write yet another “man bad/woman good” article, get back to me.

        • It’s not a “man bad/woman good” post. It’s just truthfully pointing out that this happens a hell of a lot more to women than it does to men.

          I’m a man. I’ve been the target of unwanted advances from both males and females. I’ve had nasty comments directed at me from both males and females. But to pretend for even one moment that men deal with this on anywhere near the level that women deal with it is ignorant on an astronomical scale.

          While misandry exists in individual women, there is no societal mandate for it. On the other hand, society at large is extremely misogynist.

          Why is it that after rapes, people feel comfortable shaming the victim? It’s because society has taught them that it was the woman’s job to avoid being raped, not the man’s job to avoid raping her.

          Why is it that in the sadly on-going birth control debate, Sandra Fluke gets called a slut and a prostitute just because she dared stand up and make her voice heard on requiring insurance to cover birth control? No man is ever slut-shamed in this way over condoms. A man is more likely to get high-fived for a successful “conquest.”

          Why is it that Michigan Representative Lisa Brown can be barred from speaking on the floor of the House for saying the word “vagina” in a debate about control of womens’ bodies? Why can men legislate a woman’s body, but if a woman mentions one of the body parts that they are trying to control, she gets banned? It’s because men, historically and currently, exercise a perceived superiority over women and react like idiots when that authority is challenged.

          You may have suffered at the hands of abusive women in your past, Hunt, and for that I am sorry. But that is in no way because “men have it just as rough as women.” Because that is not even in the same universe as reality.

          There are women that hate men. Mostly because of what men have done to them. But the number of men who hate women, and without reason (other than the fact that maybe “I’m a nice guy and women still won’t sleep with me”) is astronomical by comparison.

          At some point you have to understand that maybe women don’t like you because you’re a jerk who doesn’t have the slightest clue about what women go through but pretend that you go through the same thing, not because they’re man-haters in general.

    • Your “yes, but…” Comment is a distraction from the main post. The post deals with the sexism and misogyny that women deal with everywhere. In case you have not noticed that problem is orders of magnitude worse than the ways that some women treat some men. While that is a topic that can be discussed, this is not the place for it. Doing so provides another example of a man coming into a woman’s space and trying to own the conversation.
      Guys, don’t do this.

      • I can pretty much guarantee that conducting yet another identity politics two minute hate is going to achieve absolutely diddly squat. You want to change things: go do something. Take down a plutocrat. Study how media is effecting children. Educate someone. Start a meditation group.

        As I said above, this post is another “man bad/ woman good” polemic, which is both incorrect and illogical. We don’t need another one. Gals, don’t do this.

        • Actually I have to agree with Hunt. Mostly.
          I’m not going to say that men suffer by women as much as the other way around or anything like that, that’s a whole ‘nother debate and I don’t think it’s really one that needs arguing and certainly not here.

          But separating out abuse on women and on men and two separate issues, and implying that one is worse than the other because it happens more isn’t going to help. It’s segregating the two (for the sake of argument) sexes in just another way and implying that (in terms of how we address abuse) we should be treating them differently.

          It shouldn’t matter if the person being abused is male or female or other, or if the abuser is male, female or other, just that they are a person being abused by a person. So long as the distinction is being made it’s implying that one sex is different from the other in such a way that implies fundamental weakness. If the abuse of women is portrayed as fundamentally worse than the abuse of men (be it violent physical abuse or mild verbiage dealt with on the street) then it implies that women are somehow to be singled out as something weak to be protected from this abuse, and when men are abused they’re portrayed as being part of that weaker singled out section of society. Our society is flawed in that we’re still allowing this abuse to go on, and making the abused appear weak or wrong in some manner.
          Singling out something as specifically different or more or less important can be a benefit (gaining followers, sponsors, attention…) and a curse (making the cause seem different, odd, wrong or weak).

          I would hope that no one here wants to see women or men abused, because they’re people irrespective of what’s in their pants, so I for one do dislike the concept that one cause should be valued over the other.

          Again though, I’m not saying that the incidences are occurring equally, only that they do occur to both sexes and in both cases it is wrong, nor am I saying that because it’s happening to both should that detract from the other.

          (Speaking as a FtM, living as a woman away from friends/family if that has any relevance.)

  4. Excellent.
    Realizing actual situations where one’s behaviour has a detrimental effect on others, where certain language is not so harmless, where privilege blinds us from treating people horribly… well these can be applied to both real life and online situations.
    Except dead baby or Nazi jokes can actually be hillarious, unlike all the “blonde” or “my wife at home” or “my ex” or “sexy female who sleeps with as many people as possible” jokes.

  5. Respectfully, you’re delusional if you don’t think that the internet provides a safe haven for vicious little cowards to spew their hate and ignorance without the repercussions of doing so on a face-to-face basis. Much of the nastiness that is typed would never be said if it weren’t for internet anonymity. If you believe otherwise, you’re clearly don’t understand internet culture. I’m not saying that women don’t get heckled while walking past frat houses and construction sites but, unfortunately, that has always existed and likely always will. Much of that is cultural. Walk through Little Italy in Toronto in the summer and you’ll have three generations of men cat-calling women. My Japanese father would slap me across the face if I ever addressed a woman like that.

    The abuse that is hurled around the internet is not only directed at women, and without looking at the entire picture you can’t possibly make any sort of educated assessment of what is actually taking place. Take a look at the comment sections of any major newspaper and you’ll see my point; if those people, both men and women, were sitting in a room together discussing any particular topic, I’m sure there are a number of factors that would make the discussion somewhat more amiable.

    • How is any of that contrary to my post?

      Also, I”m not sure “Respectfully, you’re delusional” is the best start to a comment….

        • Yes he is in all his Mansplaining glory. I mean, really, how could the author of this space possible understand what she’s talking about and more importantly what she *should* be talking about without this lovely men (male presenting ‘gyms) to tell her.

          Someone needs to go do some 101 work – and it ain’t the author.

    • Getting heckled is cultural, but online sexism isn’t?
      That does not compute.
      That large numbers of men think it is ok to sexually objectify women-online, in person, or on the phone-is a culutural issue.

      Your “yes, but…” comment is a distraction. The sexism women face is tremendously greater than whst men face. Men have the power of long entrenched patriarchy to back them up. Women have had to struggle over enormous odds just to get where they are today.

      Do not pretend that the struggles of men compare at all to what women have gone through.

      Frankly it is insulting.

  6. Why? Why is it that when some people write about sexism towards women, they make the claim that apparently it’s inherent in society? I don’t get it. I’ve never been sexist to a woman in my life. I’ve never treated a woman badly just because she’s a woman. I’ve never treated anyone of any race or gender differently because of their race or gender. Just because there happens to be some who’ve been raised in that way, it’s endemic?

    Moreover are you speaking on your own behalf, or for all women? What about the women who don’t agree with you? Are they wrong? Are they not educated enough?

    There happens to be a contingent of trolls on the internet where the anonymity of the internet have granted them carte blanche to act as they will, how they will and when they will. But they are still trolls. Like it or not, trolls cannot be magically whisked away on a moment’s notice or the power of trolls wouldn’t be recognised. We can condemn the trolls, we can see them for what they are, ignore them and hope they go away. But we cannot make them disappear.

    Every time this happens I get equally confused. There are many trolls on the internet — many loud ones — but everyone on the internet are not trolls. They are a minority. Why do you conflate the trolls’ behaviour with reasonable people’s behaviour? Why do you conflate dissent with deliberate intent to harass and get a rise out of people? Why do you conflate trolls’ behaviour on the internet with people in the real world?

    More importantly, why do you use the extremely sexist view that it’s only men?

    • Pitchguest-
      Have a look at this:

      I regard it as a very convincing argument that we are all sexist and racist to varying degrees and without quite realizing it.

      Further, this has absolutely nothing to do with internet trolls. It has to do with everyone on the planet who, without exception by virtue of being alive at all, are to a degree, sexist and racist.

      Lastly, please quote where Emily says “it’s only men?” … you put it.

      Step back. Deep breath. Fresh (unemotional) examination.


    • “I’ve never done anything, therefore sexism doesn’t exist and every website containing complaints of women that suffered from sexism are false! Because I am a man I can invalidate your very existence by the power of my point of view!”
      Can this get any better, seriously?

  7. Ah, of course. It was only a matter of time before people came to your comments saying, “Well, I don’t see it this way, so it can’t be true, and you are wrong.” I bet my fluffy pink petticoats most of the people that say this type of stuff to you are men, who cannot (by virtue of being, you know, not women) fathom that women have to deal with things they just don’t have to worry about. Classic patriarchy.

    In any case, this post is a good post, and I’ve shared it around a bit. 🙂

  8. Came over here from Pharyngula, so you might want to prepare for the deluge. I agree with your post.

    I have to say that I think it’s an issue of emotional maturity as much as anything else. Is that a societal thing, a cultural thing, a religious thing? Genetics?

    I have occasion to interact on an “acquaintance/friend/confidant” basis with a small group of 20-something-year-old women. In our casual ‘over beer’ conversations about love-marriage-relationships, I always offer the same advice — never marry a man until he passes the age of 30. Before the age of 30, all men are jerks. Some men get over it around age 30. But you can’t tell until they get there. That’s why half of marriages end in divorce…women guess wrong as to the jerkiness of their guy.

    Now, that’s a huge oversimplification and a joke — but it’s got a point in there. Some men (me hopefully) mature emotionally. I am nowhere near the same guy I was in my 20s (though I have to say I never participated in any frat-boy-construction-worker cat-calling, etc behavior). Some of my contemporaries — sadly — have not been able to get over that emotional maturity hump.

    Why? What can we do about that? I have no idea.

  9. I was just complaining about this yesterday, then I saw this post linked today. Absolutely perfect! Then men who act like trolls online act exactly the same way offline. But they aren’t trolls, this is who they are, who culture has told them to be. We need to change our culture, both online and off.

  10. As a (tall, white, middle-class, “healthy”, semi-attractive) man, I can not identify with most of the things you mention experiencing in the real world.

    I have experienced most of the things you mention in the online world.

    Maybe it is such an issue with men because we get a taste of what many women experience day-to-day all through life?

    Anyway, another Pharyngula person here that followed a link. Great blog.

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  12. My observations lead me to believe that, while of course individuals of both sexes do both good and bad things, there are a lot more overt, loud, in-your-face male bullies than female.

    And bullying is what we are talking about here? That is, the infliction of hurt (including fear) on another person because the inflictor enjoys doing it — and thereby presumably gains a feeling of power.

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  14. Pingback: It’s Not Just the Internet. It Never Has Been. | Your Feminist Library

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