I am the exception, not the rule; I am lucky. The writing I produce garners little to no (negative) attention. When it does, people usually correct my grammar or spelling. This is okay with me, because it’s constructive. To my knowledge, no one has called me ugly, or stupid, or any number of cruel epithets or slurs. This is privilege; I am lucky. But I am scared to put my name to controversial opinions, or to voice my own opinion at all. My tweets are innocuous quips or retweets of people far more articulate than I am. I hide behind other people’s words.
I scan Roxane Gay’s Twitter feed about once a day; she is one of my favorite writers. I don’t want to miss a thing. I know she must be exhausted from engaging with trolls, but she’s logical and courteous. She says, “God bless you” or “Live in the light,” and she sounds sincere, if not a little weary.
Ginsberg wrote, “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness.” I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by public trials on Twitter; by nasty misogynists who critiqued their appearances rather than their creations; by hurricanes of anonymous cruelty. And I can’t even offer an umbrella.
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you probably aren’t a woman on the internet. Fortunately, I’ve collected several pieces that illustrate this experience far better than I ever could.
1. “Shaking Off the Haters Won’t Solve Online Harassment.” (Ann Friedman, The Cut, November 2014)
Hate speech and threats against women are shamefully commonplace on the web, but it’s difficult to “ignore the comments” when your life and livelihood are on the line. Ann Friedman writes, “I don’t just ignore the haters — I ignore just how quickly my coping strategy could be overwhelmed.” (If you don’t subscribe to Friedman’s newsletter, you’re missing out on excellent longreads and other curated links in your inbox every week.)
2. “Haterade.” (Meghan Daum, The Believer, January 2012)
Meghan Daum was the Lena Dunham of the ’90s—that is, the media proclaimed her the voice of her generation. Today, she’s an acclaimed essayist and op-ed columnist for the Los Angeles Times. She has experienced the phone calls and hate mail of the ’90s to the rigamarole in contemporary comments sections. In 2013, she revisited the nature of nasty comments in her column.
3. “Why We Need to Fight Online Trolls, Not Just Ignore Them.” (Emily Gould, BuzzFeed Ideas, October 2014)
In June 2014, author and book publisher Emily Gould was one of several contemporary women writers attacked in a bitter, misogynist 11,000-word manifesto masquerading as a book review. As she points out, this is hardly the first time women themselves have been critiqued online, rather than the writing they produce. Ignoring this phenomenon silences women and encourages such online misogyny to run rampant.
4. “An Artist’s Guide to Dealing With Haters.” (María Fernanda, Rookie, October 2014)
María Fernanda didn’t let the nasty comments on her feature for Vice Mexico stop her from pursuing photography. Instead, she learned to differentiate between constructive criticism and unfounded vitriol.
5. “Hate Sinks.” (Jason Wilson, The New Inquiry, February 2014)
What happens when you can’t ignore the comments, because your job is to read them? Jason Wilson interviews the hardworking women who moderate the mire.