Laurie Penny | Longreads | March 2018 | 23 minutes (5,933 words)
Another day at the Telegraph and another attack on Laurie Penny.
— Nick Cohen, The Spectator, 2011
Do you think that red hair and makeup is used for anything other than attention? Her writing? Same. That bitch is a whore who needs to die choking on cocks.
— 4chan, 2016
I think that nice Laurie Penny over at the New Statesman must actually be a conservative mole dedicated to undermining leftism from within.
— Alex Massie, also at The Spectator, 2013
Hang this clown. Hang Laurie Penny.
— Urban75 (British left-wing forum), 2011
Now I don’t want to make light of her depression, but she has probably brought this on herself.
— Desert Sun, “We Need to Talk about Laurie Penny,” September 2017
* * *
It’s a clammy summer night. You’re 24, and you call a suicide hotline.
The nice lady who answers is probably in her seventies. She is very understanding as you explain to her that hundreds of people, thousands of strangers, are saying awful things about you, that some of them seem to really want to hurt you. You don’t know why. You’re just a writer, and you didn’t expect this. But some of them tell you in detail their fantasies of your rape and murder.
The nice lady is very sweet as she asks you if these voices ever tell you to do things. Yes, they tell you to stop writing. You inform the nice lady about this in a creepy whisper because your family is sleeping nearby and you don’t want to wake or worry them. These strangers tell you you don’t deserve to live, let alone have a newspaper column. Do they tell you to hurt yourself? Yes, every day.
The nice lady tells you to hold the line, because if it’s alright, she’s going to transfer you to one of her colleagues with specialist training.
No, wait, you say. You’re not hearing voices. You’re not delusional. The nice lady can Google you. This is really happening.
* * *
The internet hates women. Everyone knows that by now, and nobody precisely approves, but we’ve reached a point of collective tolerance. It’s just the way of the world, and if you can’t handle it, honey, delete your account. Stop engaging online. Cut yourself off from friends, family, and professional contacts, shut down your business, blow up your social capital, stop learning, stop talking, just stop. Or else.
The U.N. Broadband Commission tells us that one in five young women has been sexually harassed online. Amnesty International’s latest report suggested that over three-quarters of women and girls expected violence and abuse if they expressed an opinion online. “Online” is the least significant word in those sentences. I have been asked enough times if “the internet is bad for women.” And yes, there is reason enough to warn your daughter, your partner, your friend to watch out for herself online, to think twice before “putting herself out there.” You’d warn her in much the same way that you might warn her not to walk through town alone at night, not to wear a short skirt, not to let her guard down, not to relax, ever. And the message is the same: The future, like the past, is not for you. You may visit, but only if you behave.