A woman’s opinion is the mini-skirt of the Internet: Female journalists trolled by misogynists

Controversial News - Intentious - Laurie Penny - Photo credit - The Guardian UK

“Trolling”, the popular term for violent or offensive online invectives, crude insults, aggressive threats and unstinting ridicule, is on the rise in the world of professional online journalism. As an opinion columnist, this comes with the job and much must be taken as water off a duck’s back. Here at Intentious, we need to expect this to some degree, too, especially when you give your readers the power to comment anonymously.

However, Guardian, Independent and New Statesman columnist and journalist on feminism, Laurie Penny, decided to go public last month with her concerns on the amount of abuse she receives in an effort to persuade online discussion forums to police threatening comments more effectively. Her concerns are that abuse is getting so increasingly misogynistic, bigoted and sexist when levelled at female commentators and columnists that it is now causing some of the best known names in journalism to hesitate before publishing their opinions.

As a result, women writers across the political spectrum are joining to call for a stop to the largely anonymous name-calling. Some of her article appears below:

You come to expect it, as a woman writer, particularly if you’re political. You come to expect the vitriol, the insults, the death threats. After a while, the emails and tweets and comments containing graphic fantasies of how and where and with what kitchen implements certain pseudonymous people would like to rape you cease to be shocking, and become merely a daily or weekly annoyance, something to phone your girlfriends about, seeking safety in hollow laughter.

An opinion, it seems, is the short skirt of the internet. Having one and flaunting it is somehow asking an amorphous mass of almost-entirely male keyboard-bashers to tell you how they’d like to rape, kill and urinate on you. This week, after a particularly ugly slew of threats, I decided to make just a few of those messages public on Twitter, and the response I received was overwhelming. Many could not believe the hate I received, and many more began to share their own stories of harassment, intimidation and abuse.

Perhaps it should be comforting when calling a woman fat and ugly is the best response to her arguments, but it’s a chill comfort, especially when one realises, as I have come to realise over the past year, just how much time and effort some vicious people are prepared to expend trying to punish and silence a woman who dares to be ambitious, outspoken, or merely present in a public space.

No journalist worth reading expects zero criticism, and the internet has made it easier for readers to critique and engage. This is to be welcomed, and I have long felt that many more established columnists’ complaints about the comments they receive spring, in part, from resentment at having their readers suddenly talk back. In my experience, however, the charges of stupidity, hypocrisy, Stalinism and poor personal hygiene which are a sure sign that any left-wing columnist is at least upsetting the right people, come spiced with a large and debilitating helping of violent misogyny, and not only from the far-right.

Many commentators, wondering aloud where all the strong female voices are, close their eyes to how normal this sort of threat has become. Most mornings, when I go to check my email, Twitter and Facebook accounts, I have to sift through threats of violence, public speculations about my sexual preference and the odour and capacity of my genitals, and attempts to write off challenging ideas with the declaration that, since I and my friends are so very unattractive, anything we have to say must be irrelevant.

Read the full article here:The Independent UK | Laurie Penny | Opinion
Author: Laurie Penny

Laurie Penny - Pennyred Twitter Stampoutmisogynyonline

After reading Penny’s column, other female journalists began to speak out, too. Caroline Farrow, a blogger for Catholic Voices, pointed out that she has nothing in common with opinionists such as Laurie Penny except her gender, but is subject to the same violent abuse.

The wife of a vicar and “quite orthodox”, Farrow decided to write under her own name and photographto take responsibility for her views. “But the downside is that for some men this seems to make you a legitimate sexual target. I get at least five sexually threatening emails a day.” One of the least obscene recent messages read:

“You’re gonna scream when you get yours.
Fucking slag. Butter wouldn’t fucking melt,
and you’ll cry rape when you get what
you’ve asked for. Bitch.”

The author and feminist writer Natasha Walter has also been deterred. “It’s one of the reasons why I’m less happy to do as much journalism as I used to, because I do feel really uncomfortable with the tone of the debate,” she said. “Under the cloak of anonymity people feel they can express anything, but I didn’t realise there were so many people reading my journalism who felt so strongly and personally antagonistic towardsfeminism and female writers.”

Source: Women bloggers call for a stop to ‘hateful’ trolling by misogynist men | Guardian.co.uk

Ms Penny concluded her revealing post with this:

“I believe the time for silence is over. If we want to build a truly fair and vibrant community of political debate and social exchange, online and offline, it’s not enough to ignore harassment of women, LGBT people or people of colour who dare to have opinions. Free speech means being free to use technology and participate in public life without fear of abuse – and if the only people who can do so are white, straight men, the internet is not as free as we’d like to believe.”

Controversial News - Intentious - Laurie Penny - Photo credit @pennyred Twitter Account Profile Picture

Laurie Penny's photo from her Twitter account, @pennyred

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Categories: Business, Gender issues, People

Author:Andrew Beato

CEO, Chief Editor and founder of Intentious. Passionate comment enthusiast, amateur philosopher, Quora contributor, audiobook and general knowledge addict.

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5 Comments on “A woman’s opinion is the mini-skirt of the Internet: Female journalists trolled by misogynists”

  1. James Hill
    December 16, 2011 at 3:49 pm #

    As someone who has had email folders called Death Threats (lol) and Death Threats (gulp), I think Ms. Penny is being a bit thin skinned. If she can’t handle anonymous comments and the associated vileness that brings, she should consider migrating solely to print journalism, or another format that doesn’t involve interacting with the general public so much.

    I can’t help but feel journalists like this are pushing instead to try and end anonymity. Of course, all this will mean is an end to anonymity to non trolls and other sincere posters, who will then be open to identity theft.

    • December 16, 2011 at 4:11 pm #

      Very good point. When anonymity becomes banned online, the soul of that oldskool Internet – where free thought and free expression was allowed without worrying that your boss would see it or that some extremist would hunt you down for it – will die. However, it’s the trolls and the criminals – not really the journalists – who are causing us to slip further and further to the day that things like “guest posts” and “anonymous” browsing is banned… Do you think it’ll happen? Google+ already strictly polices their sign-up, restricting it to only verified identities. This topic is a can of worms… http://yro.slashdot.org/story/11/06/22/036200/how-the-webs-relationship-with-anonymity-has-changed

  2. James Hill
    December 16, 2011 at 6:44 pm #

    Oh, it’s already happening now. A lot of mainstream media websites are removing anonymous commenting and forcing users to comment via facebook. Which is fantastic for any troll that already has a throwaway facebook account with phony details, but absolutely disastrous for any well meaning commenter who now has their personal info exposed to the world wide web.

    The thing is, the people up to no good also happen to know how to use TOR and other proxy relays. They’re the ones already circumventing IP bans to post content. Any misguided attempt to end anonymity will only strip away the protective elements of anonymity, not the destructive parts.

  3. December 20, 2011 at 11:09 am #

    This already exists for e-mail.

    Facebook and twitter need these:


  4. December 20, 2011 at 3:17 pm #

    I think the Guardian reporter is a little precious. That is what is out there on the Internet, and the beasts bay. If you are terrified of going into the wild , turn off the Internet and stay in print.

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