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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

have you ever received violent threats online?


This has been an interesting week in the U.K. when it comes to vile, vicious misogyny online. Feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez started receiving a barrage of violent threats on Twitter after she successfully lobbied the Bank of England to ensure that at least one woman (beside the Queen) would be featured on new banknotes. Then MP Stella Creasy was similarly targeted when she supported Criado-Perez in her decision not to ignore the trolls but to report them to police and then lobby Twitter to make it easier to report tweets that violate Twitter’s TOS (as threats of violence and tweets intended to harass do). Then other outspoken women journalists started getting bomb threats because they backed the radical notion that women should not be the ones to leave Twitter in order to avoid abuse any more than women not leaving the house to avoid being raped is a reasonable solution to a the problem of women being raped.

There have been many interesting offshoots of these events (such as a renewed debate about what “freedom of speech” means) — one of the most intriguing to me has been the airing of what these threats actually consist of. When women ignore these threats and don’t speak out against them, they remain hidden, seen only by the intended target. But Criado-Perez and others have been retweeting the abusive tweets they’ve received, so that everyone can see exactly how awful they are. Criado-Perez tweeted this one only this morning, after there have been arrests for similar abuse, which only goes to show just how safe and free men feel to act this way:


So, in the spirit of getting this shit out there:

Have you ever received violent threats online? If so, what was the context? (Was it a seemingly random tweet? Were you playing an online game? Was it in response to a comment or blog post?) How did it make you feel? How did you deal with it?

While I have, fortunately, never received any threats that I thought would be acted on, I am often subjected to gendered abuse from commenters here, almost invariably when I broach matters of feminism and misogyny. It bothers me not one whit to be disagreed with, as long as the disagreement is with my ideas and the expression of them. But for what I say to be dismissed merely because I’m a woman who shouldn’t be speaking at all — because my “rightful” place is in a kitchen, for instance, or on the receiving end of the male speaker’s cock — is infuriating and degrading.

Have at it.

(If you have a suggestion for a Question, feel free to email me.)

  • Rod Van Mechelen

    Yes, I’ve received hundreds. No, really. My “blog,” The Backlash! @ backlash.com has been online for 18 years. During that time I have received hundreds of death threats and threats of physical violence. The first few made me nervous. But after a while I realized people pop off, say stupid things, maybe they swagger around bragging to their friends how they stood up to the dragon, but in the end it’s nothing but hot air. So I just ignore them.

  • Stephanie C.

    this piece of mine, about my actual experience in trying to get an abortion in North Carolina 15 years ago, appeared last week:


    I made a decision that part of ‘speaking out’ was not taking the XO Jane option that they offer for ‘It Happened to Me’, and publishing it anonymously.

    In a now deleted thread I was told that I was a selfish sociopath. I have received two emails telling me that I was ‘disgusting’, and ‘deserved to be hated’. They’re not bad, as these things go, but XO Jane provided no way to contact me. These people went to the effort of hunting me down, out of the 100 or so Stephanie Clarksons in the US. I knew it might happen, but it actually is a threat when you cyberstalk someone.

    Here is a picture of me at the Boston Slutwalk: http://sleepingcat.com/images/me/slutwalk.jpg

    I went for the comment made to me in a bar, but I’ve absolutely had things like this said to me online. I get a lot of threats for being fat on dating sites and not sticking to the ‘fatties’ type of site; how dare I try to date the regular populace? What strikes me about that is that there’s no need for it; not once has it come to me from someone who I contacted, but entirely from people who choose to contact me and tell me actively what their issue is with my very existence.

  • I’ve been trolled a few times on my blogs, but never threatened with either sexual assault or bloody death. But then, I’m a guy: these sickos have a thing for hating on women that makes them turn this violent. There was a post somewhere about a woman blogger who finally got a cop to take her seriously enough to have her stalker/troller exposed, at which point the sicko stopped the harassment because he no longer had the shadows hiding him. Lemme go find that article…

  • it’s hard for some women to ignore the threats especially when some of these sickos get personal (finding out where they live or work, for example). And some of these women are victims already of rape or domestic violence: the last thing they deserve is getting more attacks from total strangers passing violent or disturbing judgment on them.

  • LaSargenta

    I work in a dangerous-for-everyone environment and I’ve received death threats in person. One was what I’d consider creditable: The guy had ‘accidentally’ killed two others. I interrupted him and said “Before you finish, _______, let me point something out to you. You know nothing about me. You don’t know where I’m from, you don’t know who my family is, all you know about me and what I can do is from this job site. Consider that before you finish that sentence.” And I turned around and walked away.

    Of course, he wasn’t doing that because I was female, he was doing that because I’m thorough and take my job seriously and was preventing him from getting away with shit. I’m here to tell the tale, so, obviously, he didn’t follow through. (But, there were some other interesting things that happened later. I still got the job done. And my reputation got around a little more.)

    Online I’ve receive few threats. The one time I did where I decided to respond, I posted that the person should send me their addy, etc. so I could send them a ticket so we could take care of this in person and then I described in excrutiating detail what I’d do to him with one of my hunting knives. I suppose *I* was guilty of harrassment at that point, but I was really pissed off. I don’t remember what it was he had written. It was part of a very long, multi-person discussion that was getting progressively worse.

    Plenty of comments in bars. As they say, I’ve got a history of violence. Fortunately outgrown. But, there was a period I used to wait for the comments, respond verbally aggressively to get the guy adrenaline-pumped upset, wait for an unwanted physical contact moment and then beat the crap out of him. It is easy to do when someone (a) isn’t expecting it, and (b) is off-balance ’cause they’ve let themselves get angry.

    And, well, all that rage hasn’t protected me. I’d like to point out that

    in order to avoid abuse any more than women not leaving the house to avoid being raped is a reasonable solution to a the problem of women being raped.

    isn’t a solution. Plenty of women are raped in their own homes. And not by strangers.

  • I’ve been active online since 1988. I’ve been cursed many times and gotten some threats of violence over the years, I’ve ignored all of them (blocked the people, sometimes reported them when appropriate) and nothing bad has ever happened. In the early days, I did include my phone number in my signature, got a couple of harassing phone calls (clearly inspired by something I’d said online) so I no longer use my phone number anywhere online. I always maintain editorial control over my blog comments sections, mostly due to spammers, but sometimes due to not wanting to publicize unpleasant, illogical people in any way.

  • cal

    I haven’t received any threats like the ones above…however, I am a bit shy about posting controversial opinions. Not for this reason, however, the thought of being targeted like that does not make me want to start. I am just not someone who puts my controversial opinions out there; I don’t enjoy arguing, IRL or online. (My late husband was just the opposite; he loved to ‘poke the nest’ but I never felt the desire.)

    Anyway, I do approve of the changes Twitter is going to make, and glad that at least some of those making the threats are being dealt with by the law. One thing I don’t understand is those comments running the gamut from “I don’t know why this is even an issue” (as in, this topic has no validity and is not even something that should be discussed”) to actual threats against someone (esp. women) for having an opinion at all. Feminist Frequency went through this a while back for having the audacity for wanting to discuss the depiction of women in video games.

    Obviously, the sub-humans who engage in this appalling behavior have no real argument against the topic or the person presenting it, or they lack the capacity to actually formulate or present an argument and thus resort to name calling and threats. But we should not tolerate that.

  • cal

    I agree. Maybe most or nearly all of those threats are toothless, but all it takes is one determined predator to actually harm someone. Glad that some members of the law are taking it seriously.

  • Maureen

    Yes– a few times.
    I admire folks who have the courage to stand up to sexism
    on the internet. There are few topics that can unleash the level of
    fury/hatred that expressing simple feminism can.

    I’m reminded of the frightening things that Anita Sarkeesian has been put
    through. She did an interesting & brave TED talk about it.

  • Anne-Kari

    What, no female gamers here at Flickfilosopher? Because even though I’m just a ‘casual’, I’ve received so many rape threats and misogynistic bullshit online that I cannot count. Be it Xbox or WoW or anything else that is multiplayer, it’s kind of amazing how many people feel totally fine with spewing the most amazingly awful stuff if you can even be perceived as being female. Just check out http://fatuglyorslutty.com/ for a tiny sampling of the crap female gamers deal with.

    How do I deal? Reporting, obviously. But in terms of my own internal reactions: It used to just make me roll my eyes but as the years go by, I find that the slow burn of fury is beginning to make me hate playing my previously beloved games.

  • LaSargenta

    I don’t play games…no time. But, I have heard about this problem a lot. Makes no sense, and, yeah, I’d think it would completely fuck up the fun.

  • Rod Van Mechelen

    I get that. I’m American Indian (enrolled member Cowlitz Indian Tribe in south west Washington State), and as a child I was harassed daily by my white peers, often beaten and sometimes stoned, while my white teachers looked the other way. Modern culture teaches us to go through life being victims. If you accept that, then you will remain a victim all of your life. I reject that.

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