One of the things that happens when I meet a bunch of new people, as I did last weekend, is that when they begin to ask about my job, the conversation inevitably comes around to the ugly part of my job. The threats, the harassment, the rivers of vitriolic shit I have to navigate on a daily basis as a cost of doing this work.
Every time, the people with whom I share this experience express shock. It is always, always, a surprise that a woman who does public advocacy is subjected to this sort of abuse.
And it shouldn't be. Because every single woman I know who does public advocacy is subjected to it.
That's not a criticism of the people who don't know. They don't know, because we don't talk about it. I don't just mean we, the women who are targets, but we, the people. The readers who consume the content produced by those women. The media who refuse to have a loud and ongoing conversation about it. The law enforcement who ignore it. The lawmakers who have refused to create legal avenues of recourse for us. Our ostensible allies, who stay out of it, lest the sights gets trained on them. The harassers who silence us via more harassment.
Every person who tells us, when we, the women who are targets, try to talk about it, that we shouldn't. That we shouldn't give time and energy and fuel to harassers. That we shouldn't give them our attention. That we are empowering them. That we will cause them to escalate.
Every person who tells us that if we talk about it, it makes us look weak. That we are attention-seeking. That we revel in victimhood. That this is just how the internet is. That this is just how the world is. That if we don't like it, we should be silent.
Every person who tells us some reason that we should just shut up about an incessant stream of unrelenting abuse, because they don't want to hear about it; because it makes them uncomfortable to know the real cost of our work, to us; because they don't want to be made to feel obliged to do something about it.
Every person who has some inkling, but chooses not to really know. Every person who pities us, who feels impotent, who finds some reason to justify their indifference, who masks their indifference behind anger at us for talking about it.
All of us. We are all complicit in the silence that allows people to be surprised by what is done to us.
Not every woman who receives this abuse feels safe enough to talk about it. But I do. Or, if I'm going to be perfectly frank, I don't feel any less safe than I already do. Every day.
And because I can talk about it, I'm going to. We need to talk about this. Those of us who can.
I have started posting #pushback I get on Twitter. Last night, when a couple of conservative men humiliated themselves by asserting that I never cared when Sarah Palin was targeted by misogyny (whooooooooooops), instead of simply apologizing, they doubled down—and it wasn't long before this arrived in my mentions:
Get it? Because I'm so ugly no one wants to rape me. (Too late. P.S. Rape is not a compliment.)
This morning, in response to my tweet about my piece on right-wing violent rhetoric, came this sterling retort:
These are routine examples. They are comparatively nothing—a "joke" about my being raped and a bit of shit about my appearance. Whatever power such garbage might have had to bother me once upon a time, I am long since inured to it.
Because there are things that are so much worse. And there is so much of it. The sheer volume of harassment means I could not function, could not get on with my day and my work and my life, if I stopped to process every piece of muck.
People see, or hear about, examples like the above, and they ask me how I can keep going on under the ceaseless drumbeat of references to rape and commentary on my appearance. And I give them some rehearsed answer, but what I really want to say is: You have no fucking idea how little that shit affects me, because you have no idea how intense it really is.
Death threats. Rape threats. Threats to kill my family, my pets. Detailed emails describing what it would be like to rape me, to murder me. Emails imagining what sex is like between my husband and me, and how he must hate it because I am disgusting. Hopes that someone else will hurt me. Admonishments to kill myself.
Pictures of weapons that people want to use on me. Photoshopped images of me being jizzed on, raped, sliced, diced, murdered. Pictures of dead fetuses.
Pictures of my house. Emails the entire text of which is just my address. Comments the entire text of which is just my address. Comments with threats. Comments with slurs. Comments with insults.
Harassing phone calls. Voicemails with threats of violence. My home address and phone numbers published. A publicly posted campaign offering a reward to anyone for proof of my rape and/or murder.
Private images stolen and published. Photoshopped images of me as various historical tyrants. Hate sites. My image used in fake Twitter accounts, online dating profiles, blogs. My life scrutinized, my privacy invaded, lies told about me, my appearance mocked, my reported experiences audited.
People have pounded on my front door. Dumped garbage on my lawn. Smashed a phone just beneath my office window, as if to say this is how close I can get.
I hope you are raped. I hope you are killed. I hope you die. I hope you kill yourself. The "only tragedy is that a bullet didn't rip through ur brainstem after u were used 4 ur 1 & only purpose in this world," in response to disclosing that I survived rape.
Cunt. Dyke. Whore. Bitch. Slut. "Wretched cum dumpster." Slit. Feminazi. Trash. Twat. Skank.
Crazy. Hysteric. Lunatic. Maniac. Narcissist. Self-important. Delusional. Irrational. Nuts.
Fat. Fat fat fat fat. So fucking fat. Fat fuck. Fat cunt. Fat whore. Fat dyke.
This is my experience. Women of color are subjected to racism and misogyny and racist misogyny. Trans women are subjected to transphobia and misogyny and transmisogyny. Whatever your identity is, it becomes a target. Your very self, weaponized and used against you.
Women who are mothers gets threats against their children. Women who are abortion doctors get the addresses of their practices, of their homes, published and disseminated. Women are threatened according to their every individual vulnerability, and their vulnerabilities exposed to existent hate groups who might have an interest in hurting them. In any way they can.
Threats of violence. Threats of ruining one's business. Threats of exposure. Threats to get one fired. Threats to ruin one's life, in any conceivable manner.
And then we are told not to talk about it. We are told that we empower the people who do this to us. No. NO. Victims do not empower abusers. People who refuse to acknowledge that abuse do. People who tell victims to be silent do.
I am not going to be silent. I am tired of people being surprised. I am tired of hearing "I'm sorry this happens to you." I don't want shock and I don't want pity.
I want your fucking awareness and I want your fucking anger.
I want us to talk about the real costs of being a woman who does public advocacy. I want us to acknowledge how the costs of providing a safe space is that we stand on the line and absorb massive amounts of abuse. I want us to make noise about the people who create an atmosphere in which women are discouraged from participation.
And I want people to stop telling me to be quiet about it.
I want this to change. And it is never, ever, going to change if the only place of which it is spoken is between the women to whom it happens.
We talk about it a lot. I talk to the moderators of this space, my friends, about the hatred directed at me, and at them. I talk to my colleagues about the shit I get, about the shit they get, about the shit we see other women getting.
We corral each other when one of us is under attack. We come to each other's aid, as best we can. We send private messages, asking, "Are you okay?" and offering a sympathetic ear, if they need to talk.
We talk about it amongst ourselves all the time.
And yet this thing, this shared experience of intimidation and abuse, this life we all live, remains a secret. This campaign of harassment is largely unknown, and it is dismissed out of hand as a "small but vocal group" of disconnected individuals by people who know, but can't be bothered to care.
It's treated as immutable, something that just exists in the world and can never be fixed. So let's not even waste our breath talking about it. Let's just throw up our hands in defeat.
Humor me, defeatists. Let's give talking about it a try. Let's push back with all our of might, those of us who are able. Let's just try it. And then let's see what happens.