I just had a bunch of surprisingly productive discussions around feminism and harassment, spurred by the stupid verdict in the case of Gregory Alan Elliott
, the latest Tropes vs. Women
video, and the overall imbalance in what we mean when we talk about freedom of speech.
Both of these cases have a lot to do with how the law is unwilling (I almost typed "unable," but this isn't true—they're perfectly capable of understanding Twitter threats against cops) to take into account both gender dynamics and internet culture. Elliott was acquitted (and may go on to sue his victims) because they didn't act like perfect victims. Why, one might ask—and the judge did—would they block him and continue to respond to his tweets?
This is a fundamental misunderstanding of how these things work. I know, because I've had stalkers and trolls. There is no perfect way to engage with them. Your mother might have said, "ignore the bully and he'll go away," but you knew even as a child that this wasn't true.
Internet discussion is largely public. This means that if I am telling the truth and Igor the Troll is telling a lie, our discussion is witnessed by outsiders. A typical exchange might go something like this:
Igor: Obvious falsehood nevertheless believed by those who have an interest in maintaining the status quo.
Sabs: Bunch of facts in rebuttal.
Igor: Shut up you cunt bitch ill rape your eyesocket.
(If you think I'm exaggerating, you're naïve af. This is mild by comparison to some of the things I've seen.)
Now, a logical judge, not taking gender or power into account, is going to think, "well, she can block him, why doesn't she just block him?" But Igor is not going to shut up. And to an audience—because this is the internet, and there is always an audience—if I shut up, Igor looks like the winner.
This is something that just won't make sense unless you spend a lot of time around kids, which I do. If you show kids a political debate and ask them who won, the kids will not identify the person who said the most accurate facts. They will identify the person who was the loudest and who, preferably, spouted the most insults. The primary reason, I'd argue, why Trump is popular is because most Americans haven't progressed past the developmental stage that my kids are in.
So my choosing to block and ignore may be, to me (and the judge) a sensible move of self-preservation, to Igor the Troll, and everyone watching, it looks like he won. Now, I can choose to ignore this, and I probably would, but it will be galling. It will sit under my skin. Igor the Troll will not stop talking because I've stopped talking. He may go on to talk about me, to spread rumours and lies, and he's less likely to be challenged because sensible people don't bother.
I fully understand why Guthrie and Reilly wouldn't, in this circumstance, act like perfect victims and just ignore the scum harassing them. Why should they? Why does Elliott get freedom of speech and they do not? Why is it always down to the woman to run away, to withdraw, to not go out at that time of night wearing that skirt?
Anyway, one dude messaged me and said he didn't get feminists. Did we want equality or supremacy? He compared feminism to vegans, and how there are some vegans who just are, and some vegans who reminded you that they were vegan every five minutes.
I used to draw this distinction too, before I saw what was happening to a vegan friend of mine on Tumblr. She'd post a vegan recipe and immediately get anon hate. Was it any wonder that rather than be intimidated into silence, she'd get louder in response? That got me thinking to just how often omnivores remind us that they're omnivores—bacon memes, posting jokes about vegetarians murdering carrots—but this stridency is entirely invisible, because most people are omnivores. Vegans are perceived as more obnoxious about their dietary choices not because they are (I'm firmly convinced they're not) but because it's Other, and thus marked as a political statement, while eating meat is neutral and unmarked.
Dude admitted he was afraid of women, so I unpacked that. It's the old Margaret Atwood quote: "Men are afraid women will laugh at them; women are afraid men will kill them." We went back and forth for about 45 minutes, at the end of which I think he got it a bit more.
I had a similar conversation with another young man who'd posted a "political correctness has gone too far; you can't say anything without being called a racist or a sexist, FREEZED PEACH"-type rant. Now, it's probably not a secret that I don't believe in freedom of speech—as in I don't believe that it exists
, period, or can exist—but I questioned him on his consistency. Did he believe, for example, that ISIS sympathizers on Twitter should have free speech? Was he vigorously defending their rights to say what they liked? Of course, he wasn't, so I walked him through his own flawed assumptions about what was violent and what was peaceful. I don't think he agreed with me by the end—I wouldn't expect him to, as he's not the sharpest chisel in the toolbox—but he remained remarkably civil throughout and thanked me.
I don't always have the time or patience to educate people about power dynamics or feminism or anti-racism, and I tend towards the hairtrigger emotional at the best of times, but I'm kinda pleased with how these various discussions went. I mean, it stresses me out that we still gotta fight these stupid battles, but what else can you do?