Wednesday, October 8, 2014

To Deserve

I read Trouble at the Koolaid Point this morning and just about everything in it felt familiar.

That's not something you want to feel when you read this woman's story, by the way.

[Trigger warning and content warning for explicit language used by trolls relating to sexual assault, abuse, murder, and death!]

I don't know the full story behind it, nor do I personally know what it's like to be a woman in tech. (The closest thing I am to a woman in tech is happening to be the computer-savvy person at the office.) But I do know the experience that the author of the above piece discusses at length:

Getting attacked just for being there. Just for existing in a space. In front of people who--usually due to deep-seated prejudice and assumptions--think you don't deserve to be there.

I've been told my story isn't relevant to anyone.

I've been told my story isn't authentic--that it exists to cover up something else.

I've been misrepresented as many things I'm not, sneeringly or passive-aggressively, by people who find it easier to mock and dismiss me if they put me in a box and claim I'm the one who wrote my name on it.

I've been accused of actively stealing attention or limelight from people who deserve it or have "real problems," painted as a selfish creep who does not deserve it and does not have "real problems."

I've been doxxed (which, just like as described in the article, refers to hackers and trolls digging up your personal information and posting it publicly with a rallying cry that this person needs to be stopped--preferably through rape threats, death threats, and incredible disruption of their lives). I was lucky that I got to deal with it quietly before much happened, but the lawyer was expensive.

And I've had people close to me tell me it's my speaking out, not gross people's individual choices, that is "causing" this problem. Really, to be "the bigger person," I should just let them shout me down and leave the stage. There's no sense in arguing with them, they say. They just want to hurt you and silence you, and being mature is about letting them use fear and intimidation to make you shut up, and this is what happens when you talk.

It doesn't have to be.

And we need to stop creating a culture in which the victim gets told they should just expect to have their privacy and personal safety compromised if they cross a certain threshold of relevance. We have to stop cultivating a social atmosphere in which it's acceptable to deliberately make public life risky (especially since the silencing attempts ostensibly, oftentimes, sail under the ship of right to free speech). We must stop excusing the abuse that pours down on our heads when we speak, as if the onslaught of hate and harassment is some unavoidable natural disaster that's as uncontrollable as a hurricane. It is individuals who are making the choice to harass people. They are doing it with the power of the status quo--abusing their privileges, demanding that things stay the same.  

No, they scream, we will NOT allow you to feel comfortable in our spaces. We will NOT acknowledge that they are your spaces too. We will NOT change anything about our privileged existence to acknowledge or accommodate you. We will NOT stop artificially creating consequences for people who aren't enough like us. And we WILL lie, harass, misrepresent, and threaten so we can accomplish this.

Every time I make a choice to speak to the media or write an article or release a description of my experience anywhere, I have to consider the potential sacrifice and weigh it against what I can handle at that point in my life. Hmm, should I do an interview with Salon? Well, that depends entirely on whether I'm in the frame of mind to handle men storming into my Facebook inbox to explain that women are on Earth for men's pleasure and they'd like to marry me; if I can deal with obsessed people sending me five e-mails in a row telling me that I am mentally ill and need to seek treatment; if I am okay with blocking and reporting sexual comments on Twitter or passive-aggressive subtweets about my inadequacy; if I am steeled for the onslaught of YouTube harassment consisting of dozens of people calling for me to be raped and saying they're getting sexually aroused by the idea of me getting violated and beaten up; if I'll be able to survive with my sanity intact if some jackass decides it's time to spend fourteen days in a row impersonating me on 4chan, inviting questions about asexuality, and answering them in the most elitist ways imaginable so I'll get thousands of hate messages.

The guy who did that last claimed he was dedicated to ruining me because I didn't acknowledge trollish private e-mails from him. (You know, because it's not ironic at all that I'm being mocked for "wanting attention" by someone whose hissy fit was directly tied to my refusal to give him attention.) Very similar to the person in the article I linked above, I was accused of "censorship" because I blocked people who contacted me with explicit sex requests, accusations of "doing this for attention," and occasional violent-sounding clowns who approached me with absolutely no respect. The idea that I am supposed to patiently, graciously take each one of these people by the hand and try my damnedest to educate and correct them is vile. Especially since people try to pin this "responsibility" on me because I'm an educator, but expect me to continue to treat every person who contacts me as an honest information seeker no matter what horrific imagery and level of threat and intentionally intimidating behavior the person opens with.

Some of my supporters have expressed admiration for the unusual level of patience I tend to employ even with people who seem like lost causes, and yet other people sometimes storm in with "I expected better from you--you have lost my respect" or "if you can't handle the rape threats and personal attacks, looks like you just need to get off the stage, little girl--go cry because someone said a mean thing to you on the Internet." I refuse to accept that I am unfit to speak on my topic because of not treating my abusers with enough tolerance and respect.

If you think someone is undeserving of their spotlight, here are some things you can do:
  • Don't consume their materials/buy their products.
  • Write about why you disagree with them without exaggerating or misrepresenting what they've done or said. (If you have to exaggerate or manufacture a reason before the mob will pick up its pitchforks, think about why you're actually mad at this person.)
  • Make your own materials about your position.
  • Contact the person you disagree with or disapprove of, in a dignified and private way, and first see if they're willing to change their message or make it right (and be prepared for the possibility that you may be misunderstanding their intentions or their history).
Here are some things you should not be doing:
  • Threatening to hurt, smear, kill, abuse, rape, or destroy them (or shut down their website/hack their Twitter/whatever).
  • Using obscenity, shock value, or mob mentality to harass and scare the victim and/or their family/friends.
  • Building up an exaggerated version of why you think they're wrong and then pointing at it dripping with personal incredulity.
  • Impersonating them and making damaging statements, making up quotes to attribute to them and claiming they've said them (without a source), or sensationalistically claiming they hate a group you're part of or a group that's oppressed (e.g., taking a joke out of context to pretend a feminist actually hates men, or claiming a person condones animal abuse or child molestation).
  • Sockpuppeting to create the illusion of many people who share your opinion (as in, making ten accounts on social media to pelt the person with similar-sounding hatred so they'll think a whole mob is against them).
  • Claiming that any/all of the above are acceptable to shut the person up because their viewpoint or practices are so dangerous that extreme measures must be used.
Yes, I have heard this last directed at me, suggesting that my asexuality awareness activism would shame sex, that it would hurt gay people and steal their resources, and that it would make people who are sick think they're okay and cause them to die, so of course it's permissible to send me intricate descriptions of how I should be killed and what my face will look like when the knife goes in, or how destroyed I will be when the commenter and his friends violate me sexually, or rape fantasies that end by telling me the sender knows how aroused and turned on I have to admit I am by his "story," or the naked picture someone circulated of a girl who doesn't even look like me claiming this is me posing naked because I have no modesty at all since I don't think of bodies as sexual.

Basically I have to consider that something like this might happen (and probably will happen) every. single. time. I say anything.

And sometimes I don't even need to say anything. They'll just randomly decide after viewing one of my old videos that it'll be lulzy if they post a sex ad for "little boys" on Craigslist and attribute it to my name. They'll just read something I wrote, "rewrite" it as something judgmental and condescending, and circulate it as "the views of the asexual community." They'll see me in a documentary, then post my photo on Reddit and weigh in on whether and in what circumstances they would have sex with me, opining that it would be funnier and more exciting for them if I struggled, and that they would make me wear a bag over my head because I'm not very pretty.

These comments are hilarious to them and if I don't agree and find them revolting and think it needs to stop, I'm the problem. I don't understand the JOKE. I can't TAKE THE HEAT. I'm incapable of processing the horrifying abuse as a natural consequence of opening my mouth. It's harmless fun.

But somehow educating people about my community and speaking up for the people in it and helping them connect with one another--wow, that's not harmless at all. Nobody tells the trolls that I'm harmless. Nobody tells THEM that it's better to just ignore me if they think I'm irrelevant, annoying, or dangerous. (I'm told to ignore irrelevant, annoying, and dangerous people all the time--and told that my respectability as a public figure depends on my ability to not engage with or fight these folks at all.) Nobody seems to be telling trolls that the attention they're giving me is inappropriate. And meanwhile, if I want the abuse to stop, I'm told my choices are to either get off the stage or pretend it isn't there. I'm pretty sure only people who have been through multiple large-scale attacks on their person and their materials know how emotionally exhausting it is (and sometimes, how viscerally frightening it can be) to be the victim here. And we need to get one thing clear:

There is never a victim in this situation without there being a perpetrator.

It isn't just happening. There isn't an inert swimming pool of abuse that every person must swim through as a natural part of having a platform. Every one of those trolls is a person who knowingly chose to engage in abuse and took it upon themselves to attack me. There is no impersonal wave of hatred that doesn't belong to anyone, though it can feel like that when you're on the receiving end. I see every disgusting comment, every horrible e-mail, every trolling, as a person who chose to be an ass. I do not excuse them for chasing lulz or following a crowd of jerks or having a personal problem in their own lives that makes them see me as an enemy. I hold each and every one of them accountable.

Abuse is not an automatic down side of being in the spotlight and we need to stop normalizing it. Perpetrating the notion that it's just going to happen makes the people who choose to do it feel justified in their harassment. It is not okay that the shocking criticism drives many people (especially women) off the stage and out of the workplace, believing they cannot both state their piece and have a safe life. It is not okay that our loved ones keep telling us it's just part of the job. If we do create a society in which people don't defend this behavior and condemn it where it crops up, people will stop doing it for social approval, and they will be more likely to realize it's shameful if they do engage in it and get flak. It's disgusting that a man like the guy described in the linked article could speak to major publications about "lol yeah I ruined this chick's life and it was pretty funny, but she shouldn't have overreacted so much" without repercussions.

Hold perpetrators accountable. Stop telling victims that they need to have a different reaction or no reaction. And stop telling people that they don't deserve a spotlight but they do deserve harassment for trying to step into one.

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