In early November, a Twitter hashtag called #mencallmethings was set up, under which women bloggers can post the sexist, misogynistic and often threatening comments they receive.
Tigerbeatdown.com’s Sady Doyle started the tag after becoming angry and disillusioned with the huge amount of sexist hate mail she and other female bloggers had received. Doyle saw the need to publicly challenge this culture of silencing women bloggers.
Women who blog on websites such as Tumblr, Blogspot and WordPress are subject to sexist comments, messages, the public announcement of their personal details (such as addresses and social security numbers), violent stalking of themselves and their readers, and even whole websites dedicated to hatred of them.
The comments don’t just affect political or strictly feminist bloggers, but all women on the internet.
A familiar theme applies: the more opinionated the woman on the internet is, the more likely she is to be targeted by hate messages. The more readers she has, the more likely she is to be targeted by hate campaigns.
If she takes part in feminist, pro-choice, body-positive, anti slut-shaming or other kinds of political blogging, it’s almost certain she will receive hate messages at some point in her blogging career.
The messages come in a variety of forms. Many are simple insults: lame, unoriginal attempts at a political counter-argument riddled with abuse and name-calling.
Other comments come in the form of death and rape threats, racism, sexism, homophobia and straight-up misogyny.
Doyle said she was told such things as: “GAG GAG GLUCK You have discovered the only vocables worth hearing from Sady’s cock-stuffed maw … die tranny whore … [slutwalk] is a parade for people who suffer from Histrionic Personality Disorder aka Attention Whores … I know where you live, retard … why don’t you do the world a favour and jump off a bridge … Feminazi …”
I dabble in blogging and after I criticised police brutality at Occupy Sydney I was told: “If it wasn’t for the existence of the police, I’d like to see you dragged out onto the street and raped by a pack of men because you’re a filthy dyke, lol.”
Whether the comments are real threats to safety, attempts at intimidation or meant to insult and hurt readers and bloggers, it is not difficult to imagine the intentions of people who write such comments: it’s about silencing female bloggers and women everywhere.
In many cases, they have been successful.
Many articulate, critical, feminist bloggers drop off the internet or feel forced to dilute their politics to try to avoid such messages. No doubt other women have been deterred from blogging about political issues, because who would want to wake up to an inbox full of messages like that?
The rest are left with a number of struggles. To post the comments or ignore them? To reply to the comments or not? To report them to the police? To take them seriously or try to brush them off? To give up blogging altogether?
Making the comments public for other readers to see can distract from the ideas bloggers intend to discuss in the first place. But not making them public forces women to deal with them alone, which can have several adverse effects.
The #mencallmethings hashtag is a way to publicly combat these attempts to silence bloggers.
While the hashtag won’t end the culture of threats, it has the potential to make women feel less intimidated and more empowered. It is also a good tactic to collectively challenge the systematic problems that allow this sexist culture to flourish.
Silencing women is certainly not confined to the internet. Women all over the world are constantly pressured into hiding their opinions and experiences.
The main ideas behind the messages on the internet are the same ones that women face in reality. That they just need to “shut up” and be told what to think; that all feminists are “feminazis” and “man-hating” because there’s “no such thing as women’s oppression” and women are just “naturally weak”; that lesbians, queer women and women with opinions just “need a good fuck” or alternatively, don’t ever deserve sex.
This is part of the reason blogging about these issues is so beneficial to some women and can be a political tool. Blogging is a way for women to share their opinions and add to feminist ideas in a climate where the feminist movement has weakened in past years.
Having many readers can inspire and give much-needed confidence to the writer, and connecting with other feminists and activists around the world can be a politically and emotionally enriching experience.
Bloggers are then able to take this confidence out into the physical world, where they feel more armed to deal with women’s oppression on a day-to-day basis.
Resistance to sexism like this hashtag should be supported, as should the women who use it to show their defiance.