Silence, Safety, Belief & News Genius

There is some shit going down on the Internet with regards to News Genius, and I want to talk about it. By which I mean I don’t want to talk about it at all, I would prefer to ‘like’ my friend Ella’s facebook posts and blog posts and comment witty things that are supportive, I would like to be helpful in a quiet way.

So I’ll talk about that instinct toward silence. Because the feeling that leads me to avoid posting some political things on facebook because I know that I have friends who will jump down my throat about it and accuse me of having no political knowledge (ignoring that I fucking majored in political science in college, but whatever) is the same feeling that makes me not want to speak up when a friend says something sexist is the same feeling that keeps me from wearing stuff I wanna wear to a party if I know I have to walk home at night by myself and I would just rather not deal with even more street harassment is the same feeling that makes me not want to write this blog post. Even though my friend is getting fucked with on the internet and it makes me angry. Even though I think she’s right and she’s asking for backup and if we don’t support each other, who will support us? Even though I think it’s the right thing to do.

Even though I too am just some 23-year-old ladyperson with a blog and maybe it seems like the stakes aren’t that high and what am I afraid of anyway? Some strangers on Twitter threatening to kill me or rape me? Why should I care? I write about my rape on the Internet and I’ve survived, I’ve said my fuck yous the people who reacted negatively. People call me brave and strong. Why should I care? But I do care, because those strangers on Twitter are real people with real bodies and real words and they could hurt me, just like the men who catcall me could hurt me if I don’t navigate it correctly (and why do I have to navigate it? Why can’t they be the ones who are afraid about how that interaction could end?). Just like the friends on facebook are also friends/acquaintances/colleagues in real life and could cause me emotional pain with their words or actions. And beyond that, even if their threats on Twitter do not translate to threats in real life, they still throw language around that the receiver has to absorb and deal with. Those emotions are important and painful and unfair. And perhaps it’s easy to say they shouldn’t matter if you don’t have to deal with all the other shit too, with the sexist language and commentary and threats and harassment in all areas of your life. If you’re a white man who has only experienced that kind of shit on the Internet and thus can laugh it off as a joke. If you write for Gawker and have power and privilege.

What I’m saying is: the feelings I described are not inseparable. They do not each exist in a separate vacuum. They exist within a larger context, the patriarchal and misogynist world that we all inhabit. And the people who say we’re mad about nothing or we’re mad about the Internet and didn’t we consent to be on the Internet and didn’t we know that this is how the Internet will treat us and don’t we know the difference between unkindness and abuse… are perpetuating that idea, the idea that all of this is separate. That there is some sacred boundary between the digital and the ‘real’ that makes the things said in a digital space not matter. That it is all anecdotal. That we cannot look at our lives and see the patterns that do exist. That we are hysterical, that we are paranoid. Does this sound familiar? It should. This language is gendered. This is not an argument I’m making, this is just a fact. We do not call men hysterical or shrill or bitchy or bossy or argumentative. We call women those things. We dismiss women that way.

So what I’m asking you here is this: please listen instead. If someone says it’s not okay to annotate their blog with abusive comments, that’s because they mean it and it does hurt. We have accepted the idea of comment moderation up until this point because it makes sense. There is such a thing as hate speech. They’re not making it up. They’re not causing drama about shit that they don’t actually care about. They’re not being hysterical. Specifically: Ella is not being hysterical. She shouldn’t need other people to validate her here, to say that yeah her feelings are real, they’re not just feelings, she has something to say about digital spaces, and you should pay attention. You should stop asking people who are being abused/oppressed/harassed to provide all the evidence of that, you should do your own research, you should read the things they’ve written before on a topic and stop asking them to provide you with the same information over and over again. I think that in Ella’s situation, she shouldn’t be put in the position of asking for back-up. Her voice should be valid because she knows what she’s talking about, she’s researched and written and lived this experience. And finally: talking about it shouldn’t make me afraid. By which I mean: that fear does not come from within, it comes from what I see happening to women who speak out on the Internet. How many times do we have to say this before you admit that it is real? How many incidents makes a pattern? Hundreds, thousands? Who does that serve? The answers here are not mysterious. The answers are, in fact, pretty fucking evident.

Speak up if you feel comfortable doing so, please.

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