The Next Civil Rights Issue: Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet

"The Troll King and the Princess"

“The Troll King and the Princess” (Photo credit: Wikipedia) (PD)

The internet can be a damn caustic place, especially for women. From disgusting comments, to threats, stalking and more.

via Pacific Standard

I was 12 hours into a summer vacation in Palm Springs when my phone hummed to life, buzzing twice next to me in the dark of my hotel room. I squinted at the screen. It was 5:30 a.m., and a friend was texting me from the opposite coast. “Amanda, this twitter account. Freaking out over here,” she wrote. “There is a twitter account that seems to have been set up for the purpose of making death threats to you.”

I dragged myself out of bed and opened my laptop. A few hours earlier, someone going by the username “headlessfemalepig” had sent me seven tweets. “I see you are physically not very attractive. Figured,” the first said. Then: “You suck a lot of drunk and drug fucked guys cocks.” As a female journalist who writes about sex (among other things), none of this feedback was particularly out of the ordinary. But this guy took it to another level: “I am 36 years old, I did 12 years for ‘manslaughter’, I killed a woman, like you, who decided to make fun of guys cocks.” And then: “Happy to say we live in the same state. Im looking you up, and when I find you, im going to rape you and remove your head.” There was more, but the final tweet summed it up: “You are going to dieand I am the one who is going to kill you. I promise you this.”

My fingers paused over the keyboard. I felt disoriented and terrified. Then embarrassed for being scared, and, finally, pissed. On the one hand, it seemed unlikely that I’d soon be defiled and decapitated at the hands of a serial rapist-murderer. On the other hand, headlessfemalepig was clearly a deranged individual with a bizarre fixation on me. I picked up my phone and dialed 911.

Two hours later, a Palm Springs police officer lumbered up the steps to my hotel room, paused on the outdoor threshold, and began questioning me in a steady clip. I wheeled through the relevant background information: I am a journalist; I live in Los Angeles; sometimes, people don’t like what I write about women, relationships, or sexuality; this was not the first time that someone had responded to my work by threatening to rape and kill me. The cop anchored his hands on his belt, looked me in the eye, and said, “What is Twitter?”

Staring up at him in the blazing sun, the best answer I could come up with was, “It’s like an e-mail, but it’s public.” What I didn’t articulate is that Twitter is the place where I laugh, whine, work, schmooze, procrastinate, and flirt. It sits in my back pocket wherever I go and lies next to me when I fall asleep. And since I first started writing in 2007, it’s become just one of the many online spaces where men come to tell me to get out.

The examples are too numerous to recount, but like any good journalist, I keep a running file documenting the most deranged cases. There was the local cable viewer who hunted down my email address after a television appearance to tell me I was “the ugliest woman he had ever seen.” And the group of visitors to a “men’s rights” site who pored over photographs of me and a prominent feminist activist, then discussed how they’d “spend the night with” us. (“Put em both in a gimp mask and tied to each other 69 so the bitches can’t talk or move and go round the world, any old port in a storm, any old hole,” one decided.) And the anonymous commenter who weighed in on one of my articles: “Amanda, I’ll fucking rape you. How does that feel?”

None of this makes me exceptional. It just makes me a woman with an Internet connection. Here’s just a sampling of the noxious online commentary directed at other women in recent years. To Alyssa Royse, a sex and relationships blogger, for saying that she hated The Dark Knight: “you are clearly retarded, i hope someone shoots then rapes you.” To Kathy Sierra, a technology writer, for blogging about software, coding, and design: “i hope someone slits your throat and cums down your gob.” To Lindy West, a writer at the women’s website Jezebel, for critiquing a comedian’s rape joke: “I just want to rape her with a traffic cone.” To Rebecca Watson, an atheist commentator, for blogging about sexism in the skeptic community: “If I lived in Boston I’d put a bullet in your brain.” To Catherine Mayer, a journalist at Time magazine, for no particular reason: “A BOMB HAS BEEN PLACED OUTSIDE YOUR HOME. IT WILL GO OFF AT EXACTLY 10:47 PM ON A TIMER AND TRIGGER DESTROYING EVERYTHING.”


  • LunaS34

    “Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet” –we are. Women who reveal themselves to be women and are also public figures are the ones who are “not welcome”.

    Like any other issue on the internet, the solution is simple (if sad): make spaces where those who criticize cannot comment and don’t put out personal information. There are many websites and apps used almost exclusively by women and girls.

    Of course, this leads to a sort of virtual simulacrum of the kinds of responses required by say, public transportation in some areas of the world where men will not stop groping young women…

    Most men saying these things just enjoy the thrill of scaring the shit out of someone, which is why this line is the appropriate response: “Then embarrassed for being scared, and, finally, pissed.” Or, one past that and stop even getting pissed about it…I find that one difficult, myself…

    Of course, I’m not a journalist or other public figure, so may get less frequent and less extreme death threats…also, I have a habit of remaining gender-anonymous in most spaces.

    It has always amazed me how often an online argument will reveal that the other party assumed I was male based solely on the fact that I had an opinion at all (with exception of course to gender issues such as these because *of course* only women could give a shit, isn’t that right “Lookinfor”?)

    • Eztrenk

      “make spaces where those who criticize cannot comment”

      How can they make their criticism be known, if they can’t actually post the comment detailing said criticism?

      “public transportation in some areas of the world where men will not stop groping young women…”

      You mean all of Japan?

      “(with exception to gender issues such as these because of course only women could give a shit”

      My personal experience with that is that all participants in such conversations are expected to be women. And any men are bullied out of the conversation with constant mockery.

      • echar

        I have been to sites that were so PC and unicorn dreams that it was opressive. I felt as though I was church and had to fart during prayer. All life was strangled out by forced morality.

      • Chattopax

        I designed some exterior panties that have a small powerful Taser built into them. It will not fire unless a conductive human hand happens to touch both of the electrodes at the same time. The remote control fits in the purse or pocket. The perpetrators guaranteed to lose the use of his hand for the duration of the rest of the ride so bad luck if it gets too bumpy.

        • echar

          Ummm what?

      • LunaS34

        1.) Are you actually unclear about how deleting comments works? Someone makes a shitty comment –> that person is banned. It’s pretty easy, actually.

        2.) Yes, Japan. That isn’t the only country where men grope women on public transportation (psst–it even happens in *gasp* the USA!)

        3.) “My personal experience with that is that all participants in such
        conversations are expected to be women. And any men are bullied out of the conversation with constant mockery.”

        And? Bullies can be women too; I thought I made myself clear. Of course, those bullies are slightly less likely to threaten to rape you to death…

        • Eztrenk

          “Bullies can be women too”

          Not according to the women doing the bullying.

          • LunaS34


            I sincerely doubt the men making rape/death threats think of themselves as bullies, either.

  • echar

    The Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman draws a distinction between
    “tourists” and “vagabonds” in the modern economy. Privileged tourists
    move about the world “on purpose,” to seek “new experience” as “the joys
    of the familiar wear off.” Disempowered vagabonds relocate because they
    have to, pushed and pulled through mean streets where they could never
    hope to settle down. On the Internet, men are tourists and women are

    This is a poignant description. Also, I get the impression that this issue is viewed as another “boys will be boys” kind of thing. It’s a detriment to both sexes to take this view, because it offers marginalization of humanity. I feel it is best to strive towards calming the beast within. Encouraging it, with such may cast limitation on our progress.

    • LunaS34

      If I gave the impression that I viewed it as “boys will be boys”, this isn’t exactly the case…more like “evil will be evil”. Some of it may not have been clear that I was being ironic. The bullies actions are not justified, but I do have a real hope for the future that this will become less and less of an issue as time goes on.

      When web-bullies such as these make death/rape threats, what they really mean is “Shut up! I hate that you are speaking!” Younger women, especially girls raised in the internet age, learn early on about how boys think in a way that may have been previously only learned by those with brothers or close, platonic, male friends.

      The inverse of my semi-ironic statement above is that women have to simply keep talking and whether or not they take the death/rape threats seriously, to make sure that it never scares them into shutting up. Or else the terrorists win, that’s why. 😐

      OR, another alternative…(this part wasn’t ironic) the beauty of the internet is that women who feel this way do not have to be vagabonds. They can create spaces where abusive bullies are not invited. More women physically coding and creating these spaces could be one option. I take some issue with the idea that women-dominated spaces are “vagabond” spaces, implying some sort of impermanence. It may be that you and other males are unaware of these spaces (and, while no offense is meant, that’s probably for the best…)

      I know that I have never felt like a vagabond; I grew up in the internet. (I’m not a tourist either, come to think of it…)

      Perhaps my willingness to remain “un-gendered” in most of my internet interactions encouraged this feeling in my up-bringing. This is why I have even more hope for the following generations–even if there is more peril in some ways because of video…that wasn’t so much of a problem when I was a kid.

      • UnNamedAce

        There are a lot of stereotypes running around being kept up for political reasons, mainly that certain personality types only exist in certain physical forms. While it may be the stereotype, and experience for most women, that men are the aggressive and violent types, history shows that women also harbor violent tendencies and fantasies, though it may be less common.

        It is important for all victims of bullying, whether they be internet or social, not to allow someone to incite you to violence based on such stereotypes. As someone who has been the victim of violent bullying, abuse, rape/death threats as well as written fantasies of torture and murder by women simply for quitting a band several years ago. When someone violent gets caught and told to stop, I have found they just become more violently enraged and start lying to create justifications. Men and Women of all races, classes genders, creeds and sexual orientation. As noted: “Evil will be evil.”

        • American Cannibal

          Holy shit. You were in a band that when you quit, they bullied, abused, threaten and wrote torture porn fiction about you? That’s is f–ing nuts. I’ve never experienced that before. What happened?

          • Chattopax

            I was reading about the story of this guy whose ex-girlfriend just to fuck him up got a group of people together to work on a true confessions tell-all Diary. They mixed it up with pieces from his real diary so it puts it on the real timeline. Then they took unsolved rape and murder cases and missing persons reports from areas that he had been in. They fucked up on a few things and some of the cops that they sent it to started to talk about how it could be a new type of attempted murder and so the whole thing went into panic mode and stopped. As we move into a culture where accusation is the same as guilt, and a woman’s word is the only proof needed for a sexual assault, The mismatch in power is so great that we actually topple society. I guess I’ll see you dancing in the ruins tonight

          • American Cannibal

            Real Life Horror-Diary-Collage? Now that sounds like some interesting reading. Very clever. If they were smarter, instead of wasting time trying to fuck with someone by sending it to the cops, they should’ve got it published. As for accusation same as guilt, well, it’s unfortunately true too often.

            Did the cops charge them with anything?

          • Calypso_1

            Good that LE saw it for what it was. Nothing really new though, perhaps in that context, I’ve seen paper trails manufactured to create scapegoats in a number of business settings. I used to think that ‘then pen is mightier than the sword’ meant the power of the writing. Now i know it might just be a few columns of numbers or initials and dates in the right place.

          • LunaS34

            “and a woman’s word is the only proof needed for a sexual assault”

            You have no clue what you are talking about. I could agree up to a point, but that line is just not factual…(at least in some states).

      • echar

        The “boys will be boys” comment wasn’t directed at you… I agree, it’s the beastly types that need to stifle. Their words are prone to encourage a devolution within, and encourage others to do the same.

        I know what you mean about the interwebs, I cut my teeth on BBS’s when the word modemer was common, or net turtle. Frankly, I may suspect a gender behind a screen name, but I typically remain skeptical.

        Evil will be evil, indeed!

      • echar

        As for the vagabond reference, I liked the way it was worded, that is all. I can’t pretend to understand fully. However I have experienced places that do not have moderation, or that have seriously biased moderators.

        I avoid those places, and I tend to have a thick skin.

  • jasonpaulhayes
  • InfvoCuernos

    I think you see a lot of internet bullying of all types due to the anonymity of the interwebs. Women get targeted because its easy to push their buttons and troll them, for the most part. Ladies need to up their game and get a better defense than their go-to defense of “you have a small penis, that’s why you pick on me”. What I’m always surprised at when I see man-on-woman trolling is how few men come to the defense of the women. Its not that women can’t handle themselves in a internet fight-its words, not arm wrestling-its that men have proven over and over that they just might be crazy enough to drive all night just to swing by your house and threaten you in person. Its an implied threat that I bet crosses the minds of at least some women.

    • American Cannibal

      I’ve experienced crazy dickheads like that as a man, posting as a woman, posting as another man online. The best solution I found to keep the murderers from coming over the house was to quit Facebook.

      Oh, and the dig at the ladies with the arm wrastling bit – I liked that. Subtle. Good job.

      • LunaS34

        Women generally have smaller arms then men of similar size. Some women have more capable arms. Those women also having vaginas does not somehow negate their arm strength. Those women being statistically unusual also does not negate their arm strength.

        Now…kickboxing…there may be higher numbers of equal matches between same-weighted, similarly-trained men and women…maybe you should try it out, sometime. How tall are you? Weight?

        • American Cannibal


          • LunaS34

            “Oh, and the dig at the ladies with the arm wrastling bit – I liked that. Subtle. Maybe they should work harder at upping their game, eh?”


            Did you forget you’d said that?

          • American Cannibal

            Oh, I know. Hilarious right. I like that one too.

            “Subtle”- ha, ha! Wink-wink, nudge nudge. Say no more.

          • LunaS34

            So? Height and weight?

          • American Cannibal

            7′ 4″ and three-quarters, 485 pounds

        • Calypso_1

          Once while sparring a female secret service agent I delivered a back fist that broke her nose. She promptly responded with a stomp that broke my foot. As I rolled on the ground holding my foot, she blew her bloody nose on me.

  • Chattopax

    I wasn’t going to comment on this but it seems to be getting more and more viral and this is the fourth time I’ve seen it in various circles. The more than obvious generalization is a tool for provoking thought I’m sure. There is one particular case dwelled on over and over again and then statements are made which imply that this may be the norm rather than something bizarre and criminal.

    Of course then this reflects negatively on all the men on the Internet doesn’t it? I don’t think anybody realizes the vast cult of people out there waiting to be offended by something, continuously scrying and looking for something that bothers them enough that they can define themselves publicly. This is the active personality type they must oppose something and must attack something interdicted to define themselves, even to find themselves. There’s nothing wrong with this in fact it is a positive mechanism for social change, for raising awareness and more.

    To make an actual impact, to make a statement that does not damage your position, you need veracity integrity accuracy and broad generalizations may not assist you.
    If a gay couple is ejected from CB GB’s for kissing on the dance floor, the headline could read “gay couple ejected from CB GB’s” it could read “gay couples not welcome in night clubs” it could read “gay couples not welcome in New York” Now the Internet is a very large and mostly friendly place. I’m not sure if that makes my point but anyway that’s not the point I wanted to make.

    That point follows…

    • LunaS34

      “and then statements are made which imply that this may be the norm rather than something bizarre and criminal.”

      It is the norm. I can’t believe you use the internet and have not noticed.

    • ÿ

      Beware the number 4! It is the number of El Diablo! Four is the only number that has four letters! Woooo!

      • Calypso_1

        In the case of El Diablo would not 3, 6, 8, 10, 11, & 12 have four letters?

        • ÿ

          With El Diablo, anything is certainly possible. He’s all over the map. We follow him down south, he goes to outer space. We go to outer space, he’s winning the freak olympics. We go to the freak olympics, and he’s left with a date.


          • Calypso_1


            uno = 3
            dos = 3
            tres = 4
            cuatro = 6
            cinco = 5
            seis = 4
            siete = 5
            ocho = 4
            nueve = 5
            diez = 4
            once = 4
            doce = 4

          • ÿ

            “cuatro = 6”

            I rest my case.

  • Chattopax

    The way we express ourselves in anonymous uncensored forums is quite an accurate wiretap on the mechanisms of the psyche itself. The “aggression “aimed at female sounding usernames is because of a simple often neglected fact. Male sexuality is aggressive, direct, unsubtle and often hostile. It is driven by testosterone, the same neurohormone that makes you want to beat things to a pulp and kill them.
    Anyone who wishes to experience a lessening of this phenomena should simply use a gender-neutral or masculine user name and avatar. They will also find a decrease in the number of hits, responses, level of interest, the depth of interest, eloquence and intensity. But that’s the trade-off.

    • Calypso_1

      Is that really the extent that you have experienced male sexuality?

      PS: Testosterone is not a neurohormone.

  • Calypso_1

    Room 101

    • American Cannibal

      Shame on you! Treating people like that. Someone should do something.

      • Calypso_1

        We are the someone.

        • American Cannibal

          That’s what They want you to believe.

          • Calypso_1

            Oh no, “Hope” is part of the program.