One of the best things about the Internet is that it is a democracy in its purest form. It is a space where anyone and everyone can express themselves and their thoughts, feelings, and ideas. This is also the worst aspect of the Internet because, quite frankly, not everyone’s thoughts, feelings, or ideas are meant to have a platform to be heard. Particularly those mired in hate. And probably no one feels the brunt of this hate more than women writers.
I no longer read comment sections on the web precisely because they are a breeding ground for the most ignorant, vile, contemptuous, idiotic, and hate filled people to voice their half-baked opinions. For women, the attacks take the most gruesome forms.
Laurie Penny, a columnist for the Guardian newspaper, has had enough of the hateful and threatening comments left by Internet trolls — people who seem to have nothing better to do with their time than to peruse the entire world wide web and leave hurtful, nasty comments — and has decided to fight back by revealing the amount of abusive comments she receives in hopes that forums will do a better job of policing discussion.
The anonymous misogynists typically bypass the reading and critiquing of the actual articles in favor of hurling personal insults that have nothing to do with the content and more to do with the gender of the author. Sadly, it isn’t uncommon for these trolls to call these women “b*tches” or threaten rape and other violent acts.
Penny and other women writers should be commended for bringing the abusive words of these anonymous trolls to light, because it is their anonymity that empowers them. The Internet, like the rest of the world, can and should be a safe space for women to operate and express themselves. Those attempting to prevent that from happening should not be allowed to cause further damage. Banning them from commenting is a good start.
What I hope this doesn’t come to, however, is a moment where we the Internet has to be separated by the sexes and men are no longer well to comment on articles written by women. The hateful and violent comments should be monitored, indeed, but if we ever reached the point where men weren’t permitted to read and comment on women’s articles or sites, then we will never generate a real equality.
The problem we have now is that, by and large, men view women as objects and not people. As psychotherapist Susie Orbach said in the Guardian, “If you set women up as sexual objects which society has, no matter what we are doing, that makes women into objects rather than human beings and what you create is a situation in which women who then stand up and make arguments about things, terrify these men who have no access to real women and so they beat them up in the terms in which they’ve been offered by society, which has nothing to do with the content of what they are saying.” Being denied access to real women who think and express complex ideas about the world around them forces men to stop viewing women as simply objects but whole human beings. There’s so much that men don’t know about women and they can only learn by actually listening and paying attention to the things women have to say. The dialogue between the sexes can’t be stunted when we still have so far to go.
But the threats of rape and name-calling cannot stand either. These spaces must be better policed and offending trolls should be put on blast and subsequently banned. What can’t happen is taking this to the extreme of banning all men. We have so much to learn.
Dialogue is necessary. Hate is intolerable. These two ideas can exist side-by-side.
Should men be banned from commenting on websites geared toward women? Sound-off!