Three things I learned from anonymous threats on the internet

 

I haven’t written a blog in a while. There are lots of reasons why this happened, there’s been a bunch of really great blogs submitted by people engaged with the NUS Women’s Department, I’ve been really busy with other things and also because the experience with the MRA’s in the past couple of weeks was a bit off putting for me.

 

I’ve been wanting to write something about it, and about how it affected the way that I run the blog, since they first came to be a part of our community. I was well advised that it’s best not to feed trolls and I thought that writing anything about it would just add fuel to the fire. I feel like enough time has passed now that there can be some things said,.

 

Being involved in any feminist community you know there will always be times that people will disagree with what you do. There will be those who disagree on one side and then those who disagree from the other. Usually these people will be respectful with how they disagree. At worst they might swear at you online, or call you some names – I’m a big girl I can deal with that. What was so unnerving, and I use that word for a reason, was that these men didn’t just disagree with me – they hated me and everything that I work for.

 

They make no secret of the fact that they want to destroy feminism and the goals that it has gained. MRA’s are organised, they are anonymous and they are vicious. They hide behind false statistics and faux rationality and lob bombs into our happy homes. They threaten, they bully and they do this with no real ethical compass or standards.

 

The word I wanted to use for how their attacks made me feel was something I gave a lot of thought to. I chose unnerving rather than frightening or infuriating for a lot of reasons. Despite the fact I was frightened and angry. Internet harassment is unnerving because it stays with you all the time.

 

I looked up unnerving in the dictionary and it said it means to deprive of courage, determination and drive. To undermine confidence. That’s kind of what it did.

 

I didn’t want to feed the trolls but at the same time I did want to react to them in some way, but in a way that was constructive and positive. That’s what ‘In my own voice’ was about. I wanted to take their claims and turn them around. As much as it was really great having all of these amazing men standing up about violence against women it made the MRA’s even angrier.

 

Being recorded without my knowledge after having someone misrepresent themselves to me was unnerving. Even more so was having people text me telling me they were listening to the call. I wanted to be like – hey guys, don’t feed into that. Even though the messages were always followed by ‘that’s so shit what they did’ or ‘the dude sounds so creepy’ it still felt like people were justifying the invasion by listening. I know how ridiculous that is, it’s just how I felt at the time. Waking up on a Saturday to the recording coupled with the mocking and threatening comments on the thread from the MRA’s was definitely enough to undermine my confidence and courage.

 

The MRA’s hide behind their pseudonyms and hidden numbers while I was out there alone with all of my details readily available, that is what is so scary about anonymous harassment on the internet.

 

When people come up to you in person and make threats you know what to do, how to stand your ground. You also know that you can run away or go into your home and that they shouldn’t be able to get in. When someone is threatening to destroy you, or rape you, on the internet anonymously you don’t know where to run away to. When you need to use the internet and your phone in order to do your job effectively every email you get telling you how useless you are starts to exhaust you. In a definition of unnerved from another dictionary, it takes away your strength.

 

In the end we’ve had to turn off comments on the blog, partly to stop the attacks on me but also because I don’t think it’s fair to all of you amazing people who read the blog that these people are here to say things about you. You deserve much, much better than a lecturer from JCU who uses the handle ‘Raper’ when he’s talking about how women aren’t really oppressed at all, and how I can’t use the term ‘mate’ because I’m too disgusting to use the words that thousands of men spilt blood for overseas. I feel like he shouldn’t be allowed to use the term ‘raper’ then, because it’s been the cause of the activism of thousands of women turning to feminism to empower them after they’ve been raped by men. I don’t think he’d take that too well.

 

The three lessons I learned from the experience were:

 

  1. For every awful Men’s Rights Activist there are 10 amazing men who will send me messages telling me they believe in what I’m doing
  2. If you take their negativity and turn it into positivity they will get really really mad but your reach will go up by 10,000
  3. If they think you’re backing down they’ll get more vicious than ever, so you may as well not let them break your spirit because they’ll just keep going anyway.
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