Thursday, February 25, 2016

Turning the tables on harrassment, with speaking

When you get trolled or harassed online, do you tend to shake your head, hit "delete" and hope to forget that it ever happened? That's been my strategy up to this point. So when I read about Mia Matsumiya's project to catalog and publish all the horrifying, harassing messages she's received for over a decade, my first thought was "why would she bother?"

Matsumiya, a violinist, has posted all these comments to her blogs and social media accounts at her perv_magnet Instagram account and it's a fascinating if stomach-turning read. At first, she said in a recent interview, she collected the comments out curiosity about their emotional content. Finally, it was the sheer number of them--along with a few death threats and the arrest of one of her online harassers--that made her angry and determined to share the whole lot.

By speaking out about her harassment, Matsumiya said she hopes to help men especially "learn what women can experience online." Women won't be surprised by what they read on the Perv Magnet, she said, because "personally I don't know any woman who hasn't been the recipient of creep behavior. It's unacceptable and depressingly rampant."

If not awareness, then, what will women get out of the Perv Magnet? Matsumiya has opened up the account to similar submissions from other women, hoping to create "a place where women can commiserate" and "feel a little more sane and less helpless about their own experience."

I think the decade-long chronicle that Matsumiya has put together also offers another idea for women to consider: ignoring the problem doesn't make it go away. Even after hitting delete, after ignoring these messages for years, they kept coming.

Feminist blogger Clementine Ford endured the trolls for a while--until she wrote a Facebook post about one of her trollers that pointed out his behavior to his employer, who fired him. Her actions didn't make the online abuse stop; in fact, it brought about a whole new wave of filth directed at her, including death and rape threats. But she wrote in Australia's Daily Life that it was important for her to bring consequences to the men who harass: "I'm sick and tired of women being held responsible for the actions men choose to take."

After London barrister Charlotte Proudman called out a colleague over an inappropriate LinkedIn comment, she found herself branded as a "feminazi." She saw the smear as an attempt to silence her and other women who would speak out against sexist behavior.

"Many women fear the social consequences of speaking out against sexism, and may even wonder what the impact of this might be," Proudman said in an interview with The Eloquent Woman. "In my view, speaking out against it is imperative to changing behavior that demeans women, behavior that has become normalized and acceptable. If enough women take a stand, then these attitudes and behaviors will change."

Writer Lindy West found this to be true in a very unexpected way. In this article from The Guardian, she describes how confronting one particularly cruel troll made him apologize--and explore his reasons for harassing her. West was shocked at the apology, she writes. "I returned to my regular routine of daily hate mail, scrolling through the same options over and over--Ignore? Block? Report? Engage?--but every time I faced that choice, I thought briefly of my remorseful troll."

If these examples don't convince you that online harassment shouldn't keep women quiet, we've got plenty of other stories here. We've got Caroline Criado-Perez facing down her cyber bullies, we have Anita Sarkeesian explaining why her harassment has become a teachable moment for the tech community, we have Monica Lewinsky about the harrassing power of online shaming, and we have Cate Huston explaining why harassment hasn't kept her off the public speaking stage.

To help you counter online harrassment and speak up about it, Sarkeesian, along with Jaclyn Friedman and Renee Bracey Sherman, created Speak Up & Stay Safe(r): A Guide to Protecting Yourself From Online Harassment. The guide is currently available in English, Spanish, and Arabic, and I encourage you to share this safety resource with all your networks. We're excited that among the resources she shares are videos of some of these important talks that turn the tables on harrassment.

It would be great to never feature another story like this again on The Eloquent Woman, but until the harassment stops, we won't be silent either.

(This post was contributed by freelance writer Becky Ham)