About a month ago, I added a contact section to my website. It helped facilitate continuing discussion on articles I published, but also made the home bar look complete. I know the latter is not the best reason to include something on a webpage, but when combined with the former it made sense enough. Ever since the addition, I have had several respectful conversations and debates with friends or acquaintances about some of the topics I address. But last week, I received my first contact submission from a person I was not familiar with. This person saw my latest publication with XOJane regarding Hillary Clinton’s “Mirrors” ad on Yahoo Beauty’s home page and followed the links back to this site. It was a wonderful contact and discussion focusing on eating disorder recovery and awareness.
The content of that discussion, however, isn’t what I am wanting to focus on today. Rather, my interest was piqued by the fact Yahoo Beauty sourced and shared XOJane articles. Curious, I went to Yahoo and scrolled down the main page. Sure enough, there was my goofy grin staring back at me. I clicked on the link, opened it up, and scrolled. It was all there. But once I hit the bottom, I realized there was a new comments section and it was brimming.
Full disclosure: I don’t read the comments sections on my articles. I used to when I first started writing because I enjoyed the back and forth and new points that I may not have previously considered. At that time, reading these comments made me feel as if I was using the full intended purpose of my publication: stimulate conversation.
I started shifting my position on that when I wrote my article regarding the Jonesboro Property Maintenance Code. That article made its way around Jonesboro and my blog stats accordingly went up. With that exposure and growth also came more comments. Some of them were mild, while some illustrated a deeper familiarity with my past writings on my eating disorders.
“Stupid bitch, go back to starving yourself and leave politics to those with a brain.”
After that, I added the contact page to my blog. While some people get joy typing out graphic and, at times, violent commentary, I don’t enjoy reading it. So I figured if someone wanted to continue a topic, they would take that extra step and I would reciprocate.
So what on earth made me open that Yahoo comments section last week? I still don’t know. But I did and I got an eyeful of comments that hoped I died from my illness, or that I would be raped by a Hildebeast drone (I think this is a Clinton critique? Can drones even do that?), or that a terrorist attack hit my home. I was both amazed and disgusted by the levels of violence levied in the comments. I found the irony particularly biting- an article disparaging demoralizing women is peppered with comments demoralizing women.
What I experienced is no different than the endless streams of threats and insults most women face on the internet daily. In the past, I have in-depth studies and analyses on this type of cybersexism and harassment, but being largely removed from the interweb prior to 2014, I never really experienced it. And while the comments I received were disgusting, they were by no means the worst that could be levied. Like many other realms of sexism, my whiteness and normative gender identity cloak me in a layer of protection from some critique.
Even with this protection, it was frustrating. A bit frightening. Not for my personal safety, as I know most who hatefully peck out comments online are not going to put forth the effort to physically hunt me down. But that level of comfort in threatening violence against women isn’t something that necessarily is contained to the keyboard. While some commentators may fall into the “troll” category, it speaks volumes about how we regard women if wishing rape on us is an okay joke to make.
I get it- trolls exist and the internet is going to be a pretty terrible place. But those same trolls can vote and elect a much larger, orange troll this November. That Trumpian troll could take the visceral hate and sexism lurking in those comments and blast it on policies and practices that affect us all.