How To Be A Woman On The Internet

I don’t begrudge anyone their decision to leave this line of work. But I also don’t want to lose any more fantastic women to this horror show of hatred, abuse and erasure. So I compiled some tips.
Publish date:
September 26, 2014
feminism, misogyny, m-rated, woman things, catch-22, gamergate, M

In the Internet’s war for the souls of humanity, lately it seems as though the misogynists are winning. Between the ever-widening proliferation of proudly hateful men’s rights groups, and the carefully planned and orchestrated harassment campaigns against women who dare write online with the expectation that they will be treated like normal human beings, it's awfully hard out here for a lady writer at present.

Buzzfeed Yellow is on top of this trend, asking some brilliant Internet luminaries “what it’s like” to be women online. Short answer: it sucks, a lot of the time. It sucks to the extent that even those of us who continue to do so sometimes wonder if we’re too stubborn for our own good. It sucks so intensely that some women are seriously considering stepping back from their professional careers, not because they have lost their passion for the work or because they feel it’s time to move into a different phase of their life, but simply because they no longer feel capable of shouldering the burden of harassment that comes along with it.

We make these declarations privately, among friends, and publicly, on social media, and there is always the worry that by abandoning a sinking ship, we are letting the terrorists win.

I’ve also noticed a growing fatigue directed at women who talk about their struggles with an increasingly hostile online environment -- you need look no further than the comments on the video linked above to see what I mean, or on any feminism-related hashtag in recent memory. As more women discuss their experiences, and those experiences sound so similar, the response rarely includes an acknowledgement that this is a growing problem in need of a solution. Bafflingly, the loudest responses are often those that accuse said women of lying, usually at the same time as they employ the exact harassment they claim does not exist.

There are so many great things about being a woman writing things on the Internet. It can be powerful, and heartbreaking, and educational, and just brilliant all around. But sometimes it’s like being invited to make rainbow cupcakes in Happy Rainbow Cupcake Land and then discovering that you need to wade through a hip-deep sea of shit to get to your cupcake supplies every day. And the sad thing is, the making rainbow cupcakes part is really nice, it would just be better if you didn’t have to do it while bathed in feces from the waist down.

Sometimes you have to take care of yourself, and let the politics burn. I get it. I don’t begrudge anyone their decision to leave this line of work. But I also don’t want to lose any more fantastic women to this horror show of hatred, abuse and erasure, so I thought I’d helpfully attempt to untangle the twisted logic behind how to be a woman writing words on the internet. Here are my tips.

Be conventionally attractive.

Gloria Steinem did it first, and it worked out so well for her. Science* says that it takes the brains of terrible misogynist men a little longer to process that they hate everything you’re saying if they are first confused by how pretty you are. This buys you time, time you might use to say a few more feminist things before being threatened with explicit rape, death, or both, in succession or at the same time.

Be warned, you will also probably be called a slut, because you made those dudes think about sex, with all your prettiness. You made a misogynist feel attracted to a feminist! That’s just cruel. It’s not like men can internally manage their own sexual feelings. This is all your fault. You selfish asshole.

Don’t be conventionally attractive.

Forget what I said before. Being pretty discredits you entirely. Pretty women can’t be smart, because pretty women are intrinsically shallow and superficial and it’s laughable that they should expect to be taken seriously about anything. Pretty women are biologically destined to supply decoration to the world, not brains, and so you should be at least a little ugly if you want anyone to think you might be semi-intelligent. Ugly women read more, because nobody asks them on dates, and even if they’re reading chick lit or "The Rules" or whatever, that probably exercises a few more brain cells than staring in a mirror wondering if they should change the shape of their eyebrows, or whatever hot chicks think about.

But don’t feel left out, ugly girls -- you’ll still get those rape/death/rapedeath/deathrape threats, they’ll just probably mention how ugly you are, and that you should consider the rape offer a generous favor from a magnanimous benefactor. Bonus!

Be confident in your knowledge and expertise.

Yes, you, with the uptalk and the vocal fry. Stop communicating in different ways. Stop asking for consensus! Stop checking in with your audience! Stop making concessions to the other side of your argument! And stop blaming “sexism” when men talk over you, dismiss your points, or steal your ideas. LEAN IN, BITCHES. God.

Don’t have too many opinions.

Look, we all know you’re in over your head here. The shrillness is not doing you any good. And what is with all this leaning crap?

Don’t talk too much about yourself.

I hope you realize it’s so self-indulgent and narcissistic. Children are starving in factories half a world away so you can have $25 skinny jeans. Do you even know what drones are? A bunch of Internet Vigilantes with too much free time have complied an exhaustive list of Topics More Important Than Your Personal Writing and no matter what you do, your efforts to speak about your life and experiences will always rank below a listicle that collects the twenty greatest pairs of breasts in 1980s Saturday morning cartoons.

If you MUST write about yourself, consider the context. If your piece is a self-reflective journey unpacking past and present experiences, well, who cares about your banal little ladylife? Oh no, a total stranger vocally admired your cleavage on a crowded city street, an act which both made you feel like a dehumanized target and which reinforces an entire culture in which women’s bodies are understood to be public property, and which will only become less socially acceptable if you and others continue to speak up about it? GET OVER YOURSELF. That guy was complimenting you! What do you even know about your own experience? Don’t worry, other people will explain it to you.

On the other hand, if your personal writing is an honest connection to a larger story, you’re making everything all about you and it is so not about you and how dare you try to forge a personal understanding with things going on in the world around you.

Were you a man, you might be able to publish a six-volume 3,600-page autobiographical novel and have the majority of the literary world salivating over your deeply intimate output. But you’re not a man, and nobody cares.

Don’t talk too much about anything else.

Whatever it is, men probably know more about it and you’ll just embarrass yourself by pretending to have an informed and useful opinion to contribute.

Don’t be too angry.

Really, really don’t be angry. When women you know say they’re being driven out of professional careers they’ve spent their adult lives pursuing, don’t be angry. When you see screenshots of abusive emails, texts, tweets, Facebook messages or hear voicemails expressing those ever-present rapedeath threats, don’t be angry. When harassers call these women’s parents and say horrible things about their daughters, don’t be angry. When the personal accounts of women writers get hacked and their private information is publicly shared amongst creepsters whose sole inexorable purpose is to create terror and misery in the world and wield it against total strangers, don’t be angry.

Sometimes your anger makes it harder for your harassers to imagine raping/killing/killraping you. And that’s just not fair.

Don’t feed the trolls.

Simply ignore any and all abuse. Rise above it. If you didn’t want to be abused, you shouldn’t have taken a job as an Abuse Recipient. What? That’s not the job you accepted? That’s not even your real title? In fact, your job description says nothing about “quietly accepting harassment” as a task you are expected to endure?

Oh. Well. I guess you should have foreseen that eventuality and instantly adapted to an already difficult job now also taking place in an increasingly hostile environment.

Stop complaining about harassment.

Stop trying to change things. You’ll never change anything, because nothing ever changes, because culture is a rigid structure carved from adamantium and has never in thousands of years of history undergone any shifts, adjustments, amendments or revisions as a result of the work of forward-thinking and courageous individuals willing to indentify and address its problems. Accept it. You'll never know a different world.

So those are my tips! I hope reading them was helpful. There’s just one more thing to do.

I want you to print out these tips on actual paper, if possible, and take them to your favorite writing or Internet-using space and then set them on fire. Because fuck all the demented, sanctimonious and contradictory rules governing the behavior of women, online or elsewhere. Fuck the pressure to be silent, to accept, to yield, to obey. Set those rules on fire, if you have it in you still, and keep talking.


* I made this up.