Trigger warning for discussion of the various types of abuse perpetrated by those humans known as “trolls” incuding rape and death threats and suicide.
Back in July, during Netroots Nation 2014, Zerlina Maxwell spoke on a panel about online harassment. I wasn’t there, but someone tweeted a quote that stayed with me:
“Don’t call them trolls. They’re assholes.”
I think this is important. By calling these people “trolls,” we are basically letting them off the hook. It’s a lot like the “boys will be boys” mentality that helps to keep rape culture thriving, but it’s also different, because boys are expected to be human. By calling these people “trolls,” we relegate them to non-human status, and we make it clear that we don’t expect them to live up to the same behavioral standards as human beings.
So, who are these assholes? Well, the subset of the population we refer to as “trolls” is mostly (almost exclusively, in my personal experience) made up of men who—for reasons that range from angry entitlement to I-don’t-know-what—make it their business to perpetrate harassment and abuse on targets who are mostly not men.
As a woman online, I’ve dealt with and watched others deal with all of these things and more:
Men who insist that we engage them because they disagree with something we’ve said.
Men who keep tweeting at us or commenting when we’ve asked them to stop.
Men who keep tweeting at us after we’ve told them in no uncertain terms we’re done and have blocked them.
Men who create sock-puppet accounts pretending to be women and use them to harass us, gaslight us, threaten us.
Men who haunt hashtags they disagree with so they can harass people who are not men who speak out about issues that matter to them.
Men who haunt hashtags about gender violence, sexual assault, and other painful topics and target the people there telling their stories.
Men who band together to create armies of sock-puppet accounts to harass us and discredit the work we do.
Men who reply to our stories of rape to tell us that it wasn’t rape. (And who are very likely defending their own behavior.)
Men who play devil’s advocate on issues that disproportionately affect people who are not men.*
Men who chime into conversations about sexual & domestic violence to speculate on what the victim should have done differently.
Men who attack those of us dedicated to fighting for equality simply because we fight for equality.
Men who call us “feminazis” and “white knights” because we identify as feminists and talk about feminist issues.
Men who use racist and sexist and transphobic slurs to attack marginalized people, often for months on end, with no consequence.
Men who send us graphic photos of everything from sex acts to gaping wounds in order to punish us for talking back.
Men who tell us all we need is a good fucking to set us straight.
Men who tell us we should get raped.
Men who tell us they hope we kill ourselves.
Men who tell us how they hope we die.
And of course, all of this is in hopes that we will simply STFU, or better yet, cease to exist.
I think Zerlina’s right: we need to start calling them what they are. Assholes, yes. But also, men who choose to harass and abuse others online, sometimes to the point of driving their victims off the Internet, out of their homes, and even to suicide. So, when you talk about these men, consider using words that describe what they actually do and are, such as “harassers” and “abusive assholes.”
These men are human beings who treat others as less than human—who purposely cause pain and suffering and sometimes even death. It is time we stopped letting them off the hook.
Note: This post has been updated to include the suggested term “harassers” per my friend Mandaray.
*Post pub note: The idea that I would include “playing devil’s advocate” in a list like this seems to have confused some folks, so I want to be clear about what I mean, here: There are people who innocently wonder about the other side of an equation and there are dudes who use “I’m just playing devil’s advocate” as an excuse to argue with women and other marginalize people simply for the entertainment value of engaging us and wasting our time and energy (and even when there’s no ill intent, it’s often really unhelpful and can even be harmful, such as when “devil’s advocates” engage in victim-blaming). Yes, there are degrees of trolling, and this is the least of what anti-feminist trolls do, but feminists—especially those of us who engage in online activism—must, on a daily basis, deal with a barrage of people who are primarily cis white males telling us what feminism really is or isn’t, what misogyny really is or isn’t, what street harassment really is or isn’t, what rape really is or isn’t, and “devil’s advocate” is one of the flags they wave when they’re reminded that they are being part of the problem, as though it excuses them. I hope this clarifies my meaning. Also, if you’re pulling this one item out of the list and ignoring everything else, you may be missing at least part of the point.
Oh, and just for good measure:
Trolls Harassers and abusive assholes who comment here will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)
Trigger warning for discussion of rape and sexual assault.
I met A in the early 1990s at a science fiction convention. I’d seen him around and…damn. The man was fine. When we finally came together, sex was a forgone conclusion. We spent a wild weekend together, and I fell in love with him. And he broke my heart, and I basically moved on. Except that almost every time I saw A after that, we ended up having sex. A was…persuasive. But he didn’t have to try very hard—I had a thing for him for years.
In 2000 or so, I went out drinking in my neighborhood, went back to a guy’s apartment to smoke some pot, and woke up on his couch with his penis inside me. I only remembered feeling really woozy and telling him I needed to lie down on his couch. I don’t know if he drugged me or if I was just really drunk, but I never consented to sex. The next day I IM’d with A about it, and he made excuses for the guy. “Maybe he was just really drunk and didn’t know what he was doing,” he said, or something very like it.
Fast forward to the late aughts, and I’m in A’s town on business. He’s happily married, and I’m in what I believe at the time is the relationship I’ve waited my whole life for. A & I make plans to get together and have a drink at my hotel. There is—in my mind and probably in his—no question of sex. We are committed to our partners. It seriously never enters my thoughts.
I have several Martinis and somehow end up in his car on the freeway. A says something about a bar he wants to take me to, but I’m pretty sure I’m going to vomit, so he takes me back to my hotel.
Most of what came after is blurry. There is a good chance I stripped my clothes off the moment we got to my room, as I was drunk and with someone I trusted, and when I’m drunk and on my way to bed, my clothes end up all over the house. I remember getting into bed, under the covers, and I remember him lying on the bed saying things like, “What they don’t know won’t hurt them.” I remember laughing and saying, “No.” I remember that I had no intention of cheating on my boyfriend. I remember that I kissed A at one point and my boyfriend’s face popped into my head and I was like, “Whoa, no!” A continued trying to talk me into having sex with him and I continued to decline.
I remember that speaking was becoming really difficult. I remember A climbing on top of me, on top of the covers, as I tried to form words or even coherent thoughts. I remember that he masturbated on my chest and that I had absolutely no say in the matter. I remember that I got up and washed it off.
I remember that the next day when he picked me up to drive me to the airport, he asked me if I was angry with him. I could tell he felt like shit, but what exactly he felt like shit about, I still don’t know. I think I said something about being angry with myself (and I was—I blamed myself and told no one for years), but then I said something that made him defensive, because his next words were, “Come on, now, you were complicit…”
I was complicit in exactly one thing: I kissed him.
I know he felt “bad” about what he’d done—I just don’t think he knows that what he did was sexual assault. Because I kissed him. Because I took my clothes off. Because of our history. Even though I said no.
I understand that not everyone who commits sexual assault thinks of himself (or herself) as a sex offender. I understand that people make really bad decisions under the influence of alcohol that they might not make otherwise. But neither of these things changes the fact that sexual contact must be consensual or it is sexual assault. It doesn’t matter what someone does before the “no.” If you don’t hear an emphatic “yes,” or “do it,” or “fuck me,” etc., you are simply not cleared for take-off.
That was the end of my friendship with A. It took me a couple of years to remember that it was he who had made excuses for the man who raped me all those years ago. And then I realized that when a man makes excuses for another man’s bad behavior, there’s a good chance he’s defending his own. I was probably not the first woman to get drunk with A and end up being assaulted.
I just hope like hell that I’m the last.
Related on MMAS:
- A Brief History (the Bad Parts Version)
- I Didn’t Know It Was Sexual Assault
- #IStandWithDylan – My Story of Childhood Sexual Abuse
- 10 Things Rape is Not
PSA: Abusive commenters will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)