(Content warning: harassment, misogynistic slurs.)
This is not another personal account of pervasive sexual harassment on the internet.
All the same, I need to put a few things in context. A couple days ago I noticed a Twitter troll was harassing several women including GameSpot writer Carolyn Petit and those he found standing up for her. I tweeted a link to Twitter’s report form for abusive users and attached a screencap of one of the things he’d said. After 50 or so retweets (thanks), he found me, and began an off-and-on assault of tweets calling me a slut, saying I would feature in an anal sex minigame in the next Grand Theft Auto, and announcing he would kill me and get his money back from my apparent prostitution services.
This is the first time I have experienced this.
Unlike a lot of women on the internet who are either more optimistic or bolder than I, I have done everything I can to keep my head down. I use a gender ambiguous name. At my old moderation job, I worked under a male persona. Some of this was done in response to seeing women colleagues endure abuse, but most of it was discomfort in being thought of as feminine.
I was assigned the sex of ‘female’ at birth and despite rarely living up to any sort of feminine norm I more or less, for the moment, consider myself cisgender. My pronouns are ‘she’ and ‘her.’ But for reasons of either cruelty or ignorance, a lot of the outside world doesn’t agree with me. In school, classmates would rudely ask if I was a boy or girl. On the phone, extended family mistook my voice for my brother’s. Once at a restaurant I got ‘Christopher.’
The (supposed) upshot of this is that I also don’t generally fear walking alone at night. I mean, I fear muggings or getting schmucked by a car, but the accounts I read of women being wary of male strangers as potential rapists is entirely foreign to me. No one pays me that kind of (unwanted) attention. I’m a large person. So large, I tend to imagine myself as simply becoming part of the backdrop.
It’s not true, of course. Women of all sizes get raped. Women of all sizes get catcalled and told to smile by strangers we pass on the street. I’ve received these kinds of “compliments” too, albeit not as frequently as other women. Once, when I was a kid, a nice-seeming and fairly fit man started coming onto me while I was waiting outside a shop, and only backed off when I told him I was 16. I guess I should be glad at least that deterred him.
So, yeah. For the most part, sexual harassment is a thing I do not experience. I don’t expect it when I go out, and before this past Tuesday I never had someone correctly identify my (currently) presented gender in order to insult me.
That is why, before now, I always felt a little disingenuous speaking for women in generalities. I knew that it was true for the most part — I don’t generally assume people have a reason to lie about these things, and there is so much evidence stacked up in favor of their experiences that you’d have to be willfully ignorant (many are) to deny this — but it was not my lived reality. Worse, I know that people like this dude are an exception in my case and for the most part, I will continue to be misread as a man and fly under the radar as such pretty much in perpetuity.
Which is why I feel like I get it, sometimes, when people including some other women are in absolute denial of any sort of culture of feminine denigration. If it isn’t your reality, it doesn’t seem real. Even if you understand on an intellectual level what is going on, unless you’ve experienced it, you’ve missed the raw urgency of the situation.