Content note: This article contains descriptions and images of graphic threats that include slurs and descriptions of sexual assault.
What’d you do last weekend? Oh, that sounds fun. Yeah, I’m glad you had a nice time. Me? Oh, not much. I just spent three days reporting the myriad rape and death threats I received over social media.
See, I accidentally broke the news about my secret gun vaporizer on Twitter. The gun vaporizer—a real thing that totally exists—modifies the molecular makeup of firearms and renders them into airy nothingness. Of course, the gun vaporizer has its limitations: It cannot vaporize all the guns at once. I mean, it’s not like this is science fiction here. Perhaps unfortunately for white men, their predilection for committing mass murder has put their weapons first in line for vaporization under the evil matriarchal regime of which I am the ruling despotress.
I understand that when the white men see their guns disappear into thin air before their very eyes—a fate that most certainly awaits them, due to the actual existence of an actual gun vaporizer over which I have complete actual control—they may feel distress or sadness. This is why my evil matriarchal regime will be collecting white men’s tears during the vaporization process, for research purposes and also to sweeten the beverage of my people: a strong tea brewed of oppression and misandry. It is, of course, naturally very bitter.
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You may, at this point, get the feeling that I’m pulling your leg. You may understand me to be joking. You may rightly perceive that gun vaporizers do not exist, and by extension deduce that I do not own one, nor do I intend to use it, on a white guy’s gun or anybody else’s.
If that is the case, you are leaps and bounds ahead of the Daily Caller’s political reporter, Patrick Howley, who apparently felt he got the scoop of the century when he discovered my public tweets on my public Twitter profile following the news that a white man had gone on a shooting rampage in Mesa, Arizona. He then crafted 188 credulous words about my nefarious plans. As a result, hundreds of angry white guys descended upon my Twitter and Facebook accounts over the weekend—helped along by the fact that the libertarian-bro clearinghouse Infowars and the white supremacist Nazi group Stormfront both picked up the Caller‘s, uh, “story”—demanding that I rescind my plans to vaporize all the world’s guns starting with the white guys’, and threatening to rape and murder me if I did not comply.
Many members of the Daily Caller‘s esteemed readership suggested I “come and take it” and provided other variations on the theme—”I will shoot your smelly ass dead” was a colorful one—even though the whole point of the vaporizer is to ensure that there’s nothing to “come and take,” as it were. Still more of these guys seemed unduly fixated on the fact that I’m a fat lady, though one apparent stalker who claimed to be following me around the park seemed to think I looked pretty good, regardless.
I posted screenshots of these threats to my own Facebook and Twitter, just in case any of these guys decided to actually try and act on any of them—many came from members of the Open Carry Tarrant County group, based out of my own hometown. I wanted a paper trail, and I didn’t want the admins and moderators at Facebook and Twitter to be the only ones who knew where it was.
I also just plain wanted folks to see the kind of boiling, bubbling bullshit I had to put up with just because men can’t take a joke—even though, as the stereotype goes, it is feminists who are the humorless fun police. I make a crack about a non-existent gun vaporizer, and some guy named Mark suggests forcibly removing my “bloody tampons & apply the crusted blood &piss as makeup” on my “nasty face.”
Let me run that one by you again. A guy hears a joke second-, third-, maybe even fourth-hand, and his reaction is to fantasize about assaulting me with my own bodily fluids.
Perhaps this man sees himself as one of the apocryphal “good guys with a gun” who the NRA claims are necessary to stop crime. So too, the good-hearted brothers, sons and fathers of Open Carry Tarrant County, who, by some group members’ own admission, want to use my picture for target practice.
Good guys with guns, indeed. Certainly what we need are more reasonable, cool-headed men like these running around a grocery store with pistols just in case any “bad guys” show up.
Many of my guy friends were horrified. They expressed sympathy and fear on my behalf. Several of them—independent of each other, guys who wouldn’t know the others to say hello at the corner store—offered assistance, should I need it. They sent me their phone numbers “just in case” and let me know that they would be on the scene in minutes if anything scary were to happen.
I appreciate these demonstrations. I’m glad and proud to know men like these guys. They are good dudes. But giving me a phone number doesn’t stop men who hate women from threatening to rape and murder me.
I don’t need men to individually and personally step up to protect me. I need them to collect their fellow dudes and actively work, every day, to end widespread cultural misogyny and to improve the lives of non-cisgender-dude people the world over.
Good dudes of the world, please hear me out: Not actively being a sexist shitbag as an individual is not enough. Because somewhere, somehow, the guys who dedicated themselves to harassing me—many of them under their real names on Facebook—have brothers, dads, uncles, golf buddies, tennis partners, co-workers, favorite bartenders, and an entire universe of dude friends and acquaintances, all of whom have failed to make it clear, either through their words or their actions, that this kind of behavior is not OK.
Perhaps you will plead ignorance. Perhaps y’all didn’t know how bad it was. That’s fair, and I am sympathetic to that. Often, women who are harassed are told to ignore it (this is actually one of the suggested responses that Twitter provided after I reported the guy who told me he hopes I get “gunned down in the street”), to keep it quiet, to just pretend like it doesn’t exist and it’ll all go away. I have done that on many occasions. I probably even do it on most occasions, because if I re-tweeted every creepy rape threat I got, it would fill up a quarter of my feed.
But I’m telling you now. I’m showing you now. Now you know.
Now you can do something about it. You can start by sharing this very article with your guy friends, so that they too will no longer live in ignorance. You can read and share this fantastic, in-depth piece from my colleague Imani Gandy, detailing her two-year ordeal trying to keep a dedicated online stalker at bay. You can read about Lindy West’s travails trying to report threats of gendered violence.
Looking for more than just a first-person account? There’s plenty of research available concerning gendered harassment online. Have a gander at this piece in Time. Or this one in Slate. Or this one in the Pacific Standard.
And you can talk about them, proactively, with your buddies. Because I know how guys talk. They talk like people, right? They talk about politics and beer and clothes and good shit they read on the Internet today. They share how they think and feel about things. Do that.
Take five or ten minutes out of that conversation you were about to have about Ted Cruz and talk about how fucked up misogyny is instead. Talk about the statistics on gendered violence online and off. Let your guy friends know that dudes are spewing this kind of virulent shit at people like me, and that you don’t stand for it, and that you won’t stand for the men you know doing it—or ignoring it. You have to end the culture of ignorance and silence that allows guys to comfortably engage in this kind of harassment.
I mean, sure, gather your roommates around the kitchen table to watch the funny video of the dog who can’t catch a damn piece of pizza, but also make an effort to consume and share media created by people who aren’t cisgender guys. Read books written by people who don’t look like you. Watch movies directed by people who don’t just reflect your own experiences back to you.
And then talk about them with your friends, and engage with them just as you would with anything else you liked, or didn’t like, or felt confused by. Women are people, for fuck’s sake. We’re more than just your moms and wives and partners and daughters: We create things, we have stories to tell. When we are only seen as sexual objects (note how many times guys lobbed “gutter slut” and variations at me), or delicate flowers to be protected, we lose our agency and our humanity, and harassment like this is allowed to live on.
I am asking you to do a very simple thing. I am asking you to not be a sexist jerk, and I am asking you to be deliberately public about it.
Hell, do like any of these 101 super basic, but very important, things. Educate yourself on the basics of feminism. Be the guy who brings up the parental leave policy at work. Don’t keep your mouth shut when you hear your friends call women bitches, or sluts, or cunts.
Be the guy in front of whom the next Mark knows he can’t get away with threatening to assault someone with a bloody tampon. Don’t just talk to me about misogyny. Talk to him about misogyny. Call out your friends. Be brave. Women can’t make this cultural shift happen all on our own.
Because Mark, and guys like him, aren’t listening to me. But they might listen to you, and you never know when they’re paying attention.