What I Learned About “Myself” From Internet Trolls
Last month, Tricia Romano wrote about Amazon's horrible impact on the dating scene in Seattle. Whoa, it's not all male commenters. But it's male commenters.
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In my nearly two decades as professional writer, I’ve never really written about my dating life until last month. I was inspired by Jeff Reifman’s post about the increase of men due to Amazon’s aggressive hiring—which confirmed many of my long-held suspicions about Seattle’s dating scene.
I’ve bore some commenter ire back in the early days of websites allowing the Peanut Gallery inside the theater—I’d worked for years as a nightlife columnist for the Village Voice in the 2000s. Back then, one person wrote they’d like to put a bunch of batteries inside a sock and hit me over the head.
But nothing, not even many eloquent essays and discussions that I’ve read by other women about abuse from the internet’s anonymous trolls, prepared me for the vicious responses I received.
Here are the things I learned about “myself” from some of my commenters:
I am a whore and a slut.
I’m ugly and I look like a Jersey girl. (This is half-true. My family is from Jersey.)
I’m middle-aged (which somehow seems worse than merely being old). And, I “don’t exactly stand out from the crowd.” (This same writer also admitted to being a deadbeat dad. So, you know.)
But even though I’m dumb, ugly, and old, a totally over-the-hill Jersey girl, I’ve managed to get laid so much that my vagina is a loose gash.
I should just buy some sex toys and be done with it.
I probably have a height requirement on my profile. (Dude, I’m four-foot-eleven.)
I’m the boring one. (Perhaps, but do you have a story about sharing a pizza and drinking a martini with Betty White? Didn’t think so!)
I should stop wading in the kiddie pool. Because women can’t date younger men.
I need to be Elliot Rodgered.
Because I have tattoos, I am an easy lay, I don’t deserve love and I will drive men to suicide.
One guy told me he wouldn’t even poop in my mouth at a Star Trek convention, adding: “Now we know why Kurt Cobain swallowed a shotgun.”
You have to wonder what I did to any of these guys—and these commenters are mostly guys—to incite such vitriol. Did my description of the boring tech dude hit too close to home?
I shouldn’t feel too bad. Even famous actresses experience a level of visceral hate that’s completely nonsensical. Anna Gunn wrote a New York Times op-ed about how her character, Skyler on Breaking Bad, bore the brunt of the fan hatred. Her character had just had a second baby, and her husband was acting weird and gone at all hours of the night. But according to fans, she wasn’t right to be suspicious; she was a bitch. “Besides being frightened (and taking steps to ensure my safety),” wrote Gunn, “I was also astonished: how had disliking a character spiraled into homicidal rage at the actress playing her?”
Like Gunn, I know these people calling me names aren’t really talking about me, but about “me.” I’ve been told I’m great company by many of the men I’ve gone on dates with, I’ve been told I’m extremely easy to talk to, that I look better than my pictures, and while you may or may not think I’m pretty (beauty is in the eye of the beholder), I know I don’t look my age; one twenty-something recently professed disbelief when I told him my age. (I thanked him profusely by hugging him with my vagina, later.)
What’s interesting is that in the comments of the article by Jeff Reifman about how many men have moved here for Amazon, there’s only one comment out of 75-plus, attacking Reifman personally (He’s told only: “Be more interesting.”) No woman tells Reifman that he’s having a hard time getting a date because of his looks, or that he’s washed up; no one calls him dumb, and says the girls are obviously not sleeping with him because they can sleep with hot 20-year-old guys with ripped abs.
But men aren’t immune from online bullying—it’s just a bit different. He had another post, one about how his ex-girlfriend cut him off without talking to him that inspired plenty of ire. Many readers took issue with his behavior and his expectations and a few people wrote long, detailed, in-depth pieces about what they thought was problematic about Reifman’s rationale. Online, Reifman was called “creepy,” a “stalker,” “an abusive shitbag,” “dangerous,” “entitled,” and told, “cry more, dude.”
When the online harassment began, he made it a point to not read the comments or his Twitter responses. When he finally did, he said in an email. “I was struck by how detached from my reality they were—largely complete projections that had no basis in what I’d written or my life.”
“They used words you use to shame men culturally, whereas they are using words/approaches used to shame women with you,” he wrote. “They did call me ugly and much worse but no one commented on my genitalia—possibly because I was expressing powerlessness with dating and you were expressing potency with your sexuality.”
Trolls are bullies without muscles; weaklings sitting anonymously behind a computer screen; they are people who’ve hijacked a writer’s platform, thinking it should be theirs. They don’t consider that what they are saying is hurtful. As Reifman wrote, “People don’t realize that when you click RT— there’s someone else on the other end of that tweet that’s impacted.”
Luckily, I have vast experience with bullies IRL. I grew up wearing a hearing aid, I was perpetually the new kid in school, I didn’t look feminine and was often mistaken for a boy, and thus was a frequent target of kids could sense fear a mile away, follow me home and bark at me, throw rocks at me, and exclude me from the neighborhood games.
I learned the best weapon against bullies is to defer to them and agree. “That was so funny!” “Oh man, you’re killing me! Hilarious!” “You’re right, I totally look like a boy!”
I would laugh and laugh and laugh. It infuriated them. What they wanted was to see me cry. I never did.
But what reaction can you have to a comment like, “Uh, pretty sure she implicitly believes she deserves awesomeness because of her female genitalia,” other than laughing and laughing and laughing at the absurdity of it all.
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