If you've never seen Anita Sarkeesian's web show, Feminist Frequency, you should — it's smart and articulate pop-culture analysis from, you guessed it, a feminist perspective. In May, she launched a Kickstarter project to fund a series she wanted to do on lady tropes in video games. She received a lot of support; she also received a lot of harassment. If there were a checklist for "shit the internet's underbelly can accomplish," her experience would have hit all the major points: vile YouTube comments, awful edits to her Wikipedia page, hate speech, maybe even a dash of organized 4chan attacks.
We received a tip about this story last week and, to be honest, I shrugged. We didn't cover it. My job involves reading hundreds of emails and thousands of headlines every day and, ultimately, making a call on whether or not I should assign the story to one of the site's writers. I usually make that call pretty quickly, for reasons having to do with gut instincts and knowing that if I don't make a decision about something right away, it could be ages before I get to it again.
So, yeah, I didn't even blink. And now, upon further reflection, that reaction makes me feel a little queasy. Not because Jezebel potentially missed a good story (though that concern is always there, even in my sleep), and not because I decided not to assign coverage. Rather, I'm queasy because of why I shrugged: I read about Anita Sarkeesian and my immediate reaction was, "This crap happens every damn day. Nothing new here. Nothing to see. Move along."
I love what I do, but after so many years spent writing/editing/managing blogs, certain parts of me have become jaded. It happens to all of us, men or women, who write online; our skins thicken. It's a survival mechanism. But I've become particularly jaded in regards to this specific sort of story — anonymous haters attacking a woman because she dares to do something online — because I've seen it so many times. I've even been on the receiving end of it. Disgusting emails, awful phone calls, pricks harassing my parents. It was a long time ago, but to keep on working and not be intimidated, I guess I just became numb. For years. And that was what worked for me, because I never stopped seeing stories of women who were harassed online. Didn't even matter what they were writing about; women are just punished for existing on the internet. Shrug. Can't let it get to you. Par for the course, I thought. Numb.
And that is so fucking sad. That there's so much misogyny online that I can barely raise an eyebrow? Jesus. That numbness again.
Every single day, countless women put themselves out there, online, for the first time. They send their first IM, leave their first comment, write their first blog post. They begin a part of their life that is likely to involve significant time spent communicating on the internet. They're engaging, they're interacting. And this means that, perhaps inevitably, they're seeing some painful, sexist bullshit. And they deserve to know that while this is a thing that happens, it is not worth just a shrug. I shouldn't shrug. No one should.
Does this mean Jezebel is going to start covering this issue more aggressively? I don't know. That's more of a day-to-day thing that I can't anticipate in advance. But it does mean that I'm thinking differently. Hopefully at least one person reads this and does the same.
Skin will thicken, yes, and you really can't let it get to you, at least not the real you, not that spot deep down where things can really hurt. Words will never break your bones. But also, they shouldn't make you numb. You can't feel everything all the time — nor should you — but don't forget how to feel altogether.
Image via Shestakoff/Shutterstock.