Count it as another blow to the myth of a kinder, gentler Internet. Comedian Jen Kirkman (Chelsea Lately, Drunk History) has gone on Twitter hiatus until, as she puts it, "the men get loud" about the brutal online abuse of women.
In a Tumblr post last night, Kirkman explained that whenever she's the target of hatefilled, sexist rants (she shares a smattering of examples), she hears from her male fellow comedians who "DM me or text me or email me or talk to me about how they hate it too but they never speak up." Private support is nice, but as she makes clear, it does absolutely nothing to challenge a culture that indulges and encourages cyber-misogyny.
Kirkman is understandably frustrated by men who make comforting noises but claim that they "don't know what to say" to sexist trolls. Men don't need expertise in anti-sexist activism to stand up against woman-hating; plenty of male comedians openly campaigned for Obama, she notes, without having degrees in political science or public policy. Kirkman doesn't need to spell out the obvious reason why men don't speak out: too many "good guys" either don't take sexist trolling seriously or they're too afraid of becoming the targets of ridicule from those same bullies if they do step up openly.
To help get the guys going, Kirkman started a Tumblr called MA'AM: Men Against Assholes & Misogyny that is open to contributions from all male allies, not just her fellow comics. Kirkman writes that she's "asking for men who understand us to write from your hearts about your experiences with sexism in your life. How do you feel when the women in your life experience online harassing injustices that may seem small but sometimes seem like the loudest voices in our cultural dialogue?"
Kirkman hasn't set a timetable for her return to Twitter, but writes that "I will be back when I see male comedians speaking up. It's not JUST up to my followers — it's up to my peers." (And, no, boys, retweets and "+1s" don't count as effective support.)
When well-meaning men tell women that they need to "toughen up" or "don't let the hating bother you" they're operating under the false impression that trolls are equal opportunity tormentors and that every public figure gets an equal dose of haterade. As Kirkman and others have made clear, that's simply not true. (I can speak to this fairly easy: I've been the target of a huge amount of online criticism, but have never had a single rape threat, never once been maligned for my looks or my weight, never once been told to make someone a sammich.)
Private assurances of support don't cut it anymore. It's time for the dudes to step up, speak out, and call out the creepers and the critics who've made the web such a uniquely hostile environment for women who dare to be smart, to be political, to be funny.
Want to contribute to the MA'AM blog? Click here.
Will Jen Kirkman's Twitter hiatus help curb sexism in comedy? [The Daily Dot]
Jezebel columnist Hugo Schwyzer teaches history and gender studies at Pasadena City College and is a nationally-known speaker on sex, masculinity, body image and beauty culture. He also blogs at his eponymous site. Follow him on Twitter: @hugoschwyzer.