For those of you who blog or follow online contributions within the feminist and social justice community, online trolling is not a new concept or an anomaly. Recently, there has been much discussion surrounding the impact of online trolling in the feminist and activist community and how to best respond. There has also been much debate about whether or not to even respond at all considering most of the time trolls egregiously comment on bloggers’ posts in hopes of getting an amplified and angered response from those they target.
Trolling is a form of harassment, verbal abuse, covert violence, and a way for those to assert their authority and promote misogyny. It’s a way for people with unpopular, outlandish, and offensive opinions to congregate and perpetuate harmful and antiquated societal ideals. Trolling is also a way for people to “keep women in their place” and communicate to them that their voice doesn’t matter nor do the words they write. Trolls very well know the harm they do to society and to the advancement of women, but feel joy and satisfaction from contributing to the cycle of harming, degrading, and marginalizing women. Already, self-identified women are told that they are not welcome in public spaces through forms of violence like street harassment. With online trolling, women are made even more aware of their marginalization, objectification, and compromised safety in society since now the internet isn’t even a safe, open, and empowering space.
In many ways, blogging has become an empowering device for self-identified women and activists to elevate their voice, express concern over pressing issues, advance the progress of marginalized groups of people, raise awareness, promote equality, further meaningful dialogues, and spur action. When people decide to troll these blogs, they are devaluing our words, attempting to push us back, and minimizing the experiences we write about and encounter on a daily basis.
Publicly writing about the realities of navigating through our society while representing a marginalized and unaccepted identity can be incredibly informative and help people open their eyes and minds to these issues. Not only that, but blogging helps activists and concerned members of society reclaim a widely accepted but harmful, objectifying, and divisive narrative that often exists online and in the media. Blogging is our way of re-writing the wrongs perpetuated by society…and trolls.
Often times I feel despondent when reading the trolling on blogs I follow or happen to read. With each feminist, activist, and social justice post that makes me feel empowered, inspired, and motivated to confront pressing issues in society and speak up about problems that are often silenced, the trolling on those posts leaves me feeling disempowered, devalued, and frustrated with the ignorance that pervasively exists in our society.
I’ve read countless articles about the need for people to address trolling and confront the false belief systems that many trolls perpetuate through their clueless and outrageous commentary. Unfortunately, responding to the trolls is a lot easier said than done. As women, informed bloggers, and activists, do we continue to fuel the fire if the battle seems futile? Do we respond with passion and energy even though that response lends the misogynistic trolls what they want when we get “riled up”? Do we try re-educating the online trolling community when deep down we realize how much energy and effort we’d exhaust for an undesirable outcome? Or do we throw in the towel and not respond at all? Is confronting trolling even worth our time?
But I understand why people respond – I have responded to trolling against me a couple of times. I felt a strong need to defend myself and stand by the words I wrote. I couldn’t believe that someone could misinterpret, misrepresent, and warp the words I so carefully, intentionally, and personally crafted in order to construct a meaningful post. I was astounded that other human beings could even insult, degrade, and threaten me based on my writing. I was writing about tough issues our society faces, vulnerable and personal experiences I have had that have shaped who I am, and sexism that I have been confronted by on a daily basis. Many of the things I wrote and still write about are inarguable and deeply personal.
You cannot argue with how I feel when I am harassed on the street. You cannot tell me how to interpret a catcall. You cannot tell me how to respond to the sexism that I face everyday. And you cannot tell me how I should feel as a woman in society today. Furthermore, when I and many other women who have been trolled have felt unsafe in the virtual world because of trolling, it bothers me to no end when people say that “we shouldn’t feel unsafe…it’s just trolling”.
Well, it’s not just trolling. Many times, even if we don’t respond and stick up for ourselves, the trolls can turn violent and threatening. I have heard many visible feminist activist comment on how frightened they feel when they log online to see the comments left on their blog posts or Twitter feed. I’ve also read articles where well-known feminist activists admit that if they could, they would have been anonymous with their writing so that the trolling would be less intense, personal, and threatening.
I want to bring attention to trolling and its impact on women both in the virtual and non-virtual world, not to give the trolls more attention (which is primarily what they want) but to prove the need for people to keep writing and blogging, despite the trolling. The trolls may want us to stop getting on our soapbox, but we won’t. The more they troll and perpetuate offensiveness and discriminatory viewpoints, the more we will continue being our authentic selves and writing about things that must change in our society and our advancements along the way. Even if we don’t directly respond to the trolls themselves, by refusing to silence our voices, we are making a bold statement. We will continue to be loud about the things that matter and no one can stop us. It deeply saddens me that there are people out in our world who feel “threatened” by our desire and basic human rights to be equal to others. We all deserve to be treated equally, fairly, and respectfully in society and those who troll show that they have a fundamental disagreement with that basic concept. And that to me, is sad.