If you're on the hunt for a hero today, venture no further than Nora McInerny Purmort. Unfortunately, in finding her, you will also inadvertently find the seedy, misogynistic underbelly of the Internet. You see, a few weeks ago, McInerny Purmort was approached by a random man who told her she should smile. Did I mention at the time she was manning the booth of a nonprofit she created in honor of her late husband, Aaron, who died of brain cancer in December? Naturally, McInerny Purmort was not terribly pleased with this stranger's assumption that he had the right to inform how she looks.
If this scenario feels tired to you too, it's because it happens to women all too often. At some point, somewhere along the way, someone has undoubtedly told you to "smile," or that "you should smile more," or any one of the many incantations floating about the vernacular. But, some may argue, "I didn't mean it that way." That's what makes it a sexist microaggression, and that's precisely why we have to flush it out — to bring it to the surface so people can see it for what it really is. And for McInerny Purmort, doing so came sequentially. After the run-in, she tweeted about the experience, turning her face into a simple yet declarative meme.
But because we all know how heady the anonymity of the Internet makes people, it didn't take long for the trolls to come out of the woodwork and put McInerny Purmort on blast. An unkind Twitter user — who I shall not link to here, because frankly, I don't want to give him the traffic — retweeted the original meme, thus unleashing the ire of his 15,000+ presumably fellow misogynistic followers on McInerny Purmort. To date, she has received everything from the run-of-the-mill derogatory slurs — think "slut," "whore," "c*nt," and "b*tch" — to credible death threats. One follower tweeted, "If you want a woman to smile, just rape her. Duh." (I KNOW.)
McInerny Purmort's initial response to this second-wave backlash was measured but firm.
"I don't like when assholes tell me to smile, I don't like being told to be quiet, and I don't like having to turn the other cheek because strangers on the Internet could doxx me or light me up all day long because they don't like big mean feminists," she shared on Facebook and Medium. "The same way I don't like to be afraid of rape and violence, because only three percent of rapists are ever convicted, because misogyny is real. I want to feel safe in my body and in my corner of the Internet. I want that for you, too."
The ensuing vitriol from men who are — wait, what are they? Threatened? Angry? Insulted? How is that, again? A woman expresses her opinion and genuine desire not to have sexism, rape insults, and death threats lobbed at her in wild abandon, and you feel wronged? Please take all the seats. Your patriarchy is showing. For her part, though, McInerny Purmort isn't backing down.
Because that's what the man who told her to smile in the first place would have her do. Because that's what certain dredges of society expect of outspoken women — the so-called "b*tches," the "radicals," the "femi-nazis," the "hysterics." They would have us smile and nod and go back to politely NGAF. Rather, McInerny Purmort is turning a terrible and, in her case, terrifying situation into a teachable moment.
And there is some irony in that. Remember the nonprofit McIrnerny Purmort formed in honor of her late husband? Each month, Still Kickin raises money for a different hero — and this month's hero is a rape survivor named Sarah Super, who now runs a nonprofit aimed at combatting the stigma surrounding sexual assault. So, all things considered, the real joke is on the misogynists who are trying to make a punchline out of rape and domestic abuse. The more they flood McIrnerny Purmort's feed with hatred, the more they potentially raise awareness for women's rights by proving the very points McIrnerny Purmort and Super are trying to make. (Still, uh, give it a rest, you guys.)
As for McInerny Purmort, she fully realizes there are heavier things affecting women still — which is why she's fighting the good fight, despite how much darkness encroaches her light. After all, microaggressions exist because of macroaggressions. We have to start somewhere, and, for McInerny Purmort, that's home. "Is this the biggest deal in the world? No," she told Cosmopolitan. "But when you say something like this to a woman, you have no idea what she's been through. I have a son who I love, who will hear these conversations and will not think it's his right to get a smile from every woman who he passes."