6 Types of Harassment Women Face Online, From Someone Who Has Pretty Much Gotten It All (Warning: NSFW)
As technology has advanced, the same forms of harassment that have plagued us offline have sprung up online. One major problem that's common both offline and online is the use of sexist insults — but that is just one of many types of harassment women face online. Women and other feminine-presenting people face all kinds of Internet attacks based on their gender presentation and any other aspect of their identities that trolls think they can leverage.
As an online writer who has identified at various times as a woman and on the non-binary spectrum, I haven't seen it all, but I've seen a lot of it. My heart always skips a beat when I get an abnormal amount of notifications on Twitter — because I know from experience that it probably means a troll has gotten ahold of one of my articles and other trolls have joined in the party to insult me for it. Women and gender-nonconforming writers are frequently targeted for online harassment because they have a lot of material online for trolls to find, but pretty much any member of a marginalized group who expresses an opinion on the Internet is at high risk.
Here are some forms of harassment, based on my own and others' experiences, that are commonly faced by women online. (Content note: some of these examples contain sexual harassment, sexism, ableism, anti-Semitism, and NSFW language, so consider this a trigger warning if it's useful for you).
1. Sexualizing Your Professional Accomplishments
When women have a voice online or showcase their professional accomplishments, leaving it to misogynistic Internet trolls to sexualize whatever they've done. This will happen even if your job has nothing to do with sex, but God help you if you're a sex and relationships writer, a sex worker, or anything related to the topic, because many people don't seem to understand that everybody has boundaries regardless of their profession.
2. Insulting You Using Sexist Stereotypes And Slurs
Men may be criticized online, but women and LGBT people face a particular form of criticism based on gender stereotypes. This Facebook message I received after writing about rape culture, for example, references a picture of my cat in a Facebook photo to evoke the "old cat lady" stereotype used toward single women. This message also demonstrates how people harass women using words like "cunt" that specifically attack their gender.
3. Attacking Other Aspects Of Your Identity
Women face certain forms of online harassment simply because they are women, but they also face harassment based on other aspects of their identities. For me, being an online writer with a stereotypically Jewish name has provided a wakeup call that anti-Semitism is very alive and well — just look the echoes parentheses symbol to see it in action. And as violinist Mia Matsumiya's @Perv_Magnet Instagram shows, Asian women face a particular brand of racist objectification online. Trolls will anchor on pretty much any aspect of your identity that's associated with a negative stereotype.
4. Asking Thinly Disguised Personal Questions
The questions women get about their work and other things they post online often belie an unfortunate disrespect for personal boundaries. Often, online harassers will try to pass this off as genuine curiosity about your opinion (like the author of the email above), but such curiosity is often just a front to broach inappropriate topics.
5. Requesting Free Labor
While not harassment per say, a common type of request women deal with is the request for free advice, career coaching, and other forms of labor. While this may not seem gendered, it comes back to the same disregard for boundaries that's behind sexualized messages.
6. Combatively Mansplaining A Concept You Already Understand
If you don't believe mansplaining exists, try asking women about the messages they've received online. This one I received on a dating site is pretty representative: Rather than asking me about my job as a feminist writer, the sender explains my area of expertise to me. Our online interactions are a byproduct of how people view us in real life, and for that reason, the kinds of messages women get online are very telling.
Images: Pexels; Suzannah Weiss/Facebook; Suzannah Weiss/Twitter; Suzannah Weiss/OKCupid