When I met Anita Sarkeesian, she was a lot shorter than I had imagined.
I think I pictured her taller because she has been so violently harassed online that, in my head, I stretched her image tall enough to at least be physically intimidating – a threat.
But you don’t have to look threatening to be a threat online. You can be negative. You can be positive. You can pretend to be whoever you want to be, a good guy or a bad guy, even though most of us have learned that being just one or the other is never the case; though, I struggle to write that sincerely after scrolling through the 4chan thread about Anita’s visit to UD Monday. I struggle to empathize with “a fellow UD student” who compared the bag and coat check run by a few Women’s Center and women’s and gender studies employees to the “third Reich” (no one was searched or patted down, as this fellow UD student claimed).
“It’s truly disappointing,” Director of Women’s and Gender Studies Rebecca Whisnant, Ph.D., commented, “that a member of the UD community chose not only to violate the clearly stated rule against recording the event, but also to provide a forum for more of the very kind of hostile and abusive commentary that — ironically — was the topic of Anita’s talk.”
Among the tamest comments on this thread…
“I loved that she forced the rule of no bags. Unfortunately, no jihad’s happened tonight.”
“What was the crowd like fat tumblerinas or disgusting girls who don’t shower?”
“ I don’t need to listen to her whine about harrasment [sic] for like 50 minutes.”
…and the least tame…
“WHy do I want to f— this w—- so much? I want to breed her tight little feminist p—.”
The designer of the event’s poster also got a shout out…
“whoever designed that poster should be shot…you can’t even f—ing crop a photo into a hexagon?”
4chan, according to its website, is “a simple image-based bulletin board where anyone can post comments and share images.” Anyone can post on message boards about topics ranging from anime to LGBT without the responsibility of identity. But as Anita said a few times throughout her visit, “The Internet is real life.” We can’t just “unplug” anymore. We live as much online as we do offline, so why should the victims (in this case, women) have to unplug? Why should the perpetrators roam even freer than they do in their offline privileged spaces?
Just because you can’t see someone’s face, just because you don’t know their name, doesn’t make them less than or more than human. It’s easy to abstract human beings from behind a cyber shield. I am guilty of it myself. However, when the harassment and hate is instigated and perpetuated directly by a UD student, it’s not as easy to abstract.
So I write to this student and the other human beings committing acts of violence and hatred from behind their screens: I’m sorry you’re the bad guy. I’m sorry you are too ashamed of who you are or too afraid to take responsibility for it. I’m sorry you aren’t aware of the pain and trauma pooling at the feet of real people because of your words. I’m sorry you need to tear and shred people’s reputations to feel more powerful. But until you realize the Internet is real life, that you aren’t invincible online or off, you will remain more powerless than your victims.