I think there is a danger there of being mean to people and humiliating people and embarrassing people just because it might get you ratings. It is a disturbing trend. —Bruce Nash
“Stop being mean!”
That is the Tipster’s response when I put her to bed for the third time. In her six-year-old world, having an 8:00 bedtime is mean; the sun isn’t quite down yet, there’s still daylight, so she thinks she still has time to play. We have boundaries and schedules I am obligated to enforce for her own good, so therefore, in her mind, I’m the mean one.
Raising a little girl in today’s environment. I want her to be as independent and strong as her mother and she shows every sign of having all those qualities. Grandpa Bob tells me Kat didn’t like going to bed, either. Yet, when I look at the world into which she’s growing up, one that demeans and ridicules women just for being women, I worry. A lot. I think I have plenty of good reasons.
Earlier this week, it was revealed that one of the nation’s top software engineers, Jessie Frazelle, received so many death and rape threats that her employer had to hire bodyguards to guarantee her safety. She recently moved to another company and while she has yet to make any kind of statement the general consensus is that she was harassed out the door, that the company knew about the harassment and did nothing to stop it. Last July she wrote:
Ever since I started speaking at conferences and contributing to open source projects I have been endlessly harassed. I’ve gotten hundreds of private messages on IRC and emails about sex, rape, and death threats. People emailing me saying they jerked off to my conference talk video (you’re welcome btw) is mild in comparison to sending Photoshopped pictures of me covered in blood.
Then, earlier this week, Frazelle tweeted:
I lost something I loved so much and a small piece of my soul standing up for myself, and I just don’t know if it was worth it.
— jessie frazelle (@jessfraz) April 22, 2016
I wish I could say this was an isolated problem. I wish I could say this was a new problem. Neither of those statements would be true, though. Being mean to women online is as old as the Internet itself and the toll it is exacting is severe.
The same day that the Frazelle story was posted, The Washington Post ran a story questioning whether 31-year-old Fairfax County firefighter Nicole Mittendorff was harassed so severely that she committed suicide last week. What makes this story particularly upsetting is that the trolls who have continued to hound her claim to be her fellow firefighters. An investigation is underway, but no matter what they find, and it’s almost certain that someone will be charged in this case, the fact that nothing was done to stop the continual barrage of mean comments, that no one was able to sufficiently stand up for her and back the trolls down, incriminates the entire online system.
Being mean, especially to women, has reached epidemic proportions. While this is just observational speculation, I’m willing to be that one could ask any woman with an internet account if they’ve had someone they don’t know say something mean about them online and probably 9 of every ten, if not more, would say yes. I know Kat’s gotten comments, especially when we first started seeing each other. She was able to handle those quickly, though. Not everyone is so lucky.
We laugh when Tonight Show host Jimmy Kimmel has guests read mean tweets about themselves but the very fact we find those tweets and other similar comments funny is a part of what allows the online abuse of women to flourish. Part of the reason trolls say the mean things they say is because they think what they’re doing is absolutely hilarious and that if we don’t “get it” that we need to “lighten up.” There is no humor in threatening to rape or kill women, though. It’s not funny to send them pictures covered in what appears to be blood. There’s no joke behind telling women they asked for it. Every last bit of it is mean.
#MoreThanMean started trending on Twitter yesterday after a Washington Post video was posted where two sports reporters, Sarah Spain and Julie DiCaro, sat down and had sports fans read, out loud, some of the mean tweets the two women receive every day. The effect was emotional and drove home just how easy it is to type things that we never would consider saying to someone in person. The men reading the tweets were clearly uncomfortable and some even cried. You not only need to see this video, you need to share this video. Take a look:
Stop and think. Mother’s Day is coming up in a couple of weeks. Would you talk to your mother like that? Would you tolerate someone talking to your sister, your girlfriend, or your spouse with those words? Not if you have an ounce of decency in you, you wouldn’t. Those of you who have daughters, what if someone spoke like that to her?
Being mean has become so much a part of our culture, though, to the point that we have justified it and built organizations around it, and now embodied it in one of our leading presidential candidates. In a follow-up story on the boycotts we mentioned last week, a new article from Business Insider shows just how much hate and meanness there is around letting transgender people use the restroom with which they most identify. People of color have been beaten at presidential campaign rallies and the candidate has encouraged such mean behavior.
We have created a culture of mean and tolerated it far too long. The time has come for us to stand up, to confront the online bullies, especially those who harass women. We don’t have to necessarily be mean in response to meanness. I think responding with, “If you wouldn’t say it, don’t type it,” is a good start. And yes, unfortunately, there are people who are willing to say mean things. One of them is inexplicably running for president and appears to be winning his party’s nomination. Are we really willing to allow the election of a president who is mean?
This is the primary reason we don’t allow comments on these pages. We tried it a few years ago and even then the mean and rude comments were enough of a problem I made the decision to simply not provide a forum where such statements could exist. I am still of the mind that unmoderated comments are unnecessary and unhelpful.
#MoreThanMean needs to become a battle cry. We cannot allow this culture of mean to continue. Lives are at stake. The lives of people we all hold dear, even if they’re not old enough to be online yet. For all the Tipsters and the Ravens and the Emmas and every other little girl out there who are not yet able to speak for themselves, we need to shut this culture of mean down now.
If you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, don’t type it. And confront those who do.