Sometimes they work out exactly as the malicious arseholes want them to, grinding people down until they feel the need to stop speaking out for a while, so that they can cut down on the abuse that they receive, and start to feel safer and happier again.
When that happens, those of us who still have some spoons left in our uppitiness bank (at least right now) need to speak up on their behalf, and let the malicious arseholes know that we see what they did there, and we’re not going to pretend that it didn’t happen. We will keep gathering evidence and talking about these patterns of intimidation, we will keep on picking up the ball when one of our activist mates needs to drop it for a while, we will keep on growing the size of our team, and yes we do know how to tag-team. The cyberbullies cannot silence all of us simultaneously.
It’s not only online, either. Cyberbullying is just an extension of the intimidation tactics directed at women simply for breathing in public. First Dog On The Moon has a great webcomic about the sort of thing ordinary women hear every single day from the cadres of festering gits when no non-gits are around to see (because plausible deniability is crucial to painting women’s testimony to their own life experiences as unreliable, the untrustworthiness of women being a long-running sexist trope).
The internet just allows more sexist bullies to intrude upon our notice in order to abuse us for daring to be visible. Just look back to the cases of Anita Sarkeesian and Kathy Sierra to see how much more often it happens to women who have the audacity to build an audience; since obviously women being listened to as if what they say might matter is an even greater disruption of the natural order than a woman who just wants to be left alone to get on with her daily routine.
Then there’s the various manipulative intimidation tactics involved in gaslighting, telling women that not only are we imagining how bad it is, but it’s all our own fault anyway.
Women are told all the time that if we were just “clearer”, if we were just more forceful in saying no, then men would back off. Any woman who has been abused by a total stranger, often with extremely threatening body language, for just saying “No thanks, I’m busy” or “Please leave me alone” knows that this is bullshit (if you don’t believe this happens all the time, please just ask a woman you know well to tell you her stories about the times that it has happened to her – older women might not see it so much any more, but they’ll remember). It only takes once for women to be very wary of “just saying no more clearly” to men who are strangers and therefore unpredictable – being polite and acquiescing to conversations that we’d really very much rather not be having is an attempt to keeps ourselves safe. The intimidation tactics of violently abusive gits make insincerity a necessary survival stratagem, and then we are blamed for not being clearer about not being interested – Catch-22.
[content note: description of harassment/verbal abuse/threatening behaviour] Via Stephanie Zvan, here is an account of what can happen after you say no clearly (n.b. the author UnWinona was physically unharmed, this time).
The point of this particular collection of links regarding intimidation tactics typically targeting women (but which are also commonly aimed at people of colour or with disabilities or non-heterosexual expression or non-gender-binary identity) is to show that online abuse is not a special case, as so many of the “grow a thicker skin, it’s just the internet” crowd want us to believe. These overt hostilities and micro-aggressions are just part of the spectrum of traditional social dominance behaviours proven to be effective in maintaining the status quo.
But what exactly has made these techniques such effective maintainers of the status quo in the past? The historical fact is that sufficiently sustained intimidation was nearly always able to isolate the targets of these silencing tactics from like-minded associates, was nearly always able to prevent them building support networks capable of insisting on being heard. But technology has levelled the playing field.
As I’ve written before, the technology that gives cyberbullies a virtual bullhorn to swamp you with hate is a two-edged blade. It also gives their targets firewalls and filters to block and muffle their abuse, bullhorns of our own to keep on getting our messages out, and ways to organise ourselves that they cannot stop us accessing.
Today the status quo bullies managed to grind Jen McCreight down, at least for blogging, at least for now. But they haven’t silenced First Dog on the Moon down yet, they haven’t silenced UnWinona yet, they haven’t silenced Stephanie Zvan yet, and they haven’t silenced me yet either. Some of us may be silenced in the future, but it won’t happen to all of us at the same time, and it won’t happen before we encourage more voices to join us in speaking out, and it won’t happen before some of the currently burnt-out voices come back reinvigorated with even greater determination than before. We’re taking some casualties in the front lines, but there’s still plenty of voices left to keep on moving forwards.