Ladies, we need to have a talk.
I’ve been hearing a lot lately about feminists who engage in activism and receive shit online. Though I’m perplexed to how this is news, I sympathize. Being a woman on the Internet with opinions, I’ve gotten a lot of vitriol, hatred, and, yes, even “rape threats”* tossed my way in various forms. It is disturbing to read that someone thinks I deserve to die or be raped. I’d much rather have rational debates about patriarchy, but it seems that some folks just aren’t into that sort of thing.
But you know what? I carried on living my life. I give approximately zero shits about what some asshole on Reddit or Twitter thinks of me. I wish other ladies would learn to do the same, but apparently that’s not how we do things these days. Now, we “shame” our critics by publicly announcing their douchebaggery (who’s willing to take bets that these people are actually ashamed?), or we go on national TV and news shows to talk about the “constant abuse” we get online—as if that’s going to solve anything.
Here’s a news flash for you, ladies: You’re trying to subvert a power structure that’s been entrenched in our society for a couple thousand years. People aren’t going to thank you for it. It’s time to toughen up, because if we take up our valuable air time complaining about anonymous people being mean to us, we’re going to lose our credibility really fast.
While I’m here, let me drop some perspective on you. I’m gonna tell you a story about someone I damn well hope you all know: Alice Paul.
Alice Paul, or, as I like to call her, Feminist Badass Extraordinaire, was a suffragist in the UK and the United States. While she was picketing the White House to make sure that women had the privilege of sleeping in on Voting Day like everyone else, she was arrested for “obstructing traffic.” She, and a handful of her other suffragists, were sent to prison.
While she was there, Paul began a hunger strike to protest the conditions of the prison. She was then committed to the psychiatric ward and force fed raw eggs through a tube until she vomited. As we know, force feeding is a pretty horrifying experience. While Paul was being tortured, the superintendent of the prison ordered as many as 40 guards to beat the suffragists. Many were left unconscious overnight, and none received medical attention.
Oh, wait, I’m sorry, I interrupted you while you were complaining about someone calling you a bitch on Twitter.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that “rape threats,” threats of violence, or plain old meanness is in any way okay. I’m saying that complaining about online abuse is probably one of the biggest First World/Middle Class Problems I have seen lately.
Feminism has bigger fish to fry. Many women (particularly women of color) in the United States and around the world receive the same kind of actual abuse by the government as a matter of their daily lives that Paul and the suffragists faced. We are not represented well in media, in government, or in business. We continue to bear the burden of rearing children, now with the added pressures of a career. The world, as a whole, is just not as good of a place for us as it could be.
We can do something about those things. We are doing something about them. But trying to get people to be kind and rational is not a project for feminism—it’s a project for geneticists who are really keen on getting pigs to fly.
Feminists are wasting the platform time and space and using the clout we have gotten over the course of generations to talk about frivolities like people getting their feelings hurt by people they don’t know. Wasting that time comes at great cost to those silent women who have no voice to complain with.
*I am putting “rape threats” in scare quotes because I am seriously skeptical about the “true threatening” nature of many such things that come from anonymous people online. Obviously one can be threatened online, but most of what I have seen people complain about doesn’t rise to that.