Vir Cotto's BDSM Blog

The weak, powerless men of the Internet

Recently, a prominent figure in a well known project known as Docker has decided to step down from her role in the company due to online harassment. This wasn't honest criticism or even just cursing, this was death threats, sexual harassment, as well as photo-shopped gory image of her.

There's a [list of well published][] incidents of sexual harassment online, including the "Gamergate" incidents of a few years ago, and hardly a week goes by here on Fetlife where I don't hear about [women getting harassed][] by unknown guys either on here or on dating sites either for rejecting men's advances, or just for existing at all.

On the service that I run, a man was using another woman's photos as a means of harassment. He'd tell users that he was her boyfriend, and she loved being objectified and insulted by random strangers on the Internet. If these men would send her harassing emails, he would offer them candid photographs of her.

And on a close friend's 100% vanilla, non-sexual Youtube, where she's giving a keynote lecture about computer privacy and security, the first comments are about her breasts.

I'm frankly at a loss. For a long time, I simply could not believe such incidents happened at all. I thought "This must be overblown", I thought. "I'm sure such things happen, but we only read about the extreme cases because they're newsworthy.".

I was wrong. The cases we hear about in the news are indeed more extreme than normal, but it's part of a pattern that's well established and well known. And it's not equal. While men are harassed online, their gender or sexuality is rarely brought into it. The only exception is when men speak out about this kind of harassment, as I did about four years ago on my vanilla blog. I wrote a post about what I called "incidental sexism", where by virtue of "trying to help", men were inadvertently interfering with women's learning in a classroom setting. This was based on something I saw with my own eyes, and I just documented what I saw. In response, on Reddit and Hacker News, I was insulted, purposefully misgendered, and my sexual orientation was questioned.

What I experienced is a tiny tip of of a very large iceburg that many women face online, and yet as the years go by there seems to be no signs that this trend is abating.

I've been lonely and felt powerless. I've felt so lonely and powerless that at times I've contemplated suicide. I've been angry, and I've had fights with women online about various subjects. But in all this, in over twenty years online, I've never contemplated using sexuality or gender as a weapon, and I so I couldn't understand how others could.

But this isn't about me or what I can or can't understand- there's a problem online that need serious addressing.

Some believe that these behaviors are about objectification, that the perpetrators don't see women as people, and so they justify their behavior in that context.

I don't buy that argument. I've seen some of the harassment first hand, and I think these guys know exactly what they're doing and just how much psychological harm they're inflicting. They don't discount it, they count on it.

I also don't buy that this comes from a feeling of powerlessness, that these men are "weak". These men are not powerless, despite what MRA might tell tell you. They're not engaging in acts of terrorism out of a sense of desperation. They're not weak, or powerless.

They count on their power. They count on their threats inducing fear. They count on the fact that it's entirely possible for their threats to be carried out.

I don't have a nice way to end this post. I know it may come off to some as mansplaining or white knighting, but I don't know what else to do. I'm angry and I'm upset, I see the same stuff happen over and over again and the same indignant anger with very little followup.

So maybe there's no real end to this post, just as there's no real end in sight to the problem.