Jessica Valenti has me blocked on Twitter.
I didn’t even know this until recently. Someone I follow had quoted this prominent feminist writer, but I all I saw was the “This tweet is unavailable” line you usually get if someone deleted her tweet. Curious, I clicked on her profile and got the bad news. I was blocked.
This naturally stung a little, as I used to follow her religiously back in her Feministing days. I had never tweeted at or about her — and I opened my @forbiddencomma account in 2009. Advanced search says that only once has @forbiddencomma tweeted at or mentioned either @jessicavalenti or “Jessica Valenti” — and that was a tweet replying to someone else, with her name automatically entered in the reply by Twitter because she had shown up in the reply thread earlier. It was a tweet comparing the Charleston shootings to Charlie Hebdo. Not exactly offensive to anyone other than Dylann Roof.
But the real reason I’m blocked — it wasn’t personal.
Valenti almost certainly uses an aggressive autoblocker script for her social media, and the reason why is she is one of the most targeted people on the planet for online abuse. She, or her program, blocks anyone who might be a future online abuser, and between my handle of “Problematic Doc,” my being a male who tweets a lot, and the time time I sent a mean tweet to her fellow feminist Erin Gloria Ryan over the Gawker debacle (long story short, Gawker is a horrible company run by horrible people and among other things, they helped cover for a vile fake “male feminist” named Hugo Schwyzer), Valenti’s algorithm must have decided I represented enough of a potential threat to shut me down preemptively.
Prominent writers may put on a brave face, but the fact is, online abuse stings, whether from comments, Twitter, Facebook, or the old-fashioned poison email. And no class of writers gets anything close to the abuse than that suffered by prominent feminists.
The racism of today’s alt.right, the troll army that is the spiritual successor to yesterday’s KKK and skinheads, makes all the news. We’ve all seen the endless takes on how Trump is legitimizing their racism, bringing what they like to call their “race realism” out into the open. What few journalists get right, however: most alt.righters are motivated far more by misogyny than racism or anti-semitism.
Not that all these things don’t coexist in the average alt.righter, of course. As Cathy Young details here, theirs is a tribalist movement that rejects Jews and non-whites as forcefully as it rejects Enlightenment traditions such as equality, human rights, and classical liberalism. And there will always be some people motivated primarily by hatred of blacks or of Jews.
But what brings the typical young, angry white male to the alt.right table is his hatred of women, generally triggered by his inability to get laid. The rest of the stuff, he picks up later. So while he might not like Jews very much, the hatred of women will always be his specialty of hate, as it were.
Which is why Valenti is the most abused writer for The Guardian.
“I’m tired of laughing it off and rolling my eyes,” she tells readers who are internally thinking she should do just that. “Because while misspelled threats or entreaties for me to get back in the kitchen are certainly easy to mock, the disdain with which they’re employed is not very funny.
“… it’s not a coincidence that the articles of mine that attract the most abuse on social media are those about rape, harassment, political representation or everyday examples of sexism. Anything that suggests there’s still work to do for true gender equality sends some men into a rage – a response that mostly serves to prove my point.”
These trolls aren’t in it for the lulz. Their only intent is to hurt women.
“I can see that in other comment threads – on articles that aren’t about gender, race or sexuality – people have interesting and forward-thinking conversations. I’m disappointed that I’m rarely privy to the same…
I’m tired of having to explain, over and over again, why the tone of the comments under my pieces is indeed sexist. It’s not just a matter of critique – all writers get that – it’s the way that criticism manifests. Are my male colleagues called cutesy nicknames? Do they have their appearance commented upon?
I’m tired of logging into Twitter or Facebook just to dodge rape and death threats in response to my articles; the latest one I got came on a Sunday evening just after my family and I had finished dinner.”
The Guardian hosts plenty of liberal pundits who push progressive views on race, the Muslim refugee crisis, and other political sore subjects. But nothing stokes the blind rage like Valenti writing in support of women’s rights. Nothing comes close. Another recent article noted that 8 out of the 10 most harassed writers at The Guardian are women.
Meanwhile, a male blogger named David Futrelle focuses on nothing but heaping ridicule on the misogynist, so-called “MRA” branch of the alt.right. He directly tries to provoke them, but from what I can tell, he still does not get anywhere near the invective hurled at Valenti or other female feminists such as Anita Sarkeesian or Amanda Marcotte.
These online fusillades do hurt. They are often organized from alt.right hangouts such as Reddit, 4chan or 8chan, but even if it’s just from one person, it still hurts. Targets such as Valenti may not want to admit it, lest they give the satisfaction to the bullies. But the abuse does drive writers — above all, feminists — to rely on aggressive auto-blockers, to stop reading the comments, or to leave social media altogether.
So. Valenti should keep me blocked. She doesn’t know who I am; I don’t tweet under my real name; I’m a male interested in politics; I’m admittedly not always the nicest guy around on social media. These red flags alone mean I’m more likely than the average Twitter user to tweet something horrible at her. The problem is not her blocking. The problem is the woman-loathing alt.right troll army that is ruining both comments sections and social media.