Public internet shaming and sexism.

For those of us that have been online for a while, it is well understood that with or without a concrete reason, things spread online virally often garnering massive amounts of support in a flash, irrelevant of how serious, true or false allegations may be. You never know when you hit “publish,” what the outcome will be, what unintended consequences might come out of it and who’s gonna hate you now. This is also true for those that are “caught” doing things online and become villains overnight. It is often hard to trace the reason for why certain issues resonate and this idea of online vigilante justice is very much at the core of why many of us blog in the first place, but sometimes, it doesn’t really make a lot of sense. And in an attempt at punishing someone for something, people engage in full on smear campaigns that are tragically offensive.

I came across this article from a few days ago in the NYTimes (via Courtney Young on twitter) about Mary Bale, a woman caught throwing a cat in a garbage can, who became the object of tremendous scrutiny and online protesting over the video tape of her actions.

The tabby’s owners heard the cat’s cries 15 hours later and posted the video online, hoping to find the offender. They were in luck. Within hours, Ms. Bale’s name and address were published on an Internet forum. She quickly became the object of global derision. Hate pages popped up on Facebook, among them, “Mary Bale should be locked up for putting Lola the cat in a bin,” which garnered 20,796 fans, and “Death to Mary Bale,” which Facebook later took down.

A video on YouTube of a man dressed as a cat stuffing a woman into a can was watched by two million people, some of them posting comments critical of Ms. Bale. The episode even spurred a wave of anti-Mary Bale Twitter accounts.

As friend to the felines, I am appalled by anyone that hurts animals. Ever. And I do think those that abuse animals should be fined. But there is something uniquely troubling and sexist about the protests against Bale. Beyond a Facebook group that had to be removed asking for her death, someone created a video stuffing a woman into a trash can. To me, that smacks of opportunistic sexism in the name of justice. Of course, no one should throw a cat in a trash bin, but suggesting that a woman should be, is well just sexist.

I am all for holding people accountable when they do things that are deplorable. But there is a unique type of public shaming that occurs to women when they are “accused” of things online which allow others to air their grievances online irrelevant of how sexist, racist, ableist, or just generally messed up those characterizations may be. This is one example, but there are countless examples of women being publicly shamed online for things they may are may not have done. That’s not vigilante justice, that’s just another opportunity to hate on women in new and unique ways.

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  • unequivocal

    I’m having a hard time viewing the reaction to Bale’s action as being motivated by sexism. Typically the online response (and indeed the general social response) to animal abuse seems to be exceptionally harsh, regardless of the gender of the perpetrator.

    In this case I think it’s pretty obvious that what we are seeing is, indeed, vigilante justice rather than internet people taking an opportunity to hate on women in new and unique ways. I think you’re 100% correct that the latter does happen, but this doesn’t seem to be an example of that occurring.

    • Nancy Shrew

      I agree. Also, not too long ago when a teenage boy posted a video of himself abusing a cat, the Internet vigilantes did not go easy on him at all. Granted, his youth could have something to do with it, but honestly, I just don’t think animal abuse is well-tolerated (nor should it be) and sometimes the law is shit when it comes to it. I don’t think it matters what gender the abuser is.

  • Sami

    I totally get that stuffing someone in a garbage can is pretty extreme, but I don’t think that the intention in this case was of a sexist nature. A similar case occurred a few years ago, involving a young man who posted a video of him hurling his cat around his living room. The online response was gigantic, and there were far worse things said about him. I think this is less about sexism and stuffing a “woman” in the trash, and more stuffing a “person who harmed an animal” in the trash.

  • jiujitsubuddah

    I think stuffing the perpetrator into a trash can if he had been male would have been equally appropriate for what she did to that poor little kitty. Perhaps this is just a case of old-world style public humiliation and scorn for poor behavior, NOT a case of sexism. Just because she’s female doesn’t mean the poor treatment she’s receiving is because she’s female… but more about the, you know, stuffing a cat in a trash can.

  • Amber Viescas

    I doubt the trash can thing had anything to do with sexism. One common protest over animal abuse is to visit the abuse upon the abuser in effigy. Its purpose is to serve as a counter to the shocking, immature lack of empathy some people have for animals; to pose the rhetorical question “How would you like it if someone did that to YOU?”

    This would happen with a man too.

  • Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz

    I agree this is not sexist. The garbage can video was just a sort of “burning an effigy” of the wrongdoer. If a man had been the one to harm the poor cat, it would have been a male effigy. I have ZERO sympathy for this person. If I caught anyone, male or female, treating one of our cats this way, my reaction would hinge on the behavior, not the gender of the person doing it.

    Has it automatically become sexism to call out a woman on anything, even if they have committed a despicable action? Should women not be held accountable if they abuse animals or commit any other kind of oppressive action?

  • Erin

    Not every criticism of a woman is motivated by sexism. Some guy threw a puppy out of a truck recently and it was in the Chicago Tribune. Here’s one response: “I’ve got a big truck we could toss the guy out of.” See? No one’s exempt from being publicly shamed for abusing animals, regardless of gender. Yay for equality!

  • davenj

    Um, no?

    Kenny Glenn also received similar internet abuse for his violence toward his pet cat on YouTube about two years ago.

    The difference? Mary Bale is a grown woman, and Kenny Glenn was FOURTEEN YEARS OLD.

    This is about how the internet can create a mob mentality, particularly in the face of repugnant actions by an individual. The idea that the motivations of her opponents are sexist is downright laughable. The suggestion that Mary Bale be put in a trash can has nothing to do with her gender and everything to do with the fact that SHE PUT A CAT IN A TRASH CAN!

    The internet is replete with opportunistic sexism, but this is in no way a case of it.

    In all honesty, posts like these are easy fodder for anti-feminists. It’s important to be vigilant about sexism, but calling this an instance of sexism borders on the paranoid, and harms our case when we call out legitimate instances of sexism in the future.

  • tino

    People do mind boggling things. At least in this case the cat’s life was worth something in the eyes of the law, and the person who did this could be charged. Unfortunately for animals who are farmed, like chicks and dairy calves, this happens on a daily basis and is not illegal nor unusual.

  • Dan

    Consider the current case of Michal Vick, a male who was involved in dogfighting. There are people calling for him to be “cruelly killed”. I’ve heard that sentiment applied to the accused every time I’ve ever seen news coverage of animal fights, even though the participants are overwhelmingly male.

    Maybe this isn’t about what animal abusers are, but rather about what animal abusers do. And I agree that animal abusers should be forcibly confined to small spaces. I wouldn’t waste a perfectly good trash can. There’s a concrete and steel room with an occupant that we can move into a box.

  • Redpine

    It’s an interesting thesis that the public shaming of women is qualitatively different from the public shaming of men and that this is due to sexism. I tried to think of a similar case of a man and the case of Juan Carlos Vera came to mind. This ACORN lawyer was secretly video taped in a sting operation by James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles. They acted like they were seeking assistance to traffic girls for prostitution and were requesting assistance. They then shamed Vera on TV and the video went viral.

    Some of the responses to a youtube of the story:
    “Acorn has hired the dumbest people on the planet”
    “Juan Carlos should be immersed waist deep in a pool of genital munchin piranhas.”
    “Rape him good and hard and long, every single day! the same as he wanted to have happen to little girls.”
    “F#####r ought to be shot”

    The public shaming caused Vera to lose his job. The rest of the story is that the video had been edited dramatically to make him look bad. He had contacted the police immediately to report the human trafficking to stop it.

    Comparing Vera to Bale, how would you determine that Bale’s experience was of a uniquely, sexist quality?