I don't know what "tear you a new rectum" means, but I bet you're wishing you didn't message me this bullshit now, shit for brains.

Why Are People Horrible to Women on the Internet?

Misogyny is a steaming pile of shit women have to deal with everyday as the penalty for using the internet.

Many, if not most, of us have experienced it — and if we’re vocal on social media as feminists and advocates of social justice, we’re even more likely to be targeted. If we’re queer and/or women of color, the abuse becomes even worse as homophobic and racist invective couple with misogyny. And as so often happens, the research and public attention is just starting to catch up with feminist commentary.

Recently, for example, Mic covered a poll of online harassment which demonstrated that 47% of millennials had either personally experienced online harassment, or know someone who has, as compared to 22% of American adults as a whole. Of this number, 55% were women. The results also showed that harassment was racist as well: 34% of Latinos and and 22% of Black people surveyed reported online harassment, as compared to 19% of white people.

Meanwhile, this Demos study demonstrated that female journalists are 3 times as likely to receive sexist abuse than men. It further found that 60% of online abuse of women is done by men, while 75% of online abuse toward men is also perpetrated by men.

Or check out this Guardian feature in which editors have analyzed the pieces and writers who received the most abusive comments — unsurprisingly, eight women and two black men. It’s a more proactive approach than that taken by outlets like Twitter, whose lackadaisacal response to online abuse has been much criticized.

Finally, the abuse faced by woman journalists is so bad that an article in the Columbia Journalism Review has even dubbed it a “threat to free speech” (so suck on that, dudes who claim feminists limit their free speech rights).

For the sake of interrogating this steaming pile of shit, I like to think of online harassment as falling very roughly into three different types. For those of us who are marginalized in some way, and who talk publicly about our beliefs, these types of abuse are often mixed together.

First, there’s online harassment that is the equivalent of street harassment. It can come from random dudes, can be sexualizing, can be a rando hitting on us, and can range from mild annoyance to intense and sustained abuse. 

A classic form of this is the random flirtatious or sexually explicit social media message from an unknown dude, a violation of our basic autonomy which has been known to be successful in getting said dude laid approximately once in human history. Online space is also public space, so it’s not surprising that here too men walk up and down the Facebook “street” making all sorts of random unwanted comments to women. The sheer overwhelming number of messages from male strangers and acquaintances, even if the individual messages seen innocuous enough, can make online public space feel, just like offline public space, male-dominated and hostile.

Second, there’s sexism and harassment from people we know in real life — situations in which the internet becomes a primary space for or extension of a pattern of violence inflicted by an acquaintance, friend, or partner.

Finally, there is harassment online that relates to our work as outspoken women and marginalized people. This includes the comments section horror faced particularly by women and marginalized journalists as well as the banal sexist assholery that random people like to inflict on us when we make political status updates or talk about politics online. Here, abuse we receive as activists and intellectuals, and the abuse we receive for just being marginalized people, becomes interchangeable — with the overall effect of pushing marginalized people offline. 

Most of us in our work for Feministing have experienced online abuse in some form or the other. The horrible tweets and full-fledged hit pieces are bad, and generally consist of sad men debating some aspect of our physical appearance and sexual and/or racial identity. Harassment can also take more subtle forms, such as random expressions of love or lust from dudes we don’t know. 

A couple times, for example, strange internet men have contacted me about my work in order to ask me on dates acknowledging that the offer “might be creepy,” but that they are so alight with my feminism they just had to do it. To which I have only one question: If you think your behavior might be creepy, why in Christ’s name would you do that behavior? Like, you answered your own question, dude. My life is not worse because I’ve never seen your dick, so get off mine.

And then there’s the “I really sympathize with feminism” dude. You know, the male internet stranger who says he appreciates your struggle, man — until and unless you decline his attention, at which point you become a raging insufferable bitch.  For example, the male stranger whose messages are featured in this article’s cover photo. Love you, babe ;)

All fun trips down memory lane aside, let’s say it again and say it again: Online abuse is abuse, and it is not just online. It sneaks into our bodies, into the tension in our muscles and the fear lodged behind our sternums, and effects our health, wellbeing, sanity, and ability to do our work. It can also translate into physical threat, as in cases where male mobs post women’s street addresses online, issue rape and death threats, and more. It is a systematic attempt to silence our voices, and a systematic restriction on our freedom.

If you’re interested in learning how you can protect yourself online (though dammit, this shouldn’t be our fucking job), check out this fab feminist guide. If you’re a creep and you’re contemplating being horrible to someone online, check out this guide authored by yours truly (hint: BACK AWAY FROM THE COMPUTER).

Meanwhile, may the feminist gods bless the brave women of Twitter, and all the brave ladies and queers — and marginalized dudes  — who fight the good fight every day on an internet that would rather we didn’t open our mouths at all. Keep Tweeting, comrades.

This piece was adopted from a talk I gave at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi University as part of the Gender Studies Cell’s panel on Online Misogyny. 

Reina Gattuso is passionate about empowering conversations around queerness, sexual ethics, and social movements with equal parts rhapsody and sass. Her writing has appeared at Time, Bitch, attn:, and The Washington Post. She is currently pursuing her masters.

Reina Gattuso writes about her sex life for the good of human kind.

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