Trolls no longer live under bridges. In today’s age of the Internet, anyone with a fake name, a keyboard and far too much time on their hands can spend their time posting insults and harassing writers. According to an unscientific but still illuminating yougov.com poll, 30% of men have admitted to trolling online, as compared to 18% of women And while all people suffer, women have an especially vicious gauntlet to navigate when creating an online presence.
I was trolled yesterday on the question and answer site, Quora. I’m a blogger, who writes about Israeli politics, agnosticism, Jewish feminism and Marvel Comics. (Guess which one doesn’t get me hatred?) Around 20 questions were posted about me, and more than half were directly gendered. It fascinated me that the insults that came up over and over again was that I was “fat” and “ugly” and “no man would have me.” Comments about my sex life and my weight were posted over and over again, including questions about how I “gorged” myself on food.
I admit it, I briefly considered shutting down my account. I knew that as I got more followers and more attention, I would become even more targeted. The internet can magnify a small amount of people into an angry mob. At first, I was reduced to tears, but the gendered insults instilled in me in a sense of rage. Why was the worst thing to say about a woman was that she wasn’t pleasing to a man? If this piece of trash was going to insult me, why pick those? It hit me hard that to a small but vocal minority, questioning my desirability is a way to put me in my place.
I might be a well-known writer with over 17,200 followers, and two advanced degrees, working on my dream project, but anonymous trolls can still attempt to reduce me to “How much does this woman please men?” Is that the worse they can say about me? I must be doing something right.
As of now, Quora has done nothing to help. Because of the anonymity feature, there is no way to track my abuser and the form email I got advised me to block the person. Problem is? I can’t block anonymous people, since I have no idea who they are. Even if I could block them, another fake account can easily take its place.
I should be able to ignore trolls, but the constant abuse wears away at women. Friends of mine have been trolled and have reduced their public writing, because putting themselves into the fire is just too exhausting. Women are prevented from getting a platform, for fear of reaching a level of fame that will invite abuse and scorn from keyboard warriors. No single comment is significant, but it’s a death of a million paper cuts. Male friends on Quora are dumbfounded by the hate.
Of all of the ones I asked, none has experienced the language I have endured. And the trolls aren’t always the basement dwelling neo-Nazis. As a Jewish agnostic feminist, I’ve been gaslit by male members of my own community who have called me “kapo” “stupid” “over-emotional,” “hysterical” and “going after my own desires.”
Although there are other secular Jewish bloggers on Quora, male writers have again admitted to me, this just doesn’t happen to them. In the age of “me too” we need to have conversations about protecting women writers from this torrent. I should be able to gain and audience and be able to shout out those who are only there to harass. Until that happens, women will be limited from taking their place in the public venue.
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Dr. Elana Maryles Sztokman is an award-winning author, and leading Jewish feminist thinker, educator and activist. The former the Executive Director of JOFA, the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, Elana writes and speaks all around the world about gender issues in Jewish life, in education and in Israel.