Insults and rape threats. Writers shouldnt have to deal with this | Jessica Valenti

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Im the Guardian contributor most targeted online. We have to stop the harassment so many women face

When you find out that youre the best at something, normally it makes sense to feel happy. Im not sure that reaction applies, though, when what youre top at is being hated.

When the Guardian examined the 1.4 million comments that have been blocked by moderators since 1999, they found that eight of the 10 writers receiving the most blocked comments were women, and topping the list was well, me. Sure, theres a small part of me thats proud Im No 1! but the bigger truth is that Im mostly just exhausted.

Im tired of laughing it off and rolling my eyes. Because while misspelled threats or entreaties for me to get back in the kitchen are certainly easy to mock, the disdain with which theyre employed is not very funny.

For all the progress women have made, theres always an online comment section or forum somewhere to remind us that, when given anonymity and a keyboard, some men will use the opportunity to harass and threaten.

I dont read the comments any more, and even if I did the moderators block the worst of them, but its 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 theres still work to do for true gender equality sends some men into a rage a response that mostly serves to prove my point.

If the mere act of writing about womens issues sets off a stream of harassment and threats, surely we are nowhere near where we need to be. And though Ive been on the receiving end of abusive comments for as long as Ive been writing online more than 12 years Im exhausted at not feeling like a part of the community I contribute to. I work hard on the articles I write, but I dont see the point of looking in the comments section any more.

People who disagree with me often dont merely say so they lob personal attacks or make cruel and snide remarks. Theres not much back-and-forth to be had with someone who showed up with the sole intention of calling you stupid.

I can see that in other comment threads on articles that arent about gender, race or sexuality people have interesting and forward-thinking conversations. Im disappointed that Im rarely privy to the same. Most of what I get are different iterations of the same two sentiments over and over again: Im dumb; feminism is a waste. On a good day, I might have someone say an article I wrote isnt a total piece of garbage like usual. Its hurtful, but even more than that, its boring.

Im tired of having to explain, over and over again, why the tone of the comments under my pieces is indeed sexist. Its not just a matter of critique all writers get that its the way that criticism manifests. Are my male colleagues called cutesy nicknames? Do they have their appearance commented upon?

Im 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.

Because the harassment doesnt begin and end on the Guardian website being on social media has become, for better or worse, part of being a writer online. And the things you publish for one site have a ripple effect across all of your various social media profiles. Its a workplace harassment issue that doesnt stop at the workplace.

Im exhausted hearing that the harassment has nothing to do with the abused writers identity. Its also difficult to argue that abuse in the Guardian community isnt focused on race or gender when the 10 writers on the site whose articles attract the most blocked comments are all women or people of colour. Just a coincidence? Come on.

Its not that I find the transparently sexist responses surprising writing about feminism online for more than a decade makes you a bit jaded about such things but it impacts, tremendously, on the way I feel about my job. Imagine showing up to work just to run the gauntlet of hundreds of people telling you how worthless you are.

Ive been writing online long enough to not attach my value as a person or writer to strangers opinions, but it would be a lie to say that the cumulative impact of being derided daily isnt damaging. It is. Its changed who I am on a fundamental level. And though Id still like to think of myself as an optimistic person, being called a cunt or whore every day for a decade leaves its mark.

Im not as worried for myself, though, as I am for younger women who have grown up seeing the harassment that female writers endure. I speak at colleges frequently, and at every one I visit at least one young woman comes to me with the same concern: she wants to be a writer but says she doesnt have the stomach for the online abuse.

This is especially true for women of colour and trans women: we are losing out on talented writers who are part of marginalised communities because they dont want to pursue a career where harassment is considered an expected part of the gig.

And I cant say I blame them. I often wonder, if I could do it over again, would I write under my real name? I certainly could have spared myself and my family a lot of grief if I had written about feminism anonymously. I wouldnt have had to leave my house in a hurry, my one-year-old daughter in tow, when authorities considered a particular threat credible and dangerous. I would never have listened to abusive voicemails or worried for my safety at public events.

What may be the most difficult for anyone who faces these kinds of harassment or threats is that it just doesnt seem to be getting any better. Harassers largely go unchecked by social media companies and media platforms; law enforcement agencies still havent sorted how to deal with online abusers; and perpetrators are still celebrated as free speech warriors.

We are a world of smart, innovative people if theres enough will to change the culture of online commenting, it can be done. But that requires taking the issue seriously, and putting the voices of those most impacted at the forefront of the conversation.

Despite my No 1 status at the Guardian, Im still happy with what I do. Im incredibly fortunate to get paid to write about issues that I care about. Its a privilege; I realise that. Still, I hope things will change. If not for me and my peers, for the writers who come after us.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/apr/14/insults-rape-threats-writers-online-harassment