the ch!cktionary

I'm Lena Chen, a writer, activist, and media producer who's been called a "skank" (by Bill O'Reilly) and "a small Asian woman" (by The New York Times). My favorite part of my workday is the hate mail.

For the unlikely story that is my life, read on.

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irregular features
Ask Lena: Reader Questions Answered
Anatomy of an Outfit
Bad Feminist Confessions
Freelance Friday: Career Advice for Young Writers
Hate Mail
Gratuitous Photos Of My Bulldog
Notes & Snapshots from Abroad
Recent Tweets @lenachen

It’s been an eventful week for the targets of online misogyny. Just a few days ago, bloggers began tweeting under the hashtag #ThreatOfTheDay to bring awareness to the violent threats and harassment they face everyday on the Internet. Yesterday, Sady Doyle at Tiger Beatdown wrote about how she was completely blindsided by the extent of the sexism she encountered as a woman blogger:

What I got, friends, were comments. Comments about myself. And blogs about myself. And message-board discussions, also about myself. And e-mails. What I got was what every woman (feminist or not) and openly anti-sexist person (woman or not) on this our Internet gets: I got targeted. With threats, with insults, with smear campaigns, with attempts to threaten my employment or credibility or just general ability to get through the day with a healthy attitude and a minimal amount of insult.

She proposed a Twitter campaign using the hashtag #MenCallMeThings. (And if you click on that link, you’ll see some pretty alarming examples of how far we’ve got to go.) Though I’d agree there’s an undeniably gendered nature to many of these attacks, I find it somewhat limiting that men are being called out as perpetrators and women considered their victims. Jessica Bennett at The Daily Beast wrote a story a few days ago about how misogyny plays out on the Internet, using pro-rape Facebook pages as an example. Having received a wide range of insults (based on my race, education, gender, sexual history, etc.) in wide range of forums (email, my comments’ section, anonymous message boards, hate blogs devoted to me), I can attest that gender is not the only component at play, though it has a significant role. According to my experience and social science, the overwhelming majority of online harassers are straight, white, cisgender men, but their victims run the gamut, though they tend to be people of color, queer people, women — in other words, those who are already part of socially marginalized groups. For example, I know many men who have been called pretty nasty things by other men because of their sexual orientation, race, political views, or gender identity. If you don’t abide by the rules of the “in-group”, you’re game for attack.

I take free speech seriously, so this is not just a case of some sensitive chicks not being able to take criticism. I deal with a lot of pearl-clutching and finger-wagging in my line of work, and I don’t expect most conservative people to agree with my views or my lifestyle. This isn’t about moral judgment, but something far more sinister. The type of people who call you “Asian human garbage” or tell you to “enjoy getting fired” are not god-fearing virginity pledgers who just want you to denounce your sinful ways and accept Jesus into your life*. Trolls are not interested in your immortal soul, and they’re not even really interested in voicing an opinion. Their mission is a very specific and scary one: to tear you down however they can, not simply because they want you to know that you are wrong, but because they want to make it impossible for you to keep doing what you’re doing.

In my case, it’s clear they want to force me offline. Why else would they go from attacking me and my family/friends/partner to defaming those who read my blog or “like” my Facebook status updates? The fallout is not inconsequential. Some people are, in fact, scared off the web. (Remember the Kathy Sierra incident?) Others, like me, simply start to self-censor or roll back their “public face”, often at a professional disadvantage. There’s no framework in place to identify or punish those who use the Internet to stalk, harass, and intimidate, so the impetus is on the victims to do something about it. Is a Twitter campaign going to put an end to cyber attacks and defamation? Unlikely, since I’m sure the perpetrators are well-aware that they’re engaging in questionably moral behavior. My hope is that media coverage and public attention of this issue will mitigate damage toward victims’ reputations and that reasonable people will think twice before they believe what they read on the Internet.

* And yes, these are actual comments I’ve gotten.

Related posts on online harassment:

Slut-Shaming In Action: A Warning To Readers
Cyber-Bullying & Slut-Shaming: A Cautionary Tale
Reader Question: “Why Do You Think You Have So Many Haters?”
This Is What Slut-Shaming Looks Like

Have you encountered harassment online? Tweet it with the hashtag #mencallmethings and #threatoftheday or leave it in the comments below. Please use a pseudonym for your own protection.