If you had the chance, would you punch someone in the face? Would you kill someone for what you believe in? Would you like to see someone, with whom you disagree, subject to the most inhuman, dehumanising torture, most likely resulting in their death? Would you be able to stomach doing any of this to a random stranger you bump in to on the internet? I’m hoping that the answer is “No”.
There are times when our world seems precisely like a lot of people happily would. Not in the street, where violence and the threat of violence is thankfully rare. Online: in the online world, threats of the most horrific violence are commonplace, and they are increasing. They stifle debate; they halt our ability to have national conversations; they make the world a far less safe place, in general.
I want to look at the people who make our online world so horrible, so rooted in insult and fear. I want to do this to hold a mirror up to the terrible people we share the word with, but to do so I will have to adopt some of their terminology. I’ll build up to it, break you in gently, but I will not pull my punches. In a few paragraphs, I may make you feel rather uncomfortable: you’ll be OK, I swear.
Imagine your worldview was so strict, so restrictive, that it coloured how you see the world: that it meant that the rest of the world made no sense, because they did not conform to that which to you would be the most obvious thing in the world. You’d be mad not to shout about that. Shout loudly.
The world as you knew it no longer exists. It has been replaced by a pale image of its former self, and you are one of the very few people who appear able to see the changes for what they are. You seek out people with whom you can share this understanding. Thankfully some of them exist, but they do not seem quite to get what you mean. They have not felt the pain you have felt: they don’t know.
Let’s follow this idea down the rabbit hole and see where it leads. Let’s do that with a structured example: What if everything was done on the basis of gender? Can men be hairdressers, make-up artists or teachers? Can women be in the army, build a house or develop software? Imagine we said that the answer was “No” to all of that. Imagine you had lived a life where the answer was always “No” to all of that. Men are men, and women are women. You can’t just do each other’s jobs. No.
Let’s say that your ideas are so ingrained that every transgression is a crime to be called out, to be stopped. For instance, you saw someone being mugged: it is a good and noble thing to stop it. If you didn’t, what kind of person would you be? You’d be a failure, yes? Let’s say that gender roles were so ingrained to you that every transgression became seen as a crime against the natural order. Yes?
What if that crime was a woman doing a man’s job? You’d have to call her out on it, the dumb bitch. She should get back to her fucking kitchen and make the tea; that’s where she fucking belongs. This is a man’s world, and she should shut her stupid fucking bitch mouth or you’d shut it for her. What if she had the fucking temerity to object to the way things were done, the fucking slut? You’d be well within your rights to tell her what a stupid cunt she is, and that she should be raped to death. No?
Did I go too far there? What I have described is what actually happens in this world. Because of specified gender roles in the minds of idiots. When a woman in the public eye lifts her head above the parapet she is likely to get bombarded with a wall of filth precisely like that. There’s plenty of evidence.
That was a pretty extreme set of examples, but it is one of myriad ways in which the human voice projects itself at this moment. It chills me to the bone that this is the world my daughter, my partner and my mother have to navigate. It chills me even more to know that I fear these knuckle-dragging shit-spouting degenerates. They halt debate, yes; but they also deliberately ruin people’s lives.
All of the people I worry about are female. Attacks on men seem so much easier to laugh off. Yet men are raped too; it destroys lives. Instead, when it is time to belittle and scorn men on the web, the go to insult is “Cuck”. That is, Cuckold, meaning a man whose partner is sleeping with someone else. It’s not even in the same order of magnitude as wishing rape upon another human being.
Gendered cyber-attacks, where women are attacked for being powerful and opinionated, are yet another example of white men seeming bullet proof: there are no gendered insults for us, just like there are no racial insults for us. We must be without sin, for we are the ones to cast the first stones. This inability to mock us, insult us or intimidate us tends to give some men a false sense of our own power.
I don’t think any of us would tell a woman that we would very much like to see her raped to death, in person: Certainly not for proposing Jane Austin as a perfectly adequate candidate for appearing on the new £10 note. However, some people feel perfectly happy to do this from the comfort of the internet. They are perfectly happy to spread the private details of people they are picking fault with in order to bring them physical harm. It’s called doxxing; it’s why these people need to be stopped.
We live in fractious times, where tempers run high. People seem to feel that they have the right to take offence at every little thing which may or may not actually offend them. They choose to call out every breach of their own personal world view, which may or may not be universally held. They pour scorn, hatred and abuse on any and all transgressors, and they do so while hidden behind the mask of the privacy of the internet.
The fact that they are the minority is of no solace. The fact that they are equally likely to be found on the political left as the political right is of no solace. The fact that they seem quite so scared, so silly, so afraid is of no solace: They are ruining lives every single day.