Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Gender Politics of Trolling

If you've followed the Big Cock Johnson story, then you know that Joe Johnson's commentary was often brutally misogynistic, and that this commentary was sometimes directed specifically at my ex-girlfriend, Kirsten Hively. Kirsten later wrote about how upsetting this was, and she did a good job of framing Joe's trolling in the larger context of bullshit male behavior that women often have to deal with.

Earlier today Kirsten let me know that The Atlantic has published a really good piece about how misogynistic trolling is even worse than you probably think, and how it has probably led some women not to pursue journalism or media careers. Definitely worth reading — check it out here.

This brings up a question I hadn't considered before: Is trolling an exclusively (or at least overwhelmingly) male phenomenon? If you look at caricatures that make fun of trolls, they invariably portray males, like in these two examples (click to enlarge):

There are several similar illustrations floating around the web, and they all portray male trolls. Of course, ridiculing a hypothetical male troll carries more power than ridiculing a hypothetical female one, because men are more culturally powerful and entitled to begin with, so you score more points by humiliating them, by depicting them as being pathetic, and so on. It somehow feels intuitively obvious that most trolls are male, but is that really true? Are there any female trolls out there? If you know more about this, fill me in. Thanks.

Update: Reader shivaun points out that Pacific Standard magazine has just published another article relating to this subject. It's more about cyber-stalking than trolling, but it's definitely related — check it out here.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Thanks. I've updated the text to include a link to that article.

  2. I think the caricature of a troll is just that. Remember when every "blogger" was in his/her pajamas living in their mother's basement? Or when gamers were "pimply" faced nerds?

    No empirical evidence to back this up, but I have a feeling the troll stereotype is wrong in the same way. Both "confessions" on here are from young, married, (seemingly) hard-working gentleman - not exactly the anti-social slob pictured above.

    Due to my job, I've read/moderated more terrible comments than should be allowed. Also, while I can't classify them as trolls, I've observed females commenters to be just as nasty and vindictive as their male counterparts.