By Kirsten Hively
I recently pointed out to Paul that there was one voice missing from the troll story — mine. I’m talked about, but I didn’t get the chance to offer my thoughts about the situation. Paul apologized for leaving me out and offered to let me write this piece so I could express my point of view.
It’s hard to fully articulate the anxiety and vulnerability I felt when I saw the troll’s words in his interview with Paul. Over the years, Paul would occasionally tell me things the troll had said about me. When he did, for several days I would look over my shoulder if I walked home alone after dark, wondering if this jerk knew where I lived, or if I maybe even knew him. But the feeling would fade and I would forget about it, so I never mentioned that to Paul or anyone else. But seeing it all in public in the interview, without any mention of how how the experience made me feel, made it harder to dismiss.
Being targeted repeatedly, however crudely, made me feel frighteningly vulnerable. On top of that, I felt an exhausting sense of shame — from seeing a word like “slut” attached to my name, and even from the vulnerability itself. (I admire the women who’ve worked to reclaim words like “slut” and recast them in an empowering light, but we’re not there yet, or at least I’m not.) I’ve dealt with harassment from men often enough and I’m smart enough to know that none of it is my fault, but the shame remains. So I got angry with myself for being ashamed, and it became upsetting and miserable, even though I knew I had bigger problems to deal with and more worthwhile things to care about.
Yes, I know the troll was just aiming to get a rise out of Paul, not me, but that means I was being used a prop, an object — something men already do too often to women. I wish I could just laugh it all off, but it’s hard for me to ignore this kind of crap when it’s part of a larger pattern. Is there any woman who hasn’t had to deal with sexual harassment? Wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have to worry about it anymore?
Not long after the troll interview appeared on Uni Watch, some guy at a concert started grinding against me and whispering in my ear. At first I thought he had mistaken me for someone else, but it quickly became clear he hadn’t. He just believed that my presence at a show entitled him to behave that way. It did not, any more than my name occasionally appearing in a blog equals my consent to be talked about as this troll did. Consent matters.
If you're a woman, I hope that reading this will make you feel a little less lonely if something similar has happened to you. And for the men reading this, I hope you already understand just how crucial you can be in helping the women in your life deal with shit like this — or better yet, help us all avoid it in the first place. Right, don't be a misogynistic troll for starters, but there's a lot more to it than that. Listen to women who struggle to talk, publicly or privately, about difficult things, and understand that it can be really, really hard. Remember that it’s not easy to speak up if you don’t think people will listen, and it’s not easy to believe people will listen about big things if they don’t want to listen about smaller ones — or worse, if they're dismissive or belittling (“Come on, it’s just a joke!”).
Most importantly, it's hard to overcome fear unless the people around you — men included — are willing to speak up themselves. So say something the next time you see a woman being belittled, objectified, or bullied, whether online or off. More important than not feeding the trolls is making sure everyone is clear that it is not OK to treat women this way. Doing that will make the victims of sexual harassment, me included, feel less vulnerable and more valued.