After viral spotlight, effects of harassment linger for women

When I saw Tatum Dean’s viral story on not bringing young children or elderly people to amusement parks, I knew what was coming for her: An onslaught of death threats, insults and online bullying. No one would care that she was just 18. No one would care that she was a freshman in college. No one would care that she was putting herself out there, trying out her young chops as a journalist.

I knew they wouldn’t care because they never cared about me. They don’t care about my brilliant, powerful female colleagues. When I wrote my first opinion column in 2014 on men who whistle and shout at women when they are walking, I got the onslaught. I got the bullying. I got harassed for my article on harassment.

But you know what? It’s now the norm. This is our normal. This is how half of the world’s population is treated online. This is why I wasn’t surprised when I read that Just Not Sports had plenty of tweets to choose from when they made the eye-opening PSA in which a group of men read awful, hate-filled tweets directed at female sportswriters. No matter what we write, someone with some opinion is already sharpening knives for the online attack. But the attack is rarely on the content and often on the woman.

For me, the messages included: “I hope you get raped so you really have something to complain about.” “Get into your burka and head to Iran.” “I am surprised anyone catcalls someone so ugly. Enjoy it while it lasts.”

My heart raced when I saw the comments filing in under this 18-year-old’s newly viral story. No matter what she wrote, she didn’t deserve what was coming her way. No one does.

I spoke to the student newspaper’s editor in chief to get a hold of Tatum, who I’d never spoken to before, to give her some advice, the best I knew: “Don’t read any comments. Make sure your Twitter and Facebook are private for the next 72 hours. Tell your best friends what you’re going through and that you need support. Stay off the Internet. It’ll last three days — maybe four, max.” I felt a duty to reach her. I’ve been through it myself and it’s horrifying.

Someone told her she didn’t deserve to live. Three days later, everyone forgot. Everyone but Tatum. Two years later, everyone has forgotten about my catcalling article, including the man who said I should be raped so I’d know what’s worth complaining about. Everyone but me.

The Internet allows people to be nameless, and a journalist never gets to be. The Internet allows people to be the worst versions of themselves — a person they would never recognize in the flesh. When they are finished, once they press the send button, it’s gone from their mind. The journalist attacked is left with her world upside down, unsure if she should be anxious, sad, apologetic or just mad. Why? For doing her job.

I see women torn apart on social media in droves. It’s happening now, as Beyoncé’s fans move from target to target, bullying and harassing women they suspect Jay-Z cheated with. Far too many people rallied behind Donald Trump when he called Megyn Kelly a bimbo on Twitter and mocked the idea of her having her period. Actress Ashley Judd has had to take a public stand on bullying after being called a bitch and a whore and being threatened with rape.

Earlier this month, the Guardian released a study of 70 million comments on its site. The 10 regular writers who got the most online abuse were eight women and two black men.

I don’t want to know what’s hiding in USA TODAY’s comments. Because I know what stands behind them. The women I work with are among the smartest, most dedicated people I know. And they are advocates. Advocates for our newsroom, for each other and for our readers. They come to work every day to tell stories that need to be told so our audience can be smarter, more thoughtful and better informed. They come to serve the very people who threaten and berate them. And they’ll be here tomorrow, bright and early — no matter how you insult them. Because as women, we always have to rise above. Is anyone else sick of it?

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