What I Learned About Misogyny on the Internet
I wrote a post about dress code and cross-posted in on my blog. Note that I never claimed we shouldn’t have dress codes or shouldn’t even correct kids who violate dress codes. It was a pretty tame post. I anticipated some pushback from fellow educators who would challenge my thinking. Someone would offer a perspective I was missing. Someone would add some nuance to the conversation.
That’s what happened at first. Someone reminded me that many boys of color are told that they are dressed “like thugs.” They are shamed for looking dangerous. I had missed this perspective, because of the lens I brought to the post. That reminder was an example of why blogging, commenting and social media can spur positive, productive conversations.
Then came the hate.
Some of the comments were anonymous. Others were neo-con political bloggers trolling the Internet to correct anything resembling a feminist perspective. Here’s a sample of what they looked like:
Accusations: “You don’t like dress codes? I bet you like looking at skin.”
Victim Blaming: “If a girl dresses like a slut, she shouldn’t be surprised when she is treated like a slut.” Or this one, “Go ahead, teach. Let those girls dress like ‘ho’s. But don’t be surprised when they end up as porn stars and hookers.”
Moral Superiority: “If parents are too embarrassed to shame a girl over clothes, maybe it’s a teacher’s job to step in and tell them that they’re dressed like a skank.” Or this one, “This serious lack of moral judgment is why we can’t trust public school teachers.”
The Not All Teachers Argument: “Not all teachers are this way. In fact, most male teachers aren’t like this. You’re misrepresenting us. You have no data to back up your claims.”
Those are the PG versions. I deleted comments referring to students with the c-word. I deleted comments resorting to the worst possible victim blaming. Eventually, I deleted all comments altogether.
I hadn’t anticipated it. Although they were complete strangers, I felt attacked. I felt sick to my stomach. The comments took shots at my moral judgment. They accused me of horrible things and suddenly I found myself jumping to the worst case scenario.
Moreover, it made me sick to think that this is the world my students inhabit. This is the world my daughter will walk into as she grows older.
I didn’t anticipate feeling shaken and scared. After all, I’m a white, straight male. I come from a place of privilege that often translates into power. But this was a bold reminder that the Internet isn’t socially neutral. It’s a place shaped by the dominant culture — and our dominant culture still has strands of misogyny and victim-blaming. It was eye-opening for me, because I spend so much of my time in a connective bubble never having to see the darkest hate speech aimed at women.