Misogyny reared its ugly head on Twitter Friday evening after Salon Editor-at-Large Joan Walsh tweeted something that made both left and right, well to be fair mostly right, angry.
Her tweet was not a personal attack on anyone, though it was treated that way by many who disagreed with her. As part of a dialogue on the charges against the Baltimore police in the Freddie Gray case, she wrote, “That 3 of 6 are black shows that black leadership doesn’t protect wrongdoers like white leaders too often do.” And in her next tweet, “And there is no debate that tragically, black police officers often absorb the attitudes of their colleagues”.
The point isn’t what she tweeted, though. And it’s not about Joan Walsh, who has fearlessly navigated her own way through these waters. It’s about the world we are making for our kids. We can’t very well tell minorities they have a seat at the table while telling them to just ignore this stuff. It’s a problem that serves to keep many locked out of a political dialogue sorely in need of diversity.
I don’t want to make this about the people who said these things to her, you can read it yourself here, but to demonstrate the basic tone I’m referencing, here are a few tidbits:
— Buddy the Cat (@RonRgs) May 2, 2015
The “c” word, naturally, because nothing makes a point like a failure to make a point, along with knocking her age, because women should be quiet unless they are young (this same adage applies to all physical attributes for women, too fat to have an opinion, too hot, too ugly, too young, too old, etc — and we are told about it all day long):
— Liberty (@CyaCrazyCA) May 2, 2015
Defending their hatred by using “a coloured” for the double win:
@joanwalsh your existence angers me. Oh and the cop driving, was a coloured.
— Eldrick (@eldrickthe1st) May 2, 2015
Because racism and sexism are both tools used to maintain a power over paradigm, when you see one, the other will most likely follow:
— CPE1704TKS (@PhillipCMcGuire) May 2, 2015
Gotta get in some references to her sex:
I wonder when the last time was that @joanwalsh popped out her dentures and gummed on a guy's junk. Naahh, that libtard munches carpet.
— BREAKING NEWS (@renaissancepimp) May 2, 2015
— Justa Nothermo (@JustAnotherMo2) May 2, 2015
Luckily she has a sense of humor:
Come for the racism, stay for the sexism. Awww, Twitter, don't ever change.
— Joan Walsh (@joanwalsh) May 2, 2015
Plenty of male journalists were horrified, which goes to show that even though the Internet can be a vile place, this level of hatred is not aimed at white men the way it is at minorities, even those in the public eye who are on the receiving end of plenty of ugliness.
Thoughts w/ @joanwalsh, facing outrageous abuse just for tweeting opinion. There's such a thing as respectfully disagreeing, folks.
— Akbar Shahid Ahmed (@AkbarSAhmed) May 2, 2015
If you’re whining about Joan Walsh having an opinion after reading those tweets, you’re doing it wrong.
“LOL,” many say, “It’s the Internet, deal with it!” I got plenty of these tweets when I objected to the violent rhetoric aimed at her, along with the name calling. Meh. Just because some people are struggling to evolve doesn’t mean we shouldn’t object. Many people abuse their pets, but that doesn’t make it okay. Some of them share it on the Internet. “LOL, abuse!” isn’t looking so hot now. Everyone witnessing the abuse can take a stand against it. That’s how we determine what is acceptable and what is not. And for too long, this kind of abuse hurled at women has been dismissed.
The bottom line is that words that identify a woman by her sex serve to diminish her, just as the “n” word identifies a person by the color of their skin. Neither of these are relevant in a political debate. We will (far too) often see the “n” word accompanied by references to “whipping” or “boy” — references to slavery and the subservient position within that system of African Americans. This is an obvious attempt to diminish and remind the minority of their “position”, of the fact that they do not occupy the culturally aspirational ideal of the white male.
The same applies to references of violence against women, including rape — a threat often made against women journalists and politicians. Intimate partner violence against of women kills three women a day in the United States, so the casual threat to “slap” or “beat” a woman is a reminder of their vulnerability. It plays on fears and experiences she has had either first hand or witnessed happening to other women journalists.
This is why “Don’t be a such a girl!” is used as an insult. Women are told, “Be a man. Take the abuse like a man.” Except that men do not take this kind of abuse.
According to a 2005 report by the Pew Research Center, which has been tracking the online lives of Americans for more than a decade, women and men have been logging on in equal numbers since 2000, but the vilest communications are still disproportionately lobbed at women. We are more likely to report being stalked and harassed on the Internet—of the 3,787 people who reported harassing incidents from 2000 to 2012 to the volunteer organization Working to Halt Online Abuse, 72.5 percent were female. Sometimes, the abuse can get physical: A Pew survey reported that five percent of women who used the Internet said “something happened online” that led them into “physical danger.”
It matters that what is going on under the surface of these comments is that female journalists know if they speak out about an issue, especially a women’s issue, they will soon have a rape threat in their inbox. Rape is a long standing war tactic, and threats of rape (and actual rape) directed against female journalists are nothing new. The point of the threat is to intimidate and silence. Just as violent rhetoric and references to sexual anatomy are intended to echo — without taking responsibility for it — those threats and thus silence through intimidation.
Studies show that this kind of rhetoric serves to drive too many female journalists out of the field and obstructs women politicians from serving. This is problematic because we are already suffering from a lack of female voices at the political table.
People justify the ugliness by saying “She was asking for attention and she got it! Tough!” Maybe. Maybe she wants attention.
Plenty of men want attention. A certain male journalist made spectacle of himself shouting at the President in the Rose Garden, but we didn’t end up talking about his sexual parts. And of course, the real problem here is that there is no equivalency for white men because they occupy a position of privilege. So a man can have a strong opinion and he will get yelled at, called stupid and sworn at. But the attacks won’t hit home the way they can when used against a minority.
Decent people have a responsibility to take a firm stand against this kind of rhetoric, whether they agree with Joan Walsh or not. It’s not about agreeing; It’s about how we conduct our political debates, and whether we mean it when we tell minorities they have a seat at the table.
Ms. Jones is the editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA and a member of the White House press pool.
Sarah hosts Politicus News and co-hosts Politicus Radio. Her analysis has been featured on several national radio, television news programs and talk shows, and print outlets including Stateside with David Shuster, as well as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Wire, CNN, MSNBC, The Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and more.
Sarah is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.