I Stand With Shakesville

Published July 29, 2014 by Fat Heffalump

It’s time for us all to break the silence.  It’s time for us to stand up together.

If you haven’t already heard about the harassment and abuse that Liss over at Shakesville is constantly under, please take the time to read her latest post.  Probably best to have read it before you continue reading here.

I am so angry about this.  Both for Liss, because I know how horrible it is to be subjected to abuse and harassment like this, but also because this shit happens time and time and time again to women online and nothing is ever done about it.  I could list hundreds of women I know who have gone through this.  Some of them I like and agree with, some of them I don’t.  It doesn’t matter – women online of all backgrounds and experiences are harassed and bullied and abused simply because they are women and are active online.

Firstly, let me state clearly that I fully stand with Melissa McEwan and Shakesville.  Shakesville has been incredibly important to me for some years now.  I don’t necessarily agree with everything over there, nor am I interested in every single post.  Because despite the abusers portraying people who read/follow/participate on Shakesville as some kind of clueless fool or victim, I’m a grown adult with a brain who can read and decide which posts are of value to me, and which I leave to other people who get something out of them.  Liss’s work at Shakesville, and that of her contributors and moderators, has been integral in both educating me and giving me food for thought to be able to make up my own mind on so many topics.  It has also been vital in building my self esteem as a fat woman, to hear Liss and others talk about their experiences, many of which I can truly identify with.  I would not be the person I am today if it wasn’t for years of reading Shakesville.  Not to mention that I have been directed to and met many other amazing writers and activists via Shakesville, be it by links in posts, guest posts or other commenters.

I have always felt safe when commenting on Shakesville.  Even when I disagree with something.  I know that over there, there is a dedicated team who keep the space free of bullying and work very hard to keep threads on topic and respectful.  That is a very rare environment for a woman online, believe me.

But I’ve also felt challenged by the writing over on Shakesville.  It makes me think.  Makes me ask questions of myself and others.  It’s good to be intellectually challenged about things.  It’s good to have your ideology tested regularly.  Sometimes I disagree with someone on a topic, and that’s OK.  I can choose to not read it at any time, to skip posts or give up altogether.  Mind you, nothing about Shakesville has made me feel like I needed to walk away from reading it, even when I have disagreed or been disinterested.  I like the mature, passionate, intelligent voices I am presented there.  I like that I can rely on the comments not to descend into hatred, attacks and insults.  It has inspired how I try to keep my comment policy.

Personally speaking, I am glad to have met Liss online.  She is whip-smart, funny, passionate and articulate.  She is also kind and thoughtful.  She shows she cares so often when others remain silent.  She has cute pets that make me smile and I enjoy her selfies and other photos she shares.  Even though we’ve never met in person, and we don’t talk as often as I might with other folk I know and am closer to online, I consider her a friend.  And I’m angry that a friend has been subjected to the abuse that she has.

I know this is going to draw me more harassment and abuse, because this is the way these people operate – they attempt to silence anyone who supports their target so that they isolate her further.  That is their objective – our silence.  They’re not going to get it from me.  I’m already harassed daily by those who want my silence, and even when I am not active online they come after me.  I long for people to stand with me and support me in the face of the harassment and abuse I receive, and it’s the right thing to do to stand by Liss in the face of hers.

I am no stranger to online abuse and harassment myself.

A couple of years ago I attempted to start an online magazine for marginalised women in the wake of yet another horrible example of “women’s media” being harmful to marginalised women.  Within 48 hours I was harassed, abused and bullied relentlessly, as were those who supported the project, until I had to pull the plug on it because I could not protect the very women I was aiming to give space to.  Most of it over a typo.

Daily I open my email to find hate mail telling me to kill myself, that I’m disgusting, that I am dirty, smelly, diseased and dying.  Emails describing how they’re going to rape me, beat me or murder me.  Another favourite method is to describe how someone horrible is going to rape/murder me – they delight in either creating fictional creeps/murderers/rapists or describing known ones.  Alternatively they love to describe how not even the most disgusting, creepy man on earth would touch me.

Someone was ringing my home phone regularly and laughing down the line at me or on to my voice mail, or calling me a cunt/fat slut/bitch/etc until I unplugged my phone since I wasn’t using it anyway.  I have come home to find notes stuck in my mailbox that simply point out that they know I where I live.  I have received my own address emailed to me by fake email addresses.  I have had my employer contacted by someone who demanded they demote me because they believed I wasn’t qualified enough.  I have had my work contact numbers and addresses given to hundreds of weight loss businesses, diabetes clinics and gyms/personal trainers, so that I was inundated with these businesses contacting me at work following up on what they thought was my genuine interest in their business, wasting their time, my employers and mine.

They’ve created fake social media profiles of me.  They create social media profiles just to harass me, so that no matter how many I block, they just create another one.  They leave anonymous hate on all of my social media profiles.  They email or message me gross pornography and gore.

There are pages and pages and pages of hate filled screed online about me.  I see them linked to this blog, and people sometimes send them to me out of wanting to help (it doesn’t), and sometimes the authors of this bullshit send it to me themselves, just to goad me.  There are pages discussing my hair, dissecting every little thing about it to ridicule me.  They speculate over how often I wash it and what with, what brand colour I use on it and what technique I use to colour it.  There are people who keep dossiers my online mentions of food.  Others save/download every photograph of me that is online and then deface them.  There are pages discussing my health, and dissecting photographs of me to try to find outward evidence of Type 2 Diabetes (I have it, have never hidden that).  They discuss whether or not I have pain or illnesses, rubbing their hands in glee when they think I do.

They look for mentions of my family and friends and colleagues, and try to make me believe that nobody likes me, that everyone is laughing at me behind my back, that I am alone and unloved.

Generally they just find every way to try to abuse or harass me they can.  The saddest thing is that I am just one of multitudes of women online, some of whom suffer far, far more disgusting abuse.  The objective is to drive us off the internet.  There is even a fucking website devoted to driving people off the internet, with users referring to it as “my internet”, as though they have some right to it that they can decide others don’t.  Silencing people with abuse and harassment is not criticism or disagreement.  It’s bullying.  Instead of behaving like a decent human being and just turning their back on the person they’ve decided they hate and not reading their work or visiting their website, they make it their mission to drive them away altogether.  Not content with making them unwelcome in their spaces online, they are determined to drive them out of ALL spaces online.

The truth of it is that as strong and courageous as any woman is, this constant abuse and harassment DOES cost us.  It costs us our freedom, our voice, our peace of mind and our emotional wellbeing.  It costs us relationships with people who cannot understand what it is like to be constantly abused and harassed, and with those afraid to be subjected to that abuse and harassment by association with us.  It costs us actual money to mitigate the very real dangers we face.  It costs us money in security for our homes, safe transport when we feel we cannot use public transport or travel alone safely, in software and services to block and filter and screen the abuse and attacks.  For some it costs their careers and access to education. But worst of all it costs us our physical safety.

I know exactly what is going to happen.  People are going to make excuses for the behaviour of these abusers and harassers.  They will suggest that women just ignore it, or don’t go online.  There will be those that suggest that Liss and I and other women bring it upon ourselves because we are so “opinionated”.  Others will say that we cannot take criticism – as though these things are not at all abuse and harassment. Criticism is “I disagree with you because…” or “I find the way you handled this problematic because…”  It’s not rape and death threats, stalking, harassment, name-calling, keeping dossiers and trying to silence someone.

They’ll say “Oh these are just sad losers on the internet.” as though they do no harm, or only harm themselves.  Or those around us will just stay silent.   They’ll read this or Liss’s piece, or any of the other examples of it that are written by the incredible strong, courageous women who put themselves online and they’ll just shrug their shoulders and say, “What can I do?”

The truth is, there are lots of things you can do.  Start by believing women who talk about this abuse and harassment.  Help by saying clearly and publicly “This is wrong. This has to stop.”  Signal boost when women write about the abuse and harassment they face.  When other people make excuses about the abuse and harassment women deal with, challenge them.  Tell them it is not acceptable to minimise or excuse the abuse and harassment.  Campaign online platforms like Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, and any others to put in adequate security for their users – proper block functions, well moderated abuse reporting systems, clear anti-abuse terms of service requirements and strong anti-hacking/spam systems.  If you know a woman who is being harassed/abused online, listen to her when she needs to vent.  Ask her if she’s OK and if there are any ways you can help.  Often just knowing someone cares and is listening is the thing that is least expressed.  Support her if she goes to the authorities to report it.  Document anything you receive by being associated with her.

If you stumble across abuse and harassment of a woman online, think carefully before you approach her about it.  It is likely she already knows, and is finding it difficult to deal with already.  Be sensitive about it if you do feel you need to raise it.  Stay away from hate sites, use DoNotLink if you must link to it anywhere so the perpetrators don’t get the clicks/revenue.  Report abusive social media accounts.  Don’t blame the victim for the abuse, blame the perpetrators.  Point out the difference between abuse and criticism – sadly it seems a lot of people can’t discern that for themselves.

It has to stop.  Whether you agree with or like a particular woman online is irrelevant.  This is not criticism, this is abuse and harassment.  It is violence.  We know what domestic abuse is, we know what emotional abuse is, we know what sexual abuse is.  This culture of bullying, silencing and harassing women online is just another form of abuse.  And online abuse is no more acceptable than any other kind.

It’s time for everyone to stand up and clearly state that the abuse of women online is unacceptable in any form.  Not just to make it clear to the perpetrators that their time is coming to an end and that they will not be permitted to continue this behaviour, but to show support to those who suffer at the hands of these abusers.

46 comments on “I Stand With Shakesville

  • There does not seem to be anyway to make law enforcement or the legal system take these activities seriously. Clearly, telling people to behave or just ignoring them is completely useless.

    Do we need new laws passed? Demand law enforcement actually enforce existing laws? Out the trollers to the public? Band together to troll them?

    Definitely it needs to stop, I still don’t know how, though.

    • I hope that someday the laws will catch up with technology and put some more protections into place. Unfortunately, society is incredibly victim-blaming and misogynist, so we need to keep shifting and shaping society to be better, so that these laws can be passed.

  • Reblogged this on The Netherworld and commented:
    This is why I can’t and won’t see trolls as harmless. They are getting more and more dangerous and more and more bold.
    This is why I also am so vehement about stopping hatred and marginalization of people for their body types.
    This is why I identify as a feminist, even though some people live in the dark ages and think that feminist means hairy-legged, man hating, castrating, she-demon who eats male babies for a snack. Some people are so threatened by the idea of women having equality that they continue to perpetuate this lie.
    This kind of harassment is unacceptable. I can’t say it better than that. It is unacceptable, and it needs to stop.

  • I rarely comment but always read your blog. I want to thank you for your honesty, bravery and fortitude for not letting the bastards get to you.

  • The online harassment of women is very damaging and it has to stop. I have more I want to say about this topic (I am seething a bit), but I’m at work- so that’s all for now.

  • Between the description of what’s happened over at Shakesville and what you’ve described has happened to you, I’m horrified at the depths to which people will sink to hurt others. I do not understand why these people cannot comprehend the simple concept of looking away from something they don’t want to see (or not even clicking on the site to begin with). I do not understand why these people feel the urge to victimize others, to bully them because they don’t agree with what’s said on a blog or because they don’t like how someone looks.

    Kudos to you, to Melissa, and to others like you, who persevere in spite of the abusers. You are strong and powerful to stand up to these bullies. ♥

    • Thanks lusciouswords. As I mentioned in another comment, it is always impossible for decent people to fathom why others behave like this. We would never do it, so we can’t understand why they do.

      • Why do they do these things? Because they’re stupid POS’s, they KNOW they’re stupid POS’s and they just have to prove it to the world and wear it like some badge of honor. I think it’s disgusting how so-called “adults” act on sites that cater to a demographic of people they don’t agree with. Granted, it’s easy to laugh at Republicans here in the US, but I don’t agree with, say, threatening them with death or telling them to kill themselves and then high-fiving your equally knuckle-dragging friends who think you’re oh-so-clever! But the attacks on women who are trying to make a better place for those who are constantly marginalized is BEYOND REPREHENSIBLE!!! What is the matter with these arseholes anyways? But kudos to you and Liss for doing what you do. Remember this quote from Gandhi – maybe it will help in some small way: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win!”

  • I too wish I knew how we can stop this & I know we must support each other & we must keep speaking up. What frightens me as a proud, outspoken aging fat woman is the knowledge that women are very hated & undervalued in this world. For all the strides we have made, we are still seen as ‘less than’ & our concerns & problems are seen as trivial. Nasty, small males who lack balls try to make themselves appear better & bigger by bullying us & threatening us. It is not all men, but too many of them. And, even more frightening, it is also some other women who are threatened by our presence, our courage, our strength, & independence. We have to listen to each other, believe each other, support each other. I do support & believe you, Kath, & I wish that this abuse would stop. I want you & Melissa & everyone else who has so many good things to say, who does so much good, to be respected & appreciated & I want none of us to be silenced.

    • Thanks Patsy. You would not believe the way these people pretzel logic to try to justify their shitty behaviour. They are no different to the scum that come from reddit or 4chan. They seem to think a hate site is the right way to go about making “criticism” or “disagreeing” with someone. And the lies! The lies they spout that none of the things that I’ve listed have been happening, when I have seen them with my own eyes! But that’s part of the abuse. The constant justification of someone “deserving” to be treated this way (nobody does) and the efforts to mark women like Liss, myself and any others who try to carve out a safe space as liars.

      • Amen! The way they twist logic so round and round till it’s got more twists and turns than a bad piece of rope (as an old boyfriend used to say) would be almost funny if it wasn’t so damaging and seriously hurtful. These idiots are a threat to society! I wish we could ship them all onto a deserted island somewhere and take away their social media. (It won’t happen, but one can dream…)

  • I believe you. I sympathize with you. And I want to tell you that you deserve better, and all women who are punished for speaking, all women who don’t speak because they fear the consequences, they deserve better too.

    I just got into twitter so I shared this post on it.

    Stay strong and flutter on

  • I just don’t get how these people can direct so much energy toward hurting another person who has done NO harm, and simply expresses herself. It’s wrong, hateful and a puzzlingly pointless waste. They come across as absolute losers. Why don’t they do something useful, like volunteer all that free time to help people, or even themselves?

  • Melissa linked this at her site, where I am a frequent visitor. The attacks on her are outrageous and so is what you describe. Thank you so much for speaking up on behalf of Liss; it is deeply appreciated. This internet bile is grotesque and inhuman and must be stopped, and one day it will be.

  • I have never understood bullying. I have never understood people who take pleasure in being cruel. I have never understood wasting time, energy and effort on making the world a more hate-filled place. I stand with you and Liss (I LOVE Shakesville even though I am banned from posting. It was a deserved ban.)

    • The Warty Hogg, we don’t understand bullying because we are not bullies. People who behave in a decent manner usually find it very hard to understand those who don’t. When we’re angry or upset, we either talk about it or we move on to something that makes us feel good. We don’t try to destroy people to make ourselves feel better.

      On being banned from posting places, sometimes that has been the best thing that has happened to me. It has been the thing that has made me go away and think about what I was doing, and often I’ve learned from it. I am banned from sites I made a complete dick of myself on ages ago… and I’m also banned from some wrongly too, but it’s their site, and they make the rules. Just like I make ’em on mine.

      BTW, I’ve edited your comment just to correct Liss’s name, just because I know the hate site do that to her intentionally, and I don’t want you confused with them!

  • I post as shakesville kool aid. Melissa mcewan gets harassed by anti feminists from places like 4chan, encyclopedia dramatica, etc. No one at our website is harassing her. Please take a moment to actually read some of the content (the “classic shakesville” side bar specifically) to see what is going on. People of color, gay people, and trans people specifically tend to get banned if they take an issue with something melissa has said about their personal oppressions. You don’t know because she deletes and bans any dissent swiftly, but its all documented at SKA. Melissa McEwan lures in vulnerable people by claiming that her blog is a “safe space” but then uses the space to arbitrarily abuse people. She has also known about SKA for years and has banned anyone caught commenting there. Why bring it up now? Could it have something to do with a major journalistic publication planning to talk about shakesville as an example of toxicity in online communities? I am thinking its likely.

    Comments about weight and appearance were not allowed after the first time, and there was a discussion where virtually everyone condemned that sort of talk on SKA. You are allowed to mess up there and then there is a discussion, and then things change. It is the opposite of shakesville in that respect.

    I don’t want to start a huge fight or anything, I just think its a bit unfair that the people at SKA aren’t getting listened to at all. Please give it a fair shake and check it out before immediately condemning. If you take a moment to read I am sure you will see just how much effort melissa mcewan had to put into misrepresenting SKA. Readers of FH can decide for themselves what they think. It would be a shame to not even hear out the other perspective.

    • You, “safer midwifery utah” are a bully. I have read your site, don’t patronise me as if I’m some ignorant dolt who doesn’t do her research before posting. Or bring your followers over here to pile on me because I stand up for Melissa. I don’t care how you dress it up, I don’t care who you claim is posting on your hate site, and I don’t care if you don’t like how you were treated on Shakesville. The reality is, creating a site to bully someone because you don’t like them is abuse and harassment, no matter who does it. There are literally millions of things I detest on the internet. Many of them I wish would stop doing what they do. I also don’t like when people block or delete me when I disagree with them. But on their site, they make the rules of engagement. Lots of people don’t like them here on mine – too bad, it’s my site.

      One thing I am not ever going to create a site devoted to harassing and abusing them. If you don’t like something, you walk away from it. You don’t create hate sites to incite bullying and harassment. That is “starting a huge fight”. Responding to a hate site is exactly that, a response, not starting a fight.

      How long before you people start doing to me what you have done to Liss and others involved with Shakesville? How long before you dox me, if you haven’t already? How long before the hate speech starts up about me? How long before you start doing all of the things I mentioned in this post… if it’s not already happening. Is that what you’re threatening me with when you say you “don’t want to start a huge fight”?

      You people think these things are “criticism”. Criticism is not bullying people by making personal insults, doxxing them, humiliating them. Criticism, as I said in this post, is saying “I disagree with this because…” or “This person’s behaviour was inappropriate because…” If you were honest about wanting to criticise Shakesville, you would clamp down instantly on those bullying behaviours on your site and make it clear that criticism is not the same as bullying someone.

      The truth is, you and/or the people on your site are doing the EXACT same thing as MRA’s and trolls and TERFs. You can say you don’t do it personally, but you are enabling it with your website. You are giving them a platform to do it and therefore you are condoning it. I’ve seen the doxxing, I’ve seen the encouragements of violence towards people involved with Shakesville, I’ve seen the trawling for information about her husband’s work (and his mere existence), I’ve seen the nasty, hateful things you and your followers have said about another human being. And I have seen the passive aggressive faux-concern for people, which continues despite people telling you to stop. All of these things are the exact same things MRA’s and trolls and bigots do.

      What you want is Liss humiliated, shamed, silenced and isolated. That is absolutely disgusting, reprehensible behaviour, no matter who is doing it, and again, no different to MRA’s, trolls and bigots. If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, looks like a duck, then it’s a duck.

      • Skeptifem, I’ve seen you online from hanging out in the same spaces and we’ve even interacted before, and I agree with your birth related issues, but I have to say that this SKA thing is completely out of control and beyond the pale. There’s a huge difference between criticizing someone and having the stated intent of driving someone off of the internet. That shit is NOT OK, and I am completely appalled to discover that you are part of that cesspool that’s basically Slymepit Lite. Although maybe I shouldn’t be, given your recent forays into TERF territory.

  • Just a heads up, I am being absolutely HAMMERED with hate comments at the moment. Some of them are thinly veiled, some of them are blatant. I am also getting loads of people, as predicted, trying to justify/defend the disgusting site and the behaviours of it’s “community”. All of them are being sent to the spam bin. I will not waste my time on arguing with bullies, I have responded to the owner of the hate site – end of story.

  • I stand with you Kath and because of that I also stand with Liss. Thank you for all that you do. I don’t know how you cope with it all, but I do know that you are an incredible person.

  • I always read your site and Shakesville. You both mean so much to me. Thank you for standing strong. x

  • Your blog is wonderful and it fucking sucks you have to deal with this. Bullying is shameful and disgusting, and there’s no excuse for it, ever.

  • I came here from Dana at En Tequila Es Verdad on FTB and would like to say that I completely, unreservedly and 100% agree with you. Thank you for writing this and I’m so sorry that you and people like Melissa have to deal with this ridiculous shit.

    This is yet more proof that “trolling” is NOT harmless fun to get a rise out of someone, and it hasn’t been for some time, even though that’s how the term originated. This shit is abusive and should be against the law, the way it is in “meatspace”.

  • It is amazing how as a society we think we are so civilized, but we are anything but. I think if anything, abuse, bullying and inequality are worse than ever. People are just more hypocritical. They say one thing…they know the politically correct ways to come across…but their abuse is deciduous.

  • You give me strength, Kath. This world is not yet a fair place for everyone, but with people like you giving a voice to the bullied and marginalized…hopefully one day, the world WILL be a fairer place. I apologize on behalf of my fellow humans for those who harass you…it’s just not right and makes me so angry

  • “I would not be the person I am today if it wasn’t for years of reading Shakesville.”

    So basically you would be happy, thin, pretty, drama-free and healthy if you hadn’t been reading “Shakesville” all these years?

    • No Jessica, I’d still be a pathetic jerk like you. Mind you, I was never so low to hate on people for their weight or appearance… you’re far more of a jerk than I ever was!

      Instead, I’m fucking awesome and a far better person than you’re likely to ever be.

  • I just wanted to say, “thanks Kath!” for posting this. The saddest thing about online harrassment is that it just doesn’t stop, and the people with the power to at least make it easier for women to speak their minds online are often unwilling to step in. (Because privilege.)

    So thanks for always speaking your mind and keeping up the work in the face of all the trolls’ bullshit. For every idiot who tries to tear you (or Liss, or Anita Sarkeesian, or countless other activist voices) down, there are fifteen you’ve inspired or made think. Thank you.

    This is what’s happening in this vein on Jezebel.


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