[Diary of a Memoirist] Twitter and Trolls
Written by
Nancy K. Miller
August 2013
Written by
Nancy K. Miller
August 2013

The FEMEN movement has warned London and Britain that an offensive on the city is in the works. Inna Shevchenko whose face inspired a new image for Marianne, the female symbol of the French Republic as portrayed on French stamps, is proud of her activism, especially if it provokes Right-wing Christian groups to fits of range: “Now all homophobes, extremists, fascists,” she is said to have tweeted, “will have to lick my ass when they want to send a letter.”

I’ve been wondering whether they’ll be coming to New York anytime soon, and if so, will their picture appear in the Times? A girl can dream.

But FEMEN isn’t here yet, and one can only imagine the kind of reaction they will get if the criminal rape fantasizers thriving in the Twittersphere have bare breasts to deal with.

Since I have yet to master Twitter, I’m paying a lot of attention to its effects, and finding it hard to understand why it’s so appealing to so many―for good or for ill. But there’s no missing the ease with which it can become a mode of intimidation. This past weekend, in order to create policy changes on the medium, there was a 24-hour boycott (#twittersilence) over the obscenity, abuse, and rape threats proliferating online, ostensibly triggered by the announcement of the Jane Austen ten-pound bank note, and aimed at Caroline Criado-Perez, the young feminist activist involved in the campaign to keep a woman’s face on the currency. Not all women agreed on silence. Some felt it was better to fight back, but the excesses were a wake-up call.

And it wasn’t all about Jane Austen. Living women writers were equally vulnerable to attack.

While Criado-Perez was taking cover outside the city―what was thought to be her home had been targeted for potential violence– historian Mary Beard, famous for her popularization of classics scholarship on television (and criticized by some for her appearance―long, gray hair among other sins against feminine beauty) has been threatened not only with rape but with decapitation and bombing. Although some of the feminists here think that Twitter silence is the wrong way to go, better to stand up to bullies and online trolls, the reactions have forced the general manager of Twitter in the UK and the director of trust and safety to promise (weakly) that they will build in better report buttons on various platforms. The police are also on alert.

What connects sex, text, feminism and misogyny? There’s a strange stew of extremist ingredients simmering and ready to boil over the moment anyone turns up the heat on the status quo about women’s place in contemporary politics and culture.

No one seems to have a handle on the sudden proliferation of misogyny conjoined with social media. But I can’t say it makes me want to learn how to have a public face, as it were, on Twitter, any time soon, even if it’s been touted as a way to create attention for my new book.

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  • Nancy, great post. If people think we've reached a post-feminist era they have only to go online to discover the level of misogyny that can quickly become viral. Since I write about comics and popular culture I see some of the worst of it and tend to stay away from discussions in social media that are about gender issues in comics. I feel intimidated by the level of vitriol and it makes me angry that I have been silenced by my fears. This is an important issue since popular culture helps to create a social and cultural norm and how women fare in popular media is a reflection of our status in society at large. One has only to note the "slap Hillary website" to see the level of anger towards women throughout the culture. It's frightening how quickly being online can become heated and turn ugly and personal.