I love baseball and football. My two older brothers and father helped to form my love of sports but it is part of my individual DNA to be a competitive player and a trash-talker. Nothing gets me higher than watching my San Francisco Giants, whether it is a sleepy mid-week game or a thrill ride World Series, and when we are in the heart of baseball season, I am a wealth of stats and trivia to rival any super fan.
That’s why I was shocked last year when I responded online to a Bay Area sportwriter’s blog post with a passionate but fairly innocuous comment and almost immediately some unknown man replied to me. It was a nasty sexual innuendo about whether I liked “balls or a big fat bat” and called me a “little girl”. Immediately my first thought was that maybe my comment was stupid or conversely that I read too much into this guy’s response. The answer to both questions was no. Looking at my comment in context with others in the section, it was no different than about ten other responses, except for the fact that I was the only identifiable woman on a list of Bobs, Bills and Chets. As to his innuendo? Well, let’s just say it wasn’t subtle.
My friends and family know I have tough skin, standing up for my opinion. Yet in that one moment with some random internet troll, I felt vulnerable and exposed and deleted my post. Afterwards it felt so wrong. That stupid comment made me doubt myself and even worse, for a moment think I might have deserved his terrible response.
I can’t imagine the type of abuse famous people like Ashley Judd receive or what women sport writers like Melissa Jacobs might see on a daily basis. Looking back at my reaction to this situation, I am embarrassed that I chose to hide.
Whether it is sports or video games with Gamergate, women’s opinions matter. Some people will tell you to ignore the trolls, which are a small population of narcissists and sadists, that there is nothing you can do about it. Others will tell you to make yourself anonymous in all comments – don’t let them know you are a woman. Both of those are unappealing on so many levels and tell me that I should just take the abuse and hide myself.
Why not take a more aggressive stance like Britain where 6,000 people have been charged with what amounts to online terrorism? Scary thing is that when these people are interviewed publicly afterwards like in this great BuzzFeed article they seem relative normal.
Normal or not, narcissist or not, these people are a real threat and women should be able to express our opinions freely. Be warned internet trolls, this is not going away and we will find ways to shine a light on you.