misogynistic trolls

Misogyny is a real thing. It is a real thing, it exists, there are societal biases against women all over the place (I tried to begin listing them, but I figured you didn’t want to read a 40 page long article). It is not a made up term. And there are many ways it manifests itself.

However, it is notable that none of those ways are evident in Sarah Jaffe’s “Memories of My Misogynist Trolls*” piece on Jezebel. The only thing the much discussed pieces seems to indicate is that if you pick disagreements with people they will yell at you. Just as people have been doing with other people essentially since the dawn of time.

Jaffe lays forth two examples as evidence that there is a rampant misogynistic bias against women who have opinions, and share them. Here is there first, which took place at a bar in Greenpoint during the third presidential debate:

When the crowd thinned out, we joined our other friends at the table and chatted a bit, and then I caught an earful of some guy pontificating, at the other end of the table, about how he actually agreed with Mitt Romney on teachers’ unions. (Item: by day, I am a labor reporter who’s well used to listening to white male quasi-liberals blathering about how teachers are the problem with our schools, maaaan, and if we just had merit pay all the problems that are actually caused by endemic poverty would just go away, but I digress.)


I admit that I can be a bit mouthy and I like proving blowhard guys wrong, so I leaned over and asked sweetly, “Who are you and how are you such an expert on teachers’ unions?”


His answer, which almost made me snort out loud, was that teachers’ unions are opposed to meritocracy! I shrugged and told him that I was too — because “meritocracy” is usually code for “white guys get the promotions.”

It’s such a terrible cliché that I hate to say it but: he snapped.


Dude, in his nice blazer, stood up and threw a tantrum worthy of a Park Slope toddler denied its organic vegan ice cream. He was yelling and I’m pretty sure stamping his feet, telling me that I was useless, I’d never amount to anything, that my feminism and support for Hillary Clinton had nearly ruined Barack Obama’s (the president who after that third debate went on to handily win reelection) career. (Another item: I was a volunteer on the Obama campaign from sometime in December 2007 up until election day, through three primary states and a hell of a lot of late nights. But you get that it doesn’t matter, right?)


My friends, who knew him, tried to calm him down; he sat back down once and then got up again to scream some more. The barback tried to push him back and the bartender shouted at him to leave. Eventually my friend took him outside and read him the riot act and I realized that I was shaking.


While it was happening, I think I smiled. I know that I repeated several times, “This is why I’m a feminist,” as the table full of women behind him stared. A few of them came up to me after he was gone, expressing sympathy, but I didn’t really get upset until later.

Right, let’s rehash. You went up to a guy you didn’t know, and before saying any pleasantries whatsoever, accused him of being ill informed when he was expressing his opinion, privately, to his friends. When he tried to explain his opinion to you, you nearly snorted, and made a blanket assumption about him and his politics, and were then shocked – shocked! – that this guy you had never met, in a bar, who you’d just belittled, yelled at you.

Presumably you were shocked by this because you had no way to anticipate that if you demean people you don’t know publicly, they might get angry. If that’s the case, the fact that you have so effectively mastered the basics of human literacy after your birth last week is an inspiration to us all.

Interestingly, if the genders in this story were reversed, I would think that this was a story about misogyny. If Jaffe had been expressing her opinion about teacher’s unions, and some guy she didn’t know broke into her private conversation with her friends to say “who are you and what makes you an expert?” and Sarah said “that guy was a misogynistic douche, assuming I wouldn’t know anything about that subject” I would say “yes. Yes, that is absolutely right.”

That, of course, did not happen.

This is certainly a story about gender, but not the way Jaffe thinks it is. If Jaffe had been a man who interrupted someone’s conversation and demeaned their opinion – in a bar, where people had been drinking, and thanks to the presidential election tensions were already high, although, to be fair, you do not find many tea-party members at bars in Greenpoint – he certainly would have been yelled at. There is a very high chance that a physical altercation might have occurred. And no one would have sat around patting man-Jaffe on the back to soothe him, because, well, it’s understood that if you provoke arguments with strangers that’s a possible outcome.

It may not be the outcome you like, or wanted – though I cannot imagine what that outcome would be, since conversations where people politely listen to one another’s opinions and change their minds and their hearts do not generally begin “who’re you and what do you know?” – but you should have been aware that was a potential outcome. You were not victimized, there.

One should be aware of that by virtue of being a human being who has been in social situations.

I am delighted when people identify as feminists – I’ll take them any way I can get them! – but the conclusion is as unrelated as if Jaffe had stared at a block of concrete and announced, “the color grey. That’s why I’m a feminist.”

You’re a feminist because you don’t like men yelling at you? That is not a reason to be a feminist. That is a reason to join a role playing community with a strong emphasis upon chivalry.

Being a woman and being a feminist does not give you a free pass to go around antagonizing strangers with no repercussions. Feeling shaky and victimized afterwards certainly doesn’t make you a feminist hero, it makes you a person who does not anticipate other people’s responses well. There is, to my memory, no episode of the Mary Tyler Moore show where she goads a guy into a bar fight and then, after he is ejected, sits at a table, tearily murmuring “I’m a feminist. A feminist” to her friends.

Probably because that’s not terribly inspiring.

*Like misogyny, the term troll also has a meaning, and one which seems wildly misused here.

The second example, when Jaffe was speaking on a panel, features a man who is thought to be mentally unstable. Somehow his behavior is supposed to represent the attitudes of men in general, because… well, I’m not quite sure. Let’s look at the example:

We were about to begin when a man dressed in a clown-costume version of a rich man’s getup — with, no joke, a velociraptor puppet on his hand — walked in. He had a top hat on and sunglasses with dollar signs, and he made constant noise, tapping his fingers, clearing his throat, interrupting the speakers. He’d introduced himself (unasked) as “The one percent, here to hear what you people are saying about me,” so perhaps the velociraptor puppet was some sort of statement about capitalism? Velociraptor capitalism? I caught one of the professors’ eye and she shrugged — he definitely wasn’t part of the program.


I thought he was going to be our problem, and finally turned on him when an older man in the crowd asked a question about the hurricane relief being carried out by members of Occupy Wall Street. “We’re talking about people dying,” I snapped. “This isn’t particularly funny.”

But the evening wasn’t over. No, next I fielded a question from a woman in the audience about the media representation of women at Occupy — or the lack thereof.


And of course I gave my standard answer, which is that that was more the media’s problem than Occupy’s, and that it’s not only Occupy coverage which suffers from a lack of women.


It was when I made the point that even progressive women hosts Rachel Maddow and Amy Goodman tend to have more male guests than female when the older man with the questions about Occupy Sandy started grumbling. “They’re women! Rachel Maddow and Amy Goodman!”


Yes, I replied, and that’s not enough.


“Maybe you should take that up with your therapist,” he snapped, and someone in the room gasped.


I think I botched my first comeback, but then the professors got to him, telling him it was time to leave. “I’m not going outside with you!” he said to the two of them, both women.


“What if you’re a martial artist or something?”


They escorted him out, finally, and I looked at a roomful of students unsure of how to react.


“That’s how it goes when you’re a woman who speaks up in public,” I told them. “And it sucks.”

I am going to share something remarkable with you. I am a woman who speaks up in public. Generally I do it in a weird, lispy, vaguely British voice, so sometimes that tricks people into thinking I am agreeing with them when I am not. I’ve found some people are like dogs who only hear the tone of my voice. Nonetheless, I do speak up in public.

Neither an old man or a madman wearing dollar sign sunglasses, a top hat, and a fucking dinosaur puppet on his hand has ever got upset with me at a conference, nor told me I am a martial artist.

Is it possible that that is actually not what happens when you are a woman who speaks up in public?

I asked our office of very vocal women – many of them with louder voices than I! – whether or not this top-hat-velociptor-old-man-yelling-thing had happened to them.

Not a one said it had.

I am forced to draw the conclusion that this is not what happens if you are a woman who speaks up in public.

I will say, however, if this incredibly anomalous situation arose, I would most likely ignore the velociraptor man in question, believing nothing good would come out of discourse with him.

Furthermore, I suppose if I saw a man who was evidently crazy in the crowd, who the other presenters had made clear was not a valid participant in the discourse, I probably wouldn’t single him out and accuse him of being insufficiently serious. I have found as a life rule – for men and women – it is best to avoid getting mired in conversations with mentally unstable people.

This seems like the kind of thing that I would not do, in the same way I do not tell people who want to begin singing loudly on the subway that my super cool iPod (full of 40 Andrew Lloyd Weber hits and one song by The Sex Pistols) needs no additional accompaniment.

I suppose, at best, Sarah might have won that argument with a mentally unstable man, but then all that would have happened is that she would have won an argument with a mentally unstable man. He was not who that panel was for. Politely ignoring people who you strongly suspect will add nothing to the conversation is part of being a rational human being.

So. This is not what happens when you are a woman who speaks up in public. This is what happens when you are a woman who makes a point of talking to people everyone agrees are not in their right minds.

The old man, well, the old man seemed like he had different opinions, and was promptly escorted out. That situation seemed handled effectively.

And in the rare event that you are a woman, speaking in public, and a man, say, tries to storm the podium, well, there are ways to deal with that without talking about how all women speaking are victims. Here.

[youtube_iframe id=”2h03_QbqhHg”]

After that story about the time she was victimized by a man who loved puppets and rich people too well, and too loudly, and an old man who didn’t love Rachel Maddow well enough, Jaffe concludes:

“Men shout things at me. They’re likely to continue doing so, as I have no plans to shut up or stay home. And it’s pretty funny, actually: I say something about sexism in hiring or media, about the existence of domestic violence, and they react by blowing up and essentially proving my point.”

Sarah Jaffe, I want to be really clear on this. Eccentrics with dinosaur puppets and old men yelling at you in public is not akin to domestic violence.

What you experienced was so weird as to be comic. What women in violent relationships experience is not.

For future reference:

This is what a crazy person looks like:

misogynist troll

And this is what one case of domestic violence looks like.

I’ll reiterate: one of these things is not like the other.

So, should the writer just shut up and stay home? No! Of course not. No woman should shut up and stay home (unless they like being quiet and staying home. Unless they are Greta Garbo, basically. She chose her choice.)

As a woman, or as a man, you have every right to go out and talk about things that are important to you. That is your right.

But other people have the right to disagree with you when you do. And they will not always do so in the way you wish they would – especially since what you generally wish they would do is “see it from your point of view, realize they were mistaken, and buy you a scotch.” Quite often they will respond to you with anger, because there are also things that they care about, and you may be threatening those things. Sometimes – especially if they are presumably drunk and in a bar – they will use words that you don’t like. Maybe they will yell.

They will be quite likely to yell.

That is part of the risk that men and women and certain parrots take when they speak aloud in public. Especially parrots, but then, they’re just instigators.



Saying your opinions about things in public is not an odd or remarkable thing to do. It is what men have been doing for centuries. But, likewise, men have been being yelled at for centuries. It’s still going on. This week two men nearly came to blows in The House of Commons (apparently “unparliamentary language” was used). That is how a group of very well educated men in The House of Commons behave.

This a thing that people do. They yell. They disagree. It has very little do with gender, and if women think it is evidence of wild misogyny at work, that may simply be evidence of the fact that we have spent much of history not speaking up.

I think there was a time when no gentleman would yell at a lady, or at least, doing so would be frowned upon. I sometimes feel I would have liked this time, partly because I think Julius Beaufort’s parties sound like a lot of fun, and partly as I still like it when men open my door for me, and carry my groceries and generally treat me like an armless infant. But then I remember that the reason men did not yell at women was, because – like a man with a velociraptor puppet on one hand – women were simply assumed to have no place in the societal conversation. It would be like yelling at a child. Men didn’t yell because women’s opinions were so irrelevant as to not be worth yelling about.

That world is gone. Thank heavens.

I am afraid they will yell, Sarah. We will, as women, probably have to be a little braver in this brave new world. If men yell at you, do not sit there shaking and whimpering about it. Yell back.

Yell back, or make a joke, or behave in any one of a thousand ways that do not involve sitting around feeling marginalized. As Nora Ephron says “above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.”

You must do that, really. Especially because life – even if we behave well, and do not try to provoke people into fights – is going to be one filled with confrontations for people of both genders. The only place you are going to find people who will absolutely never yell at you is Le Grande Chartreuse, and they don’t let women in, anyway. Which, you know, seems pretty misogynistic of them.

Pictures via Amazon, Wikipedia Commons