On The Boring Predictability of Twitter Trolls

Yesterday I once again became the target of a bunch of bottom-of-the-Internet-dwelling Twitter trolls. Because, you know, I am a feminist woman who says stuff she’s thinking out loud.

Yesterday’s out-loud thoughts were about a thing that happened to me in the morning, which wasn’t a big deal, but was a story worth relating (to me). The recap, for those who don’t follow me on Twitter:

On my way to teach my Human Genetics class, I passed two of the senior faculty (both male) in my department, who were chatting, and as I walked by, one of them said (loud enough to be heard as I walked away, but not in an obnoxious way), “Speaking of looking good, here comes Dr. French.”

I tossed back, over my shoulder, with a smile, “Thanks, _________, but I’m not sure how appropriate that comment is.” He laughed, I kept walking, and that was it.

I tweeted this, with the first tweet of a string labeled with the hashtag #everydaysexism.

Because it is. It’s not professional. We work together, we’re both married, and it was basically a catcall in a public/professional space.

It was also innocent, in the sense that the man in question was just saying something nice in an offhand fashion. It was a compliment, and it wasn’t meant as anything else. I knew this, which is why the entire exchange, complete with a gentle reminder that it wasn’t appropriate, was friendly and over in 30 seconds.

Here’s the thing: I am tenured. I am really self-confident most of the time. I know the guy in question and am certain he didn’t mean to objectify me. I know he thinks I’m a great teacher and awesome scientist. So this was a reasonably safe, if possibly inappropriate, thing for him to do.

But the reason I still feel like it’s a story worth telling is this: what if it hadn’t been me? What if it had been our newest faculty member, a woman who is untenured, doesn’t know the guy well at all, and he’s in a position of power over her? (He is; I don’t want to “out” him on the internet, though the colleagues in the department I’ve mentioned it to know who he is.)

She might have taken it amiss. It could have impacted her work relationship with him. It could have made their interactions awkward. Let’s be clear: catcalls in the hall at work, in front of students, aren’t professional, and if you aren’t confident that it was just harmless banter, the outcome might not be great.

So I presented this as an example of a complicated case, where I could both appreciate the harmless compliment, AND feel like it was necessary to point out that it wasn’t appropriate.

And then the trolls landed. Because Law 12 of the Internet says that, if you are discussing inappropriate workplace behavior, no fewer than one dude must turn up to defend the inappropriate behavior.

The first two dudes were concern trolls: pretending they didn’t get it. “How are we supposed to know when something might be offensive and when it’s okay? You said yourself that you were flattered. You can’t have it both ways!”

Well, sure I can. I absolutely can. I did, in fact.

But given that every dude of my acquaintance “got it” almost immediately – I don’t think this is a difficult concept. My husband (who knows the senior faculty member involved), cringed visibly when I related the incident, and then shook his head to say, “what was he THINKING?”. The trolling amounts to, as usual, guys not wanting to be told that they can’t indulge in any behavior they want, any time they want to.

Then there were the OTHER trolls. The ones who just exist to troll feminists because some woman was mean to them at some point in their life. (By “mean”, I mean: wouldn’t go out with them and expressed interest in some other guy instead, or similar. Or possibly told them they couldn’t have a cookie before dinner. Whatever.)

These guys have a pattern which I find exasperating, as well as slightly amusing. They tend to lead by telling me how physically unattractive I am.

So. If you know me (and you do, probably, if you read this blog), you can take a guess at how much I care if Twitter randos think I’m ugly.

That’s right. None. None much.

Let’s clear a couple things up:

  1. I am a 43-year-old woman who has a Ph.D., tenure, funding from both major federal science funding agencies, a husband who adores me (most days), two amazing kids, family and friends who love me…by all of the usual metrics, I am both successful and fortunate. (And modest. Really modest. I’m known for it.)
  2. As mentioned above, I have a fair degree of self-confidence.

So, unless you are my spouse, or…well, actually, unless you’re my spouse, the amount of fucks that I give about your opinion of my physical attractiveness is generally near zero.

Now. Why do they lead with this?

Because they cannot, in a million years, imagine that it won’t be a devastating burn. Women exist only to be attractive to men, right? I am stepping out of line by saying that I don’t want a dude telling me I look good today (actually, I didn’t mind – but still not appropriate), so of COURSE the appropriate punishment is for them to tell me how horribly unattractive I am.

Meanwhile, I’m over here literally laughing. Why?

“Oh, noes! A stranger on Twitter thinks I am unattractive! Whatever shall I do?”

Well, for a start, this is the BEST they can do? Again, no fucks to be given here.

And secondarily? If you come to my Twitter feed, a complete stranger, all pissy because I think that you shouldn’t catcall your coworkers, and you lead with “you’re ugly”…I know I’ve already won this “argument”. Because you have no argument. You have an ad hominem attack, and not even a very interesting one. You’re all pissed off, and I happen to be an easy target this hour, and…it’s just a bit funny.

Until it gets boring. Because it always does. So very predictable.

So I mute them, and enjoy the visual of them screaming insults into the void.

Okay, I have work to do. My e-mail is not loading for some reason. Bye now. 🙂

 

 

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1 Comment

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One response to “On The Boring Predictability of Twitter Trolls

  1. Dave Fouchey

    And it happens every day in every industry as well as academia, there is a long way to go yet before we all get over our inherent sexism, and yes I am as guilty of it as any other man simply out of habit.

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