Before we dive in, this isn’t a post about celebrities in the buff or Jennifer Lawrence. It’s about navigating the complicated world of the Internet and finding my place on it as a female. I used to think being silenced online wasn’t an issue that directly affected me. However, I found myself deliberately not speaking up on social media this weekend about the stolen nude photos because I was afraid to say something, and I thought I might be threatened.
Having started my digital life 16 years ago at the age of 12, I’ve never really been afraid of the Internet. Sure, I learned, “Don’t share your address with strangers,” and “Never give out personal details.” For about the first two years of this blog, I didn’t my last name or where I lived for those reasons. I ultimately shared my last name because I was featured in the Boston Globe Magazine, and I figured that if my name was in a magazine, I should be OK with it being online. And as I became more rooted in Boston, I also shared where I lived, though never exactly.
These same fears never applied to sharing my opinions online. In my younger, more rebellious years, I routinely got into heated debates on the Internet. Though I never threw pointless insults, I did receive them. I was called ugly, slutty, stupid, and my favorite, illiterate. Having been bullied through elementary and high school by both my female and male classmates, I honestly didn’t think much of these insults. It was nothing I hadn’t heard before.
As an outgoing and confident woman, I accept that people will get irrationally upset and call me names. To some extent, I accept that this is part of the territory of having opinions as either a man or a woman, but especially as a woman.
However I’ve become more timid about sharing opinions that could potentially bring abuse online. This is after years of reading story after story about women being threatened with death and rape. The stories about women having their privacy taken away via revenge porn scared me the most. I counted myself lucky that I never had a partner who would do that, or let’s be real here, that I did most of my dating in the age before revenge porn.
As the celebrity nude photos rolled out last week, I wanted to say something but felt this great sense of fear that hadn’t been there before. Several times, I wanted to share my thoughts on Twitter, but stopped, thinking, “What if this happens to me one day?” and, “What if I get death threats?” As if merely sharing my opinion would make these things happen.
And that is when I realized I hadn’t escaped the reality that women are silenced online because I, too, was silenced.
Not because anyone had silenced me, but because I had chosen to silence myself out of fear of what might happen had I been the person I’ve been my entire life. And that is not OK.
p.s.: I wrote this while listening to Bikini Kill’s Rebel Girl. Thank you for the courage, Kathleen Hanna.)