Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Terrible Things People Say

As a child, I was bullied on a regular basis. This is a sad reality for far too many adolescents, as you may have noticed over the past two or three years. Coming of age as the Internet started to gain ground, I experienced cyberbullying on two occasions I can recall, but thanks to the limited access afforded by dial-up, I was not plugged in constantly, which no doubt reduced my risk of attacks.

In more idealistic days, I assumed that people became more civilized as they grew up, and that bullying peters out as a result. Now I realize that this rare bit of optimism on my part was misguided. I'm almost 28 years old, and I've learned that bullying never goes away. It may get even more vicious.

You may recall my post from last November about the woman who referred to me as "the weird girl." This was a passive sort of bullying, since she didn't say it to my face; instead, it trickled down to me. I've also been torn apart via e-mail by people who were unable to mask their identities yet managed to keep the shield of the screen between us, which is somewhere between passive and aggressive. These occurrences, while bothersome, allow for at least some control on my part: all I have to do is cut off communication, or keep things professional if I must interact with the people in question.

However, one of the more prominent forms of bullying today is anonymous cyberbullying, taking place in online forums, on social networks, or in comment sections below articles/blog posts. I don't know that I've ever experienced this myself, since for various reasons I don't engage in online discourse to a large extent.

This is not the case for everyone. Popular bloggers might get a thousand comments in a single day. Authors of articles for online news magazines are subject to both editorial scrutiny and public response. Or, in the case of Andrea Wrobel, a person may be promoting his or her work on the Internet. Wrobel recently recounted her experience over at SheWrites, saying that anonymous commenters were the worst of the group, sometimes making rape jokes or otherwise disparaging her. 

This undisguised misogyny is not uncommon. If any thread on a forum continues long enough, eventually one of two things will happen: someone will compare another person to Hitler (Godwin's Law)/accuse a person of Nazi-like thought (Reductio ad Hitlerum), or someone will tell a woman she deserves to be raped. This is what happened to Wrobel, along with, I'm sure, tens of thousands of other women who haven't shared their stories. It even happens when discussions appear about someone having been raped, as in the Texas gang rape case or the Steubenville allegations.

I have to wonder what happens to people that makes them lose their humanity and social graces, particularly when they log on. Since I'm not a psychologist or sociologist, I may never know the answer. But I do know that this kind of bullying has to end. It's backward and dangerous to continue encouraging both verbal abuse and rape culture via this kind of "discourse." It is time for us all to grow up and start supporting instead of threatening each other, don't you think?


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