A ranty, funny, dead-serious intersectional feminist blog.

They Are Not Trolls. They Are Men.

Oliver Rawlings

Oliver Rawlings

Trigger warning for discussion of the various types of abuse perpetrated by those humans known as “trolls” incuding rape and death threats and suicide.

Back in July, during Netroots Nation 2014, Zerlina Maxwell spoke on a panel about online harassment. I wasn’t there, but someone tweeted a quote that stayed with me:

“Don’t call them trolls. They’re assholes.”

I think this is important. By calling these people “trolls,” we are basically letting them off the hook. It’s a lot like the “boys will be boys” mentality that helps to keep rape culture thriving, but it’s also different, because boys are expected to be human. By calling these people “trolls,” we relegate them to non-human status, and we make it clear that we don’t expect them to live up to the same behavioral standards as human beings.

So, who are these assholes? Well, the subset of the population we refer to as “trolls” is mostly (almost exclusively, in my personal experience) made up of men who—for reasons that range from angry entitlement to I-don’t-know-what—make it their business to perpetrate harassment and abuse on targets who are mostly not men.

As a woman online, I’ve dealt with and watched others deal with all of these things and more:

Michael Brutsch

Michael Brutsch

Men who insist that we engage them because they disagree with something we’ve said.

Men who keep tweeting at us or commenting when we’ve asked them to stop.

Men who keep tweeting at us after we’ve told them in no uncertain terms we’re done and have blocked them.

Men who create sock-puppet accounts pretending to be women and use them to harass us, gaslight us, threaten us.

Sean Duffy

Sean Duffy

Men who haunt hashtags they disagree with so they can harass people who are not men who speak out about issues that matter to them.

Men who haunt hashtags about gender violence, sexual assault, and other painful topics and target the people there telling their stories.

Men who band together to create armies of sock-puppet accounts to harass us and discredit the work we do.

Men who reply to our stories of rape to tell us that it wasn’t rape. (And who are very likely defending their own behavior.)

Men who play devil’s advocate on issues that disproportionately affect people who are not men.*

Men who chime into conversations about sexual & domestic violence to speculate on what the victim should have done differently.

Neil Law

Neil Law

Men who attack those of us dedicated to fighting for equality simply because we fight for equality.

Men who call us “feminazis” and “white knights” because we identify as feminists and talk about feminist issues.

Men who use racist and sexist and transphobic slurs to attack marginalized people, often for months on end, with no consequence.

Men who send us graphic photos of everything from sex acts to gaping wounds in order to punish us for talking back.

Men who tell us all we need is a good fucking to set us straight.

Wesley Meredith

Wesley Meredith

Men who tell us we should get raped.

Men who tell us they hope we kill ourselves.

Men who tell us how they hope we die.

And of course, all of this is in hopes that we will simply STFU, or better yet, cease to exist.

I think Zerlina’s right: we need to start calling them what they are. Assholes, yes. But also, men who choose to harass and abuse others online, sometimes to the point of driving their victims off the Internet, out of their homes, and even to suicide. So, when you talk about these men, consider using words that describe what they actually do and are, such as “harassers” and “abusive assholes.”

These men are human beings who treat others as less than human—who purposely cause pain and suffering and sometimes even death. It is time we stopped letting them off the hook.

Note: This post has been updated to include the suggested term “harassers” per my friend Mandaray.

*Post pub note: The idea that I would include “playing devil’s advocate” in a list like this seems to have confused some folks, so I want to be clear about what I mean, here: There are people who innocently wonder about the other side of an equation and there are dudes who use “I’m just playing devil’s advocate” as an excuse to argue with women and other marginalize people simply for the entertainment value of engaging us and wasting our time and energy (and even when there’s no ill intent, it’s often really unhelpful and can even be harmful, such as when “devil’s advocates” engage in victim-blaming). Yes, there are degrees of trolling, and this is the least of what anti-feminist trolls do, but feminists—especially those of us who engage in online activism—must, on a daily basis, deal with a barrage of people who are primarily cis white males telling us what feminism really is or isn’t, what misogyny really is or isn’t, what street harassment really is or isn’t, what rape really is or isn’t, and “devil’s advocate” is one of the flags they wave when they’re reminded that they are being part of the problem, as though it excuses them. I hope this clarifies my meaning. Also, if you’re pulling this one item out of the list and ignoring everything else, you may be missing at least part of the point.

Oh, and just for good measure:

scut farkas-nAm

PSA: Trolls Harassers and abusive assholes who comment here will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)

35 responses

  1. “targets who are mostly not men” – I’d disagree. This is a unique form of human behaviour that exists because of the opportunities afforded by the Internet. I don’t think that this sort of behaviour is specifically about feminism or womens issues. Trolls primarily troll each other and usually begin in forums and message boards where the type of behaviour they display is the norm. These are places where you have to develop a thick skin if you’re to stick around any and they usually do. As I said they troll, are trolled and troll some more for a variety of reasons. Its a compulsive behaviour. I used to indulge in this sort of behaviour myself on occasion (as a dyed in the wool lefty my targets were generally those on the right, racists, bigots, climate change denialists, conspiracy theorists, people who supported Israel’s human rights atrocities in Palestine, Brits and Americans who think their country is the dogs balls, etc.). I did it out of a sense of frustration and self righteousness, because it made my mundane life a little more interesting, because it staves off the boredom and ennui of my shitty existence and because the internet gave me the opportunity to confront the people that I felt represented what was wrong with the world. I wasn’t trying to argue with them or change their way of thinking i did it primarily to piss them off because I felt they deserved it and that made me feel good. As much as i think my political and personal opinions are better and more correct that the misogynists you typically come across i do understand that their motivations are probably not unlike my own. Yes some do it to feminists, they’re the ones that tend to get the press but they’re not the only ones. i think if we’re to move forwards we need to start winning the arguments in wider society, either that or try and empathise with them, realise why they feel so threatened and try and in the meantime acknowledge that 99% of them are keyboard warriors who are never going to follow through on any of the shit that they talk online.

    Incidentally I’ve now stopped for the most part. I’ve been trying to put my energies into projects that are more gratifying and less negative. I do still like to have the odd row online when I feel its important but I realise that the type of gratification i was getting from that behaviour wasn’t doing me or anyone else any real good in the long term and was if anything a distraction.

    April 26, 2015 at 4:26 pm

  2. Name Required (and available on request)

    Well-spoken middle-class woman is unmasked as online troll:

    Though in this case it was the troll who committed suicide when she became news.

    But hey, here I am disagreeing with a feminist. Call me a troll, it’s easier than admitting you’re wrong, prejudiced and cherry-picking your trolls to support your ignorant hatred.

    March 23, 2015 at 4:21 pm

    • Misandry Managed.

      March 24, 2015 at 10:58 am

  3. Thalassa Cruso

    Of potential utility to this discussion:

    March 22, 2015 at 10:48 am

  4. Reblogged this on Our sexy society and commented:
    If you are facing harrassment, do or say something

    March 22, 2015 at 4:39 am

  5. I’d add one more unfortunate thing we get subjected to. It might fall under the greater penumbra of sock-puppeting, but many women have our posts flagged away and removed in minutes on some sites. Posts that are there at say, 5 p.m., but are gone by 5:15, and then the rutting chimps — or harassers — all give out virtual high fives for “another one biting the dust”. They openly congratulate one another for a job well done removing the “Feminazis” or other slurs. And I’m talking about posts which in no way violate the website’s terms; these are just posts that some bullies do not like and therefore cannot allow.

    November 23, 2014 at 6:29 pm

    • Oh, yeah. And just try to be a feminist on Reddit.

      November 29, 2014 at 12:26 pm

  6. Rodney Barnes

    I just found this when I was doing some research on trolls. Glad I did, it’s a good blog.
    On this issue I agree completely. Trolls are bad, & I have no use for them. These men were worse in that they engaged in criminal conduct (those in the UK are lucky, you in the have greater ability to take legal action against hate speech, unlike the US, where it requires an actual, plainly stated, unconditional threat of physical harm).
    However, those milder forms of harrasment against women are still very disturbing. Frankly, the reason reason I began looking into this behavior was the appearance of mysogenistic posts in a Facebook group I belong to. They were not enough to be removed from Facebook (very tough to do) but I wanted the administrators of the group to take action & was having trouble getting them to understand the issue. In the meantime, women were leaving the group in droves. Finally I was able to get though to them but it’s still a work in progress.
    I’m very frustrated by people not suffering under the abuse making comments like “don’t feed the trolls” or “don’t let it get you upset” or calling women who respond to such abuse as “drama queens” & “femenazis”. Women, & decent men for that matter, should not have to suffer in silence. Further, they should not be held responsible for the actions of their abusers. I’m still trying to get my head around this but I am certain that we must do something to let those suffering abuse like this that they are not alone & take action to protect them.
    I have two sons & if they came close to acting this way I would be ashamed!

    October 17, 2014 at 5:55 am

  7. Sam

    First of all, I agree completely. The only thing I wanted to add is that the term “trolling” is used to describe a wide variety of things, ranging from harmless pranks to the abusive and misogynist behavior that you describe. So “troll” and “abusive piece of shit” aren’t synonyms, exactly – the latter is a subset of the former as the language is currently used.

    In fact, it is exactly this conflation of harmless and abusive that makes the word so noxious. I don’t know whether any of this really matters but I thought it would be good to keep in mind the complexity of the term “troll” to avoid misunderstandings.

    October 7, 2014 at 9:36 am

    • Absolutely. Thank you.

      October 7, 2014 at 9:58 am

  8. I agree, anyone who disagrees with this article should be banned from the internet.

    October 3, 2014 at 7:32 am

    • Nigel

      Honestly, that in itself is a troll contents. If you don’t agree you sold be banned.

      June 25, 2015 at 2:16 am

  9. Alex

    Honestly, I don’t think I’d rather be called a “troll” than an “asshole.” I have such powerful dislike for the former that being labeled that would be highly offensive. I don’t associate that with non-human. I just associate it with childishness and mental illness – a person whose thoughts and views don’t matter and who is posting to irritate others. An asshole might at least be honest or correct at times. A troll is a liar who intentionally lies to annoy other people.

    This being said, I’m sure other words would better fit some of the crimes you described. But I wouldn’t personally rule out using “troll” on account of it being less demeaning than “asshole.” After all, what better way is there to tell a person who thinks entirely too much of his own opinion that his opinions aren’t even worth considering by a rational person? That’s the accusation that “troll” implies.

    September 26, 2014 at 4:59 pm

    • “I just associate it with childishness and MENTAL ILLNESS”
      Wow, Alex, you kind of fail at intersectionality. Please be so kind as to take your mental health stigma over to TERF, SWERF, and NERF territory where it belongs. (Kind of surprised no one else called you out on the conflation of rampant, intentional misogyny with the involuntary, inescapable burden of mental illness)

      October 23, 2014 at 6:06 pm

      • TERFs and SWERFs have nothing to do with this; I am myself now guilty of conflating different types of bigoted individuals. Which weakens my point. Oh well.

        October 23, 2014 at 6:44 pm

  10. Pingback: Japan Gender Reader: Sept. 2014 | The Lobster Dance

  11. Pingback: food for thought: civility and harassment continued | Amiable Archivists' Salon

  12. jessicah

    Interesting that it also applies consistently elsewhere, such as communities where they have strong opinions on subjects relating to said communities.

    September 15, 2014 at 4:45 am

  13. Hmmm… I agree with you whole-heartedly here! What these guys here are doing is indeed not trolling(it used to be quite different, and aimed more towards nerds and the little things they became unnecessarily incensed over). Their behaviour is so disgusting… And what’s worse is that some of them—if not most—think they are in the right. Ick…

    September 12, 2014 at 9:48 pm

  14. Sterling

    Maybe I am just behind the times, but I thought being a white knight was a good thing…. While I don’t agree with everything the feminist movement has done, I realized long ago that it was neither seeking nor concerned with my approval. My only concern is to apply equality in my little corner of the world and try to teach my daughter to be proud that she is a woman!

    September 10, 2014 at 4:13 pm

  15. Reblogged this on FEMBORG.

    September 10, 2014 at 10:19 am

  16. grampmk

    Hi Rosie. It’s been awhile since I commented. I agree there is over the top hostility on line against women simply for being women. But speaking of Ms Maxwell, I tweeted her my overall 1st amendment concerns and for that she called me a rape apologist! She’s a lawyer and I’m not and she knows far more about the law than I ever will but, a simple question about the 1st amendment alone, has nothing to do with rape.

    You can go back and read my previous posts and you will see they are all respectful and are in no way rape apology . I am quite sure Ms Maxwell as well as most women get attacked on line but I did no such thing. My tweet was respectful and only brought up 1st amendment protections for all people, not just the ones being discussed. I’m an avid supporter of the US Constitution and support the rights of ALL Americans , even those I may disagree with.

    September 10, 2014 at 6:03 am

    • barbecue

      I don’t fully know the context here but how is 1st amendment rights an issue? When Obama starts sending folks to Gitmo for making rape jokes online I will be definitely opposed to that. But… I don’t know if that’s… really a concern unless you’re extremely paranoid or have a persecution complex…

      Or if you don’t understand how the 1st amendment works.

      Think about it this way: people’s online spaces should be considered their property. Typically it’s leased space like you would rent an apartment, or maybe you own it yourself. Being required to share space with people you don’t like means that you want the US government to force private citizens to cede control of their own spaces. If this sounds great to you I would suggest you probably hate the idea of freedom of speech and want it abolished.

      September 14, 2014 at 1:12 pm

  17. Beverly Flint

    I’ve been baited so many times online by some dick I don’t know just for the sake of putting me in my place as a woman. Thank you for calling it like it is ~

    September 9, 2014 at 10:49 pm

  18. Those assholes all have one thing in common: They are cowards who hide behind fake names.

    September 9, 2014 at 5:53 pm

    • grampmk

      Amen. You got that all the way right!

      September 10, 2014 at 6:04 am

      • Some MRA dude was recently tying to bait me into a “debate” on feminism and said I was dishonest and evasive for blowing him off. This from a guy won’t give his real name.

        September 10, 2014 at 10:30 am

    • Lots of these dudes are perfectly willing to say this stuff under their real names.

      September 12, 2014 at 10:27 am

    • Anthea Brainhooke

      Not necessarily true. Some of them are out and proud in their assholery. They have good reason to think they will suffer no consequences for it, because many if not most of these assholes don’t.

      September 14, 2014 at 2:12 pm

  19. Fran Stewart

    White knights? Well, admittedly, I AM trying to sleep with a woman, but only the one I’m married to, and that’s not why I’m a feminist. :)

    September 9, 2014 at 1:23 pm

    • SolitareLee

      It’s been my experience from both sides of the gender spectrum that a “white knight” is a person, especially a man, but of any gender, really, who has the gall to agree with a woman on anything, ever, especially if he is seen disagreeing with hordes of misogynists in public. The term is so over-used by anti-feminists at this point that it’s essentially laughable. “Anyone who is disagreeing with me about a thing someone said” is basically a white knight at this point.

      September 9, 2014 at 5:16 pm

  20. I’ve identified also some guys who are friends (sometimes you know then for years) and, suddenly revealed thenselves to be mysosinists, by some kind of “soft-trolling” on our blogs or timelines. They keep a tone like it is just a valid argumentation, but in fact is a way or causing disturbance in order to get atention while iritating us. Since they can’t use the cover of anonimacy, they keep that “soft” tone.

    September 9, 2014 at 1:18 pm

  21. I hate any kind of abuse and the hating men are violent. I’d like to present an analogy to demonstrate this abuse. Will a pharaoh let his slaves go with all the benefits that he has? This is the same with the male abusive entitlement that they’ve had for thousands of years. The slaves want to be freed and it’s going to take a revolution and the Pharaoh doesn’t want to set the slaves free. The Pharaoh represents mean abusive men and the slaves are females seeking fair and equally respectful treatment like the Pharaoh ad a free agent. Men fight to retain POWER OVER FEMALES which no longer fits the current paradigm.

    September 9, 2014 at 12:59 pm

    • Anthea Brainhooke

      If you’re going to call adult male humans “men” then please refer to adult human females as “women.”

      “Female” could mean any species.

      September 14, 2014 at 2:17 pm

  22. I think this sums it up quite nicely. They should absolutely be held accountable for the horrible way they treat people.

    September 9, 2014 at 12:34 pm

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