Most folks active in the academic blogosphere are aware of the nightmarish situation that developed over the past week around Sarah Kendzior and rape threats she received, and the insanely escalating blizzard of abuse directed at her upon Jacobin magazine making them public. Sarah Kendzior describes the events in an essay, “On Being a Thing.” She writes, “I want people to stop sending me rape threats. I want to do my work. I want to stop being treated like a thing – or, shall I say, like a woman.”
The path to this place is convoluted in a way only internet disputes mostly mediated by Twitter can be. But the upshot is that a whole bunch of leftists–mainly men, but a solid sprinkling of women mixed in–have spent a week dissecting why Sarah a) didn’t get any rape threats, b) did get rape threats but didn’t talk about the rape threats correctly, c) shouldn’t have felt threatened by rape threats, d) is deserving of rape threats because of her personal and/or professional politics.
A whole crew of Sarah’s political opponents felt empowered to take the opportunity to mock and belittle her. When she spoke out about the rape threats, they escalated, and eventually directed, I understand, toward her young daughter.
Josh Shahryar articulates the outrage many of us felt while watching this unfold, in a 44-tweet Twitter rant (storified by @Teobesta).
@SarahKendzior is a woman, the threats to her are – as our rotting society goes – of sexual nature – rape to be precise. 7/n
In the past few days, those threats have been belittled and amplified by the actions of certain “left wing” individuals and
However, their attempts at gaining some kind of traction by disgustingly attempting to harm
@SarahKendzior exposes sth else. 10/n
Many of these people questioning the rape threats against
@SarahKendzior are supposedly “liberal”, “progressive” and “left wing”. 11/n
Yet, none of them seem to realize that by questioning or belittling her experience exposes
@Sarahkendzior to more rape threats. 12/n
The fact is, so-called radicals and progressives are no less likely than others to use rape threats and other threats of violence to police, discipline, and silence women who write political commentary in the public sphere, especially if they depart from “approved” ideological party lines. Robin (@caulkthewagon) describes her own experience with rape threats in the post “On Rape Threats and a Culture That Enables Them.”
‘I’d guess that I received dozens of them, mostly of the, “bitch, your [sic] gonna get raped” variety. I’ve gotten rape threats off and on throughout the years, but have been receiving them with alarming frequency since the beginning of this year. … After the MRA mass killing in Santa Barbara, I received two very grisly, detailed threats of rape and murder against me from two different accounts impersonating the killer. Last night I received another threat. (Side note: I am hoping that the acceleration of rape threats is just about me, and isn’t indicative of a larger trend.)’
Robin’s account makes it clear: rape threats happen when women speak out against privilege to which different sorts of men (in varied sorts of contexts, including quote-unquote radical politics) feel entitled.
‘The link between all of the aforementioned rape threat “outbreaks,” as it were, that I experienced is that they were always perpetrated during a time when I used Twitter to speak in opposition to power, usually of the patriarchal sort. In this sort of scenario, rape is a weapon: rape is about power. The ability to threaten a woman without any accountability or consequence must be very tempting to the men who wish to maintain patriarchal power. It is an almost foolproof tactical maneuver.’
It is reprehensible and barbaric to use the threat of violence as a response to a person’s politics, and it is equally reprehensible to then turn the person’s fear of that violence into further fodder for mockery, dismissal and intensified threats. While speaking out about threats often incites more threats, I think it’s vital to name this dynamic so that other women who encounter it know they are not alone. That is why I write this post.