Rape Threats Revisited

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).


Being that 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 . 8/n

No one would give a shit abt what thinks or any of the other no-name trolls. is more valuable than them all. 9/n

However, their attempts at gaining some kind of traction by disgustingly attempting to harm exposes sth else. 10/n

Many of these people questioning the rape threats against are supposedly “liberal”, “progressive” and “left wing”. 11/n

Yet, none of them seem to realize that by questioning or belittling her experience exposes 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.

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Rape Threats Revisited — 8 Comments

  1. This is just shockingly irresponsible in the amount of blatantly false information its promoting. First, Sarah Kendzior tweeted about a rape threat. Kendzior is not 9 years-old, she’s worked for the Clinton Global Initiative and knows how Twitter works and how any information tweeted can be seen by the entire world. She can’t have reasonably expected the vile aggression she experienced to remain private if she tweeted it in the first place!

    Second, it’s clear that Karen has not read the original article in Jacobin written by the feminist Amber A’Lee Frost. It was not an article even secondarily about rape threats, nor did it in anyway seek to denigrate Kendzior. When Kendzior requested that her tweet be removed in a paragraph sympathizing with the “vile aggression” Kendzior experienced, Jacobin’s editors apologized and complied . . . and then Kendzior went on a week-long crusade claiming that Jacobin was filled with rape apologists and tweeting constantly that she was receiving rape threats: https://storify.com/nkallen/a-spiral-of-confusion

    Kendzior further demonstrates her utter depravity is labelling a rape survivor, a Jacobin editor, a “rape apologist”: https://twitter.com/sarahkendzior/status/476508995515985921

    Karen, how much of this did you know? You seem to imply that this was done by some women on the Left (Katha Pollitt? Amber Frost? Megan Erickson?) in response to Kendzior’s politics. What politics?

    • [this comment came to me through email; i’m posting it for the writer, who asked to remain anonymous]

      This one comment somehow managed to be an example of all four of the sick dissections used to by people to minimize or dismiss SK’s experience identified right here in this article. It’s a nearly perfect example of what the article is about in the first place.

      That a beautiful, sympathetic article about Sarah’s experience and the experience of so many others who have to go through this hell is followed by more if it in the comments section is sadly no longer a surprise. And like the commenter, many in this angry little minority looking for some way to belittle her or pretend this didn’t really happen have responded to Sarah’s experience by sifting through her resume to try to find little crumbs to further dismiss her, and to support an argument that this is some grand conspiracy theory against the left. It is sickening to me that the automatic response of a human being to the threats received by another (and their family) is to go comb through their CV for more things to distort and use against them.

      Why working or the Clinton Global Initiative would mean that it’s okay for people to threaten Kendzior is beyond me, but since a few sick people seem to think that’s somehow relevant, it’s worth pointing out that it’s not even true. She once moderated a panel on digital media in authoritarian states when CGI had an event at her alma mater, Washington University. Turning that into “she works for the Clinton Initiative so it doesn’t matter if people threaten her family” speaks for itself, and shows what incredible lengths a few people are willing to go to in order to twist this situation around to blame the person who suffered.

      Secondly, not even Frost’s friends who have scrambled to defend what she did or try to make this about some imaginary disagreement over the content of her article have so far tried to argue, like this commenter did, that Frost was “sympathizing” with Kendzior. Frost was very clearly criticizing the language Kendzior used to describe the threats she was receiving — language she used only once in conversation with someone else. Why Frost singled out Kendzior like this has never been explained, but no one — not the author or anyone else — has ever yet tried to argue that this critical public outing of a very private painful experience was supposedly done “in sympathy with her” and imply that she should therefore be grateful.

      For anyone interested in what actually happened, here, again are some resources:

      On the “tweet in question”

      Two quick roundups of what actually happened, both from people not involved in the situation (instead of the not even remotely unbiased distortion linked to in the comment):



      But most of all, SK made it very clear that she never wanted to talk about any of this in the first place: “I never write about myself or my personal life. I have multiple platforms and if I wanted to, I could. I choose not to – in part because I think focusing on myself distracts from the social and political problems I depict, but also because I value my privacy… I do not like to write about myself, and I do not like to write about my pain. Today Jacobin put me in a position where I had no choice but to do that.”

      While two of the editors immediately apologized and one even resigned over this incident, one Jacobin editor (the one mentioned above in the comment) called SK’s reaction to having the threats against her singled out and publicized in this way “dishonest, childish bullshit.” When the angry note that same editor sent to Newsweek was inadvertently published, revealing the personal information that she was herself a rape survivor, SK took her side and publicly called on Newsweek to take down the letter. They did. Because the whole point from the beginning was that no one should have personal information that potentially puts them in danger made public without their permission. SK stood by that, the Jacobin editor never did her the basic kindness of doing the same, and here in the comments section of articles about her painful experience that Jacobin caused — purposely or not is beside the point — someone continues to attack her and bizarrely defend their “right” to do so based on sifting through her CV and twisting the facts of her professional experience.

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  3. If I thought that your description of how leftists treated Kendzior was correct, I’d be furious too:

    “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.”

    Out of that list, I believe that only (b) is even arguably true (if you have links to examples, I of course bow to the evidence).

    The original article by Frost did criticize Kendzior for not having talked about rape threats correctly, but the whole point was that Kendzior’s “bro” language seemed to make light of rape and that we should rape in more serious tones.

    In response to that, Kendzior said that Jacobin was “mocking my rape threats,” which is not true in any way whatsoever. Given how upset she was, they did apologize and take down the link, but an editor vigorously disagreed with Kendzior’s interpretation, which Kendzior then used as an excuse to call that editor (an actual rape survivor, not just someone who had received anonymous threats) a “rape apologist.”

    If anyone here was insensitive to others’ rape threats or actual rape, it was Kendzior.

  4. Holy cow, what a stupid typo: I meant to say Frost’s point was that “we should TALK ABOUT rape in more serious tones.”

  5. Jacobin and others treated Kendzior as though it was her responsibility to apologize for receiving rape threats, or speaking about those threats publicly in a way that held the originator of the threats responsible for his words.

    It’s 2014. Let’s hold rapists responsible for rape, and let’s blame the people who make rape threats for tarnishing their own image — not the people who call them out on it.

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