To some, if an article challenges one's beliefs or offends them, it must have been written by a woman. Here's why that matters.
Columnist Jef Rouner recently “broke the internet” with a controversial piece titled “No, It’s Not Your Opinion. You’re Just Wrong.” In it, Rouner explores and ultimately tears down the notion that opinions are inherently valid–and valuable. The piece spread far and wide across the web with both positive and negative feedback, but a significant portion of disapproval came from conservative audiences who rejected his ideas on systemic racism and climate change.
More interesting than the original article was Rouner’s follow up piece, “It’s Weird How People Correct Me When They Think I’m A Woman,” which he published a week later. There, Rouner points out that many readers of the original piece incorrectly assumed he was a woman. Rouner notes that these readers employed a condescending, gendered tone in their responses. As importantly, Rouner highlights that this tone was not present from readers who correctly identified him as a male, and criticized his work:
While these condescending remarks must have been upsetting for Rouner to receive, the author got a mere taste of what female journalists experience on a day-to-day basis. Women are disproportionately the victims of abuse, online bullying and harassment, and female journalists frequently experience name calling, crude jokes, sexual comments, and hostile racist/sexist insults, especially if their work covers a controversial topic or criticizes popular ideas in mainstream culture.
A study by the British cross-party think tank Demos analyzed over two million tweets that were sent to a selection of the most prominent and widely-followed public figures on Twitter, including celebrities, politicians, journalists and musicians – all of which were specifically chosen to ensure that an equal number – roughly one million tweets – were aimed at each gender, according to the study release.
The study concluded that well-known or famous men receive more offensive and negative messages than their female counterparts, in all but one category: journalists. According to their results, female journalists and TV news presenters receive roughly three times as much abuse as their male counterparts (for more information on what Demos considers “offensive,” check the press release).
This information is hardly surprising when you look at the female journalists who come forward about their negative experiences in the field, which range anywhere from sexual advances and remarks to death threats and doxxing.
Jessica Misener, a former music journalist, detailed one such experience in a
Buzzfeed interview, stating,
“…the most blatant ad hominem attack I got was when I published an article on Jack White’s view of women on The Atlantic. I got a few informed critiques of my argument, which I welcomed and appreciated. But most of the comments section quickly devolved into a scathing bashing of the headshot of me that ran with my byline: “By the looks of you, you should be writing about Maroon 5 instead,” and predictable comments about how I was both a “feminazi” and a “cold bitch who just needs to get laid.”
Of course, everyone knows not to take the internet peanut gallery too seriously. But still, even for a bit more seasoned writer like me, those anti-women remarks were hard to stomach. I’d imagine they’d be staggeringly discouraging for a female writer who’s just getting started in the business.”