There is some evidence that the emergence of this fantasy space has actually made the real world slightly safer for women: studies have shown correlations between access to online pornography and lower rates of sexual assault. But the flip side is that many men who might have successfully regulated their darker impulses now have what seems like a green light to be “virtually” abusive … because they’re just trying out a role, or because the woman on the receiving end seems no more real to them than a character in a pornographic film.
Another magnifier is ideology. Hess is a feminist who works in culture-war terrain, and there’s no question that women writing from that perspective come in for more personal, sexualized abuse than women writing about, say, monetary policy. Where the personal is political, the political becomes personal more quickly, and the grotesque abuse that liberal, feminist writers can receive for being liberal feminists is a scandal that conservatives, especially, need to acknowledge and deplore.
But many conservative and libertarian women also take a remarkable amount of sexual-political abuse. So it may be that the culture war cuts both ways, and a certain kind of left-wing narrative about gender — in which women are expected to hold liberal views just by virtue of being female — can become a license for allegedly progressive men to demean and dehumanize women who decline to play that part.