Both Breslin and Wachs have had run-ins with another kind of “gendered” online abuse: feminist trashing of female dissenters. Breslin encountered this in 2010 when she wrote a blogpost on the True Slant site criticizing the vogue for “trigger warnings” on feminist and social justice blogs (based on the idea that the readership is filled with trauma survivors who must be warned about flashback-triggering references to everything from rape to racism). The response was a hatefest in the comments on the post and on several feminist blogs. Breslin was slammed as a “Sister F***er,” a “certifiable asshole,” and a “cunt.” For months after, she says, “an unhinged woman” sent her emails saying that she should be raped and killed.
Caroline Kitchens, a researcher at the American Enterprise Institute, came under feminist fire last fall after she wrote a column for U.S. News & World Report questioning the existence of a campus rape epidemic. Jezebel.com trashed her as a victim-blaming, slut-shaming man-pleaser and included a link to her Twitter page. Kitchens, a recent college graduate, received such a deluge of abusive tweets that she temporarily stopped using Twitter.
For Kitchens, the attacks ultimately strengthened her determination to soldier on. For women who are part of the online sisterhood, the toll of such bullying can be devastating. The Nation recently published a controversial article by Michelle Goldberg on “feminism’s toxic Twitter wars,” bitter, endless conflicts in which women are savaged for perceived ideological infractions, heresies and impurities, leaving many fearful of saying anything at all. Goldberg’s piece echoes an essay posted last December by blogger Megan Murphy lamenting that Twitter feminism had turned into a “mean girls-style popularity contest” and an “absolutely endless stream of hate.” With friends like these, who needs misogynist enemies.