For the past two years, I’ve been working on building Endangered Bodies NYC’s community on social media. And this morning, I was greeted by a flurry of hate speech, slurs, and vicious threats from men. Men of different ages. Men of different sizes. Single men. Men with young daughters. It made me angry at first, and then it just made me sad.
As I hid the vitriol from photos of empowered members – my friends and mentors – holding #FatisNotaFeeling signs, I realized that fear was behind this. Strong, powerful women who create change scare men. Women with a voice scare men.
When Catherine Weingarten partnered with Endangered Bodies for our #FatisNotaFeeling petition, thousands of women and men supported our efforts to make Facebook a space against body shaming. Over 16,000 people told Facebook that fat is a body type, not a feeling, in the same way that “brunette” or “woman” or “middle class” is not a feeling. Moreover, fat should not be used as a substitute for real emotions like anger, sadness, or disappointment. Just as it’s difficult to picture a magazine without Photoshop, society makes it tough to express how we feel without falling into the body-shaming “fat” trap. And when you challenge the status quo, there will be people who disagree.
But this is not about disagreeing with a petition. You do not need to call a woman “whiney and pathetic” over a difference in opinion. These attacks are personal. These attacks are meant to terrify. To silence. To make us feel small. These slurs say how dare you challenge the status quo. How dare you use your voice.
This vile hate speech has become the go-to way of dealing with women on the Internet. Earlier this year, game developer Zoe Quinn was harassed, belittled, and humiliated on a daily basis by Gamergate. The persistent tweets and comments included rape and death threats. And last year, after being mobbed by constant online bullying, abortion rights activist Lauren Rankin cut down on her social media presence for her own “mental sanity.”
Jill Filipovic of Feministe said, “You read enough times that you’re a terrible person and an idiot, and it’s very hard not to start believing that maybe they see something that you don’t.”
Every time I make use of the Hide button (which, lately, has been often), I understand that this is what being a woman with an opinion on the Internet is. It is a daily fight against harassment, shame, bullying, and anger.
Nevertheless, I take solace in the fact that it’s not because we’re weak, but because our voices are strong – as evidenced by Facebook removing the “feeling fat” emoticon. Women are powerful. Women create change. And we can’t stop now.
Diana Denza is a writer, social media specialist, and body image activist. She is a proud member of Endangered Bodies NYC and a native New Yorker.