On C-words, Internets, and Risk Factors

RE: our ongoing ‘conversation‘ about sex differences in murder prevalence: I just got a comment from a man who writes, in response to another commenter concerned about the abusive language that’s come my way in recent days:

That’s a victim mentality. Stop going “Waaah! The menz are picking on me coz I’m a feminist!” This is just how the internet works. Everybody threatens and swears at each other on the web…I’m a man and I’ve had people on the internet say that they’re going to kill me and batter me… It doesn’t just happen to women or feminists. (emphasis mine.)
So, let me start with this: I agree wholeheartedly that, “It doesn’t just happen to women or feminists.” Is there anyone, anywhere, who would disagree with that statement? Women are entirely capable of behaving like animals. And men are entirely capable of being victimized by women’s uncivil behavior. My husband, for example, received a lot of hostile feedback from both men and women after publishing  an important study on obesity several years ago.

And yet… all of the truly — dare I say it – violent verbal attacks on my husband (i.e. the death threats and calls for dismemberment) were from men. Similarly, all of the instances of me being called a CUNT to date have been from people who are identifying themselves as men. (And for those just joining the conversation, I’ve decided not to skirt around the word CUNT and have chosen to spell it out in full, as the men who’ve called me a CUNT have done. I do apologize.)

So now we come to the incendiary topic of risk factors again and the concept of relative risk. (Warning: Hurt Feelings May Result!) Having a risk factor for a condition does not mean that you will invariably exhibit said condition. It means that you are at increased risk for having the condition. In other words, you are relatively more likely to have that condition. In some cases, relative risk is meaningless, practically speaking. For example, if I am relatively  more likely to be abducted by aliens than my neighbor, our risk of abduction is still so slim that it becomes moot to discuss who is at greater risk of flying off in a space ship. On the other hand, some conditions – such as violence – are very, very common. In those cases, it’s important to discuss relative risk in order to do a better job at preventing lots and lots of people from becoming killers or from becoming murdered. (As I’ve said ad nauseam, since we know that young men are at extremely heightened risk of committing homicide or becoming its victim, we can target murder prevention strategies to those young men, rather than to old ladies and puppies.)

Returning to my commenter’s claim. While I agree that the internet is theoretically an equal opportunity abuse venue, I hypothesize that men are at greater risk of making death threats on the internet and calling women CUNT on the internet. Does this mean that ALL men are calling me a CUNT? Does it mean that no woman can or ever will call me a CUNT on the internet?

No!! It does not. (Indeed, I eagerly await the flurry of supportive evidence that will clog my inbox showing examples of women calling someone CUNT or making death threats. Yes! There are exceptions. And, yes! Women can behave like uncivil oafs and creeps. But I am hypothesizing that, contrary, to my commenter’s suggestion, there is an element of ‘gendering’ in the internets. Yes! I am really holding firm on this assertion. I believe men are more likely than women to use internet language suggestive of the possibility of violence.

Am I claiming a strictly evolutionary or sociological argument? I am not. I leave that to my expert interlocutors. I also think it’s largely irrelevant. As Steve Pinker likes to say, testosterone may be the trigger for a lot of violent behavior (and, let’s not forget, women have testosterone, too! I suspect a robust level is coursing through my veins even as I speak.) But who cares, really? Levels of violence — levels of hostility on the internets… these things ebb and flow, depending on various historical, cultural, and structural factors. If we didn’t have the internets, for example, we wouldn’t have any internet language suggestive of the possibility of violence.

Or, one might hypothesize, if the internet culture weren’t skewed somewhat in the Y chromosome direction  — for example, did you know that Wikipedia editors are 91 percent male — one might – might – see a different culture on the internet. Who knows? We might see more gossiping and scratching and hair-pulling. But I’m guessing we would see fewer THREATS OF VIOLENCE and CUNT-CALLING.


About ErikaChristakis

Yale Lecturer in early childhood education/Licensed teacher/Former preschool director/author. In possession of: unmarketable bachelor’s degree (Harvard, anthropology), semi-marketable graduate degrees (public health, education…). Rewarding career at the intersection of family, society, and schools (including long stint in parenting vortex). Forging a new path to connect all of the above.
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10 Responses to On C-words, Internets, and Risk Factors

  1. Yes using the C-word is a bad thing and there is no excuse for it. In school, in the work place and at home males are often attacked for being males.. Don’t you think after that some men would be a little sensitive? You are the only place where men can respond because men cannot contradict woman in public. In most plays and movies when women are compared to men the men are stupid. Erika are not anti-male but it’s important for you to acknowledge what is going on instead of pretending that you are the only one in the history of the world who linked males with crime.

  2. Levin says:

    I’m the “commenter”, you’re twisting what I said. I never said that women are just as likely to use abusive language on the internet, I never claimed that women were threatening to kill me, I just said that I’ve also been sworn at and threatened over the internet. I said PEOPLE have threatened to kill and batter me, I didn’t specify what sex they were. And I don’t think it matters. My original point was that swearing and offensive language is just part of many internet discussions, feminists aren’t being specifically targeted here. I’ve noticed how a lot of feminists claim that they get sworn at and trolled on the internet and they find it very hurtful, as if this vitriol and trolling is reserved just for them. Many feminists are oblivious and they don’t get that this is just how the internet is. If you’re not ready for angry comments and colorful language, the internet is probably not the place for you. Many people on the internet aren’t going to tip-toe around your sensibilities, it’s not nice but that’s how it is. It would actually be weird if the internet wasn’t full of vitriolic arguments.

    I recently had a debate with a conservative Christian on Facebook and he told me he was going to break my jaw, and I found it pretty funny. Like I said before; if you get into arguments on the internet often enough, someone is going to give you some abuse. It doesn’t matter what you debate about, someone is eventually going to tell you to go kill yourself.

    And you know what? I don’t care. I don’t care if people swear at each other in internet debates. The threats they’re making are just pixels on a computer screen. There is a very, very tiny chance that the person swearing at you on the web is actually going to follow through with what they’re saying. I used to be a thin-skinned little twit and it used to upset me when people were rude and offensive towards me on the internet, but I eventually got a thicker skin and got over myself. It really did offend me when people would say stuff like “I’ll kick your face in, faggot!”, but now I don’t care because I realise that a lot of people don’t really mean a lot of what they say on the internet and they wouldn’t be that insolent in person.

    So, are men more offensive than women in internet discussions? I don’t know, and I don’t really care.

    • No, I understood your point and expanded on it: men AND women are both victims and perpetrators of violence and internet threats, but men do it more often and we refuse to acknowledge this fact and its consequences. As I mentioned, both men and women flamed my husband when he wrote an article that prompted hostility. Both men and women have flamed me, as well. I think we can safely say that all sexes/genders are both targets and perps.

      You don’t care about hostility on the internet; I do. You don’t know or care if men are more offensive than women in internet discussion. I do know. And I do care. Does this make me a thin-skinned little twit? Not sure. But I do find it bizarre that the men who are claiming that “feminists” are too thin-skinned to appreciate how the internet really “is” are in the same breath going berserk when these same feminists offend them. A little consistency would be nice. You seem to be suggesting that I should accept ‘colorful’ language but not be allowed to respond in turn with my own ‘colorful’ perspective. Why not?? Could it be that the internet is “probably not the place for you?” 😀

      But, in all seriousness, my main concern, as I’ve made abundantly clear, has nothing to do with digital threats and everything to do with real violence.

      • Many years ago I quite innocently posed as a woman on the Internet and I was amazed at the condescending way the men treated me. I refused to take it and told the men off. The woman on the board said finally someone stood up to the men. It taught me a lesson about being more sensitive about the way others are treated not just me. I think some people take things too personally. If you say something about men some men will disagree if it isn’t true of them. I have found women who like this too and very few can ever get past it.

      • Erika maybe you answered elsewhere. You don’t have to agree with me but do you understand that most men believe that maleness is attacked almost constantly and almost everywhere.

      • Hello, I just don’t have the energy to answer all the comments, though I appreciate many of them! Thank your for posting again. I’m not sure “most” men feel that maleness is attacked almost constantly but I do see and hear that many feel this way. My husband and I often worry about the world our almost-adult sons will inherit. There’s so much talk about the “end of men” and depressing statistics about the growing gap between men’s and women’s achievement in college etc. (Women outnumber men in college, nationally, and in some traditionally black colleges, the percentage is almost 75-25.) But what troubles me is the assertion or implication that women are somehow largely or even solely responsible for this state of affairs. We ALL need to play a role in helping to support men in a world that relies less on “traditionally’ male traits/behaviors like hunting and physical prowess. This was the motivation for my TIME.com column!

        Personally speaking, I also don’t see a lot of empathy coming from some of these aggrieved men. (I’m speaking of the ones who hurl abuse and distort my words.) To caricature it somewhat: ‘men have held women back for thousands of years and NOW they’re crying foul?’ And of course in many parts of the world, it’s women, not men, who continue to be ‘attacked almost constantly” – physically abused, not allowed to drive or even go to the bathroom etc. So it can be a challenge even for the best human being (which I am not) to try to understand and empathize with the concerns of all. We need to keep trying, of course!

        There’s a wonderful book called Guyland about the difficult transition from boy to man that American males face. It’s well worth a read. It’s really transformative.

  3. I am going to do a poll on Mr Poll to see if men feel attacked for being male. I did a poll on would you like your next incarnation to be the same or different. Sixty percent (60%) of the women would come back male. Eighty (80%) percent of the men would like to come back female. Its seems at least in the United States people believe it is better to be female.

  4. BYW that us against them thinking has destroyed the political center of this country. I believe in justice for all and am against injustices done against woman. You sound like it was never about fairness, You were only waving the bloody shirt so you could grab power for yourself. You justify anything you do because it will never be as bad as the injustices that women suffer. The reason American cannot make progress is there is no America only warring hate groups. You don’t care but Rush Limbaugh has convinced millions of white men and woman that the left will soon round up white males and send them to death camps. That’s why Ted Nugent he would die if Obama is elected. America is turning into a third world county because too many members of each group follow blindly anyone who says everyone is against you.

  5. Aimee says:

    Erika – there’s a really interesting infograph on the Facebook page “One Million Moms for Gun Control” that is relevant to the maleness of both “gun desire” (for lack of a better word) and this post about violence. Here’s their page: https://www.facebook.com/#!/OneMillionMomsForGunControl Reminded me of this post (this topic kind of stuck with me…)

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