Death and Rape Threats

Today, I’d planned to post the second half of my top ten list about being pregnant. Instead, I read something this morning that turned my stomach and wore me out in a completely different way.

The something in question was “Let Me Tell You About the Birds and the Bees: Gender and the Fallout Over Christopher Priest” by Catherynne Valente.

Valente is a bestselling fantasy and sci-fi author. Priest is a sci-fi author who recently took quite strong exception to the nominees for this year’s Clarke Award. There was much virtual hullaballoo and whatnot over the vitriol with which Priest chose to express his opinion.

But his opinion per se is not what inspired the Valente post or the post I’m writing now. What Valente chose to focus on is the fact that this was his opinion. As in, a male opinion. And, she asserts, had the same opinion originated with a female author, the backlash against this female author would’ve been a lot stronger than just some online tongue-wagging and head-shaking.

Go read what Valente wrote. It’s pretty convincing. Especially the parts where she gives examples of female bloggers who’ve received rape threats and death threats simply for stating what they think.

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard of vocal women being targeted online. I believe my first exposure to it was this post by Shauna James Ahern. She describes how she once posted a recipe for soft pretzels. Moments later, someone commented, “I hope you choke on your own pretzels and die, you bitch.”

Really, people? Over pretzels?

No. Not really. It wasn’t the pretzels, and it wasn’t Ahern (who’s also received comments such as, “I hope the pedophiles are watching and I hope they get your kid.”). It was the fact that this is an outgoing, optimistic, vibrant, popular, outspoken woman. The origin of the thoughts was female, and she wasn’t shutting up when told to do so. She wasn’t going away.

There’s also this article, which describes websites glorifying the “war on women” and encouraging misogyny and brutality — both online and offline.

Back to Valente, whose post made me feel the need to hijack my own blog today. She writes,

Most women who blog or are active in the cultural commentary game know that they have to watch what they say. Always. It’s a horrible balancing act, and one I rarely see men having to do.

…The fact is, to be a woman online is to eventually be threatened with rape and death. On a long enough timeline, the chances of this not occurring drop to zero.

…I keep trying to think of what a male blogger would have to say about science fiction to have someone say they hope he gets raped to death. I’m not coming up with anything.

Misogyny in the West is coming up and it’s a gross, miserable, chthonic thing swirling at our feet. It’s getting worse, not better.

Valente is right. Now, those of you who know me IRL know that I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to the news or to politics. The former is depressing, by which I mean that I actually do begin to have a dismal outlook on life when I regularly expose myself to stories of death, destruction, and cruelty; the latter simply disgusts me with its ubiquitous hypocrisy. BUT. There’ve been several news/politics stories that have caught my attention recently. And I can’t ignore them.

Have you been paying attention, my dears? Are you aware of the lawmakers who want to give employers the legal right to ask a woman why she is using birth control — and to fire her or not hire her if she’s using it to prevent pregnancy? Are you aware of the lawmakers who want to force a woman to undergo a vaginal ultrasound before she can have an abortion*? And require the doctor in question to perform the vaginal ultrasound before performing the abortion, even if the doctor doesn’t want to do the ultrasound?

And then there’s the old standby: Are you aware that a woman gets paid less for the same job a man does, even if her qualifications are the same as his?

Another old standby: Feminazi! I don’t know how many times I’ve heard this term applied to a woman who dares express a women’s-rights opinion that steps outside the accepted norm. Over and over again during college, I heard this term applied to one of my most respected professors. Why? Because she had opinions. About women. About women’s rights. About how men treat women. About how women respond to that treatment. About the right and the wrong of it all.

And she wasn’t afraid to speak those opinions.


Really, people?

A woman has a solid core belief system and dares to open her mouth and let others know about it — so you equate her with a person who committed the atrocities of rape, torture, terror, murder, and genocide?


Women, these things are not something we can ignore. They’re not going to go away. They are getting progressively worse. The world we grew up in is not going to be the same world our daughters and grand-daughters grow up in. I truly fear that our daughters and grand-daughters aren’t going to enjoy half the freedoms that we’ve enjoyed — and our freedoms haven’t been anywhere as numerous as they should’ve been. Are you going to let this happen?

Men, these things are not something you can ignore. They’re not going to go away. They are getting progressively worse. The world your mothers, sisters, girlfriends, and wives grew up in is not going to be the same world your your daughters and grand-daughters grow up in. Your daughters and grand-daughters are going to live in tiny boxes made all the more confining by the knowledge that things could and should and used to be better. Are you going to let this happen?

I’ve been belittled, teased, and mocked because I’m female. I’ve expressed opinions and offered suggestions and been ignored — only to see those same opinions and suggestions be accepted when they came from a male.

I’ve never heard anyone say they hope I get raped to death because I said something they disagree with and in a way they disapprove of.

I am afraid to hit “publish.”

Will the threats start now?

And yet, I cannot remain silent. I will not.

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

~Frank Herbert,


*No matter what my opinion about abortion itself (and I’m not going to discuss it here), a government should not be allowed to require a woman to have an object shoved up her vagina before she can have an abortion.

9 thoughts on “Death and Rape Threats

  1. Jenny says:

    You go girl! I think it’s a shame I have to explain to men that women are still prisoners of violence. I can’t walk down any street late at night and feel safe and there are times when I’m hiking in the woods alone that I become wracked with fear if I see a male hiker approaching. This makes me particularly sad actually, that even in the woods I should not assume I’m safe.

    I expect this online problem will get worse before it gets better. Women have taken over the blogosphere and social media and we’re not being all prim ‘n proper about it, either.

    Women are becoming the immensely powerful force we were meant to be as the interwebs has allowed us to connect with our sisters in creative and non-threatening ways. This frightens a certain type of man and makes them want to strike out.

    It’ll take some time to weed out the crazies, but we’ll get there. I’m certain of it 🙂

    • Jenny dear, thank you so much for what you’ve said here! You touched on a particular point I thought about including but then didn’t because I wasn’t sure where to fit in.

      But I’ve see so many cases in the media in which a man expressed frustration that a woman considered him dangerous because of his appearance, his race, his profession, etc. And every time I hear such statements, I think, “Honey, I’m not afraid of you because of how you look. I’m afraid of you because I don’t know you and you’re male.”

      I’ve never had any kind of traumatic experience at the hands of a man. But that doesn’t change the facts: The average man is stronger and faster than me, and if I’m attacked, there’s very little I can do to defend myself. No, I don’t suspect every man I come into contact with of having nefarious motives. But I cannot tell by appearance alone whether this guy is or isn’t that certain type of man. So anytime I’m alone and pass a man on the street, there’s a tiny flash of instinctive…well, let’s call it caution instead of fear. I feel better about myself calling it caution.

      But either way, it’s there. It’s there with every male jogger I meet in my neighborhood or on a lake path. It’s there with every man I walk past in the parking lot. It’s there with every salesman who rings my doorbell.

      It makes me sad, too — because it shouldn’t have to be this way. Someone will say, “You should take some self-defense classes” — and they’re right, I should. But what saddens me even more is that I shouldn’t have to.

      As for the online thing, I agree with you: It’ll get worse before it gets better. What gives me hope is that there are so many of us out here, both women and men, who do stand up for each other and refuse to back down in the face of hatred. It might be just a small light in the darkness right now — but it is there, and that is incredibly encouraging!

  2. So. As the daughter of a feminist, as a woman scientist, and as a mom of two young women, my approach is: First, be who you are without apology or fear. Second, learn self defense. Third, walk the walk (as well as speaking out). As a woman, this is the way I deal with having drawn the lots I have – which is being born female. When we have more female voters, published authors, law-makers, workers in a hiring capacity–our world will change for the better. I’m sure of it. And with your strong female roles in literature Courtney, you are part of a positive change. Thanks for the great post! – J.J.Brown

    • Jennifer, you have me blushing and appreciative. : ) I’ve been questioning lately whether or not my female characters are strong enough. So it’s encouraging to hear a strong woman, whom I respect greatly, praise my writing in this particular way! Thank you so much.

      I agree 100% with your three-fold approach. It’s a challenge, but life is so much simpler and more rewarding when I clearly delineate my boundaries — both with men and with other women! As I mentioned to Jenny above, self-defense training is something that’s entered my mind…but it makes me sad that I should even have to consider it a necessity. But you are quite right — and I would be foolish not to pursue it simply because I’m too idealistic.

      Of course, it’ll have to wait until postpartum. ; )

      I do hope and pray for positive, beneficial change! And may we all live to see and experience it.

  3. Jill Barneche says:

    Sad, isn’t it? Back in high school, I used to be one of those people living in blissful ignorance that thought feminists today are just being pushy and ridiculous because obviously women are treated right today and no longer need to fight for equal rights. Then I started finding out how women are actually being treated today all over the world, including right here in the U.S. It’s sad and aggravating and just plain wrong. Keep speaking up. There are many still living in naivete that will likely speak out and work to change things for the better if we can make them aware of what’s happening.

    • Jill, I’m not sure your highschool-age blissfulness was all that ignorant! If it was, then my own ignorance has extended well beyond highschool, because I really do think it’s just been in the last couple of years that things have started to “go bad” again. On the other hand, maybe the backslide has gone on long enough and so gradually that, like the proverbial amphibian in the pot, we didn’t realize how bad it was getting until it started boiling around our ears.

      That’s concerning women’s rights in the USA, anyway. Worldwide — a whole different matter, and a depressing and infuriating one. I do hope that as those of us who have voices speak up and speak out, others will find their voices, too. It’s a frightening undertaking…but more frightening is imagining what our world could become if none of us ever say anything.

      Jill, I love your heart for these greater concerns!

  4. […] little late (but late due to a good cause), here is the second half of my “Baby Factory 10 Things” list. If you missed the first […]

  5. I came from a time when burning your bra was showing your “balls”. If only it were that easy now.Over the years I haven’t seen a lot of changes in men’s perceptions of women.Well, this “little woman”is still working towards proving that women have so much to offer. It’s sad that we have to keep proving ourselves over and over again. Wonderful post Courtney.

    • Thanks so much, Cindi. It frightens me to think that the western world has made so much progress in women’s rights and just plain humanity over the last 50 years — and now it seems like we’re taking several steps backward. We found out recently that our little one is a girl, and I want her to grow up in a world that’s more advanced than the one I grew up in, not less! So I’m ever more motivated not to keep my mouth shut! : )

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