If a Troll Speaks on the Internet, Does Anyone Hear Him?

Angelina Jolie published an op-ed this morning in the New York Times. It was an extraordinarily personal and well-spoken account of her recent surgery removing her ovaries and putting her into early menopause. The surgery was a preventative measure, an attempt to avoid the cancer that had stricken down two close female family members.

One of the first responses on Twitter was for some troll to suggest that she had her ovaries removed because she was trying to become a man.

Internet troll
*Image may not accurately represent the visage of said troll*

Earlier this month, actress Ashley Judd tweeted some mildly offensive smack talk about a sports team. The Twitter trolls responded by calling her a c*nt and suggesting she be raped and murdered. For announcing that she was pressing charges in the face of the violent threats, she was called out for being unable to handle the response to her sports comments.

Are these examples extreme? Yes, and no. Yes, of course there are trolls out there who seemingly spend their time looking for opportunities to write nasty comments for no apparent reason. But think about that for a second: there are trolls people out there who spend their time looking for opportunities to write nasty comments for no apparent reason.

And what is their go-to response to comments they don’t like by women they don’t like? Gender insults, rape threats, derogatory sexual pejoratives.

These examples are extreme because they don’t represent the majority of viewpoints. But they are not extreme because they represent just enough viewpoints to be not quite fringe, still sort of mainstream. Is it a far leap from calling Angelina Jolie a wannabe-man for removing her ovaries, to calling a lesbian a butch for her supposed failure to be some notion of “traditionally” female? Is it a far leap from suggesting Ashley Judd deserves to be raped for her sports taunts, to justifying that some women truly *are* raped for their audacity to send a man home without the sex that is owed to him for the dinner/drinks/career advice that he bestowed upon her?

I hate to give any legitimacy to the losers who lurk in the online world. But the problem is that they walk around in the real world too; and they are not nearly so easy to spot in the flesh.

I just googled “Women on Twitter” hoping to find some recent stories and discussions about the female experience using the social media giant. There were some stories… but only after I scrolled past the top Google result: a link to the Twitter handle HOT WOMEN (@ HotWomenHotPics). A sophisticated computer algorithm deduced that, when thinking about women, the first thing we want to know is whether or not they are “hot”.

This is not just an internet troll problem. This is a society problem and we have to acknowledge it. A CBC Marketplace documentary recently revealed that products for girls and women are habitually priced higher than similar products for boys and men – even when the same male version contains less product than the female version or is different only in colour or pattern. Pink children’s bedsheets cost more than blue; moisturizer for women by a popular brand costs more than moisturizer for men, even when the female bottle contains less product. This is still true in 2015.

It begins as early as pink bedsheets and blue bedsheets. Probably even earlier.

There is no easy solution. Awareness is a start, speaking out an important next step. Calling out inequality every time we see it. It doesn’t matter if it’s an internet troll or the colleague sitting next to you. Jokes become beliefs become values.


You don’t have to alienate your friends and family, or make enemies in the workplace. That’s not the way to win hearts and minds. Knowledge and education win out, eventually. We all have prejudices and biases. Acknowledge them when someone points them out. Accept that we have them. Think about them.  Talk about them. Try to do better.

Ignore the trolls, but remember them – they are out there, among us.


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