Feed the Trolls

by | February 11, 2015, 10:34am 0

“Seriously stop trying to force the womans game on us please. We play a minority sport it’s difficult enough trying to push through this transition phase to playing a ‘proper’ sport. The womans game is terrible, literally 1% of the Ultimate community care about it, I don’t personally see any reason why we are trying to put all of our resources in trying to make it equal with the mens game. No other sport does that, they focus on expanding their sport as much as possible and with proven great results, yet we all have to endure trying to play with the woman at our college clubs.” –Angel

The above is a comment on an article Kyle Weisbrod wrote to address USAU’s gender policy and how it plays into the organization’s relationship with ESPN. From the superlatives to the made-up statistics to the outright misogyny to the errors in grammar and punctuation, there is nothing productive, intelligent, or true about this comment.

So why bring it up again? Why not let it fester in the comments section of an old article, where it belongs?

When I first read through what people were saying underneath Kyle’s article, I didn’t know how to respond. I jumped from vitriolic spew to vitriolic spew, composing comments and then deleting them, composing them, deleting them, refreshing the page, reading the new comments, and starting the process all over again. In other words, I wasted a whole lot of my time.

Over on Twitter, the Fury account drew some attention to the thread, posting a snippet of the quote above and a link to the article that drew the commenter’s ire. Various female responders expressed their distaste, but Emily Baecher wrapped up the futility of it all nicely:

“I know we should get into that comment thread, but where the hell can we start?”

Where can we start?

As I pondered this question, I ran across a story about Jezebel writer Lindy West and her interactions with the harshest troll she has ever come across. In that story, she does the unthinkable and actively addresses the pain and anger caused by the troll by writing a very public article about the damage his words inflicted. In regards to her decision, she states, “I was stuck with the question, what should I do? If I respond, I’m a sucker. But if I don’t respond, I’m a punching bag. So I did what you’re not supposed to do. I fed the troll.”

Lindy’s decision ends in the most hopeful way imaginable: with an apology from her harasser and a reconciliation of sorts, along with an explanation from him about why he was driven to trolling her specifically. “When you talked about being proud of who you are and where you are and where you’re going,” he told her, “that kind of stoked that anger that I had.”

Now, two things: First, I’m not putting any of the anonymous commenters on Skyd and Ultiworld in the same category as the trolls talked about in this story, and if there were any trolls around on that level, I know they’d be quickly removed from the discussion boards. Second, I do not recommend directly engaging with abusive trolls in any way.

That said, I did find it a little curious that there weren’t more female comments in the thread. Combing through the 56 responses by 25 individuals, I found one female commenter (myself) and 12 male commenters. There were also 7 anonymous commenters with names like “Eric” or “Bill” or who claimed to play men’s, and 5 anonymous commenters who gave no indication of sex/gender. Not taking into account those 5 unknown commenters, that’s a 19:1 male to female commenter ratio.

On other Skyd and Ultiworld articles the ratios are more even, but still lopsided. On Tiina Booth’s most recent article, there’s an 8:1 male to female commenter ratio. On Kyle Weisbrod’s most recent article there is a 6:1 male to female ratio (11 of the commenters gave no indication of sex/gender). On Beau’s most recent article there is a 5:1 male to female ratio (13 of the commenters gave no indication of sex/gender).

Over on Twitter, the comments stemming from the Fury post (which I linked to above) boasted a 4:1 female to male ratio. And over on Facebook, about a week after the article Weisbrod wrote and the ensuing string of comments, Seattle ultimate player Alicia Kellogg posted this comment to the Seattle Women’s Ultimate group:

“The ways in which girls and women are systematically discouraged from participating in athletic activities is a shame, because, as we all know, things like team sports can bring any human being joy, fulfillment, friendship, growth, confidence, and a multitude of other positive things which should not be the domain of a single gender. Sports and other athletic endeavors should be encouraged across all genders, sexual orientations, races, able-bodiedness, you-name-it. GO SPORTS!”

As a female ultimate player, it is wonderful to be able to go to these other forums to read the opinions of other female ultimate players. While I don’t know that populating the comment section of Skyd and Ultiworld articles is the best use of anyone’s time or efforts in regards to promoting gender equality, I do think that comments like the one from Alicia above can do a lot to counter trollish negativity in a simple, positive way.

And if you do have the time or inclination to express your opinion in one of these forums but feel intimidated or outnumbered or simply feel that it’s a waste of time, I’d encourage you to remember these words from Lindy West: “I could just stop writing altogether. I’ve thought about it. But it seems to me that our silence is what the trolls want.”

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