You know how, sometimes, you can take a wrong turn on the way to an unfamiliar destination and end up somewhere dangerous, in a part of town you really don’t want to be in? Well, that can happen on the Internet, too.
Say you’re looking for scholarly commentary on Lord of the Rings (er… hypothetically, of course), and you type in “Return of the King” into your search engine bar. But, because you’re watching the latest episode of Orange Is The New Black and are rightfully distracted, you omit “the” and what you end up typing into the search bar is “Return of King.” You click on the first result, and to your soon-to-be disgust and dismay, you find yourself on the homepage of a website called Return of Kings, a digital meeting-place for guys who believe that “men should be masculine and women should be feminine.”
For lack of a better descriptor, the sentiments expressed on this website are disgusting. Jezebel and female activists on Change.org have already tried to tackle the blatant misogynistic vitriol that Return of Kings publishes, and with titles like “Why America Has Become Infected With Rape Hysteria,” “Girls With Short Hair Are Damaged,” and “How To Turn Your Girl Into A Nympho” belonging to just a few of their more well-read articles, you can understand why so many people are up in arms about the site.
Spend a few minutes on the site and you’ll find yourself asking, “Jesus, does anyone really think like this anymore?” And the answer is: probably not, at least when it comes to the writers themselves. In the digital publishing world, the more “clicks” and website traffic you generate, the more dollars roll in. What’s a surefire way to generate traffic? Publish something you know for a fact will piss tons of readers off. Attention, negative or positive, is all the same to the Internet. So writing derogatory and chauvinistic articles about women (under anonymous usernames) in a likely attempt to generate web traffic — while still deplorable — is something we can see right through. Hey King — or Emperor, whatever — you ain’t got no clothes on, and you don’t look good naked.
Today’s keyboard is yesterday’s torch.
That tactic, along with all the heterosexist/male-centric/anti-feminist garbage you find in the articles, are old news. But that’s not really the problem. The following are a few choice user comments culled from the comments section of different articles:
These are all real users. Users who weren’t paid to leave those comments, users who weren’t paid to visit the websites in the first place, but people who agreed with the ideas expressed in the article and felt compelled to add their own voices to the “discussion.” Herein lies the danger: the content might be sincere or it might just be click-bait designed to attract viewers and traffic, but there’s no doubt at all that the hate for women in the comments section is real.
Last week, in a very public and very abrupt manner, xoJane staff writer Melissa Stetten was fired from xoJane because a racist remark she tweeted years ago came to light. She apologized by writing a post on xoJane and the website stood by her, but when Stetten tweeted a comment that made her apology look contrived, xoJane released a statement in which they fired her, claiming that they would not tolerate “racially insensitive attitudes.” As such, the comment section exploded with users celebrating the departure of Stetten from the website:
We’re not saying that a user comment claiming that women actually want to be raped and a user comment calling Stetten a horrible writer fall on the same part of the awful spectrum, but, what’s being expressed by these users is not just satisfaction that Stetten was fired, or glee that she’s been publicly and permanently embarrassed, or a sense of vindication that she has been punished for her crime, but also hate. Users bash her looks and appearance, they question her intelligence and her ability to write and, if you go on to read more of the comments made on the public statement, viciously pick her actions, her past and her character apart piece by piece. It reads like a locker-room scene from a movie about snarky high school bullies.
xoJane allowed 800+ comments to be posted, most of them echoing the same sentiments expressed in the comments above, before it shut down the commenting feature. While no more comments can be published to the article, xoJane hasn’t taken down the ones that have already been. So: why did xoJane allow comments to be made in the first place? When it saw the direction the thread was going in, why didn’t it shut the down the feature then? And why hasn’t it removed the comments after being asked to do so by Stetten herself numerous times, as she claims she has on her own blog Pretty Bored?
Could it be because the editors over at xoJane aren’t immune to the lure of click-bait either? Melissa Stetten has never been your quiet, let-the-words-speak-for-themselves type of writer; she uses her personal life as fodder for her content, and is willing to put herself out there in a way many other writers don’t. And, as one commenter pointed out, she has more than a few controversies under her belt. So a public firing where xoJane essentially calls her a racist would be sure to draw attention, which would generate tons of traffic, which would equal lots of clicks… you know where this is going.
The alternate explanation would be that xoJane felt it needed to make an honest statement about the kinds of actions it tolerates from its writers and the kinds it doesn’t. Which it has all the right in the world to do. What makes this hard to swallow, though, is that Stetten isn’t the first person to have a controversial opinion posted on the website; Cat Marnell, Jen Caron, India-Jewel Jackson – the list of writers who have gotten on the wrong side of the masses at some point on the website goes on. But Stetten is the first to have a statement published by the company about her and the events leading up to her dismissal from xoJane.
Either way, the hateful comments and bully-like behavior that xoJane failed to moderate in the comments section of the statement don’t sit well. How can a website call itself a community dedicated towards serving the interests of women, and then sit back and watch hundreds of anonymous women gang together and digitally rip another one to shreds without lifting a finger? And while xoJane is no Return of Kings, for some reason, what goes on in the comments section there troubles us a lot more than anything they could say at Return of Kings.
After all, it’s easy to fight an enemy who makes it clear they’re coming after you. It’s almost impossible to focus on defending your front when you have to constantly worry about getting stabbed in the back.