Thoughts on Feminism and Misogynistic Trolling

fist holding a Barbie doll head and covering the mouth

A couple months ago, I came across a blog post that mentioned Glennon Doyle. I didn’t know what that was, so off I went to Google. It turns out she’s a feminist author, and I stumbled across a 2016 blog post of hers titled Quit Hating Her. The chatter in the comments fascinated me, so I wanted to explore some of the thoughts it stirred up about misogynistic trolling in feminist spaces.

The blog post was written in response to this comment on her Facebook page: “Fucking ignorant liberal cunt. That is all.” Glennon’s sister Amanda wrote this response after checking the commenter’s Facebook page: “Interesting to announce a new baby girl and be publicly calling women cunts in the same week. Will pray your daughter finds her own worth outside of your rage.”

In her post, Glennon wrote, “If you call a woman a cunt, you are calling your sister and your mother and your infant daughter a cunt also. You are actively creating a world in which it is okay to call those women cunts. You are releasing poison into the air that the women in your life WILL BREATHE BACK IN. You are poisoning your own people. You cannot hate a woman for speaking her mind without hating all of us. Women are a package deal.”

The shitshow in the comments

Comments on the post remain open, and it appears that there was no moderation happening. Doyle herself didn’t respond to any of the comments. There are comments from as recently as 2021, and a huge chunk of them represent misogynistic trolling. The misogynists were gleefully cheering each other on, and there’s plenty of immature name-calling, like “I’m pretty sure that you are a gross fat disgusting whore” in response to a female commenter. Some came up with lame-ass names to leave with their comments like “MadeThisAccoutJustToCallYouARetard.” Winners, one and all.

Some of the comments seem like basic incel playbook stuff, with a few mentions of incel terms like hypergamy. There’s a fair bit of talk about how there are no good women left these days, and how most women are retarded/dumb/whores/cunts/etc. One delightful specimen commented, “Us good men will NEVER settle for a disgusting used up community love collection hole.” Good men, indeed.

There are various comments related to silencing like, “Shut the fuck up , no one , LITERALLY no one cares what you have to say.” Obviously, the person who wrote that comment cared enough to make their way to the article, presumably read at least part of it, and then leave a comment. And yes, someone did point out to the commenter that literally doesn’t mean what he thought it did.

Do only misogynists say cunt?

I agree with Glennon’s fundamental point that putting misogyny out there into the world fuels misogyny generally, which is likely to have an impact on all women. What I disagree with is that every individual using the term cunt is coming from a place of misogyny. That’s not to say that women (or anyone) shouldn’t be offended by the term; however, I’m not sure how useful it is to make generalizations about the intent of all individuals who use the term.

I used the word cunt to describe the useless psychiatrist who not long ago decided I should remain in hospital involuntarily. I’m not anti-woman and I’m quite happy with my vagina, but cunt is a strong negative word, and that’s exactly the sort of word I was looking for in that context.

I also disagree with this bit: “You cannot hate a woman for speaking her mind without hating all of us. Women are a package deal.” While I do think misogyny is bad for all women, there are plenty of women that I do not want to be in a package deal with. Let’s take some wackadoo like Marjorie Taylor Greene; I don’t hate her, but her speaking her mind is a frightening thing to behold, and I don’t want to be in that package.

Mansplaining?

There were some male commenters who expressed their disagreement with Doyle in a reasonable, respectful way, and some female commenters accused them of mansplaining. Let’s say Doyle had said something along the lines of when men say A, they all mean B, and that causes women to feel C. In my mind, if a man counters that with no, some men say A without meaning B, I don’t think that’s mansplaining. Mansplaining would sound like telling women what women think, along the lines of no, when men say A, women don’t feel C, they actually feel D.

I wonder how productive it is to brush off male opinions as mansplaining. It’s one thing if the individual is clearly misogynistic and not interested in changing their mind; in that case, it’s just calling a spade a spade. But at some point, addressing misogyny and patriarchy requires getting a critical mass of males to change their attitudes and behaviours. I’m not sure that brushing off people’s reasoned ideas as mansplaining is going to help achieve that. It’s one thing to invalidate nonsense, because the misogynistic nonsense-spewers aren’t going to be won over. But to brush off as mansplaining the opinion of a man who’s put some thought into the point he’s making seems like shooting a potential ally in the foot. The people who are willing to engage in discussions are where progress can be made.

Handling misogynistic trolling

Glennon Doyle has the right to handle comments on her site however she chooses, and I’m not here to criticize her choices. I do wonder, though, if the benefits of allowing totally unmoderated comments, open until the end of time, are outweighed by the downside of giving misogynistic trolls the opportunity to run wild on a feminist platform.

As a small-time blogger, this isn’t an issue I’ve had to give much thought to. For one, I don’t really get trolls. But also, while I don’t moderate comments before publishing, I get a manageable number of comments and I’m on WordPress enough that I quickly delete anything that detracts from the kind of space that I want my blog to be.

It’ doesn’t surprise me that a big-time author wouldn’t task whoever’s running her site with moderating the many comments that her posts get. Still, I wonder if there’s another way that could avoid giving such a platform to trollish voices that will feed off of each other’s hate. It certainly isn’t very welcoming for women readers to see that kind of garbage in the comments. I wonder if closing comments after a couple of weeks would have kept it more focused and relevant.

Clearly, the trolls are the ones who are entirely in the wrong here. However, if it’s an easy place for them to spew their vitriol and get feedback on it, that creates a pretty yucky environment that they’re going to keep coming back to. Is it worth giving them that opportunity? I suppose it proves her point that misogyny is a big issue, but that’s already been proven many times over in the manosphere. For that much hate to have a place on one’s own website makes the space less safe for women.

What are your thoughts on how to deal with that kind of trolling?

91 thoughts on “Thoughts on Feminism and Misogynistic Trolling”

  1. I love your blog Ashley 🙂 I didn’t check those websites yet, but I kind of see why she could have chosen to allow all the comments – to have evidence of this kind of attitude.

    Women can still congregate on closed Facebook groups and discuss whatever they want there.

      1. Yes, I understand that. It’s not very nice. I was thinking however, if it can, at some point later, happen to me, although probably in in such a big scale, but it can still happen.

        I once got offensive Facebook message about the Redecor designs I do and was called insane!

        I am also aware autistic people have less inhibition, and as much as I am trying to be polite, I also want to be able to speak my mind – that is the purpose of the blog, I guess.

        But I don’t think that would ever happen to you.

  2. I like politics. It’s part of my degree, after all. I tend to liberal thought and I’m on Twitter. The language is foul and the misogyny in full display. It correlates strongly with the far-right and fundamentalism. I watch my language somewhat (some might call that a lie), but I’m also ready to wade in. I’m a fan of “See you next Tuesday,” since it often slides right by them. I like the list option on Twitter, though I suppose adding people to one called “right wingnuts” might be considered passive aggressive.

    1. Social media sure has made the voices of the right-wing wingnuts more in your face. I think there are reasonable conservative folks out there, but they seem to get drowned out. And maybe “right wingnuts” isn’t passive aggressive, it’s just telling it like it is…

      1. I agree. I feel for those conservatives who are suddenly unrepresented by anything approaching a reasonable voice.

          1. But given that there’s only two options in the US, it’s tough. I like that in Canada we have more than two major parties, so conservatives not happy with the Conservative party don’t face an alternative of swinging all the way to the left.

  3. There has been an upset here about a completely inappropriate comment that apparently an unknown male politician within the governing conservative made about a female politician on the opposition – the labour party. I don’t know if they will ever find out who made this comment (which we think was made to a journalist and subsequently published in a national newspaper) but the reaction is justifiable outrage.

    On a much less insulting scale, I have to remember sometimes that it works both ways. I work with a lot of young men, and I have to remember to dignify and respect them rather than picking up on areas of their speech, behaviour etc that I may be inclined to poke fun at. Sometimes if I just hold my tongue for 30 seconds, I think of a way to re-phrase something so that it does not cause any offense. Like recently a young man I work with made a bunch of typos in a communication at work. Initially, I was tempted to type “were you out drinking again last night?”….but alarm bells rang and I changed my comment to “have you had your morning coffee yet?” which I realized was much less likely to be perceived negatively by others, and was more dignifying to him.

    I don’t know…I would love to think of the way things would be if we all held our tongue until we found a kind way of addressing someone – whatever their gender.

    1. Social media certainly seems to lower the likelihood of tongue-holding, probably at least in part because whoever’s on the other end doesn’t seem quite as human as if you know them in person.

  4. Men in general suck. At least in the context you have highlighted.

    I wish there were consequences for anything less than “responsible” speech.

    It doesn’t seem to be happening though!

    As always, have a nice day.

        1. I think online platforms should definitely have terms of use that address harassment and hate speech and things like that, and I think they need to work on their algorithms around how easily things can be amplified, but speech that’s not “responsible” would be a very difficult thing to target because it’s extremely subjective.

  5. What are your thoughts on how to deal with that kind of trolling? I haven’t encountered it here (thankfully). Early in my blog though, I did get ‘flamed”. By women. So the boys (men, male creatures) don’t have a market on being nasty. One good way to entice me to unleash “the beast within’ i.e. my borderline temper and anger, is to call me a See You Next Tuesday. It is the vilest of all epithets in my opinion and I’ll quickly verbally rip the asshole calling me that a new one, whatever their gender.

    But the most ugly ‘troll fight’ I ever had was on good ol’ Facebook. My account there is closed and I won’t re-open it because FB went to the virtual dogs in 2016 in my opinion. The backbiting, hate and trolling was out of control. Since I swam against most of the tide and wasn’t shy about sharing my point of view, it became toxic on my personal page fairly quickly.

    But the troll I’m referring to was earlier on. Maybe 2006? I frequented some ‘adult dating sites’ back then, along with my husband and his desire to have an ‘open’ marriage. Anyway I have no idea what I wrote to inflame that ugly troll (he was literally ugly if the profile pic was really him). We got down to cases quickly for he was a true misogynist (IMO) and thought “fat’ women shouldn’t put themselves ‘out there’. Fat women were like female manatees according to Mr. Troll. I hadn’t ever heard of a manatee and I looked it up. “Sea Cow” is one name for those peaceful sea creatures, who are endangered now as I understand it.

    The insults flew fast and furious until I thought up the ultimate ‘zinger’ (Achilles heel of all misogynistic turds who masquerade as human (IMO) ) Insult their penis. Call it little, call it shriveled, call it a baby carrot. I think I heard that troll’s head explode clear in Utah.

    And did I stoop to his level? A bit. These days? It would a simple silence and banishment to the dungeon.

    I wonder if the woman whose post was trolled so horribly did that deliberately? Maybe to show the basest nature of trolls like those? Or to get them so frenzied up about one thing that they left lesser ‘insults’ alone?

    1. Brilliant thinking to insult the penis and hit him where it hurt.

      Maybe she was trying to show how bad trolls like that can be, but I feel like it’s been so well-established that they are that bad that more proof doesn’t really accomplish much of anything.

  6. Must you be so reasonable LOL (re: paragraph on mansplaining). As for blog comments that are out of line, in any reasonable sense – delete them – simple as that. It is unfortunate that one would have to read them in the first place.

  7. I don’t agree with not moderating comments, I mean people who blog are free to do whatever they want, what I mean is famous people, or big time influencers, who get literally thousands of comments, should moderate them, its the right and decent thing to do. After all, who wants to read a bunch of bullshit and nasty troll like comments on a post? I will stay clear of any blog like that where trolls are around. I do not want to draw trolls to my blog. I’m lucky, so far, I have only had one, and she said I was too open, and shared too much on my blog. Xx

  8. Very thoughtful post. I don’t often call other women cunts, but I agree 100% that there are times when the word fits. There are some pretty nasty women out there. I do hate it though when a man calls a woman a cunt just because they disagree with something she said. That’s just nasty, too.

    People like Glennon Doyle don’t mind stirring up the pot. The commentors, even the nasty ones, become character studies. After all, the comments are representative of how some men really think unfortunately. Scary but true!

  9. I see why she would allow such comments on her blog but like you said it could scare women and feminists away from her site. Personally, I wouldn’t allow comments like that on my blog.

  10. That’s one of the things I was the most scared of when I started my blog, especially since military history (a mostly male field) is my bread and butter. I’ve been very lucky so far in that I’ve had very little problems, and I’m grateful for that. But it makes me sad to see people get abused on the internet and I wish people could practice better manners.

  11. If I were her I would’ve turned the comments off. It’s too much work and not worth it to moderate comments from trash people. Happy that I don’t have to deal with problems like this on my blog. The worst I get is some spam and messages about clicking links and how they found an issue with my website lol. The user names are pretty damn hilarious for the spam messages though.

  12. Thanks for a really fascinating post Ashley.

    I wonder, does loudly calling out trolling engender the likelihood of trolling in the comments, as a rule? She is calling out people who behave badly, which makes me think the target audience includes such trolls (she literally addresses them by using the second person pronoun) – besides feminists, who would nod and agree as they read her post. I suspect the people who might stop and think “oh, she’s right, I shouldn’t use that word because she said XYZ” would have to be persons with a certain degree of openness… and quite probably unlikely to post misogynistic comments the first place – unless they are young, and still navigating social etiquettes.

    Happy to hear about what I might’ve missed with this opinion.

    1. To add: I write this as someone who preemptively avoids controversy like the plague. To clarify, she should post what she wants! My approach would probably be one of avoidance if it got trolled, eg disallowing the comments; deleting my own post if the comment section got too toxic.

      Then there’s a whole other discussion about free speech. A fair bit to think about…

  13. I wouldn’t allow the misogynist comments to stay on my blog. Some impressionable person may read them and start to think they’re true. To me, that’s no worse than spreading racism, because it leads to hate crimes like the one in Toronto a few years back. Opinions that lead to violence and oppression shouldn’t be included in “free speech.”

    Another thing I’d like to point out…”Incels” aren’t INVOLUNTARILY celibate, women just don’t want to be around people who think of them as inferior. Treating us like this is completely voluntary.

    1. I agree, and I don’t think the notion of free speech gives anyone the right to say whatever they want on someone’s blog.

      And regarding incels, my guess would be that they may have started off involuntarily celibate, but then as soon as they headed down the incel path, those attitudes are probably the most effective woman-repellent there is.

  14. I love how reflective and even-handed you are when you break down an issue like this, Ashley. Fortunately, as a small-time blogger, I haven’t had to deal with this either. But your excellent writing and logic is good food for thought.

  15. Very insightful post. What I think is concerning (among others) in those kind of spaces left open to endless trolling is how they would affect one’s view of the world and society. We’re all obviously exposed to all sorts of environments both online and offline and I think we take in a bit of data from each whether we like it or not. And the case you’re analyzing here would move us one inch closer to, for instance, believing that men and women are at each others’ throats like never before, that the whole debate is polarized and hopeless, that misogynist vitriol dominates society (seeing who’s the most vocal in those comments) and so forth. Those beliefs do sound distorted, but they also reflect the image projected in this case. (And that kind of distortion is unnerving, possibly also dangerous). In any case, it leaves me wondering what the truth is, which is probably a useful takeaway.

  16. Love this post and the conversation it started! Thank you for sharing 🙏
    I deleted my Facebook account more than a year ago and haven’t looked back, so I can’t see the post you refer to. But I’m familiar with Glennon Doyle because a bunch of my feisty feminist friends have shared her quotes. As far as whether it’s a good idea to leave those comments unmoderated, I agree with Magda – a previous commenter here. Moderating hateful comments falls well within a social media managers job description, so there may be a reason they’re leaving the thread as is. Making a point, perhaps? But I don’t know. The way I feel about it is that haters gonna hate no matter what. I don’t get trolls on my small blog, but I’ve gotten hated on for publishing controversial opinions in larger outlets. After my first article, I learned to ignore the comments section 😂 don’t feed the trolls!
    Also- I’d never heard of incel before! Makes so much sense. Thank you for another enlightening and engaging post!

    1. I’ve really enjoyed the discussion in the comments here.

      The whole incel subculture is bizarre. They’ve got a really extensive lingo they’ve developed, and their attitudes about women are so gross that I don’t understand how they wouldn’t see that those attitudes are the ultimate turn-off.

      I think Glennon Doyle is trying to make a point. And perhaps the audience she’s writing for is used to seeing that kind of tolling and just take it as par for the course. I don’t think I would be interested in following a blog that had that kind of atmosphere in the comments, though.

  17. This is such a great breakdown on the gender equality debates I frequently come across in academia. Your description of the role of men, from misogynistic dicks to well-meaning allies, is spot-on!

    Is there a solution? Less name-calling would help, in all directions. Finding allies. Healthy dialogue. Ignoring toxic people. It might never be perfect, but there’s always room for better…

    I can imagine that the author in question left these comments unmoderated because they also kind of prove a point… The problem is real!

    1. The problem is definitely real. Thirty seconds or less on an incel site proves that point.

      Once the name-calling starts, the chances of winning anyone over are pretty minimal, so that would probably be a good first step towards healthier dialogue.

  18. I’d say that everyone is free to do what they wish with their own platforms, and Ms Doyle is well within her rights to leave comments open, though that will sadly and inevitably bring the sort of vile trolling that she’s been hit with.

    It seems that relying on people to moderate themselves is, for the most part, asking too much. This becomes even worse if a woman is posting material. There will always be at least one ignorant, sexist idiot who cannot resist making some kind of crude or lewd comment.

    When it comes to misogynists, I’ve faced down a few on Twitter and also via one of my sites. There is one ‘regular’ who has come at me for years now, though why he does so I don’t know, for I always kick his ass. I’ve seen women come under fire on Twitter for daring to call themselves feminists, I’ve been accused of white-knighting for defending them (I’m married, and have no interest in pursuing other women for any reason), and it seems the cesspit of misogyny on social media has no bottom.

    On the flip-side, I’ve been accused of mansplaining too. All I can *ever* do is offer my perspective, and I certainly don’t believe it comes from a wish to impose male dominance upon a conversation. I’ve had enough MGTOWs, MRAs and the like hurl all kinds of insults at me that I don’t care what they have to say, yet for some reason the mansplaining accusation irritated me the most.

    I guess simple stuff like ‘don’t be sexist’ has gotten needlessly complicated.

    1. “It seems like the cesspit of misogyny on social media has no bottom.” – Sadly, I would have to agree.

      I can see why the mansplaining accusation would be particularly bothersome. When people start name-calling, it can make it easier to write them off as just being ridiculous. Mansplaining seems less overtly ridiculous and more invalidating. It puzzles me why some feminists don’t realize that male allies are absolute necessary to address gender inequality and misogyny.

      1. Fortunately, I have found many feminists who are happy to help men develop their understanding of feminism and of women in general. I know of some feminists who have been harmed greatly by men, and I cannot begrudge them if they take a different view.

          1. This is the view I hold to as well. What I’ve noticed is how invested some people – particularly men though not always – are in these stereotypes. You are probably familiar with men who feel masculinity is best expressed through (pardon my language) cock-measuring contests or displays of utterly stupid bravado, or notches on a bedpost.

            1. Oh absolutely. What’s the popular/most toxic notion? That men don’t or shouldn’t cry, and that we can only express emotion through anger. Between that and the idea that we’re somehow the stronger, dominant sex, it explains a few things.

  19. Thank you for the post. It is disturbing to me that there is so much hate in the world. For me, this post also brings up a bigger picture issue. How do you protect free speech when there is prevalent and persistent hate speech? Should we manage / get rid of the hate speech outright and eliminate it from the public view? Or should we just ignore it knowing there are always going to be @#$%% idiots out there? I don’t know the answer….

    1. I guess it’s up to individual platforms and websites to decide what they’re prepared to allow. The right to free speech only protects people from government interference; it doesn’t mean that they can say whatever they want, wherever they want.

  20. I didn’t think about it that way. So this brings up what is the relationship between hate speech and hate crimes? Are they different things or are they the same thing on a continuum?

      1. Thanks for this. I checked out the wikipedia site provided above. Funny it doesn’t specify gender, just race, color, religion or national origin. “Title I of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, enacted 18 U.S.C. § 245(b)(2), permits federal prosecution of anyone who “willfully injures, intimidates or interferes with, or attempts to injure, initimidate or interfere with … any person because of his race, color, religion or national origin”

        1. Interesting. In Canada’s Criminal Code, hate crimes involve inciting hatred against any “identifiable group,” which means “any section of the public distinguished by colour, race, religion, national or ethnic origin, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or mental or physical disability.”

  21. Gerard Nicol

    The “manosphere”, just like feminism is a dark place full of angry damaged people.

    It wouldn’t be hard to write this exact same post about misandry; screenshots included.

    So some halfwit said something unsupportive in the best way they could come up with?

    I’m not sure why that warrants outrage?

  22. I disagree with the “women are a package deal” sentiment. I almost feel like it’s objectifying in another way. Not the kind of objectifying of calling women cunts and “used community love holes” (boy does it feel weird to quote the trolls!), but it still implies that women are interchangeable without individual identities.

  23. The comments on that post are absolutely horrible. I enjoyed Glennon’s book a lot. It’s called Untamed and it has some of the biggest life lessons a women can learn. But I am sure misogynistic men won’t lay their hands on it because they aren’t bothered to understand what a woman goes through. It’s a lost cause, honestly. The more women talk about the mistreatment they face, the angrier men seem to get. It’s having an opposite effect. It’s the same with a lot of things and not just feminism. The ideal situation is when people listen to what you have to say, and try to understand a little bit. But in real life, people just get flustered when you go against their beliefs.

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