So when Jeopardy! contestant Talia Levin wrote an article about the abuse she and other female contestants received solely for being on Jeopardy! while female, I felt ashamed. Not because I was one of the parties of harassment--far from it. But as a fan of the game show genre, I feel as if it's my duty to represent my fandom as a place where people are judged for their deeds and not their gender, sexual orientation, race or disability.
Game shows themselves are institutions of meritocracy anyway: the person who is the best at the game, by and large, wins. If they are good at a part of the game, like buzzing in, over someone else, they have an advantage. Generally speaking, three average Jeopardy! contestants are on level intellectual footing. They're all smart enough to pass the online test, in-person audition, and lucky enough to have gotten picked. So to judge someone's appearance on the show for anything other than their in-game performance goes against everything the game show stands for. But I digress.
Amanda Hess, in her powerful article Why Women Aren't Welcome on the Internet, explains what she goes up against when a woman gets harassed online:
I dragged myself out of bed and opened my laptop. A few hours earlier, someone going by the username “headlessfemalepig” had sent me seven tweets. “I see you are physically not very attractive. Figured,” the first said. Then: “You suck a lot of drunk and drug fucked guys cocks.” As a female journalist who writes about sex (among other things), none of this feedback was particularly out of the ordinary. But this guy took it to another level: “I am 36 years old, I did 12 years for ‘manslaughter’, I killed a woman, like you, who decided to make fun of guys cocks.” And then: “Happy to say we live in the same state. Im looking you up, and when I find you, im going to rape you and remove your head.” There was more, but the final tweet summed it up: “You are going to die and I am the one who is going to kill you. I promise you this.”
My fingers paused over the keyboard. I felt disoriented and terrified. Then embarrassed for being scared, and, finally, pissed. On the one hand, it seemed unlikely that I’d soon be defiled and decapitated at the hands of a serial rapist-murderer. On the other hand, headlessfemalepig was clearly a deranged individual with a bizarre fixation on me. I picked up my phone and dialed 911.
This may be an extreme example, but it's by no means an outlier. For many women who choose to be active online, even in an elevated spotlight like a game show contestant or a vlogger, this is standard.
From my point of view, the way to stop this kind of harassment is to be strongly vocal that the harassment is flat out wrong. If harassment is happening, it should be reported. Sites should understand that unwanted harassment needs to be quelled not by the person getting harassed, but at the harasser's fingertips. Chronic harassers should not be allowed to use services. They need help. They need to realize that on the other end of the screen is a human being, not unlike their mothers, their sisters, their cousins, who have feelings, emotions, fears and doubts. People who get their jollies off harassing women online solely because a woman exists and makes herself known are desipcable and bad things should happen to them.
Casey Abell is a game show bloviator who I do not like. I do not dislike him because he is a man, or because he is white, or because he is old, or because he lives in Texas. I dislike him because his viewpoints are usually incorrect, tone-deaf to the modern media landscape, and in the case of how he treats women's harassment online, harmful and detrimental to the fandom that apparently we both share.
Why do I say this? Because his advice to Talia or Amanda or any other woman who get harassed online is simple:
My advice is just to laugh off such Internet nonsense and move on.
He compares the endless barrage of sexual harassment women online receive to me telling him to fuck off because he thinks NPR shouldn't receive taxpayer support. (Which is a whole different issue, but in a nutshell, government-funded but independently-run art and news definitely deserves more support. We wouldn't have Sesame Street without government funding.) He says that "anger seems counter-productive to me, because it gives the trolls exactly what they want."
But that's not what they want. They don't want to make women online angry. They want them to be scared. They want them to become paranoid. Online harassers want women to understand their point of view: that they are nothing more than sexual objects, used for a man's edification and sexual gratification and then discarded, ignored or killed when finished. When someone sends a message reinforcing that idea to a woman once, it's scary. When it reaches a never-ending tsunami of harassment, as it often does with women in the spotlight (and even sometimes not in the spotlight) online, it's crippling. Amanda Hess again:
But no matter how hard we attempt to ignore it, this type of gendered harassment—and the sheer volume of it—has severe implications for women’s status on the Internet. Threats of rape, death, and stalking can overpower our emotional bandwidth, take up our time, and cost us money through legal fees, online protection services, and missed wages. I’ve spent countless hours over the past four years logging the online activity of one particularly committed cyberstalker, just in case. And as the Internet becomes increasingly central to the human experience, the ability of women to live and work freely online will be shaped, and too often limited, by the technology companies that host these threats, the constellation of local and federal law enforcement officers who investigate them, and the popular commentators who dismiss them—all arenas that remain dominated by men, many of whom have little personal understanding of what women face online every day.
I am absolutely livid because at no point does Casey Abell, a man who has apparently served in the Peace Corps, a man who has a wife and a child, a man whose readers invest time to hear what he has to say, but more than anything, a straight white man, say anything that decries, chides or otherwise scolds the online harassers. His solutions put the onus of response on the one being harassed.
I think Talia should try the same weapons with her harassers that I have used with my harasser.
He doesn't say, "Those harassers should stop it." He doesn't say, "Those harassers are wrong." He doesn't say, "Why do so many people harass women Jeopardy! contestants online but not male contestants at the same voracity?" No, he just says "laugh it off, sweetheart."
I don't care about Casey Abell as a human being. I don't care about his views on game shows, because 9 times out of 10, they're wrong or at the least obvious. But what I do care about is how my fandom is perceived online. Right now, it's not inclusive. 75% of BuzzerBlog readers are male, aged 18-35, even though game show demographics on television skew older and more female. A vocal minority of game show fans online are socially awkward, insular, selfish and not inclusive. Figureheads of the genre are listened to and followed. I'm not comfortable being part of a fandom that doesn't speak out against misogyny, homophobia and transphobia, or racial discrimination. And if a figurehead, anyone who chooses to write about the thing I like takes such a backwards stance on a clear issue, I'm going to say something.
Will anything change if I say something? No, probably not. Will anyone act differently? Maybe, maybe not. But is it the right thing to do? Is it right to stick up for women who are getting harassed online, to be an ally as someone who has been on many game shows and not received nearly as much hatred, vitriol and harassment as a woman who had an even more successful and impressive showing than I did?
I dare say that it is.