To my fifteen-year anniversary with internet misogyny
I used to log on to AIM on my family’s basement desktop to see what boys really thought of me.
I’d stack phone books on the chair because I was too small to see the screen, and wait for the pings that told me my worth. If the pings didn’t come, I messaged SmarterChild and asked if they thought I was pretty. I was 10 years old and careful, so careful, because I heard the internet was forever. Who knew how long forever really was? We were the first explorers in a vast new terrain, one of infinite possibility, one where, we learned, boys told the truth.
I held my breath when I scrolled, looking for my name on the rankings in their profiles. She has chubby arms, -3, a boy typed, so I covered my limbs with big sweatshirts at school. Someone wrote that he saw my training bra strap in gym that morning— how gross, how embarrassing, did I want to make out? In Math the next day he avoided my eyes, and I wondered what was real and what wasn’t, what the rules were in this strange game we played. Could I Google them?
When I was 15, there were new messages on new social medias, the ones with all the power. One of these websites began as a ‘Hot or Not’ game where boys could rank girls’ photos, and then it became the biggest social network in the world. Slut, the boys typed now. Keep your mouth shut, whore. At Friday night football games they brushed wordlessly past me. I guessed they’d left their voices in the cloud.
I never talked about it out loud because it felt normal where I’m from— a place where we were told certain voices held no weight, and boys scheduled fistfights at the Steak n Shake parking lot. I sometimes wondered if this felt normal outside the Missouri suburbs, somewhere far away. I wondered if my chest should feel so tight all the time.
When I was alone I said the word to myself. Slut. It tasted slimy and lingered in my throat. Pope Francis called the internet “a gift from God.”
At 18, I watched the way online words turned into real-life actions, the threats on a screen play out in a college dorm. A boy raped a girl, and the school counselor told her to delay pressing charges. Let him enjoy winter break, she said.
I knew I was guilty for hitting ‘hide message’ all those years, for not speaking up, for thinking words could be buried and the past wiped clean like a hard drive. Factory reset. The internet’s forever. Trauma’s expensive.
Now when Something Bad happens, everyone re-lives their own hurt online, hoping Something will change that never does. Me too, me too, me too. A woman goes missing and people post infographics that say you should hold your key like a shank and always say where you’re going and never be in public at night. The government says we told you so. A famous reporter is called a cunt and told to kill herself over and over and over online and someone says it’s her fault. There is no right way to be a victim. We’re all so tired.
When I’m 25, everything’s cloudy, like I have amnesia that spans across several years. It’s the anniversary feature on the websites storing my life that reminds me all I lost.