I do not write personal essays. This is the first, and likely the last, you will see.
I write articles that have resonated with millions of people, often in an emotional way. But I never write about myself or my personal life. I have multiple platforms and if I wanted to, I could. I choose not to – in part because I think focusing on myself distracts from the social and political problems I depict, but also because I value my privacy.
I am like this in “real life” too. I have been described as aloof, but I try to be generous and kind. I take care of my family and my community. I don’t care about fame, which is much more of a curse than a gift. I reject most media interviews. My priorities are my loved ones and my work. Yesterday I was reading Charlotte’s Web to my daughter: the story of “a true friend and a good writer”. That is all I aim to be. If I had the choice, this is how I would be remembered.
But I do not have a choice.
I do not like to write about myself, and I do not like to write about my pain. Today Jacobin put me in a position where I had no choice but to do that.
For the past few weeks, I have been receiving rape threats and constant harassment from people who describe themselves as leftists or communists, and apparently want to rape their way to revolution. I have attempted to handle these threats privately. I mentioned them on Twitter twice: once to violentfanon, whose podcast I nearly had to cancel on because of the intensity of the threats, and one to Kenzo Shibata, in a Twitter conversation.
The rest of the time I dealt with them in non-public ways, through private emails and discussion. I have learned that to draw attention to rape threats produces more rape threats. I was scared for my safety and did not want to do that. Any attack on me becomes an attack on my family. As a mother, it is my job to protect my family.
During the YesAllWomen hashtag, which happened at the peak of the threats, I was tempted to open up about what was happening. I was moved by others sharing their stories, many of which were similar to mine. Like many women, I deleted more tweets than I submitted. In the end, I only referred to my situation obliquely. I could not go through with it.
Today Amber A’lee Frost at Jacobin magazine linked to my conversation with Shibata in order to mock my rape threats. This tweet would have been fairly hard to find since it was merely a response to Shibata’s. As I said, had I wanted to talk about my rape threats, I certainly could have – in an article in a mass media outlet or in tweets to my 24000 Twitter followers. But I did not want this scrutiny. Instead I made a brief remark, and forgot about it until this morning, when it appeared in Jacobin – used to viciously mock my potential rape in a piece that otherwise had nothing to do with me.
There are not words to describe the experience of reading an article, coming to the word “rape threats”, and then seeing that the rape threat is about you – intended to debase and humiliate you for admitting you have been threatened.
When I objected to the piece, two Jacobin editors admitted that they had not edited or carefully read the piece in question, and removed the link. Then another editor, Megan Erickson, said I was being “childish” for noting that they had mocked me for my rape threats. She and others spent the day mocking and harassing me.
Because this was now being handled in public, I was fortunate to receive the support of hundreds of people on Twitter – as well as attacks from others. I always expect some form of trolling, but I did not expect one of the attackers to be an editor at Salon, Elias Isquith, who questioned what my potential rape meant for “hashtags” and “brands”.
So in one day, two leftist publications used rape threats to me to belittle me, humiliate me and defame me. And then others accuse me of wanting attention.
Who in their right mind would want attention for this?
I had, and continue to have, no desire to ever write about being repeatedly threatened with rape. It is a painful subject for me to discuss for many reasons. The only reason I’m doing so now is because Jacobin forced me into a position where I have no choice but to do so to clarify what happened. I don’t want attention, or pity, or to be anyone’s hero or victim.
What do I want? I want people to stop sending me rape threats. I want to do my work. I want to stop being treated like a thing – or, shall I say, like a woman.
The left has a rape problem. Someone should write about it. But it is not going to be me. I have had enough threats this year.