When The Bold Type says that it’s a feminist show, believe it. Despite having only three episodes under its belt, the new Freeform series has already addressed female mentorship, the complex realities of Muslim womanhood, sexuality, and class, just to name a few things. The show writers are quickly moving through the list of trending topics for women in media, and last night’s episode touched on a subject that hits particularly close to home: online harassment from anonymous men.
Kat (Aisha Dee), the passionate social media director at Scarlet, has come up with another cutting-edge idea to keep the magazine ahead of the curve. She wants Scarlet to be the first magazine with a virtual reality app. While testing the technology on a group of interns, one of them becomes extremely nauseous and throws up. Ever the “problem solver,” Kat contacts the manufacturer, only to be told that menstruating women are more likely to become ill when utilizing virtual reality headsets because of the way their hormones change how they see images. Apparently, this can happen. Sexism in tech strikes again.
Because she’s a savvy millennial, Kat addresses this inequality directly — with a tweet directed at “VR bros.” Because hell hath no fury like anonymous men behind their keyboards who think a woman has overstepped, the trolls come out to play. It starts off fairly surface-level, with rape threats and insults like “slut” being thrown around in Kat's mentions. But things take an even darker turn when a topless picture of her is released anonymously, then her personal address. It’s a personal crisis that manages to break the normally calm-under-stress social-media aficionado. And it should.
I have been writing on the internet for nearly eight years. It started with personal blogging and then shifted to politics and policy to reflect the organisational work I was doing around reproductive justice. My tweets and Facebook statuses were just as full of strong opinions and heartfelt perspectives. During these years, I opened my laptop everyday expecting to read harsh criticisms and personal attacks in response to my works. It comes with the territory of making your stance on anything available to the public. But there has always been a line in the sand, one where my personal safety and privacy are put at risk like Kat’s was. In fact, I have seen that line crossed with so many women online that the fear of it happening to me has taken up permanent residence in consciousness.
Luckily, there are laws that help to protect people from being doxxed online. When Rob Kardashian released nude photos of Blac Chyna on his Instagram and Twitter accounts, it was immediately clear that he had committed a crime. And Edward Majerczyk was sentenced to nine months in prison and fined for releasing nude photos of celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton. It’s comforting to know that people with the resources to engage in a legal battle can address such vicious acts committed against them.
But with the rapidly-changing technology of the internet, trolls and online harassers are able to keep a pretty strong upper-hand. And for people who don’t have powerful lawyers on retainer (like me), what happened to Kat is the kind of nightmare that keeps me up at night.