'Don't read the comments?' How about 'Don't send the comments'?
Sarah Spain and Julie DiCaro pulled back the curtain on the worst of it this week, the garbage and hate spewed at women in media by virtue of their gender. In the #MoreThanMean video, men read (other people's) awful social media posts to the women, posts in which men suggested raping or killing them because of their sports opinions.
It's been no secret to the women who work in sports, as this Juliet Macur piece shows. Macur and I went to journalism school together nearly two decades ago, and nowhere in our sports journalism class could we have anticipated this would be such a large part of the job. No one handed us the digital flak jacket as we graduated.
Macur's piece also proves there isn't a caste system depending on who you work for, that readers of the New York Times can be just as derisive as those on the rest of the internet.
The truth is, it isn't just Twitter. Over the years, what has bothered me more -- at the many outlets where I've contributed copy -- are the comments left directly under my stories. "Don't read the comments," everyone says, and it's true that the racism and sexism aren't just directed at an author, yet it seemed particularly galling to me that a space intended for community and conversation created by an outlet for which I work could turn into a breeding ground for the same abuse spewed at women on Twitter.
The delightful requests to go back to the kitchen and get some sandwiches (Why is it so hard for trolls to make sandwiches? This is a mystery.) or insults about my looks could appear just a scroll or two under my byline.
I've had many discussions over the years with editors about this, and I was grateful when espnW (for many reasons, not just this one) decided to eliminate comments under stories early in the year. Honestly, knowing that I can write a complicated piece about Title IX and the effects it could have on a changing sports landscape, without having to see the hecklers at the bottom, is a relief. There are plenty of places that I can be heckled still, but at least it isn't in my own digital office anymore.
DiCaro and Spain have discussed what could be done in the future so that the gender-centric verbal abuse isn't part of the job. My colleague Jackie Mesa Pepper suggested to me a function where a user could have a list of blocked words, say the ones staring with B or C or P (don't act like you don't know) and then Twitter would automatically block those posts and send a notification that they are blocked and unread, stealing the writer of that little thrill that comes with trying to make someone react.
Most of us are happy to have a genuine dialogue about an issue, but we didn't volunteer to be your verbal punching bag. What has been troubling over the years is that it becomes our de facto role when some social media sites and media outlets decline to take the reins. Like, is it really so difficult to offer us the ability to auto block someone coming at us with the c-word? Someone's gotta be able to write a few lines of code.
So instead, it is up to women to not read the comments or their mentions, or to absorb the love if they choose to engage.
And we are communicators. Of course we choose to engage.
Also on my mind this week:
NFL linebacker DeAndre Levy wrote an essay for the Player's Tribune on the evolution of his thought about sexual assault. It's worth reading for a few reasons, but Levy also says he became aware of the issues through the NFL's education on the issue.
If that training is having this effect, then the NFL is making real and pervasive progress. And of course Levy will reach people who may be uninterested in hearing women discuss assault. He's right that this isn't just a women's issue. I'm interested in hearing more from him.