In the almost-3 years since I started Girl At The Game, I’ve had to learn to choose my battles. I used to respond to every Ed, Edd, and Eddy who picked a fight. But not every troll deserves a response, and not every fight is worth my energy. In fact, most of them aren’t. That doesn’t mean it’s easy to walk away.
But this isn’t about picking battles. It’s about the reason we fight, and why we have every right to do so.
A lot of people in my life don’t understand what it’s like to be under the women-in-sports microscope. They’re not in the same position, constantly being scrutinized, doubted, tested, watched by people waiting to jump down your throat at even the slightest hint of misstep. They don’t understand what it’s like, so they wonder why I respond to people who come at me. Why I speak out. And it’s a valid question, but it also isn’t, because if you were in our shoes, you’d understand.
In person, it’s a different ballgame. We smile and laugh through gritted teeth at inappropriate comments. “Those legs of yours need to be on camera!” “If I was 20 years younger!” We worry about what to wear to make sure we’re professional, not suggestive, and how to be friendly but not so friendly as to suggest we’re interested in anything more than a professional relationship. Being a woman in a male-dominated industry is like gingerly stepping through an endless minefield.
It’s hard enough to be a woman in sports in real life without even bringing social media into the conversation. I can guarantee you that every single woman in this industry has experienced some form of in-person and/or online harassment, from sexism to unwanted sexual advances. If we’re lucky, it’s eye-roll-inducing backhanded compliments like, “You know a lot about sports…for a girl!” Or trolls with 2 followers, hiding behind profile pictures of cars or athletes, replying to everything we tweet saying “Get back in the kitchen.” You learn how to shrug those off and hit the mute button.
If we’re not lucky, it’s persistent, one-sided flirting, unsolicited dick pics, or worse. I finally disabled my Twitter Direct Messages last year when they went from men begging for dates to me receiving rape threats. Every woman I’ve ever spoken to in sports has at least one story, if not enough to fill an entire book. And speaking up about what we experience and endure is a surefire way to make ourselves even more vulnerable and get the trolls fired up, so it’s a lose-lose situation; we have to relive awful moments in our own lives on the public stage while complete strangers mock, judge, and accuse us of lying.
Sounds fun, right?
Being a woman in sports online is like being swarmed by a never-ending horde of flies: it’s only a matter of time before you want to grab a fly-swatter. Not every troll deserves a response, it’s true. But sometimes, when a woman fights back, it works. The aggressor learns a lesson and changes. And when you ask us to just ‘ignore, ignore, ignore,’ it might come from a genuine place of wanting us to let things slide for our own peace of mind, but you’re also telling us to just take it. To take an endless stream of crap day after day, and to just live in a world that thinks we deserve to be treated this way, when we’ve had to work so much harder just to get a foot in the door. Instead of telling the people who tear us down to stop doing so, you want us to let them and not do anything to protect or defend ourselves. It’s like telling women not to dress a certain way to avoid assault, instead of teaching men not to assault. We are not the problem here.
I’ve been pretty lucky. Sure, I got hit on by a former Red Sox manager when I was 19, and had to smile through the experience while wanting to take an shower in acid to wash the moment off of me. I’ve had men in the industry whom I admired tell me I’d look great on camera while ogling my body. I said no to my dream writing job when the person interviewing me kept remarking on my physical appearance. I used to get the occasional unsolicited pic, but when you post enough photos with your boyfriend, most creeps get the memo. These select few examples are all to say that I’ve had experiences that were disillusioning and downright awful, but I know it could’ve been a thousand times worse. It’s like the Richter scale, but for harassment instead of earthquakes; some are worse than others, but none of it is good. And none of it should be acceptable or normalized.
If you’re a woman and you’re reading this, you’re probably nodding your head in agreement, or thinking about your own experiences. I’m so sorry, and I’m always here to commiserate, talk shop, and help you take down the trolls.
If you’re a man and you’re shocked and outraged by what women endure in this industry, I have a few requests:
Respect women. This one should seem like a no-brainer, but apparently, it has to be said. Over and over.
Listen to us when we tell you our experiences. It’s not easy or fun for us to be vulnerable, especially in a professional setting and knowing the response that’s likely waiting for us.
Don’t let your friends and colleagues get away with any form of harassment. Hold people accountable in every setting. If you wouldn’t treat someone that way, why let other people do it?
Most of all, stop asking us to accept unacceptable treatment, and telling us this is how it is. By doing so, you are ensuring that this is the way it is and that it will continue to be this way. If we want to ignore, we will. If we want to fight back, we have every right to do so. You should be by our side, fighting for us.
And if not, get out of our way.