Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Trolls don't read/Stare back at them

It is 8 March today and time for my annual International Women’s Day post.
One year ago, I shared a post entitled “Trolls at my door” on this blog, discussing some of the challenges of being a female academic blogger. Just like so many other women with an online presence, I sometimes receive responses that are unpleasant, uninvited and occasionally downright sickening. Some of these messages I categorised in last year’s post as examples of “trolling”; other messages I described as less aggressive, but equally disturbing in the sense that they are completely off the point and irrelevant to what I have posted. Instead of entering into discussion with me, and hence responding to what I am in fact writing, they address my digital avatar, which the name and the picture on the blog give away as being female.

I ended the post with a short remark: “I know this post means trouble. I am bolting my door.” I meant that. I was worried that the post, which had a distinct feminist touch, would call out a couple of trolls from the digital woods. However, days went by and nothing happened. Or let me correct that: nothing new happened. It was business as usual. I received the typical notes from those who obviously see my blog as an invitation—the number of these notes always peaks after posting. A couple of guys found this the appropriate time to befriend me on Facebook—guys I have never met, with whom I have nothing in common, and with whom I share no common friends. Normality. Absurd online normality—well-known to so many women. But nothing unusual.
And then it occurred to me (and I guess it should have occurred to me a long time ago, particularly since I grew up with Norwegian folktales which are literally swarming with trolls that are not exactly awfully bright): trolls don’t read! Trolls scroll and gaze at pictures! At the very least, they don’t read academic blogs, and probably they will not read this post either, so I can write pretty much what I want. Hah!
At first, I found this hilarious, but after a while it got to me: another realisation of the utter irrelevance of what I have to say.
And a new concern. The profile picture. Did the photo I had chosen as a profile picture on my blog invite all of this? The picture, which was taken by a professional photographer for Norway’s leading Christian newspaper when I was serving as a columnist there, shows me looking straight into the camera. I am not smiling, certainly not doing anything special at all, but sure, I am wearing my hair down.
For a while I considered removing the picture, replacing it with a photo where my Cruella De Vil stripe of grey hair is adding some years to my appearance. Or I could choose a photo where I am wearing my glasses, standing in front of the rows of books in my office, feeding as little as possible the preconceptions of incompetence and availability which obviously are out there. Or I could pose very inelegantly in front of a well-known academic institution, which would lend me the authority I apparently do not have. Or, as a last resort, I could try to really stare at them (still not smiling, still wearing my hair down) and see if I could turn any of them into stone, more or less like this,

—but hell no!
If I take down the original profile picture, I give in to them. I signal to them, to myself and to others that I cannot raise my voice online and be represented visually as female at the same time. If I replace it, I would also disallow some guys out there an opportunity to be exposed to and maybe even start to get used to the fact that women write academic blogs, while looking straight into the camera, and simultaneously wearing their hair down. Even blonde hair.
Happy International Women’s Day to all those of you who have read my entire post and who, by reading even this very last sentence, have proven that your literacy level is way beyond the trolls in the digital woods!

Photo courtesy of Aina Kostamo.

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