THIS IS WHY we can’t have nice things: Last week, local mystery writer Chelsea Cain was the target of online harassment over a comic book cover featuring a Marvel heroine wearing a T-shirt that reads “ASK ME ABOUT MY FEMINIST AGENDA.”
Cain’s the author of Marvel’s eight-issue Mockingbird comic series, which we reviewed positively last spring [“Mockingbird Takes Off,” Arts, March 30] in part because of Cain’s depiction of its badass heroine. The series has been canceled, but that didn’t stop Twitter users from criticizing Cain for “ruining my favorite character with your feminist crap,” as Cain says one user put it before she blocked their account. The online harassment began with the publication of the Mockingbird cover, and came to a head Tuesday night. After a spate of online attacks, Cain deactivated her own Twitter account last Wednesday, catching the attention of both feminist fandom blog the Geekiary and fans, who poured support for Cain into the hashtag #StandWithChelseaCain.
In a statement posted Thursday to her website titled “140 Characters, Plus a Few Thousand More, on the Twitter Hubbub”—the only statement Cain’s made publicly about the incident—she described the impetus to get off the social media platform: waking up to find that her Twitter feed had “exploded.” She’d gained and lost followers numbering in the thousands, she said, and had been tagged thousands of times. She was receiving comments “every second.”
“I’d never seen anything like it,” she wrote. “I saw a few of [the tweets]—a lot of support, a lot of people yelling at one another—a lot of people mad at me for being too quick on the block button or too critical of comic book readers or being too feminist. A lot of them just seemed mad at women in general.”
Though Cain exhibited surprise that deactivating a social media account has made headlines, her post also expressed disappointment that what happened to her isn’t unusual. Sheâ€™s right: From high-profile cases involving media critic Anita Sarkeesian and Ghostbustersâ€™ Leslie Jones to the workaday abuse many women writers report, doxxings, harassment, rape threats, and inflammatory insults are commonplace online, particularly for women who are critical of sexism within subcultures like gaming and comic books (or who are perceived as challenging norms within them). Online harassment is especially problematic on platforms like Twitter that are notoriously unresponsive to reports of abuse.
“I think the larger cultural story is important,” Cain wrote. “People are trolled. People are ruined. And trolls get away with it, because they can take down anyone, if their ire is raised. There is still a vocal segment of the comic book readership that is dominated by sexist jerks with Twitter accounts. Twitter is still a highly flawed platform that nurtures a culture of bullying.”
She also pointed out that it could have been worse: “I did not leave Twitter because of rape threats or because someone had posted my address, or any of the truly vile tactics you hear about,” she wrote. “I left Twitter because of the ordinary daily abuse that I decided I didn’t want to live with anymore... That’s the power we have, right? If a stranger yells at you on the street? You walk away.”