Why I'm Not Afraid of the Internet
Excerpted from The Geek Feminist Revolution
by Kameron Hurley
My grandmother grew up in Nazi-occupied France. When she was nineteen, she and her friends
found a Nazi boot containing a severed human leg while walking along the river. For every Nazi
the French killed, the Nazis would kill ten French citizens. So how many would the Nazis kill, my
grandmother thought, for a severed leg? She and her friends huffed the boot and its fleshy
occupant back into the river and spent the next month waiting to hear how many of them would
be shot in the street.
There's nothing I experience online that can rival what my grandmother went through.
I've been living loudly online for ten years, getting my fair share of abuse and threats,
but--vastly more often--grateful notes for having the courage to speak boldly. My
grandmother's stories gave me a great deal of perspective--both on life and on the tactics of
terror, and how silence serves a darker future. Unchecked hate can be insidious, and can creep
up and consume whole swaths of a culture before they even know what's happening. Which is
why you have to keep speaking, and fighting for a better future.
I also have a unique perspective on life shared by many survivors of near-death
experiences. When I came to in the ICU when I was twenty- six after nearly two days in a coma,
the doctor told me that if they'd hauled me in ten years before I'd be dead. They simply wouldn't
have had the equipment to save me. Having a chronic illness like mine where you have to take
medication multiple times a day in order to survive means death is always one miscalculation or
mix-up away. Death hugs you close every day, whispering a siren song far more terrifying than
any internet mob.
When I talk about this online, I get a lot of pushback from people who think I don't
believe that internet threats are serious, that I don't think there are people fully capable and
enabled by the misogyny of our society to act on those threats. Quite the contrary. I believe it
There are men everywhere who feel that being rejected by women entitles them to
murder those women. There are men who will single out you, as a public figure, for embodying
every- thing they feel is wrong with women. You are the reason women laugh at them or won't
have sex with them, or you are the reason their girlfriend broke up with them. One of the things
Gamer- gate taught us is just how far men are willing to go to shame and threaten the women
who hurt their feelings, and how many other men think that's all right. I know that stalker
boyfriend who refuses to believe it's over. And all those stalker boyfriends and potential stalker
boyfriends have found each other on the internet, and they are looking for targets.
I hear people say, more and more these days, that they are fearful to say anything
online. Fearful to have an opinion or a position that might be seen as "controversial," even if it's,
you know, truthful. And that really bothers me.
The reality is that you're more likely to get killed by a family member or an ex-boyfriend
than by a stranger online. According to my friends, my ex-boyfriend called them up and
described to them all the new and inventive ways he had come up with to kill me and then
himself. He showed up outside my college classes and sent me horrifying emails. I know that's
horrifically sad, but it's true. It's the society we live in. Our fear of strangers has always been a
stalking horse for the real threat, and that's the people closest to us: our friends, our family, our
lovers. Our discussions about the dangers of online discourse make the strangers of the
internet into some kind of bogeyman, when in fact they are all simply specters of a broken and
systematically misogynist world.
My grandmother often carried around a bullet that she said came from two planes that
were in a dogfight overhead. She said you could tell which planes were German and which were
American by the sound of the engines. A stray bullet from the dogfight grazed the side of her
head and embedded itself in the wall behind her. If we asked, she would lift up a hank of hair
and show us the long scar. She dug out the bullet and kept it with her all through her long
journey from France to the United States. When we asked her why, she said it was because, as
a lifelong Catholic, she believed that it meant God had spared her for greater things. She was
meant to endure. She was meant to live.
So when you ask me if I'm afraid of the internet, and the self-entitled wanker of the day
gaming awards, or the five hundred people who yell at me on Twitter, or some internet
personality having a meltdown in my general direction, I think of my grandmother throwing that
severed leg back into the river, and I say, "You're kidding, right?"
There's a future I'm meant to be a part of. We are building it one narrative at a time.
Yes, change is incredibly terrifying, and there will be push-back and threats and dudes
on the internet loudly declaring that you are a big vagina as if that is the worst possible thing a
human being can be. But this is not yet Nazi-occupied France, my friends.
Are there ramifications for speaking up? Sure. Muting people can get tedious. But you're
still more likely to be hit by a bus than shivved by a sobbing internet mob.
We are made of tougher stuff than we can ever imagine.