We’re all constantly told to ignore the trolls—a nice idea, but pretty ineffective in execution. The trolls are packing peanuts that exploded via opening a box on your living room floor. They’re not going anywhere. Thankfully, it looks as though responding to sexist numbskulls on Twitter invites others to do the same, and effectively benefits women’s mental health.
Anyone who has grown up female, a person of color, LGBTQ, or otherwise marginalized knows the Internet can be a personal hell. Slurs and hate speak are commonplace, and online anonymity creates a breeding ground for harassment. But by calling out this harassment, we can actually better our situations: A study published in the British Journal of Social Psychology claims that tweeting about sexism can actually improve women’s wellbeing.
The lead author of the study, Dr. Mindi Foster of Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada, explained:
We know women can be badly affected by experiences of sexism and that responding publically can be stressful and risky. This study examined whether using Twitter to respond to sexism could be done in a public way without any negative effects to their wellbeing.
Over a period of three days, 90 undergraduate students were assigned to one of three groups: tweeting openly, tweeting privately, and not tweeting anything. Each participant completed mood questionnaires and wellbeing measures after each tweeting sesh. Tweets were also analyzed for emotional content, which found the most common combinations of feelings to be surprise and discontent.
Dr. Foster recognizes that online campaigns, such as EverydaySexism, empower women to share their experiences, and the study takes it one step further: Of the three groups, the ones who tweeted openly displayed increased wellbeing by the third day.
Sharing their experiences of being trolled shows women they are not alone in encountering sexism and empowers even more women to speak up. It’s a positive mob mentality, a strength that comes after many stones have been thrown.
Of course, trolling is not merely limited to gendered insults. Imani Gandy, author of the Angry Black Lady Chronicles, is constantly called the N-Word by trolls on twitter: “In my five years on Twitter, I’ve been called “nigger” so many times that it barely registers as an insult anymore. And when combined with the standard sexist slurs that routinely get lobbed at women on Twitter, let’s just say that my “nigger cunt” cup runneth over.”
And we can’t forget to mention the vitriol Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency receives on the reg: the #Gamergate gal endlessly deals with threats of death, rape, and even a bomb for speaking up against sexism in her community.
Yet there are so many feminists taking to twitter in defense of these women. The onslaught of support has forged an online community where we can talk about shitty people—and they can’t even touch us. That feels pretty damn good.