Earlier this week I wrote a story for TheWrap that compared “Suicide Squad” to Donald Trump. By my estimation it received a near equal balance of both positive and negative feedback, which was to be expected.
But there was an especially vitriolic tweet about the piece that stood out — one in which a DC fanboy felt the need to call me a “dumb c—.”
Sadly, this is not the first time I’ve been called the “c” word online — whether in a comments section or in an “@” reply. And while internet trolls are nothing new, the tweet illuminated a dark truth: Women who cover film get hit much harder than their male counterparts with below-the-belt, sexual and even violent commentary.
“I now categorize some comments or tweets as ‘mild death threats,’ said Roth Cornet, a longtime movies and pop culture journalist who now works at ScreenJunkies. She told TheWrap that she became the brunt of a lot of fan rage at previous outlets where she worked and has even had “a couple of consistent stalkers” who sought her out on nearly every form of social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
The worst happened last year, when Cornet and a female colleague were both targeted by a man who opened multiple Twitter accounts every day to harass them and other women. “He sent violent threats, it felt like every five minutes. It was stress-inducing and frightening,” she recalled. “I felt like there was very little I could do to protect myself. The minute Twitter would shut down one account he had five more opened.”
The offender revealed he knew alarmingly personal details about Cornet’s life, posting photos of her and her boyfriend and indicating he knew where she lived.
“On the day the harassment was at a peak, I also got some hang-up calls on my cell,” she said. She traced the number back to two people: a retired marketing executive and a registered sex offender. “That was enough to scare me to pay a service to remove my information and virtual imprint as much as possible.”
While Cornet’s case may seem extreme, it’s not entirely uncommon.
One woman who covers film declined to comment on the record for this story because she didn’t want to compromise an ongoing police investigation involving her harasser.
Most women we spoke with said they typically receive a wide range of hateful commentary. They also receive positive messages from fans, friends, colleagues and, yes, fanboys. You can’t judge every fanboy by the terrible behavior of a few.
“I spoke out against ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ and people went crazy,” said Sasha Perl-Raver, host of “FX Movie Download” and a freelance contributor to Collider, ScreenJunkies and SchmoesKnow.
She said she has received “a combination of sexual and violent comments, like torture porn” that she described as “violent fantasies.”
“I don’t understand why it gets so dark and hateful,” Perl-Raver said.
When it comes to male film journalists and bloggers facing internet hatred, she told TheWrap, “it is nowhere near the level that women I know receive. Men don’t say, ‘Hey bro, I’m gonna rape you.’ But they feel comfortable saying that to a woman, which is so f—-d up.”
After a barrage of sexist and racist tweets targeted “Ghostbusters” star Leslie Jones, Shanee Edwards, who contributes to Screenwriting U Magazine, felt like she caught some overflow from the vitriol around the movie. “I was pretty shocked,” she said.
One story she wrote about the horror comedy received a spike in negative comments.
“One person ‘lost all respect’ for me, saying, ‘This is the dumbest thing I’ve read yet.’ Another called me and my colleagues ‘complete clueless hacks,’” Edwards told TheWrap, explaining that she invites lively debate on the site and is completely fine when readers disagree with her posts.
“But a silly comedy like ‘Ghostbusters’? If the new cast were all men, there wouldn’t have been such an emotional backlash,” she said.
“It comes down to this: People don’t like strong opinionated women,” posited Perl-Raver. “They scare the hell out of men and other women who don’t feel empowered to do the same.”
Cornet added: “As a woman who works at predominately male outlets, I tend to get more scrutiny. There will be 10 comments evaluating me to every one about my male counterparts, or more. There’s also a tendency to compare you to other women. As if you’re all horse flesh on the market or something.”
Comic book fans are known to be especially vocal and spiteful — which puts a target on the backs of all journalists who dare criticize any of the large swath of films coming out of DC and Marvel. But Perl-Raver said it tends to get “deeply personal” when directed at women in the field.
“There are times that I really just want to hide,” said Cornet. “It genuinely makes me sad. I’m not sure how much I really want to put myself out there. I sort of go back and forth on it.”
Perl-Raver recalled a day when abusive commentary online affected her job performance — and her producer noticed and told her that she seemed like an entirely different person on camera.
“I felt so beaten down by it,” she said.