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Heidi Stevens: Cyberbullies target women … really!

By Heidi Stevens Chicago Tribune

I have astonishment fatigue.

Every day this summer, I’m newly and horribly astonished at what we humans dish out to each other. Wednesday it was Leslie Jones’ website being hacked, followed quickly by the reaction to the Leslie Jones website hack.

Jones, the “Saturday Night Live” actress who stars in the new “Ghostbusters” movie, saw her personal website attacked, with cyberbullies placing a picture of the Cincinnati zoo gorilla Harambe alongside what appeared to be explicit photos of Jones. Photos of her driver’s license, a passport and personal photos of her with various celebrities (Rihanna, Kim Kardashian) were posted as well. Her site was taken offline shortly after TMZ reported the hack.

Some implied she orchestrated the hack herself.

It’s easier for some people to imagine that a woman would violate her own privacy and sense of dignity for attention than it is to grapple with this nation’s deeply entrenched racism and misogyny.

That’s a problem.

In other news, Ryan Lochte will appear on the upcoming season of “Dancing With the Stars.”

We are not doing a bang-up job with our priorities, folks.

In an interview with the New York Times, Brendesha Tynes, a professor of education and psychology at the University of Southern California who specializes in social media and cyberbullying, said the attacks on Jones are part of a “serious anti-black woman problem in the U.S.”

“Even the slightest perceived infraction leads people to get bullied,” Tynes said.

For Jones, the infraction appears to have been starring in the remake of a movie beloved by white guys and then fighting back against the accompanying backlash. She left Twitter after the racist attacks continued to escalate, but she rejoined to enthusiastically live-tweet the Rio Olympics – tweets that landed her a commentary gig on NBC.

I’m struggling to understand her crime here, and I said as much Wednesday night on Facebook.

“Being a woman of color on the internet,” answered a female friend who experiences incessant online harassment for covering professional sports. (Also a crime, by the way.)

And whenever that friend goes public with the harassment? People accuse her of making it up.

This is what we do to women. We tell them everything’s fine, and when they find the courage to say, “You know, it’s actually not because here’s this thing that keeps happening to me,” we say, “No, it doesn’t. You’re lying.”

It’s easier that way. And faster. We can quickly go back to our daily lives, where we can unwind in front of our TVs, watching the saucy dance moves of an Olympic swimmer who actually lied about a thing that happened to him.

Call it out, you guys. When you see the racism and the double standards and the injustice we inflict on our fellow humans, don’t explain it away. Don’t doubt people’s pain. Listen and call it out.

I’m sick of feeling astonished at the ugliness. And I fear something even worse: that we’ll stop being astonished by it.

Heidi Stevens is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune.

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