.
R

eviewing Nina Jankowicz’s new book “How to Be a Woman Online” is one of the more challenging projects I’ve undertaken. It’s not because it is a difficult book to read—it’s not, at least not in the sense of writing or structure. Far from either of those issues. Jankowicz’s book (a copy of which was kindly provided by the publisher) is very well-written, well-structured, and she accomplishes precisely that which she sets out to do in the opening pages of the book. This is not surprising at all. Her previous book “How to Lose the Information War” was one of the sharpest and most insightful looks at how mis- and dis-information are shaping politics in Central and Eastern Europe, and how states can fight back.

How to Be a Woman Online | Nina Jankowicz | Bloomsbury.

Rather, it is a difficult book to read because she shines a light on what many would choose to, but should absolutely not, ignore—the treatment of women online and society’s acquiescence to the appalling behavior they encounter on a daily basis. 

To do “How to be a Woman Online” justice, it really needs to be treated in two distinct parts. There is the story that Jankowicz wrote—the how-to manual of how women should defend themselves from online trolls. But there is also a second book that she leaves masterfully unwritten, but which is inescapable nonetheless—a work that forces readers to reflect on the state of a society that somehow manages to tacitly accept the horrid behaviors and abuses she and others experienced. One can’t help but read this book and be confronted with the shocking state of civility and the absence of decency online, and it makes for uncomfortable but necessary reflection. 

Taking each part in turn, Jankowicz first provides a very candid framework for how women should handle the torrent of online abuse directed at them for the crime of…having their gender. Spread across five distinct sections, Jankowicz explores how one should secure themselves online, handle trolls, seek and foster communities of support, work within and through social media networks, and fight back against online harassment. 

She provides a brief survey of the challenges women face online and the alarming energy that would-be harassers expend to circumvent defenses women may erect. The “malign creativity” of male online trolls is astonishing—one wonders a) why they feel the need to act this way, b) why they have so much time to spend being trolls, and c) what on earth they could accomplish if they weren’t spending their time being a******s. 

In seeking to provide a manual of sorts on what to do to defend oneself from online abuse, Jankowicz is supremely successful. There is little that I could add or would presume to add that would make this set of best practices better. 

Woven throughout each section are stories of the harassment Jankowicz and others (like Nicole Perlroth, author of one of the Diplomatic Courier’s best books of 2021, “This is How They Tell Me the World Ends”) experienced.  These are enough to make your skin crawl. They are powerful stories which serve to underscore why the measures Jankowicz outlines are needed and how they’ve worked in practice. This is, however, only the briefest of glimpses into a world of harassment, misogyny, racism, and verbal violence (with clear trends toward physical violence including doxing and swatting (the former being the publication of one’s personal details such as addresses online, and the latter making false police reports that cause the deployment of SWAT teams e.g. hostage situations)) that the vast majority of people will never see. 

Where Jankowicz’s book truly shines is in what she leaves left unsaid and unwritten. “How to Be a Woman Online” is not a deep analysis of the causes of this online violence. It is not a sociological study or treatise on why society treats women differently or tolerates this level of online hostility. It does not analyze or dissect the types of men who target women online or how misogyny remains tolerated in nominally civil, public discourse. (She does, however, take a brief tour through “Troll Safari” – the creeps that lurk in the nether realms of social media, which is as entertaining as it is alarming, the briefest moments of levity in an otherwise necessarily serious reflection).

By leaving these things unsaid, Jankowicz manages to achieve a masterful literary stroke, forcing the reader to confront these very real and very uncomfortable questions. She provides readers with a mirror in which they can gaze and reflect on society today and the death or dearth (or both) of decency. It is nearly impossible in reading to not stop and ask yourself why such a book needs to be written in the first place—not its practicality or utility, but that in this day and age these behaviors are tolerated at all online (or in the real world). Anybody acting like this anywhere else would almost certainly get assaulted and/or jailed. 

This book serves two purposes then. One is informing women about tactics to protect themselves online. The second is to make the reader uncomfortable. Rightly so. It is the perspective of, for want of a better phrase, “the other” that is supremely powerful, not because she spells it out as such—though Jankowicz does provide those aforementioned stories and anecdotes—but because she leaves it to the reader to reflect upon their understanding and sense of place and self. It is all the more powerful because it does not handhold the reader.

This is not about empathy, though of course empathy is important.It is more about attempting to truly see the world through someone else’s eyes, a set of eyes that see a world of hostility, anger, barely concealed contempt, and preludes to violence. That is about as close to understanding the world from someone else’s view as one can get without experiencing it directly, and trying to be a better human being. 

I truly hope that this book gets the wide readership it deserves because of this precise point. It would be easy to categorize it in the narrowest of terms, as either a book “for women” or a “how-to guide”. To be sure, it is both of those things, but it is much more than that and should spark a critical conversation on a panoply of issues. Why does society value or memorialize the contributions of a woman less than that of a man? There are real issues surrounding gender that need to be discussed, but if society tolerates the behavior it does online, what does that say about behavior in the real world? Or the treatment of women in the real world? How can those issues be engaged with any seriousness or maturity? Arguably, they can’t.  

Too often readers of pundits miss the fundamental point about why this is an issue that should be addressed. This is not about “we should be better because I have *insert female relative here*”, which makes it about them. No, it is about being better people full stop because no one should be subject to this kind of abuse, except perhaps literal Nazis.

Jankowicz and the women she writes about shouldn’t find themselves in an environment where they needed to act (proactively or otherwise) to defend themselves, their character, their professionalism, or anything about themselves. People should be treated with respect, dignity, and decency (a tall order given the state of society). We should, however, be thankful that she did write this book because it raises some very hard and uncomfortable questions about society today. Only by confronting those questions head-on will we be able to be better for ourselves and each other.

About
Joshua Huminski
:
Joshua C. Huminski is Director of the Mike Rogers Center for Intelligence & Global Affairs at the Center for the Study of the Presidency & Congress, and a George Mason University National Security Institute Fellow. He can be found on Twitter @joshuachuminski.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.

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www.diplomaticourier.com

Being a Woman Online & the Absence of Decency

Photo by Daniel Josef via Unsplash.

April 9, 2022

Nina Jankowicz's latest book, "How to Be a Woman Online," is powerful not only for what it says - stories about and tactics for dealing with misogynistic abuse online - but also for how certain silences within the book force the reader into uncomfortable reflection, writes Joshua Huminski.

R

eviewing Nina Jankowicz’s new book “How to Be a Woman Online” is one of the more challenging projects I’ve undertaken. It’s not because it is a difficult book to read—it’s not, at least not in the sense of writing or structure. Far from either of those issues. Jankowicz’s book (a copy of which was kindly provided by the publisher) is very well-written, well-structured, and she accomplishes precisely that which she sets out to do in the opening pages of the book. This is not surprising at all. Her previous book “How to Lose the Information War” was one of the sharpest and most insightful looks at how mis- and dis-information are shaping politics in Central and Eastern Europe, and how states can fight back.

How to Be a Woman Online | Nina Jankowicz | Bloomsbury.

Rather, it is a difficult book to read because she shines a light on what many would choose to, but should absolutely not, ignore—the treatment of women online and society’s acquiescence to the appalling behavior they encounter on a daily basis. 

To do “How to be a Woman Online” justice, it really needs to be treated in two distinct parts. There is the story that Jankowicz wrote—the how-to manual of how women should defend themselves from online trolls. But there is also a second book that she leaves masterfully unwritten, but which is inescapable nonetheless—a work that forces readers to reflect on the state of a society that somehow manages to tacitly accept the horrid behaviors and abuses she and others experienced. One can’t help but read this book and be confronted with the shocking state of civility and the absence of decency online, and it makes for uncomfortable but necessary reflection. 

Taking each part in turn, Jankowicz first provides a very candid framework for how women should handle the torrent of online abuse directed at them for the crime of…having their gender. Spread across five distinct sections, Jankowicz explores how one should secure themselves online, handle trolls, seek and foster communities of support, work within and through social media networks, and fight back against online harassment. 

She provides a brief survey of the challenges women face online and the alarming energy that would-be harassers expend to circumvent defenses women may erect. The “malign creativity” of male online trolls is astonishing—one wonders a) why they feel the need to act this way, b) why they have so much time to spend being trolls, and c) what on earth they could accomplish if they weren’t spending their time being a******s. 

In seeking to provide a manual of sorts on what to do to defend oneself from online abuse, Jankowicz is supremely successful. There is little that I could add or would presume to add that would make this set of best practices better. 

Woven throughout each section are stories of the harassment Jankowicz and others (like Nicole Perlroth, author of one of the Diplomatic Courier’s best books of 2021, “This is How They Tell Me the World Ends”) experienced.  These are enough to make your skin crawl. They are powerful stories which serve to underscore why the measures Jankowicz outlines are needed and how they’ve worked in practice. This is, however, only the briefest of glimpses into a world of harassment, misogyny, racism, and verbal violence (with clear trends toward physical violence including doxing and swatting (the former being the publication of one’s personal details such as addresses online, and the latter making false police reports that cause the deployment of SWAT teams e.g. hostage situations)) that the vast majority of people will never see. 

Where Jankowicz’s book truly shines is in what she leaves left unsaid and unwritten. “How to Be a Woman Online” is not a deep analysis of the causes of this online violence. It is not a sociological study or treatise on why society treats women differently or tolerates this level of online hostility. It does not analyze or dissect the types of men who target women online or how misogyny remains tolerated in nominally civil, public discourse. (She does, however, take a brief tour through “Troll Safari” – the creeps that lurk in the nether realms of social media, which is as entertaining as it is alarming, the briefest moments of levity in an otherwise necessarily serious reflection).

By leaving these things unsaid, Jankowicz manages to achieve a masterful literary stroke, forcing the reader to confront these very real and very uncomfortable questions. She provides readers with a mirror in which they can gaze and reflect on society today and the death or dearth (or both) of decency. It is nearly impossible in reading to not stop and ask yourself why such a book needs to be written in the first place—not its practicality or utility, but that in this day and age these behaviors are tolerated at all online (or in the real world). Anybody acting like this anywhere else would almost certainly get assaulted and/or jailed. 

This book serves two purposes then. One is informing women about tactics to protect themselves online. The second is to make the reader uncomfortable. Rightly so. It is the perspective of, for want of a better phrase, “the other” that is supremely powerful, not because she spells it out as such—though Jankowicz does provide those aforementioned stories and anecdotes—but because she leaves it to the reader to reflect upon their understanding and sense of place and self. It is all the more powerful because it does not handhold the reader.

This is not about empathy, though of course empathy is important.It is more about attempting to truly see the world through someone else’s eyes, a set of eyes that see a world of hostility, anger, barely concealed contempt, and preludes to violence. That is about as close to understanding the world from someone else’s view as one can get without experiencing it directly, and trying to be a better human being. 

I truly hope that this book gets the wide readership it deserves because of this precise point. It would be easy to categorize it in the narrowest of terms, as either a book “for women” or a “how-to guide”. To be sure, it is both of those things, but it is much more than that and should spark a critical conversation on a panoply of issues. Why does society value or memorialize the contributions of a woman less than that of a man? There are real issues surrounding gender that need to be discussed, but if society tolerates the behavior it does online, what does that say about behavior in the real world? Or the treatment of women in the real world? How can those issues be engaged with any seriousness or maturity? Arguably, they can’t.  

Too often readers of pundits miss the fundamental point about why this is an issue that should be addressed. This is not about “we should be better because I have *insert female relative here*”, which makes it about them. No, it is about being better people full stop because no one should be subject to this kind of abuse, except perhaps literal Nazis.

Jankowicz and the women she writes about shouldn’t find themselves in an environment where they needed to act (proactively or otherwise) to defend themselves, their character, their professionalism, or anything about themselves. People should be treated with respect, dignity, and decency (a tall order given the state of society). We should, however, be thankful that she did write this book because it raises some very hard and uncomfortable questions about society today. Only by confronting those questions head-on will we be able to be better for ourselves and each other.

About
Joshua Huminski
:
Joshua C. Huminski is Director of the Mike Rogers Center for Intelligence & Global Affairs at the Center for the Study of the Presidency & Congress, and a George Mason University National Security Institute Fellow. He can be found on Twitter @joshuachuminski.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.