A few months ago, I published a memoir about the year I initiated an open marriage after my husband’s vasectomy, when I realized I’d never have children. The book, titled The Wild Oats Project, touches on issues that most of us hold dear: love, marriage, sex, children, fidelity. As a protagonist, I was far from perfect. As a writer, I struggled as best I could to tell the raw truth about how these issues played out in my life. I owned up to feelings of rebellion and anger and described in detail how I pursued sexual liberation in midlife. When I fell short morally—and I don’t mean by having a lot of sex—I indicted myself, either in the moment or in retrospect. I wrote about seeking my husband’s forgiveness.
When you write a book about sex, you can expect a reaction. Social media, of course, can both intensify the reaction and lower the level of discourse. But it’s the combination of social media and sexism that filters an entire range of potential feedback down to its surprisingly predictable essence, as I learned from tweets and Facebook messages directed at me after my book was published. A small sampling of the comments I received:
filty whore, I hope you caught the clap.
Sorry, @Robin_Rinaldi, in my world there is a word for “happily” married women who spend a year bedding many men and that word is #slut
Stupid old whore! To get a forum on TV promoting cheating?? Fuck off!!!!
Robin, face it, you're a self centered slut! Your book is bullshit. Why don't you become a porn star?
you are one nasty skank ass. nothing but a cum dumpster. worthless with nothing to offer a man but a hole.
You are a fucking whore! ... I hope you and your fucking books burn in hell.
By no means was I alone. Last year, when the Guardian columnist and author Jessica Valenti asked a simple question on Twitter about tampon use in third-world countries, tweeters referred to her “giant gaping vagina,” recommended she get a “free hysterectomy,” and reminded her that, in the Middle East, “they sew your vagina shut for being a loud mouth.” When the media critic Anita Sarkeesian dared examine feminine tropes in video games, she received rape and death threats that make my hate tweets read like brunch invitations.