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OpinionColumnistsCathy Young

When online flirtation turns nasty

Let's call a truce and stop politicizing every

Let's call a truce and stop politicizing every trivial conflict in male-female relations. Photo Credit: iStock

A man is obnoxious online toward a woman. The woman posts screenshots to shame him. The incident quickly becomes a minor media sensation as an example of male entitlement and female oppression. Another day, another skirmish in the gender wars. Maybe it's time to call a truce and stop politicizing every trivial conflict in male-female relations.

In this case, the man behaving badly was Benjamin Schoen, the former host of a popular Harry Potter podcast who runs a women's site called Feminspire. The woman was BuzzFeed writer Grace Spelman, who had friended Schoen on Facebook nine years ago as a 14-year-old fan of the podcast.

Recently, Schoen found Spelman on Twitter and sent her a complimentary tweet which she favorited. Then, he reached out on Facebook, eventually sending her a message filled with flattering banter, a facetious invitation to "get married at one of those drive thru places" and a serious invitation to be a guest on a new podcast he was starting. Spelman replied, "Thanks for the kind words but I actually have a boyfriend! Hope you stay well!" and then proceeded to block him on Facebook.

Annoyed, Schoen sent Spelman several snippy tweets disparaging BuzzFeed as "garbage" and telling her he had been about to offer her a much better job when she blocked him in an "immature and insulting" way. Then, he followed with an email in which he repeatedly apologized for his behavior and asked for a "second chance" to publish her -- but still referred to how "hurt" he had been by her treatment.

After Spelman posted screenshots, the story was picked up by several publications. The HuffPost Women page ran a story headlined, "Dear Men, Women Don't Owe You an Explanation for Rejection," which asserted that the Schoen-Spelman dust-up was typical of the dangers women face dealing with male advances online. Spelman told HuffPost Women that "men think" they are entitled to women's attention.

But do men have a monopoly on such entitlement and anger? The Playboy website recently posted screenshots (with no names) of a text-message exchange in which a man politely told a woman that "this isn't going to work out" after a first date -- and the woman responded with a series of insulting rants. No one, including Playboy, treated this as an example of rampant female entitlement and irrationality running amok -- only as a bizarre story of one woman being obnoxious.

In my own Internet experience, I have been on the receiving end of angry, semi-stalkerish messages from a gay woman who mistook my friendly conversation on a message board for romantic interest and felt rejected -- and from a straight woman who felt I was neglecting our online friendship.

HuffPost Women notes that "in a world where a woman can get slashed in public for ignoring a man's advances, women have reason to feel trepidation when rejecting a man." But it's absurd to base women's expectations of men on such horrific but luckily rare events. (We also live in a world where, two months ago, a Florida woman stabbed her boyfriend because he said he was too tired for sex.) As most men can attest, women routinely reject them with very little trepidation.

The Daily Beast's Lizzie Crocker argues that while Schoen certainly acted like a jerk, his private messages -- none of them threatening -- did not merit an exposure that he says has made him the target of death threats. If the tables were turned, a man who pilloried a woman in the same way would get little sympathy.

Dear women: Stop shaming men.

Cathy Young is a regular contributor to Reason magazine and Real Clear Politics.


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