Online bullying has been around since the Internet started. There were people who were jerks in chat rooms way back when, but these days it seems to be getting worse. Chase Masterson (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, The Flash) has been working to combat that for a long time now as one of the founders of the Pop Culture Hero Coalition.
SYFY FANGRRLS got to chat with Chase about the coalition's work against bullying, how the #MeToo and Time's Up movements have changed things, and how to handle online bullying if it’s happening to you. You can also check out Masterson’s Coalition partner Carrie Goldman’s book Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear.
We wanted to talk to you about online bullying, especially here at SYFY FANGRRLS. It happens to everyone, but it can often be targeted at women. Same thing for people of color and the LGBTQIA communities.
Absolutely. Misogyny is one of the things that we work against as per our bylaws and our charters. Bullying, racism, misogyny, LGBTQIA bullying and cyberbullying. We expanded it to include misogyny and racial injustice because these things are forms of oppression that are the same as bullying. It’s the same dynamic.
Things seemed to calm down a tiny bit after Gamergate in terms of online bullying, but ever since the election, and more so since the recent school shooting, it seems like it’s getting worse. Do you think that’s the case?
I think it’s getting worse. For some people, there are still constant and just horrific instances every single day. It’s a part of our zeitgeist now. People have grown to expect that they’re going to get cyberbullied because everyone does. It’s because our national consciousness is so based, people are based in fear and anger and insecurity. That’s what people have inside of them, and that’s all they have to give.
Do you think it’s gotten worse in the geek world as well?
I think it has. I think it’s been bad for a long time. Depending on who you ask, it’s worse or just as bad. The idea that people have ever bullied each other or sought power over each other because somebody knows more about this fandom or that, or because somebody isn’t, in their eyes, qualified to be a fan, it’s just disgusting. We used to be the people coming together for each other because we understood each other. To have this division in fandom is just the last place it should be.
I’ve actually heard the “fake geek girl” term coming up again lately, which is sort of odd, post-Wonder Woman. Why do you think that is?
I don’t know the reason, except that bullying is always about what the other person has to give. It’s about insecurity from the bully and their needing to feel powerful and get a powerful charge for literally a few seconds or from whoever else wants to gang on. It’s always about the pain. I don’t know why people are so disgusting and why they feel the need to overpower each other. I don’t know why it’s happening in fandom. I just feel like it’s a sign of our times. These white men, basically, are feeling powerless and maybe it’s because women have been speaking out more, and they’re scared. I mean, obviously women have always spoken out, but maybe it’s because women are more openly powerful about STEM and tech and Women’s March issues. Maybe it’s because these men are feeling ignored. I think it’s the most disgusting way to be, but I think that’s what happening.
Since you do so much work in this area, how successful do you think things like #MeToo and Time's Up will continue to be?
I think there’s no going back. I think that something has broken now and women are never going to be silent again. That’s my hope. I think that the glass ceiling has been broken in so many ways, and the glass walls were holding women in from saying something, like "will I be demonized, will I be blamed, will I be shunned for speaking the truth"—I think now that that’s been broken, we’ll never have to go back again, at least not in the same way. On every level, I think we’re dismantling the patriarchy. It’s happening politically, it’s happening in business, in the industry, where women are speaking out. And people of color are speaking out and letting everyone know that time’s up. And that dismantling, I think, has placed a fear into the hearts of the most insecure men, and that’s why they’re speaking out. They’re afraid their place has been taken.
You know, it’s so clear that all women have ever wanted was equality. Women aren’t asking to run everything, just our fair share. And if even that is something that these little boys can’t tolerate, then that’s a real problem. And that’s what we need to address on a scale that happens starting very young. That’s why we’re doing this work with the Coalition, so that we can get in a talk with kids, with boys.
I know we’ve talks about it on panels before, but how would you council someone who is getting bullied online?
First I’d say that you have to realize that bullying is never about you. It’s never about you. I don’t care if you weight 800 pounds; if someone calls you fat, it’s not because of any weight issue. It’s because they’re an asshole. The bully is just giving what they have inside. It has nothing to do with you. That is the main enduring thought that I teach people and that I keep inside. If I come along and say, “Hey Jenna, here’s a piece of sh-t," do you have to take it? It’s not yours! It has nothing to do with you. You’re certainly not going to eat it or internalize it. It’s not yours. Throw it away, and next subject, please. That’s how I think people need to approach online bullying. Yes, it hurts my psyche that this happens in the world, even when it doesn’t happen to me. You’re sensitive. I know you’re the same way.
I ache for my sisters and people of color. Everyone that has been hurt for so long, systemically, with this. And it’s happened to me my fair share, too. But, I think, once you realize it’s not you, it’s them, that takes a huge chunk of the pain away. Then, if you’re in danger, obviously you have to reach out and make sure you are physically safe. Then it’s on us to stand strong, continually, against Twitter and Facebook, and insist on them creating a place where it’s safe.
What resources would you recommend for someone who’s being dangerously bullied?
Well certainly, if it’s a death threat, definitely call the cops. I will say that I had a death threat on Twitter—a verbatim death threat from somebody on Twitter—we got it quite a while back, and Twitter did not shut down his account. You have to really make a lot of noise and unfortunately have the contacts to do that. But keep going. Keep trying. Stand up for yourself. I think the best thing we can do is, even if we’re victimized, don’t let yourself feel like a victim. There’s a marked difference in being victimized and feeling like a victim. Because feeling like a victim can lead to depression and internalization of anger and a feeling of weakness and a rage. This is something that these people are doing. Yes, it’s very unfortunate that this exists in our world, but you have to separate yourself from it in a healthy way.
What can you tell us about the work that the Pop Culture Hero Coalition does?
Thank you! Well, the Pop Culture Hero Coalition is the first ever 501c3 [not for profit] organization to take a stand against bullying, racism, misogyny, LGBTQIA bullying, cyber-bullying and other forms of injustice using film, television and comics. Our motto is: we love superheroes, so why not be one? We teach kids to stand up for themselves and each other. And that goes from the playground to junior high and high school bullying, workplace bullying, relationship bullying, really terrorism and war. It’s really all the same dynamic. It’s really people oppressing another group or another person. What we do is, we work in comic cons, schools and communities. And our approach is to teach empathy. We teach heroism over these things. We teach, what can you do to reach out and understand another person? You should really put yourself in another person’s shoes, because when we see each other as human, we don’t want to bully them. We don’t want to hurt them, or oppress them. The problem is when we cease to see each other as completely human.
It’s really important that we just separate it [bullying] from who we are. I spent so many days, hours, weeks and months, and actually a long time ago, I was severely depressed for a very long time over a bullying incident. It was a huge incident involving my son and me where someone threatened our lives. I really let it get to me. I let it get to my heart, and I was really psychologically destroyed for a time, that someone could do this. Well, that’s the truth. Someone can do this. It happens every day. You waste a lot less time and joy if you realize it has nothing to do with you.