How Melody Hensley is putting the bullies to shame



Yesterday, a message arrived in my email inbox with the title “Are you happy to die a virgin,” a somewhat unusual question, I felt, not just because of its faulty premise but also because of its lack of the conventional question mark at the end. The email itself was equally blunt and illiterate:

You sound like a 40 y/o FAT VIRGIN living in a basement rotting away. Is your way of hide behind your own internal issues u refuse to face? Father issues???

Ah, here’s where the missing question mark went, along with some friends.

The sender appended a photo of an extremely obese Asian man at least 20 years my junior, mostly if not completely nude, along with the question (and I quote verbatim) “This this photo you??”

As hate mail goes, this isn’t particularly interesting and original. What got my attention was the sender: it came from the admin account at, an Australian Men’s Rights site taking much of its inspiration from Men’s Rights Edmonton (its website design) and A Voice for Men (its propaganda). So this wasn’t simply some anonymous internet troll sending me puerile hate mail: this is one of Australia’s most visible MRAs.

On the front page I noticed something else: A post with the title: “‘Twitter gave me PTSD’: Woman claims mean comments and ‘cyberstalking’ gave her an illness usually suffered by WAR VETERANS.”

The post – most of which is plagiarised directly from The Daily Mail, including the title itself – is an attack on Melody Hensley, a feminist and skeptic who is the Executive Director of Center for Inquiry in Washington DC. Hensley, who in the past suffered intense harassment from misogynists in the skeptic movement and other assorted assholes, is now facing a second wave of harassment as a result of saying publicly that the earlier harassment had given her Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

That’s right: she’s being harassed for saying that harassment so fucked up her life that it gave her PTSD.

While much of the most vicious harassment this time is coming, as it did last time, from the misogynist wing of the atheist/skeptic movement, MRAs are jumping on board as well.

The “argument” of Hensley’s enemies? That she couldn’t possibly have gotten PTSD from “mean words” online. Men’s Rights blogger The Native Canadian put it this way:

PTSD from being a feminist on the internet? Yeah I bet she wakes up screaming at night because of all the mean words! Must be hard going day to day with flash backs of your friends being called “femnazi’s” right in front of you! How ever do you handle life? Fucking disgraceful b****. Let’s see her tell that to someone who really knows what living with PTSD is like. …

I’m sorry but I am totally shocked, I don’t know what else to say, other than, is there nothing sacred to these cat lovers?

And that’s pretty much the argument all of them make: based on nothing but their own vague notion that PTSD is a serious thing that only happens to soldiers, they’ve decided she’s a lying “b****” who is trying to steal the sympathy that rightly belongs to men. (Never mind that her comments on Twitter about veterans suffering from PTSD are always respectful.)

As Hensley has made clear, she’s not claiming that a few mean tweets gave her PTSD. On a page she’s set up to help raise money for research into PTSD she notes:

In July of 2013 I publicly disclosed that I had been diagnosed by my psychiatrist with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to more than a year of online harassment and abuse. The abuse -including death and rape threats- occurred on numerous websites and via email, phone, online postings, images, and videos.

Is it possible for this sort of harassment to cause PTSD? Well, according to someone who knows a lot more about the subject than me or The Native Canadian or the dude at Men’s Rights Melbourne or the staff writers at The Daily Mail, the answer is a clear yes. Caleb W. Lack, a licensed clinical psychologist and psychology professor who writes a blog called Great Plains Skeptic, and who is an expert on anxiety disorders, writes in a recent post on the Hensley controversy that

Bullying has long been known to have a severe impact on mental health, particularly if the bullying is repeated and prolonged. While research has traditionally focused on youth (as briefly reviewed here), more recent work has examined it’s impact on adults. as well, particularly in the workplace. Research focusing specifically on cyberbullying has found very similar results to “traditional” bullying, in terms of increased risk of depression, suicide, and anxiety. In youth, around a third of bullying victims display quite high rates of PTSD symptoms and rates are perhaps even higher in adults who are bullied.

So, given what we know about PTSD, and given what we know about the effects of bullying (cyber and otherwise) on mental health, I think it’s relatively safe to say that “Yes, you can ‘get’ PTSD from Twitter.” One needs to be careful, though, to be specific about this: it’s the bullying and harassment that could lead to PTSD or PTSD symptoms (as well as depression, increased suicidality, and so on), not anything inherent to Twitter itself. Twitter and other forms of social media are just a new tool to use to bully and harass others, but the underlying mechanisms and the results are the same as if these interactions were face to face.

The internet isn’t somehow apart from the “real world.” It’s a part of it, and actions on the internet have real world consequences. Unfortunately, the internet seems to magnify the power of bullies. But it may also magnify the power of bullying victims to fight back.

Of course, the bullies don’t want to acknowledge that what they are doing is bullying. Indeed, many of the worst bullies in the skeptic and Men’s Rights movements consider themselves “activists” — even though the bulk of their “activism” may consist of nothing more than harassing individuals. That may be part of what is driving the widespread refusal to accept that online harassment can lead to real trauma, including PTSD.

And that may be why the guy at Men’s Rights Melbourne — that is, a guy who sent me a crude, bullying email calling me a “FAT VIRGIN” — felt the need to weigh in on the Hensley’s case, and to insinuate ( in one of the few portions of his post that wasn’t plagiarised) that she’s making it all up.

But on some level the bullies know that they’re bullies. There’s no question that the new wave of harassment against Hensley is driven by one of the central dynamics of bullying — offline and on. Bullies love to pounce on anyone who shows signs of vulnerability, and Hensley’s announcement that she suffers from PTSD is a sign that the first wave of bullying got to her.

Happily, that’s not the whole story. What really seems to infuriate Hensley’s enemies is that she’s not acting like they think a victim should. She’s not shutting up and going away. She’s back on Twitter and responding to critics, because doing so gives her a sense of control over her bullies. She’s taking power away from them.

On A Voice for Men, Dean Esmay tries his best, in a barely coherent post, to paint her as a “professional damsel in distress” who deserves to be distressed some more. But the tweets of hers he reposts aren’t very damsel-like; they’re blunt and direct and they call out bullies by name. And when she posts them she knows she has the support of a lot of people who are as disgusted by the bullies as she is.

And while the bullies fulminate, she’s raising money for PTSD research. Because she’s an actual fucking activist, not a bully with a Twitter account, or a website, or a YouTube channel.

EDIT: There has been a lot of really good stuff written about Hensley and PTSD, particularly on Freethought Blogs. Here are some links to interesting, useful, insightful posts.

How could Twitter possibly cause PTSD? by Stephanie Zwan, documents some of the harassment.

What Melody Hensley Has to Teach You About Professionalism, an older (2013) piece by Zvan

Your Uninformed and Incorrect Opinions About Psychology, by Miri Mogilevsky

A Voice for Me – AVfM and Thunderfoot on PTSD, by Avicenna

PTSD and Me(lody), by Avicenna

Feel free to post more links in the comments!

NOTE TO DRIVE-BY ASSHOLES: If you want to talk about what a liar you think Melody Hensley is, don’t bother trying to post comments here. I mean, you can if you want; it’s just that it takes me a lot less time to throw them in the trash than it does for you to write them.


About David Futrelle

I run the blog We Hunted the Mammoth, which tracks (and mocks) online misogyny. My writing has appeared in a wide variety of places, including Salon,, the Washington Post, the New York Times Book Review and Money magazine. I like cats.

Posted on April 22, 2014, in a new woman to hate, a voice for men, antifeminism, atheism, atheism minus, bullying, creepy, douchebaggery, emotional abuse, empathy deficit, evil fat fatties, harassment, hypocrisy, men who should not ever be with women ever, misogyny, MRA, threats and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 166 Comments.

  1. So are any of these guys soldiers? Or are they just soldiers-by-proxy, since they’re men?

    Oh, they’re all veterans of the elite 101st Flying Monkey Keyboard Squadron! And their trauma is that a woman talked back to them and proved them all to be full of shit.

  2. RE: bluecat

    The very instant A mentioned the personal experience, just a couple of years back, C used the words “False Memory Syndrome”. Thing is, C is a violent bully who rather enjoyed the school.

    UUUUUGH. I’m so sorry. That’s really gross and so infuriating, especially since the False Memory Syndrome dipshits are full of just that. I thought the MRM was bad, but no, the FMSF people really out do them. They are the abuser’s lobby that PEOPLE LISTENED TO.

  3. Acting like a cat means that every now and then you’ll just look down and realize there is a man in your lap and you won’t be able to recall when he got there.

    leatapp, I burst out laughing this, because it happens to me with Sekhmet so often. On the order of once a day. I’ll be puttering around on the computer, doing crafts, etc., and suddenly it will occur to me that she is in my lap and I am petting her, and I still have no clear memory of when it started.

    She has me trained really well.

  4. I have been suffering in silence with PTSD for years due to rape and physical abuse and molestation as a child. I have found that claiming PTSD in any manner had warranted the same kind of response because I am not a Soldier I couldn’t possibly have PTSD. the internet is full of uneducated people but I find the “keyboard psychologists” to be the worst. They research one piece of information on a topic and assume that is all there is to know on the matter. (they should probably have a sit down with the string of psychologists and therapists I have seen over the years for my PTSD) I even had a friend who works as a marriage counselor tell me he had to send one of the couples he sees to have EMDR (PTSD treatment that the military swears by) because him cheating on her caused them both to have PTSD and they needed treatment. Anything can cause PTSD because it is about how your mind and body react to a situation not about what is actually happening. This is the end of my rant and I hope some people found some good use out of it and maybe one day the morons who swarm th internet will get a clue

  5. @LivingInSIlence

    Speaking as someone else who has PTSD due to a history of abuse, I feel that this strongly resonates with my experiences:

    Anything can cause PTSD because it is about how your mind and body react to a situation not about what is actually happening.

    Thank you for sharing.

  6. Anyone who piles onto a person who states they are suffering from a disorder is a vile human being. For people experiencing this nastiness, you have my sympathy.

  7. I found this article while searching up Melody, and I have to say, your website name really disappointed me. It’s an amazingly awesome name, don’t get me wrong, but it seems like it’d belong to some band or group.

    To actually reflect on the article itself, I’m not quite sure I agree with the writer. If you’re a public figure, you have to realize what comes with being a public figure. You’ll face harassment, every public figure has since the beginning of time. You have to learn how to deal with the harassment, the threats, the assholes. If she really has PTSD from such silliness, she should consider stepping out of the limelight, instead of coming back for more and more. At a certain point, you’re trying to be a victim.

  8. Ryan troll:

    If she really has PTSD from such silliness, she should consider stepping out of the limelight, instead of coming back for more and more. At a certain point, you’re trying to be a victim.

    Yes because any female who blogs or writes comments under her name, attracting rape threats, criticisms of how they look/what they wear, their weight, their age, the fact they can’t write because they’re female, etc – it’s all their fault for using media which should be the entire province of males.

    Your fucking victim blaming is pathetic. What I have listed above isn’t “silliness” it’s abuse. All for the crime of having opinions while being female.

    But, hey, thanks for the advice that females using the internet is us “trying to be a victim”. That’s really useful.

  9. Trying to be a victim? Fuck of with that victim blaming language. The idea that it’s only the internet, no big deal is laughably outdated. The internet is part of our daily lives and harassers are frequently moved to dox their victims and take their harassment to meat space. So yeah, it can effect people.

  10. RE: Ryan

    So what you’re saying is, it’s totally okay to harass someone constantly if they’re a public figure, because fame necessarily entails constant harassment.

    Dude, I don’t know what you’ve got against famous people, but it’s kinda gross. I don’t think ANYONE should get harassed like that.

  11. @Ryan

    I’ll copy and paste the above for your convenience:

    Anything can cause PTSD because it is about how your mind and body react to a situation not about what is actually happening.

    Now shut up. None of your victim-blaming bullshit is meaningful or new for this discussion.

  12. You have to learn how to deal with the harassment, the threats, the assholes. If she really has PTSD from such silliness, she should consider stepping out of the limelight, instead of coming back for more and more. At a certain point, you’re trying to be a victim.

    Given that children who are bullied often develop PTSD, I have to wonder if Ryan thinks they should “consider stepping out of” school, “instead of coming back for more and more.” If they continue to go to school, are they trying to be victims?

    Actually, I don’t wonder. Ryan is a piece of shit who would rather side with bullies and harassers than with the victims of bullying and harassment. So he probably does think bullied kids should just stay out of school, rather than thinking schools have a duty to protect kids from being bullied.

  13. “Silliness.”

    Ryan calls death and rape threats “silliness.”

  14. “If someone aggressively harasses you to make you stop doing something, you should stop doing it.” No way this could possibly go wrong.

  15. You’ve got to love* that he is pretending to have just stumbled upon the site totally agenda free because the name sounded cool and we were unfortunately not cool and alpha tough enough to meet his expectations.

    I don’t buy it. I wouldn’t be surprised if he is actually on of Hensley’s harassers.

    * Or not.

  16. @ Ryan et al. Why is it ok to win arguments by terrorizing people?

    PTSD Is that “constant waiting for shit to go down” an earlier poster mentioned…since bad stuff started happening when I was 4 I don’t exactly understand what it’s like to not be waiting for it.
    I can see online harassment causing people to start thinking like me. I assume everyone is a potential threat. Logical. Kind of draining, though.

  17. Also, this:

    It’s an amazingly awesome name, don’t get me wrong, but it seems like it’d belong to some band or group.

    Proves that he doesn’t get it At All because he takes the name at face value.

  18. He misses the implied “TO FEED YOU!!!!!”

    I love the blog name so much. It’s way less awkward to tell folks what I’m snickering at, now.

    Also, rape and death threats are silliness?! Dude, not cool.

  19. i’m done with the internet now. too many cruel people. it’s not a place for women.

  20. Ryan is just repeating the old dominant class rhetoric everyone’s tired of hearing.

    Don’t raise your voice. You don’t belong in OUR space. You’re too uppity. You’re a bitch. Get back in the closet. Get back in the kitchen. Go back to your country.

    It’s not argumentation, it’s intimidation.

  21. @ Sarah: lots of cruel people everywhere. It is therefore important that peeps who are not wantonly vicious not retreat. Compliance is reinforcement. Take reasonable safety precautions, but don’t let the bastards stop you.

  22. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s bullies.I admire Melody so much for standing up to them.

  23. I am so angry about this, I found out about it because I follow a lot of liberal progressive news sites on facebook and some asshole posted something about it and said this woman is a fraud! The post was a screen shot of some tweets and a blurb saying that she wants some dude I’ve never heard of to be boycotted if he’s speaking somewhere.

    I got those creepy, ‘is this what I think it is’ vibes. It didn’t look right, or feel right. So I’m reading the comments and people are saying she was claiming to have PTSD, and the guy she was in a feud with was saying that’s demeaning to soldiers for her to claim that, and my temp starts rising… ok… so now I’m getting triggered, but hope that I can still write comments.

    I thought, if I find out this is another Anita Sarkesian thing I’m going to lose my mind. So I put her name in the google machine, and out comes manboobz, or now, wehuntedthemammoth.
    I read this and sure enough. I am livid. Here’s why. I know this type of thing goes on, but I found out from a liberal page, and I hate running in to those liberal asshat men that don’t get it. Suddenly all their principles fly out the window. Last week it was fifty posts a day on Ray Rice, now this week it’s this? I’m not even good at responding I’m just so mad.

    So I’m venting, and have vented. After reading this, I feel sane again, like really? Am I the only one that gets this is just dysfunciton making, this “demeaning soldiers” thing? Answer- no.

    What is wrong with people?

  24. trapped inna elevator


  25. This may be a little late but I’ve only just heard about this story. PTSD can happen to anyone that is very true. and in no way is it an armed forces specific illness. I left the British Army in 2014 and had a troubling time after my final tour. During which i was actually blown up 4 times (inside an armoured vehicle) was shot at a few times and had the most unfortunate experience of seeing 6 men burned alive after their vehicle hit an IED. suffice to say i was not a happy bunny when i did return home and finally referred myself to the mental health nurse and got the help i needed. In no way is this a criticism but during that period of my life i hated loud noises, fireworks, i ducked for no reason and had a general suspicion of every object that i hadn’t placed on the ground. I did not want to be anywhere near anything that reminded me of that short time. It appears that Miss Hensley did not even stop checking/posting on the source of her anxiety, twitter, during and after her diagnosis (from what i have read) something which her health professional would adviser her against (its all about reliving the memory in sessions) i guess this has somewhat left her open to slight criticism and if i am honest i too am slightly sceptical especially as she posted this on twitter and may do not want other to know about the diagnosis due to the stigma of being mental or crazy that comes with it. And on a side note PTSD does not last forever its 100% manageable i sought help back in 2012 and in 2015 i feel right as rain.

  26. the real issue here is whether or not we’re going to allow abuse to continue, or invite big brother/ sister into yet another part of our lives. as compelling as the plight of the abused is, surveillance is worse.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 17,162 other followers

%d bloggers like this: