Warning: Graphic content

I promised not to do this.

I promised never to open this box again.

And yet, here I am, wading through it once more.

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"You stupid, used-up sl*t", "I just jerked off to your pictures", "You're getting really fat," "Have sex with me".

The messages roll into my inbox in waves of hate and sexual perversion. I'm transfixed in scandalised curiosity and horror.

Like most of the women in media I know, I can't remember the last time I opened my DMs not to be confronted with threats of violence, and graphic depictions of sex acts (occasionally accompanied by a description of the masturbatory session that went with them.)

My inbox, much like the comments section on my articles for news.com.au, has become a haven for repressed rage and sexual aggression from men who feel oddly entitled to unload on me. If my image is featured in an article, I receive messages critiquing everything from my body weight to my haircut. If I express an opinion online, I'm labelled a "dumb b*tch" (incidentally, this dumb b*tch has three university degrees) and some variation of an "ugly wh*re".

This is what I should expect, I'm told. If I don't like it, I should get off the internet, I'm reminded. "Put yourself online and bear the brutal consequences," I'm warned.

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And indeed, like many of my female peers, I've done just that. I'm almost disturbingly numb to the vitriol, threats, and jerking off that flood my inbox on a daily basis. My DMs are basically the junk cupboard I pretend I'll one day do a Martha Stewart on, while surreptitiously cramming regret purchases into.

Bokody likens her DMs to a junk cupboard. Photo / Instagram
Bokody likens her DMs to a junk cupboard. Photo / Instagram

This coping mechanism is a phenomenon psychologists refer to as "learned helplessness"; a state of mindset whereby the person on the receiving end of abuse comes to accept their situation as normal, and as such, views any attempts to thwart it as pointless.

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Derogatory and sexualised messages are sewn so deeply into the fabric of the online experience for women, it's rare we even acknowledge the resounding emotional, mental and professional impact they have.

A 2018 report into digital harassment of female leaders revealed 80 per cent of women felt deterred from entering a career in politics due to fear of online abuse.

"Threats of violence have become more prevalent for women in public life," former Prime Minister Julia Gillard commented in a 2016 speech.

"As a woman in public life, the violent threats take on another sickening dimension. Threats of violent abuse, of rape, are far too common. A woman in public view may expect to receive them almost daily," Gillard added.

Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard copped plenty of online abuse during her time in the top job. Photo / News Ltd
Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard copped plenty of online abuse during her time in the top job. Photo / News Ltd

And it's not only happening in politics. Female sporting stars are three times more likely to be on the receiving end of online abuse than their male peers. An analysis of 1,300 comments on Facebook posts shared by major news broadcasters, found at least 14 per cent of the comments directed at sportswomen were sexual in nature, while 23 per cent contained sexist messages, like "women should be in the kitchen" and "stick to netball".

Inevitably, this is the part of the article where a handful of men will head to the comments section to jump up and down and insist this is all very bias – where are the male statistics? Why aren't I talking about online bullying of men?

But here's the facts: as a man, you're far less likely to ever encounter a threat of sexual violence, or a derogatory comment relating to your sex or appearance online.

Of the 70 million-plus comments left on The Guardian's website in the past decade, a 2016 study revealed that, overwhelmingly, abusive messages were directed at female writers. Of the top 10 writers to receive the most hate, eight were women; despite the fact the majority of the site's most popular writers are men. (Also of note: of the top 10 least abused writers, all 10 were men.)

Being a woman with a profile meant you were much more likely to cop abuse. Photo / Instagram
Being a woman with a profile meant you were much more likely to cop abuse. Photo / Instagram

There seems to be a misconception that women who speak up about gendered issues like this are seeking to demonise men, or minimise their experiences. ("Man-hating sl*t" seems to be a favourite clapback among my trolls when I talk about anything to do with women, because, you know, I'm a woman.)

Perhaps it's because it's easier to believe I'm just a bitter, bent-out-of-shape shrew in need of a good root. That, this really has nothing to do with gender at all.

If we can convince ourselves of that, we don't need to confront the ugly, awkward truth, that any such power imbalance exists. We can instead disregard the very idea it, poke fun of it, and play it off as women being "oversensitive".

And like the junk cupboard yet to be tackled in my hallway, women can keep promising themselves they won't peer into the comments sections, and the DMs. Not because they're thin-skinned, but because they simply want to live their lives free from harassment.

Nadia Bokody is a freelance writer and Instagram influencer. Continue the conversation on Instagram @nadiabokody