The Hacking of Leslie Jones Exposes Misogynoir at Its Worst
The harassment and hatred the Ghostbusters star has endured all summer is emblematic of a certain kind of misogyny: that directed specifically against black women in pop culture.
Leslie Jones has given us so much, from hilarious Game of Thrones recaps to Ghostbusters to her entire Twitter presence. She even provided a ray of hope at the Rio Olympics, patriotically swimming upstream against the river of shit and the riptide of white privilege that is Ryan Lochte. For summoning the kind of unbridled cheer usually reserved for Channing Tatum’s personal emails, Jones has been rewarded with a flood of hateful vitriol. The latest, ugliest attack came on Wednesday, when hackers covered the comedian’s personal website with images of her passport and driver’s license, alongside naked photos allegedly cribbed from her iCloud. They also uploaded a tribute video to the meme Harambe, likely as a racist troll.
Leslie Jones’s attackers are proving disturbingly persistent. While Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters reboot triggered a hate campaign for having a largely female cast, Jones in particular provoked the ire of the alt-right. These meme-wielding white supremacists were enraged by the prospect of gender-flipping the popular franchise, let alone casting a black woman in one of the starring roles. Unsurprisingly, Cheeto-in-Chief Donald Trump was among the first to publicly condemn the film. Over a year later, the Playboy-loving family-values candidate took to Instagram for a pop culture rant, fuming, “And now they’re making Ghostbusters with only women. What’s going on?!”
Rationally speaking, a Hollywood blockbuster is not a personal affront. But when you’re genuinely scared that the white man is losing a war against diversity and gender equality, there’s really no limit to what you can misconstrue as a personal attack. This is the sort of uninformed terror that gives Trump rallies their particular brand of je ne sais quoi—a toxic cocktail of xenophobia, misogyny, racism, homophobia, and sadness. Now picture that teeming mass of Trumpian inhumanity hidden behind computer screens, trolling to their hearts’ content—or until they run out of data on their parents’ family plan.
By July 18, Jones was living in a “personal hell,” largely orchestrated by alt-right commenter Milo Yiannopoulos. Yiannopolous, a “professional troll” who makes all millennials look bad, tweeted some truly disgusting things at the comedian. Along with his dedicated troll army, the unfunny asshole doctored fake tweets from Leslie, wrote disgusting reviews of Ghostbusters, and sent Jones obscene, racist images, including Photoshopped gorillas. Jones responded by exposing her attackers on the internet and pleading with Twitter to increase its security. When help wasn’t forthcoming, she quit Twitter altogether, “With tears and a very sad heart.” It was a dark day for the Twitter community and a frustrating victory for hateful cowards with amateur Photoshop skills.
In the wake of Jones’s harassment, internet admirers took up the hashtag #LoveForLeslieJ to advocate for change on the infamously under-regulated social media platform. In response, “woke” Twitter founder and CEO Jack Dorsey finally lived up to the promise of his T-shirt, reaching out to Leslie personally and permanently banning her chief abuser. Yiannopoulos wrote an inflammatory response, which hardly anyone read because he couldn’t tweet it. Seems about right.
Jones later went on Late Night with Seth Meyers to discuss the incident. “What’s scary about the whole thing is that the insults didn’t hurt me,” Jones confessed. “Unfortunately, I’m used to the insults, but what scared me was the injustice of a gang of people jumping against you for such a sick cause.” She added, “Everybody has an opinion and it all comes at you at one time—and they really believe in what they believe in—and it’s so mean. It’s so gross and mean.”
Jones returned to Twitter on July 21, ushering in a short-lived golden age of glorious Olympics content and good times. After the comedian’s ebullient amateur coverage of the Rio Games earned her an even larger social media following, NBC invited Jones to cover the Games in person. In Rio, Jones quickly joined the ranks of Katie Ledecky and Simone Biles as the 2016 Olympics MVPs. She cheered on Kerri Walsh Jennings, exhibited the appropriate reaction to meeting the Final Five, and brought some much-needed attention to the art of synchronized swimming. While Jones alone couldn’t distract from the spoiled antics of a swole baby with a bad dye job, she brought us some much-needed cheer in the midst of Ryan Lochte’s career implosion. She even converted her history with virtual losers into a Twitter superpower, coming to Gabby Douglas’s rescue after the veteran gymnast was targeted by racist trolls.
The most recent attack against Leslie Jones isn’t just proof that no good deed goes unpunished. The horrific hack, which happened more than a month after peak Ghostbusters backlash, just goes to show the depths of racism and misogyny reserved for black women in the public eye. While Paul Feig and his accomplished cast faced their fair share of criticism, Leslie Jones has borne the brunt of Ghostbusters outrage. It’s a prime example of misogynoir, the term coined by scholar Moya Bailey to describe misogyny directed toward black women in American popular culture. Misogynoir reminds us that while misogyny might be universal, it is not felt or administered uniformly. The zeitgeist is riddled with misogynoir; Nicki Minaj pointed out one example in her famous takedown of the 2015 VMAs, tweeting, “Black women influence pop culture so much but are rarely rewarded for it.”
As a famous black woman, Leslie Jones was the most appealing target for racist, misogynistic trolls. And while countless celebrities, including director Paul Feig, have voiced unwavering support for the comedian, many of Jones’s white Ghostbusters co-stars have remained silent—a reminder of white women’s ability to opt out of certain conversations, as Jones continues to struggle with the aftermath of this multi-pronged attack.