I think that I was first introduced to trolls in the story of the Three Billy Goats Gruff . In children’s stories the troll is always an ugly character who is up to no good. I particularly liked the treatment of trolls in the film Willow and the way that they climbed up walls. The next time that I thought about trolls was when my kids were younger and we went through a phase when we all watched a lot of Dora the Explorer . This troll wasn’t particularly threatening, but you did have to solve his riddle if you wanted to cross the bridge. He had a theme song that easily became an ear worm in our house. Recently my husband and I started watching previous seasons of the TV show Once Upon a Time and there was one episode containing trolls on a bridge.
Last weekend I had an experience with a real-life troll. I am talking about the internet variety. I’ve been blogging for a little over a year now and consider myself fortunate that I haven’t had to interact with any trolls. I feel that way given the frightening amount of trolling that is directed towards women on the internet. I usually don’t check my email over the weekend, but last Sunday afternoon I did. Sitting in my inbox was an email from a person who I didn’t recognize, but I get lots of emails from students looking to do graduate work with me so that wasn’t particularly unusual. Unfortunately the contents of the email were not harmless and were of a sexually harassing nature. This person had taken the trouble to learn some personal pieces of information about me which was very disturbing and signed off the email as a secret admirer. It was thoroughly creepy, distracting, and made me feel very unsafe. It is also unwanted and unwarranted.
I accept that as part of my job as a professor that I will receive my share of unpleasant emails such as those that convey bad news about grants, complaints from students that I teach about my evaluations of their work, or disagreements with colleagues about how to solve problems. In my naïveté I never thought that I would be subject to anonymous sexual harassment by email. I’m now wondering how many of my colleagues have had to deal with something similar, but haven’t said anything out of fear, shame, or bewilderment. Sometimes ignorance really is bliss. I expect that I am not the only person to have had this experience, but I think that it’s important to talk about it and not sweep it under the rug.
I’d appreciate hearing from others who have had this experience and how they dealt with it.