The Defenders

The Defenders

By Jessica Fithen

Just ignore it.
Be quiet.
Don’t talk about it.
Don’t give them attention.
You’re making it worse.
This is what they want.
Block them.
Focus on the positive.
Don’t say anything.
Remain silent. Women are meek and humble.
Did I ask you?
Wait in the car.

"The Defenders" are a group of people who dismiss abuse and harassment and actively attempt to silence the victims of this behavior. The Defenders can be made up of friends, family, gym buddies, partners or online acquaintances. And many times, their behavior is more damaging than the actual harassment. 

Cancel Culture

A particular interaction with a college student was so vile and degrading that several YLLAM followers took the initiative to contact the university which he proudly linked in his bio.

The response from The Defenders was as shocking as the comments harassing a lifter for looking too “manly” in a deadlift video.

  • “He shouldn’t have said that, people say dumb stuff all the time. Let’s end everyone’s careers and stuff. That’s such a gray zone since we don’t even know them personally. I don’t like playing thought police online and censor people … anyways, proceed with your online free speech police and cancel culture.”

  • “There is no reason to possibly derail a person because they made a stupid internet post. It’s fucking social media. IF THEY DON’T SAY IT TO MY FACE, WHY SHOULD I CARE. LIONS DON’T CONCERN THEMSELVES WITH THE THOUGHTS OF SHEEP.”

  • “You can’t know who a person truly is or how they really act by an online interaction and play free speech police on the internet.”

Accept abuse, quietly, like a lady.

Online words don’t count, they aren’t real, they can’t hurt you. Online words are fake words. Online words, no matter how disgusting, abusive or inappropriate, are okay to be shared at any time in all circumstances with zero consequences, because they didn’t "say it to your face.” The problem is not that this hate is being spewed in the first place – the problem is YOU for attempting to stop it. 

If this same college student had repeated his words to his mother, his college professor, his student advisor, would there have been consequences? Imagine the absolute absurdity of a 19-year-old student walking into a lecture hall and yelling at the woman at the podium, “Go make me a sandwich, hoe!”

Should his career in human services be derailed, with such utter clear contempt for half of the world’s population? **Real world application: Write an email to your mother and call her a slut. Let me know if online words matter.

Author Sarah Hagi wrote a piece for TIME, titled, “Cancel Culture Is Not Real—At Least Not in the Way People Think. In it, she describes the problems with dismissing any and all pushback against negative behavior as “cancel culture.”

"It’s turned into a catch-all for when people in power face consequences for their actions or receive any type of criticism, something that they’re not used to. I’m a black, Muslim woman, and because of social media, marginalized people like myself can express ourselves in a way that was not possible before…

That means racist, sexist, and bigoted behavior or remarks don’t fly like they used to. This applies to not only wealthy people or industry leaders but anyone whose privilege has historically shielded them from public scrutiny. Because they can’t handle this cultural shift, they rely on phrases like ‘cancel culture’ to delegitimize the criticism."

You’re Encouraging It

Another favorite tactic of The Defenders is to not only instruct you to endure abuse silently, but also blame you for any future abuse by telling you that you’re “encouraging” people to harass you by even acknowledging it in the first place. Many times even "well meaning" friends and relatives advise women being harassed to simply block trolls and they will go away. One of the reasons YLLAM struck a nerve with people so quickly was because we have allowed women a space to freely talk about what is happening to them, rather than telling them to hush and just go on about their day. 

  • “By making this post you’re just encouraging them to continue. This reaction is the whole reason they do things.”

  • “Welcome to the internet, boomers. By making this post you essentially just made them get what they want. This is the internet and has been happening forever.”

So now not only are you wrong for talking about abusive behavior, if the abuser continues, or moves on to his next victim, you’re also to blame for that, too. After all – you gave him what he wanted, right?

On the Instagram page, one man has created over 30 different accounts to harass women. He sends women threatening messages such as, "You make me want to slap you." If they block him, he simply creates another (and no, the police and/or Instagram will do nothing to stop this harassment). The Defenders response will still be to remain quiet and take it (which we have proved repeatedly does NOT curb harassing behavior). 

A follower sent me this message, “Know your own self worth! You don’t have to accept harassment and abuse. Speaking out against this shit is about your self worth and knowing what treatment you deserve. It’s not about the trolls wanting infamy, it’s about you exercising self respect.”

Be the Bigger Person

“You can be a pussy about it and bitch all over social media or you can be the better person and ignore them.”

"Be the better or bigger person" according to The Defenders means acting as a doormat for unwanted, unsolicited behavior and comments. It means if you speak out against abuse – you’re weak. You’re a pussy. You can’t handle the internet. You’re sensitive. What a snowflake!

The Defenders seek to pour salt on an open wound by calling you a baby, a child, a whiner - when all you asked for was what you deserve - basic human respect. 

So many people have been convinced that accepting mistreatment is normal because we have been conditioned to believe it is “inevitable.” We are told that mean people are everywhere, so if people leave sexist, derogatory, misogynistic, vulgar comments on your social media, well, that’s just the world, isn’t it? Don’t be on social media if you can’t handle it, honey.

“I’m embarrassed of how offended people get. OMG they said I look like a man… omg my feelings hurt today… My daughter won’t cry every time someone calls her a name.”

Sadly, a large portion of The Defenders are parents, who are instilling these sentiments into the younger generation who will have to battle the world alone, without the support of a parent who cares about them.

Imagine being proud your daughter will not come to you when she is sad, hurt, or needs support, because she knows her daddy has told her to stop being such a crybaby? The proud declaration that “my daughter won’t cry every time someone calls her a name” is nothing to brag about. Since when is lacking compassion, empathy and being "too tough" to experience normal human emotions desirable human qualities?

Social Justice Warriors 

The Defenders will make fun of you for sticking up for yourself, dropping condescending remarks such as “Gonna buy you girls some capes” on your posts. Oh, you're some sort of social justice warrior now? The Defenders will try to make you feel silly for refusing to remain silent, and attempt to silence you through mockery. 

Click "How Did 'Social Justice Warrior' Become An Insult?" to read the backstory on this term. Does this sound familiar? "Our natural tendency to make digs at those who do good is convenient for those who don’t want society to change. The fact that SJW was a term made pejorative by sexist trolls, and still very often directed at women, is evidence of this...

...The problem is, that’s not a real category of people. It’s simply a way to dismiss anyone who brings up social justice — and often those people are feminists. It’s awfully convenient to have a term at the ready to dismiss women who bring up sexism, as in, 'You don’t really care. As an SJW, you’re just taking up this cause to make yourself look good!'"

Once, a man inside my own sport actually told me that I was great lifter, but I was going to ruin my career with the YLLAM account because of my “ego.”


The idea that defending women from online harassment would leave some sort of black mark on my lifting career was one of the more bizarre comments I’ve ever received, and at the time I didn't understand the implication that he was dismissing YLLAM as something I created for attention rather than as a real way to deal with the years of abuse I had faced as a woman in athletics. 

The bigger question remained - why did this make him so uneasy? 

We Are Here To Stay

Being one of The Defenders can actually be more damaging than the initial comments to the people who already have to deal with harassment on a sometimes daily basis. 

What I know is that women speaking out against abuse is making many people uncomfortable. And it's time we start asking why. 

“When they throw around terms like ‘cancel culture’ to silence me instead of reckoning with the reasons I might find certain actions or jokes dehumanizing, I’d led to one conclusion: they’d prefer I was powerless against my own oppression.”

 – Sarah Hagi, TIME, November 2019


Jessica Fithen (@filthy_fithen) is a competitor in the sport of Strongman and creator of You Look Like A Man. 

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