How the women of Twitch put up with the bullsh*t

Right-wing sites falsely claimed group of Somalis attacked man in viral video
The video shows a man viciously attacked with a plant pot and run over with a bicycle.

See all Editor's Picks

@pokemanelol/Instagram @alinitydivine/Instagram @hiiiilee/Instagram @kittyplays/Instagram @giannielee/Instagram (Fair Use) @lea_may/Instagram

This article contains sexually explicit language.

The elementary school teacher turns off her ringing alarm at 7am and begins her daily grind. An hour later, she’s out the door, headed for her job while scarfing down breakfast and guzzling a cup of coffee from the nearby QuickChek.

Usually, she’s done at 12:30pm. Unless she’s substituting, she works a half-day at school, inspiring youngsters to keep their bodies and minds in tip-top shape. By 2pm, the part-time physical education teacher powers up her computer, logs in to Twitch, flips on her camera, and begins talking into the mic. Sometimes on her live streams, she rips into Twitch culture. Sometimes, she plays Overwatch and Rainbow 6. Sometimes, she tries to raise money for charity.

But almost always—almost every day or sometimes almost every hour, it seems like—she has to fend off the trolls. 

Trolls have existed throughout the history of Twitch. The site began as justin.tv in 2005, and only two years later, the site’s founder, Justin Kan, was swatted by pranksters who falsely called the police on him. The site was sold to Amazon in 2014 for nearly $1 billion, and every day, more than 15 million viewers find themselves on the site. At the beginning, Twitch was used by gamers streaming themselves as they played, but the culture has tilted, and now users simply chat with their viewers or take their cameras with them as they go about their lives. 

P.E. teacher/streamer Hiiiilee, whose real first name is Hayley, does it all. The New Jersey resident is exuberant, outspoken, enthusiastic, and funny. But she’s a woman on Twitch. Which means the streamer—the same woman who sets up the bean bag toss during Field Day, teaches her 10-year-olds how to play Steal the Bacon, and lays out the Tug of War rope—has to read messages that might make her students’ parents blush. Or retch.

It’s not just an issue for Hayley. Many, if not most, of the women who broadcast themselves on Twitch seem to face sexual harassment, verbal harassment, and sometimes physical harassment. Every female Twitch streamer I’ve interviewed has been harassed. Men try to get them in trouble with the platform by eagerly reporting potential rules violations, and others serve up videos on Reddit that could be considered revenge porn. Some women are continually called derogatory names. Others are ostracized because they’re playing video games in what some believe is a man’s world (or, maybe more accurately, a boys’ club).

At times, women on Twitch seem to be second-class citizens.

“I started streaming a very long time ago, and I am part of the first group of female streamers on Twitch,” San Diego-based streamer LegendaryLea, who has about 650,000 followers on Twitch, told the Daily Dot in an email. “While so many people approach me with their condolences about the salacious comments in [the] chat, it’s never really bothered me. Of course I would prefer not to have it but with this job comes exposure and I can’t let what people think or say about me affect my psyche. I figure whatever is going on with them is probably way worse than what they said to me.”

Still, the men who simply don’t want women around are difficult to ignore.

When she’s done with her work day at the school, Hayley logs onto Twitch in the afternoon so she can have some fun with her 3,000 followers. She’s not a Twitch star. She’s not even making much money on the platform. But she’s a woman.

Within minutes of the start of a recent stream, some unknown Twitch user pierced through the chat. “I want to grab your clit,” they said. Immediately, Hayley banned that user from her channel. But the echoes of those comments linger.

Unfortunately, she’s used to this.

An 8-year-old girl, living in a gigantic house with a bunch of dogs in the Chorro de Plata area of western Colombia, didn’t have many friends as a kid. She had some close buddies, but she never felt like she fit in.

Her mother liked playing basic games on the family’s computer. Her father abhorred them because he thought they were bad for the brain.

But one day, when her father was taking his normal mid-day nap, the eventual Twitch streaming star and her mother rushed out of the house and quickly drove to the bustling city of Cali to buy a Super Nintendo.

Her slumbering dad couldn’t know about the purchase, so the little girl and her mother hid in the attic to play games like Super Mario All-Stars and Donkey Kong.

“That,” she told the Daily Dot, “is where I got the gaming worm inside me.”

READ MORE:

Her dad eventually discovered the deception, and though he was angry, his family won him over when they purchased him a Gameboy that had Tetris on it. He couldn’t be mad, because he figured Tetris was educational.

“He played Tetris,” she said, “and we played Super Mario.”

More than two decades later, that 8-year-old, better known today as Alinity Divine, plays video games for a living. She nearly went to nursing school, but ultimately, she decided on a different career choice. Alinity’s father believes gaming is bad for the brain, but it’s certainly good for the pocketbook. Alinity has nearly 900,000 Twitch followers who send her gifts and donate thousands of dollars to watch her ply her trade. (She recently stirred controversy for throwing her cat during a live stream and then not getting banned for it.)

What she didn’t have growing up was a community where she fit in. Twitch provides her with one. That community doesn’t always feel so safe for the women who reside there, though.

alinity divine @alinitydivine/Instagram

When Alinity— who now lives in Saskatchewan, Canada—first started streaming in 2012, she was one of the few females on Twitch. Her stream got really big really quickly; the first time she realized 300 viewers were watching her at the same time, she had a revelation. Recalling her days as a nursing student, she told one of her friends, “Dude, I could fill an entire biology auditorium with viewers from my stream.”

These days, when she has 3,000 concurrent viewers, she thinks to herself, “Dude, I have 10 biology classes now.”

But those numbers bring potential problems from those who feel it’s OK to harass a female streamer in their chat. For Hayley, the trolls can come in waves. She can face harassment once a day, once an hour, once every five minutes. They might try to get her to bend over so they can see her backside. They might sexualize her with their words. Much of the time, it’s not just one anonymous person on her chat. Sometimes, it’s a band of trolls.

“It’s a bullying tactic,” Hayley said. “I can handle one troll at a time. When I have two, three, or four trolls in chat, it becomes mentally exhausting. It kills your whole vibe.”

Since she’s been on Twitch for seven years, Alinity has learned plenty about a troll’s motivation. Mostly, she said, they want a reaction. So, the streamer has to make a decision. Does she respond? Does she ignore? Does she get angry and address it? Does she ban that person immediately?

“What do you want in your chat? What you want in your chat is what you should give attention to,” Alinity said. “If you completely ignore certain things for a long period of time, people will stop doing it. I choose to acknowledge positive, wholesome things to bring in to my chat. I do get a choice of what direction my chat takes.”

Broadcasting in the safety of your home is one thing. But female streamers have to be even more aware when they’re streaming outside around other people. 

Harassment can strike at any moment for these rising internet stars, even—or especially—IRL.

Take what AyyTrae experienced in March. She was filming herself on the streets of Los Angeles when, out of nowhere, a stranger walked up to her and asked, “Excuse me, have you ever heard of a psychological condition called clinical narcissism?” She said, “Um, yeah.” The stranger said, “I’m pretty sure you have it.”

As he chuckled and walked away, she called out after him, “Thanks, bro.” He then responded nastily with, “Suck a dick, cunt.”

AyyTrae Twitch harassment AyyTrae/Twitch

Later she tweeted, “It’s no wonder why a lot of female IRL streamers feel unsafe outside.”

It’s not just verbal harassment, either. On a recent trip to Germany, Korean streamer Giannie Lee broadcast herself facing racist taunts and harassment multiple times with racist taunts. She found herself in a potentially scary situation involving two men who reportedly said in Serbian that they would touch her breasts and have anal sex with her.

Another form of harassment comes from those who seemingly watch female streamers’ channels just so they can uncover a breach of Twitch’s rules and then report the streamer for potential punishment from the platform. Then, somebody will take a clip from the stream and post it on the LiveStreamFail subreddit, so even if the clip is deleted from Twitch, it lives on on Reddit.

In April, a streamer named BadBunny accidentally flashed the camera while streaming on her couch. The flash of nudity to her more than 80,000 followers was brief, but that clip quickly appeared on Reddit. It’s still there to this day, which led BadBunny to ask a relevant question.

“If it does have nudity in it,” she asked on Twitter, “isn’t that revenge porn?”

Twitch hasn’t figured out how to stop the harassment and abuse. While the site explicitly bans harassment in its community guidelines, it also says, “Twitch will consider a number of factors to determine the intent, context, and impact of any reported harassment.” That vagueness can be unsettling to streamers. Some complain that Twitch’s rulings and its punishments are inconsistent. Some have received a 30-day ban for nudity. Others get only 72 hours. It’s not just that harassment exists on Twitch. It’s that Twitch seems unsure how to fix it. 

“It’s no wonder why a lot of female IRL streamers feel unsafe outside.”

BadBunny is not the only one who’s been tattled on and then temporarily suspended. In April, AriLove stuck a phone inside her shorts as a joke for her 600 concurrent viewers, and she was banned for 24 hours. She thinks it’s because you could briefly see the top of her underwear. But it was a relatively innocuous moment, and she wondered why she had been singled out by multiple viewers.

“My true intent was to make people laugh,” she told the Daily Dot. “It wasn’t even apparent to me the majority of people watching me were just waiting to clip and report me [the] first chance they got.”

READ MORE:

She thinks it’s because men are jealous. While she knows that women are singled out for harassment, AriLove also believes that women have an easier time attracting attention and views than men. “I’m not saying I have anything better than anyone else, but the fact female streamers have it easier [is] true and men don’t like it,” she said. “It’s the reality. I’ve even caught people saying it. ‘How could I spend 12 hours a day grinding and have 20 viewers when AriLove comes out of nowhere and is No. 1 in [Black Desert Online]?’”

Still, the harassment women constantly face likely outpaces any anecdotal advantage that AriLove is talking about.

In January, Romanian streamer Lucia Omnomnom didn’t realize she was still broadcasting when she removed her top, an incident that got her suspended for three days. She faced immediate harassment from men in the aftermath.

“I [did] get lots of hateful messages, people messaging my family and friends sending them the video with the incident,” she messaged the Daily Dot at the time. “It happened and that’s it; life goes on. No matter what you do or not do, there will always be people that judge you and talk shit even though they[’ve] never seen you before and know nothing about you. They’re toxic people.”

The clips of Lucia Omnomnom and AriLove landed on LiveStreamFail, as well. To LegendaryLea, who was suspended for 30 days in 2016 for accidentally showing nudity (she was adamant at the time that she didn’t expose anything), it smacks of revenge porn.

“These moments are accidents and they happen all the time in the real world except no one is recording with the ability to create a clip,” LegendaryLea told the Daily Dot. “There are groups of people on the hunt in everyone’s stream looking for an opportunity to ruin a streamer’s career. It’s a hate-driven task but it certainly exists.”

Since Twitch was built on gaming, the hate toward females likely stems from the misconception that gaming is a pursuit solely for males. That’s why Hayley began denying she was a female when other streamers would ask her as they played together. She figured out that when she said she was a woman, she’d immediately be treated differently. Or harassed. Or she’d simply be killed off from the game.

“It’s like instant bait for some people,” Hayley said. “It’s like putting a candy bar in front of a child and asking them not to touch it.”

Three young siblings were walking along the shoreline of Lake Powell in the southwestern U.S. two decades ago when LegendaryLea, then 5 years old, made what could be the most important discovery of her life. It was a wallet. Nobody else was around to claim it. There was no identification.

But $500 was stuffed inside. Lea, aka Lea May, and her two older brothers didn’t know where the wallet came from or who owned the cash inside. They couldn’t give it back to anyone. So, instead, they took what she later termed “a gift from the universe” and bought a Super Nintendo.

That started everything for Lea.

lea may @lea_may/Instagram

At the time, $500 seemed like winning the lottery. In 2018, she received donations from fans for more than 45 times that amount.

It almost didn’t happen. She had already taken the MCAT while in college, and she had been working on her personal statement for medical school applications while nannying and working in a lab. She began streaming on Twitch because she thought it’d be a fun social outlet. A few months later, she said she received a $23,000 donation from a fan in Dubai. She used it to pay off her student loan and to start herself down a new career path.

“I figured medical schools weren’t going to disappear anytime soon,” said Lea, who now lives in San Diego. “But this was happening now.”

So she went for it. Only later, she discovered it’s a job that can be bad for the soul.

There has always been a nasty undercurrent surrounding the way some men talk about some of the female streamers. They refer to them as “thots,” internet slang for “that ho over there.” When followers use this term, it’s to refer to those women who are being accused of using their looks and bodies to gain subscribers and views and, thus, gain the money that comes from both.

It’s a derogatory term that’s often used as a catch-all for any woman who makes Twitch content—and it hurts.

“Of course it is demeaning,” Alinity Divine said. “You think calling a girl a whore isn’t demeaning?”

It certainly is. YouTube star PewDiePie, the most followed person on YouTube with more than 98 million followers, once referred to Alinity as a “stupid Twitch thot.” Cosplay streamer Amouranth, with nearly 1.1 million followers, was called “the most iconic and money-grubbing Twitch thot on the site” for apparently hiding her marriage from her fans. LegendaryLea has been called a thot. So has Pokimane, who is the most followed female (and 12th-most followed streamer overall) on Twitch with 3.2 million fans.

Just about every female streamer who has gone viral or gotten popular has been called a “thot.” It’s disgusting, disturbing, and unfair.

It’s also a no-win situation for a streamer like Pokimane.

“People at this point want me to rocket up out of my chair and land in my fucking bathroom,” Pokimane said during a stream in 2018. When she walks to the bathroom from her computer, “I walk backward and people shit on me because they think I’m showing my butt. I walk forward, people shit on me because they think I’m covering up my butt. Which then leads to people wanting to see my butt more. Do you guys want to remove the bottom half of my body?

She added: “I never wear shorts to stream. Am I sitting here in underwear? I’m sitting here in sweats. Just because people get excited by the shape of a woman doesn’t mean I need to wear a fucking burka.”

pokimane @pokimanelol/Instagram

But are there women who flaunt themselves to get attention? Hayley certainly thinks so, and she’s not alone.

Take, for example, a highly read thread from the r/confessions subreddit. It was apparently written by a female streamer who joined Twitch and almost immediately began raking in money because she wore cleavage-revealing shirts.

“I stream almost daily and I make around an average of $1,000 a day and I can’t believe how easy it is,” the person wrote. “I just literally switch on my stream wear a raunchy shirt and I get money thrown at me. Haters gonna hate. I fucking love it.”

Is this a true story? Is this even a woman telling it? The Daily Dot hasn’t been able to verify. But it’s possible that somebody somewhere has had a similar mindset and made similar profits.

Reddit female Twitch confession Reddit

Hayley isn’t upset that a woman would want to show off her body. Instead, she’s frustrated that the so-called “booby streamer”—defined by Gizmodo as “scantily clad young women who try to lure other users into buying them gifts or sending them Twitch’s official microcurrency”—brings to the platform. It’s about the cause and effect.

“Boobs are boobs; I don’t give a shit if your tits are out,” Hayley said. “It’s the way you respond to it and the way you focus your chat on that particular area. That’s where my problem lies. That becomes the focal point of their stream.”

She said the so-called “booby streamers” influence the men who then infiltrate Hayley’s chat when she’s streaming and ask her to get naked. Hayley just wants to joke and chat and game.

“There’s always people coming in and asking me to show boobs,” she said. “If people are really expecting something, I blame it on the type of viewers these Twitch thots generate. How can these people not get away with it on my channel if they’re getting away with it on other people’s channels? They don’t know how to behave or act.”

Hayley said she also gets upset those types of female streamers don’t care about anything other than the funds and donations they can generate. It’s left her victim-blaming fellow Twitch streamers and wrongly thinking that women are at fault and men are just passive and unable to control themselves.

“Me, whenever I stream, I’m thinking about what I can do for myself and my community, for Twitch,” she said. “These Twitch thots are single-minded. They don’t care about benefiting the community. And I get the backlash and have to put up with that behavior every single day.”

Hayley suggested that female streamers need to train their male fans not to turn other women’s chatrooms into a misogynistic cesspool. But it’s also not a women’s responsibility to parent Twitch users who don’t know how to act respectfully in a female’s stream. Even if a woman is wearing revealing clothes or discussing NSFW topics, men should not get a pass if they feel the need to start hurling derogatory terms or sexual connotations at them.

And women shouldn’t be blamed for the way men look at them. After all, as Alinity Divine said, “I know I have very little control of how other people are going to react to women.”

Perhaps, though, the world of misogyny on Twitch is beginning to tilt slightly toward the side of inclusivity. Perhaps, if you’re a female streamer who’s dealt with all the bullshit above, there’s a reason to look forward with optimism. Twitch is becoming more diverse and because women are taking back some of the power.

“There are less pervs [now],” Alinity Divine said.

When Alinity first logged onto Twitch—which did not respond to a Daily Dot request for comment—the culture was different. Not much different, but it was noticeable in retrospect.

“There are always different words that guys like to call girls on the internet. That term changes over time,” she said. “Right now, it’s ‘thots.’ But things are slowly changing. Comparing what Twitch was six years ago and what it is now, I’m seeing a lot more diversity, and that makes me really happy. There are more girls. Not just streamers but more girl viewers. There are different people culturally. Of course, most of the people streaming are white guys, but I’m seeing more members of the LGBT community, more Latinos, more Asian people streaming. It’s really nice to see that things are growing. It’s a broader representation for the audience.”

Not only is there more diversity, Alinity said, there’s actually less sexualization of female streamers now than when she began her Twitch career. Perhaps there are more degrading terms now, she said, but there is less sexual harassment.

Streamer KittyPlays, one of the most popular female streamers with more than 1 million followers, tries not to even think about trolls. She’d rather advocate optimism. 

That’s why she started the Team Kitty squad, a group that features dozens of female streamers. The tag line for the group’s website is “Empowering Each Other, One Game at a Time,” and the idea is to grow diversity among those who stream and among those who like to watch people stream. It’s not necessarily a group thinking about power. It’s a group finding empowerment in cohesiveness and optimism—which can make the entire streaming experience much more pleasant. 

kittyplays @kittyplays/Instagram

“I always advocate for positivity to my audience because it is about empowerment,” KittyPlays, whose real name is Kristen Michaela, said. “I want my audience to know they have the power to create an amazing world to live in and that all starts with their mindset and approach to life. If you can visualize your dreams and take one single step toward achieving them, you are already on your way. … Honestly, there will always be trolls and I typically ignore them because giving them attention and energy only validates their behavior. I would rather reward my fans with my energy and attention.”

KittyPlays almost didn’t take this route. 

“I’m seeing a lot more diversity, and that makes me really happy. There are more girls. ”

A week before she was set to take the LSAT in college, she dropped out of school. She wanted to be paid for something she loved. A corporate job or a career in accounting wasn’t going to fit into that equation. Becoming a Twitch streamer was the solution.

“I felt very confident in my entrepreneurial skills, so dropping out of university to chase my dreams was very liberating,” she said. “It was like university was a dam holding me back and then I was able to break out and burst forth to showcase my true potential.”

Like many of the female streamers, KittyPlays has used that potential to enhance herself and other females around her. There’s power in that—and in not allowing a troll to take over their streams and their mindsets. 

Alinity’s chat is heavily guarded by the moderators she’s chosen for her channel, and she doesn’t allow herself to see the worst comments. That helps her mental load. Hayley will ban a troll at the first sign of trouble.

READ MORE:

In reality, there’s no reason why the kid sister whose eyes grew so wide at that stack of money on the shores of the lake should have to face so many trolls. There’s no reason why the daughter who hid from her disapproving dad in the attic so she could play video games should be called offensive terms. And there’s no reason why the P.E. teacher should be sexually harassed when she’s simply turned to Twitch to have a good time.

“As a content creator, you choose a direction that you want your stream to take,” Alinity said. “You choose what discourse that you want to share with your community. We do have control over what happens and what doesn’t happen. That’s probably the most important thing everybody needs to keep in mind. There are a lot of people watching your stream, but you’re in control of what happens in your broadcast.”

That strategy—ignore the trolls, shrug off the labels, and focus on the positive aspects of being a female streamer—is good for the bank account. It seems good for the brain and good for the soul, too.

Got five minutes? We’d love to hear from you. Help shape our journalism and be entered to win an Amazon gift card by filling out our 2019 reader survey.

Josh Katzowitz

Josh Katzowitz

Josh Katzowitz is a staff writer at the Daily Dot specializing in YouTube and boxing. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times. A longtime sports writer, he's covered the NFL for CBSSports.com and boxing for Forbes. His work has been noted twice in the Best American Sports Writing book series.