One (just one) of the reasons I’d not started a blog in the past is that, well, I’ve read a lot of comment threads. And for every reasonable comment that relates to the post and furthers the discussion, there are ten that are idiotic and missing the point and five that are blatantly hateful. (I am totally making up all of these numbers to make a point. And no, the point is not that I am bad at math.)
And these numbers were on some of the more progressive blogs. I don’t even try reading the comments thread of major newspapers or some of the really big blogs (Broadsheet, for example), because I know they’ll just be full of hate and vitriol and trolls.
I’m one of those people who, if I feel insulted or slandered or wronged, will spend a few hours afterward coming up with a footnoted list of why what they said was wrong and what I should have said in response to show them the error of their ways. All in my head, of course. So yeah, I’m not as good as I could be with disagreement/criticism anyway. (As someone who has endured years of collegiate-level training in art, including an advisor who sincerely believes that “provoking” people is a teaching style, you’d think I’d have skin tough enough to season brushes. Alas.)
So the idea of exposing myself to the criticisms of the interwebs, especially people who will randomly insult or threaten me, let alone people who won’t engage honestly with me, is more than a little terrifying.
And then there’s that “girl” thing. Or as I like to call it, “Blogging While Female.”
Below are two articles discussing sexism online in the context of their own personal experiences as well as those of Kathy Sierra. Sierra, a software programmer who blogs about technology, had started receiving increasingly harassing comments in her blogs. These escalated to a posting of her home address online, threats of rape and death, and images of her photoshopped/manipulated to be threatening and insulting, like one of her with a noose around her neck. She notified the police, and ended up closing her blog down and cancelling at least one public appearance at the ETech Conference in San Diego.
One particularly interesting passage from Walsh’s article:
Attitudes toward women have improved dramatically just in my lifetime, but still the world has too many misogynists, and the Web has given them a microphone that lets them turn up the volume on their quavering selves, their self-righteous fury, their self-loathing expressed as hatred of women. And yet, mostly, women on the Web just have to ignore it. If you show it bothers you, you’ve given them pleasure. Life is too short to think about Broadsheet trolls.
But it coarsens you to look away, and to tell others to do the same. I’ve grown a thicker skin. I didn’t want skin this thick. And what does it mean that women writers have to drag around this anchor every time they start to write — that we reflexively compose our own hate mail, and sometimes type and retype to try to avoid it? I can honestly say it’s probably made me more precise and less glib. That’s good. But it’s also, for now, made me too cautious. I write less than I would if I wasn’t thinking these thoughts. I think that’s bad. I think Web misogyny puts women writers at a disadvantage, and as someone who’s worked for women’s advancement in the workplace, and the world, that saddens me.
The scary part of the Sierra incident as far as other female bloggers is concerned is twofold:
1. Some people think that once you are online, everything is fair game: that your looks, marital status, education, history, gender, weight, age, religion, sexual history, family, job, ethnicity are all “open” to attack, no matter what you are posting about. These people also feel that it is okay to threaten you, your family, dig up your personal information and post that, photomanip threatening images, insult you in any variety of hateful ways, attack you for any aspect of your life and generally behave in a way would be perceived as endangering your immediate physical safety if it happened offline.
2. Other people think this is not actually a big deal. There was actually a backlash against Sierra for failing to have thicker skin, for attacking free speech, for making such a big deal out of it… I mean, who takes death threats seriously? You wusses.
Which is scarier? The threats, or the fact that you’re crying wolf if you’re threatened by the threats?
More from the department of No, We’re Not Imagining It: A study by the University of Maryland’s A. James Clark School of Engineering found that chat room participants with female usernames received 25 times more threatening and/or sexually explicit private messages than those with male or ambiguous usernames.
I have one big quibble with the above study: ” ‘Parents should consider alerting their children to these risks, and advising young people to create gender-free or ambiguous usernames. Kids can still exercise plenty of creativity and self-expression without divulging their gender,’ Cukier says.” When he says “without divulging their gender” he means “without saying they are female,” since the threat is specifically directed at participants who are identified as female. So he means girls, specifically, should hide that they are girls. And while I am completely 100% for kids having a safe online experience, I find the idea that females should have to hide their gender as a safety precaution to be deeply disturbing. Because that is so very easily extrapolated to adult bloggers being safer if no one knows they’re women.
Because I have no actual solutions, just thoughts, I leave you with a couple more links:
And here is a transcript of a “Fighting Miscogeny Online” panel at SXSWi, featuring panelists Cecily Walker (Cecily.info), Ann Friedman (Feministing), Amanda Marcotte (Pandagon.net), Samhita Mukhopadhyay (Feministing.com).