Saturday, March 31, 2007

A must read Salon piece

Go read this Salon piece by Joan Walsh.

Men who hate women on the Web

Is there really any doubt that women writing on the Web are subject to more abuse than men, simply because they're women? Really? I've been following the Kathy Sierra blog storm, thinking I had nothing new to say, but the continued insistence that Sierra, and those who defend her, are somehow overreacting, or charging sexism where none exists, makes it hard for a mouthy woman to stay silent.

I say this as a mouthy woman who has tried for a long time to pretend otherwise: that Web misogyny isn't especially rampant -- but even if it is, it has no effect on me, or any other strong, sane woman doing her job. But I wasn't being honest. My own reactions and those of others to the Sierra mess served to wrestle the truth out of me, and it wasn't what I hoped.

Joan Walsh explains the problems, and also relays some of her own experiences.

But once I joined Salon I started receiving the creepiest personal e-mails about my work. Anything I wrote that vaguely defended President Clinton or criticized his attackers, in particular, would get me a torrent of badly spelled e-mail, often from Free Republic readers and posters. There were themes: A significant subset tended to depict me in a Monica Lewinsky role, often graphically. Like Kathy Sierra, I endured too many references to "cum" in those e-mails. I'll forgo other details for the sake of brevity and discretion.

But it was hard to know for sure how much had to do with my gender. David Talbot was regularly attacked by wingnuts as a Clinton "butt-boy," so it was impossible to say it was all about my being a woman. It still seems that when a man comes in for abuse online, he's disproportionately attacked as gay -- and if he is gay, like Andrew Sullivan, who wrote a column for us for a while, his hate mail at Salon is likely to be comparable to mine: heavy on sexual imagery and insult, sometimes bordering on violence. Yuck. I couldn't see into anyone else's in box to be sure if the abuse I was getting was disproportionate, but I suspected it was. Mostly I just ignored it.

When Salon automated its letters, ideas that had only seen our in boxes at Salon were suddenly turning up on the site. And I couldn't deny the pattern: Women came in for the cruelest and most graphic criticism and taunting. Gary Kamiya summed it up well in a piece on overall online feedback, noting "an ugly misogynistic aspect" to the reaction to women writers. One thing I noticed early on: We all got nicknames. I'm "Joanie," Rebecca Traister is "Becky," Debra Dickerson is "Debbie" and on and on. There are lots of comments about our looks and sexuality or ... likability, to avoid using the f-word, a theme you almost never see even in angry, nasty threads about male writers. Most common is a sneering undercurrent of certainty that the woman in question is just plain stupid; it's hard to believe we have jobs at all. (But then, since a woman is, unbelievably, the clueless, incompetent boss of Salon, it makes a certain kind of sense.)

There is to my mind, absolutely no doubt that women who write, or is being written about, on the internet is under a relentless misogynist attacks.

They are objectified, and comments on their looks seems to be par the course, no matter the relevance - it's relevant to talk about looks when debating the unhealthy looks of models, or if the winner of Miss Universe was the right choice, it's not relevant when talking about politicians or pundits. An example: every time Ann Coulter is debated, someone makes a comparison of her to a man (and normally refers to her adam's apple). Every single freaking time. Some bloggers slaps down on it hard, while other bloggers think it's funny enough to include it in the actual posts. The later category of bloggers are not on my blogroll.

The misogyny is widespead in the "letters" (comments really) to Salon, which is why I rarely read comments to articles about feminist issues. They make me feel sick - literately. Not only because of the outright misogynist comments, but also because of all the appologetic comments. Comments of the type that "men are attacked too", or "since she is a right-wing shrill, all attacks are fair". You can see an example of this sort of comments at the very beginning of the comments to the Joan Walsh's article.
Such comments are part of the problem. They feed into a culture of misogynism, where men get away with being misogynist, because other men (and women) let them get away with it. That has to stop. We have to arrest such comments, and make clear why they are not acceptable.

And of course, there is always the commenters who want to change it into being about men. Again an excellent example can be found in the comments to Walsh's article. A commenter calling himself 'a father', tries to use an article about online misogynism as a vehicle for getting Salon to write about "fathers' rights". Because the misogynist comments obviously have some merit, even if they are beyond the pale.
Well, you know what, a Salon article that takes a hard critical look at the fathers' right movement would be a good thing, but it has nothing to do with the article in question. So why bring it up? Because we can't have the women getting all the attention? Well, fuck you. The whole world doesn't rotate around you and your pet issues. The article in question is about a very real problem that women, who post on the internet, face. Trying to hijack the article is part of the problem. It sends the signal that womens' problems are not as important as mens' problems - a signal I'm sure that the commenter hasn't got an issue with, but which decent people certainly should have a problem with.

Well, I'm speaking out, and I think so should all others. Not just the traditional feminist bloggers, but all bloggers. Make it clear that the culture on the internet has to change.

Note: Part of this post was posted as a comment to the article at Salon.

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Blogger Kaethe said...

Thank you. I can't read the comments at Salon, they're so hate-filled. But I have tremendous respect for men whenever they take a stand against misogyny, as I respect anyone who denounces hate, even perhaps most especially, when they are not the targets.

April 02, 2007 9:14 PM  

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