Online, Offline, Everywhere

The WaPo‘s Sexual Threats Stifle Some Female Bloggers is a real half-assed attempt to cover the pervasive problem of women bloggers being harassed, intimidated, and blatantly threatened using rape-language. There are a lot of problems with it—one being the exclusion of even a cursory discussion of legal options (or the lack thereof), another being the compulsive use of phrases like “some bloggers,” which was embedded right into the headline as well.

One big problem is using Michelle Malkin as an example of a woman blogger who refuses to be intimidated by threats; I object to Malkin’s inclusion not because we have political differences, but because she is completely atypical of the majority of bloggers by virtue of both her notoriety and means. She’s not just any blogger, but one of the most well-known bloggers in existence, and/because she’s not just a blogger, but a deliberately provocative published author and pugnacious, recognizable television pundit (who, presumably, has the means to hire personal security). That shouldn’t be read, by the way, as condoning at all threats against Malkin; nonetheless, it’s simply neither fair nor accurate to juxtapose her experience with Kathy Sierra’s, as if to suggest “every women reacts differently” with no regard for personal circumstances and contextual content. Also glaringly absent from the article is Malkin’s history, which distinctly separates her from an average woman blogger who receives rape and/or death threats simply because someone disagrees with her opinions—precisely the sort of average woman blogger whom Malkin exhorts to “Keep blogging. Don’t cut and run.”

But perhaps the most frustrating omission from the article, so painstakingly not mentioned to the point of utter silliness, are the culprits behind these threats.

“A female freelance writer who blogged about the pornography industry was threatened with rape… A single mother who blogged about “the daily ins and outs of being a mom” was threatened by a cyber-stalker… Kathy Sierra, who won a large following by blogging about designing software that makes people happy, became a target of anonymous online attacks that included photos of her with a noose around her neck and a muzzle over her mouth… As women gain visibility in the blogosphere, they are targets of sexual harassment and threats… [W]omen, who make up about half the online community, are singled out in more starkly sexually threatening terms… A 2006 University of Maryland study on chat rooms found that female participants received 25 times as many sexually explicit and malicious messages as males… Criticisms of women writers are much more brutal and vicious than those about men… [A]nonymity online has allowed ‘a lot of those dark prejudices towards women to surface’… Someone typed a comment on her blog about slitting her throat and ejaculating. The noose photo appeared next, on a site that sprang up to harass her…”

Was threatened by whom? Targeted by whom? Criticisms made by whom? Dark prejudices toward women held by whom? Web sites don’t “spring up”—someone creates them. Someone is making these threats, someone is holding these dark prejudices, someone is creating these websites.

Why must we dance around, even in an article that’s about how women are specifically targeted with sexually-charged threats, that the whoms, the someones, are men? Nearly the entire fucking article is written as though these threats come mysteriously from the ether, or that it doesn’t matter that the small but very determined percentage of people who threaten women using the ugly and uniquely intimidating language of rape are men.

Well, it does matter.

Even the men who get threats get them from men: “We all ought to be outraged when some no-name faux-macho cretin writes to us and tells us to shut up or he’ll shoot us in the head. There is the problem, the eliminationist assholes who thrive under the encouragement of AM talk radio, admire the posturing bullies like Limbaugh and Coulter and Savage, and think homicidal sexual fantasies are manly.”

But instead of all the rest of us—women and the vast majority of men who would never behave that way—pulling together to make damn well sure this shit isn’t tolerated and talking about how to eradicate whatever sickness it is in our culture that creates generation after generation of these cretinous bastards, we’ve collectively decided—again—to carefully and comically avoid talking about the real source of the problem. We’ve collectively decided it’s okay to ignore that a small amount of men are potentially creating a problem for all women and lots of other men online. And we’ve collectively decided, for some inexplicable reason, that, although it’s acceptable to quite openly charge feminists with the responsibility for the Virginia Tech massacre, or liberals with the responsibility for 9/11, with nothing but a pile of horseshit masquerading as evidence, it’s not acceptable to point out the easily demonstrable truth that the people who rape other people, and the people who threaten other people online with rape and murder, are almost exclusively men.

The problem with this desperate reluctance to identify this problem as one emanating almost exclusively from men is that it’s impossible to talk about anything approaching an effective solution when you can’t even talk about the problem honestly and accurately. Here, to wit, is a whole article in the Washington Post with no proposed solutions whatsoever, except, naturally, for women to get thicker skins. Unfortunately, thicker skins don’t protect against actual rape—and no one has to be an expert on the criminal justice system to know that if a woman blogger thickens her skin and ignores threats, only to be stalked or harassed or raped in real life, she’ll be castigated (and the veracity of her allegation questioned) because she didn’t take the threats seriously. Talk about a no-win situation.

And this is to say nothing of the denial of women’s intuition (not in the “sixth sense” meaning of the term, but just generally as regards human intuition). Suggesting that women should “get a thicker skin” is predicated on the ludicrous assumption that every woman blogger has treated every threat they’ve ever received with equal seriousness, though stories about targeted women (including this one) routinely report an escalation that eventually manifested in something specific that scared the woman beyond her comfort zone. Thusly, the exhortation to “get a thicker skin” really means that women should ignore their common sense and, against all reason, behave in a way that denies their instinct, logic, and emotion all at once—not to mention the “rape avoidance” behavior to which they’ve been indoctrinated since birth because we live in a culture of victim-blaming.

Offline, it’s your fault if you’re raped, and online, it’s your fault if you’re not tough enough to handle rape threats, but if those threats result in a real rape offline, it’s your fault for having not taken them seriously.

Oh—and who’s doing all that threatening and raping again…?

Never mind that. We’ve decided we’re just going to have to tolerate a certain amount of mistreatment against women, gee shucks and aww darn, so let’s start writing articles telling the little ladies what they should do to deal with it.

I couldn’t be more sick to fucking death of that attitude. Women’s offline lives are fundamentally different from men’s because our decision-making must necessarily be consumed with rape-avoidance—the brilliant comedian Wanda Sykes has a superb bit about how great life would be for women if we could just leave our vaginas at home. We’d never have to worry again about jogging alone after dark; if a rapist jumped out of the bushes, we could just say, “Sorry! I left my vagina at home!” We laugh because it’s true, but not because it’s funny—the only word to describe being forced to live a life literally so much less care-free than men is exhausting.

(Though unfair is another word that comes to mind.)

This attitude—this lackadaisical, indifferent, despicable attitude—that sexual threats and the constant threat and very real possibility of sexual assault are just things with which women are going to have to live, offline and online, gee shucks and aww darn, absolutely and totally appalls me. I truly cannot conceive of being presented with evidence that, say, 10% of all men will be forcibly castrated during their lives against their will by roving bands of hooligans, and reacting with, “Hey—I’m not the one who’s wielding the knife and I don’t have balls, so it ain’t my problem.” Ya know, because I actually give a shit about other people. (Like, for instance, the approximately 11% of sexual assault victims in the US who are boys or men, and, like women, are victimized almost exclusively by men—just one more reason to talk about this shit honestly.)

To that end, I am deeply appreciative of the women and men who passionately address this issue, especially those who do it on a regular basis, and aren’t afraid to talk about this issue in honest terms—who, ironically, risk attracting the most vicious and contemptible misogynist trolls because of their efforts to question the culture that creates and coddles them.

And I encourage, as always, others who think this isn’t their fight to get involved. Online, offline, everywhere.

30 Comments

Filed under 01_shakespeares_sister

30 responses to “Online, Offline, Everywhere

  1. wow. great post, shakes. )i wish i had more to add.)

  2. Yesyesyes. Great post, indeed.

  3. Allie

    thanks for the post- you are right on.

    I have a slightly OT question – do you think women are more or less likely to get this kind of harassment on a group blog versus an individual one? I know it sounds silly – and I know we’ve seen Jasper and others produce this kind of vile, violent, dreck – but do you think there would be more of it if there was only one blogger here?

    It just seems like in some ways, a group blog reproduces in the virtual world what brings more safety in the actual world – not being alone with a rapist or attacker, but having your friends around. At the same time – how f’ing frustrating is it to have to resort to protection just for the “crime” of wanting to strike out on your own – blogging or walking.

  4. They don’t mention that it’s men because men are the default person. Only women have to be singled out as “women,” men are just anyone.

    And men are all men and the male authors, who are writing with male readers in mind can’t risk either themselves or their readers being lumped in the same group by implication. It would, y’know, upset the patriarchy.

  5. I have a slightly OT question – do you think women are more or less likely to get this kind of harassment on a group blog versus an individual one?

    Based on my experience and conversations with other bloggers (of both sexes), it appears that group blogs don’t afford protection against harassment if the editor-in-chief (so to speak) of the blog is female, even if there are male contributors.

    Also, the grossest stuff I get (which has typically been my picture used as part of a depiction of some sort of sexual assault) comes via email, where naturally no one but me will see it and the sender isn’t subjected to the condemnation of the other contributors or commenters.

  6. GRUMPY OLD MAN

    Bet ya five bucks that if someone made such a threat against Laura the FBI, CIA, Homeland Security and who the hell knows who else would have him by the balls in about half an hour. It’s not just that you are a woman, which is bad enough, but you are not part of the elite. For them it is a matter of grave concern. For you, and the millions of women just like you, (income, social situation etc. No one in the world is Just like you it is just a matter of having thicker skin.

  7. Allie

    Shakes-
    I got nothin’ to add, except that that blows. You have my unending admiration, and I hope I can buy you a beer someday.

  8. This article has a lot of problems. One thing that bothered me was the lumping of run-of-the-mill incivility with harassment and threats. Like the inclusion of Malkin, it makes the problem seem less serious than it is.

  9. lumping of run-of-the-mill incivility with harassment and threats…makes the problem seem less serious than it is

    Excellent point.

    One of my least favorite parts of the article was the conflation with something rude written about women on the wall of a public restroom. Uh, no.

  10. Misty

    Half-assed definitely describes that article. I thought it was rather lame, myself. When I got to the Malkin part I went “are you serious?” but wev.

    The whole bathroom wall thing bugged me. Something like “Jane is easy and gives great bjs” is not like “you’re a disgusting ugly cunt who needs a real man to shut you the fuck up”

  11. bluestockingsrs

    Twisty mentioned this on her blog recently about this too- the why do we use the passive voice to describe a women being raped as if she was the only one there or something. As if she raped herself.

    Blech.

  12. Also, the grossest stuff I get (which has typically been my picture used as part of a depiction of some sort of sexual assault)

    That thing you wrote, Sis? About roving bands of hooligans forcibly castratjng men?

    Some men, such as the ones who send you this sort of vile, threatening crap, are deserving of such treatment.

    Now I’m not normally a violent person and am against vigilantism on principle. But. If we could somehow be absolutely sure we had the right perpetrator? You could count me in as one of the hooligans. I shit you not.

  13. At least it’s getting written about now.

  14. jahf

    Ya know, because I actually give a shit about other people.

    I do believe that you have hit upon the root of the problem in that sentence.

  15. Count me in as part of brynn’s posse. I haven’t been involved in expressions of physical anger in over three decades, but I would cheerfully castrate (or worse) any proven rapist (DNA identification comes to mind for proof). I’ve known way too many women (indeed, one is too many) in both the physical and virtual worlds who have been subjected to this particular horror.

  16. Melissa, this post and the 2005 one you reprinted are so well-written and so electrifying in what they say about the way women are treated and the way they have to live. I applaud you.

    And when I say “they” — I shouldn’t. Because although, thank god, I have not been raped, it’s never something I can trust will not happen to me. It’s always been my worst fear — worse even than being killed. I had to overcome a certain level of fear even to say this; I felt an inner resistance to saying “I have not been raped,” because maybe that’s inviting it, in some weird way.

    When I read your description (in the other post) about how shy you were as a child, and how different and freakish you felt: That was me, too. I was so stunned when I read that. And then to be brought out of that by a wonderful friend and pushed back into it by a horrific act of violence … well, it just leaves me feeling that no words are adequate.

    Maybe someday we will meet and I can give you a hug, because I’m really glad you’re around.

  17. Dimly, I remember, learning in college to NEVER EVER USE the Passive voice. NEVER.

    Apparently, this has fallen out of fashion as a writing “rule”; Can we bring it back?

    I am getting SO SICK of the passive voice re: rape and abuse. I *know* “good men” don’t like to be lumped together with “bad men” under the heading “MEN”. Okay. Let’s just call them BAD MEN. Works for me! But for God’s sake let’s stop everyone from writing as though women are raped and abused by the ether.

  18. RachelPhilPa

    Shakes, this post brought tears to my eyes. You’ve expressed what I’ve known, in a vague sense, for many years, but could not put into words.

    Every time I witness things like what happened to Kathy Sierra, or to you and Amanda, it reinforces the correctness of my decision to limit my online presence. I will not create my own blog or website, nor will I get an account on any social-networking site (Facebook, etc). That will hurt my career, for sure – I am a web software developer and not having a website hurts my credibility on job interviews – but I cannot take that risk. If blogging about totally noncontroversial topics, such as computer technology, will potentially result in men threatening me with rape, it’s not worth it. Being trans is an additional risk in this regard.

    Just commenting on other blogs is a risk. I’ve been called a bitch and a freak by (gay!) men on other progressive blogs. That’s mild compared to specific rape/death threats, but is still of the same piece.

    BTW, I’ve not experienced that here. I believe that it is because you have established an environment where misogyny and transphobia will not be tolerated, and I thank you for that and give you a !

    One area that I am shameful of is that, before I transitioned, when I was acting the male role, I often stood by while men said blatantly sexist things, made disgusting jokes, etc. So, in my own way, perhaps I enabled these attitudes. Just goes to show the pervasiveness of the patriarchal systems in this country, that even someone who never identified as male could be socialized to accept and enable this behavior.

    From the song “Frat Pigs”, by Tribe 8:

    She left your name on the bathroom wall
    It’s going to be hard to find a date now
    We’re forming a posse
    We’re roaming the halls
    We’re going to play a little game called gang castrate

    I don’t condone vigilantism, but if, as has been mentioned up-thread, some folks took it upon themselves (given incontrovertible evidence, like DNA) to take care of the situation, well…I won’t lose sleep over it.

    I’ll close this lengthy comment by mentioning, that even in the dustups involving transphobia at Twisty’s place, and soon after at little light’s place, that even the women who left comments filled with the most vicious, disgusting transphobia never made a specific threat of violence against any woman, trans or otherwise (not that I am aware of, anyway). Think about that.

  19. An excellent, excellent, excellent post, Shakes. The WaPo has never been great with humans–which is why they should stick with politicians.

  20. Shub-Negrorath

    Okay, so this is probably a stupid question, but: what, exactly, does the (male) identity of these trolls have to do with their actions? Is there some innate aspect of masculinity that drives them to threaten the lives and dignity of those they disagree with? As an African-American, I’m uncomfortable with that particular line of argument, because it’s too close to the conservative line that goes “well, the problem (of crime/teenage pregnancy/gang violence/etc.) is disproportionately black, and that is the crux of the issue (as opposed to economics/culture/education/other non-racial factors).” This issue doesn’t concern me because of my skin color; it concerns me because society as a whole suffers when those social pathologies go unaddressed. Same goes for threatening comments when they silence valuable voices.

    Moreover, I don’t understand how the masculinity of these jackasses is relevant to solving the problem. If you think “pulling together to make damn well sure this shit isn’t tolerated” will have any effect on pernicious trolling, you’re dreaming. Cyber-malefactors are like cockroaches and slime molds—they thrive in darkness and don’t care what others think about how disgusting they are. Their goal is to shut their adversaries up by any means necessary, and they routinely pull the most cowardly tactics imaginable toward that end. The best defenses we have against them, including aggressive comment moderation, word filters, and (in extreme cases) prior review of all comments, have nothing to do with their identities. Poison is poison, regardless of whose pen it comes from. The article definitely missed the mark in several respects, but I for one am glad it didn’t play up the “they were probably all men” angle (never mind that there’s technically no way to verify that) because, quite frankly, I think it’s irrelevant.

  21. I’d join Brynn’s posse for just one reason – if I ran across the neighbor who raped my sister when she was five years old. I don’t even care that much about the guy who raped me in college. But that neighbor… if I see him again, I’m not sure what I’d do.

  22. Is there some innate aspect of masculinity that drives them to threaten the lives and dignity of those they disagree with?

    It’s not about disagreeing. Kathy Sierra’s blog was about computer software. How do you disagree with computer software? Yet she was terrorized online in specifically sexual terms. Women don’t do this to women. Women don’t do this to men. Men do this to women. AND to men as well.

    I do understand your discomfort as an African-American (although I’m white), but I think the more apt analogy is to African-Americans (or people of color in general) being terrorized or discriminated against by white people. Many conservative whites would say, “Well, black people can be racist, too.” Which is true, but they miss the point. Black people are far more at risk of racist threats from Caucasians than the reverse.

  23. Hi, Shakes. Great post. When the Take Back the Blog online event took place over this past weekend, one excellent criticism of it was that it was merely the “Big Whoop of the Week” – that a one-day event was no “big whoop.”

    Taking a one-day event into a continuing effort or meaningful online presence or resource takes leadership and vision. I don’t perceive myself as gifted with either trait/skill; yet leadership and vision (and creativity, no doubt) are what’s needed for the sort of continuing effort for which you praised Wampum above. Perhaps there are loyal citizens of Shakesville who have some insights in this regard.

    Anyway, again, devastatingly great post.

  24. Is there some innate aspect of masculinity that drives them to threaten the lives and dignity of those they disagree with?

    Masculinity isn’t innate; it’s a social construct–and yes, I would argue (and have) that there are some aspects to masculinity as defined by our culture that does feed into this problem.

    That’s a very different thing from saying that there’s something innate to men, which I’m not saying. Not all men buy into the same definitions of masculinity.

    If you think “pulling together to make damn well sure this shit isn’t tolerated” will have any effect on pernicious trolling, you’re dreaming.

    Indeed. Dreaming of existing cultures on this very planet in which higher levels of egalitarianism have produced lower rates of violence against women.

  25. Shub-Negrorath

    Okay, so I sort of get your point about the distinction between male identity and masculinity. And, y’know, maybe the blogosphere is the wrong place to look for nuance, but it still looks to me like the focus of this post is on male identity rather than on malignant masculinity. I also feel you on wanting to reduce trolling through socialization, but the problem is that it’s a fundamentally asocial and individual enterprise. It’s not like whistling at a woman or other inappropriate IRL behaviors which can more easily be combated with the proper social disincentives. The anonymity of the Net allows the ids of the reprehensible to run buckwild and reckless without having to worry about the kind of social opprobrium that keeps the most overt forms of sexism in check. I believe that forward-thinking webloggers should plan accordingly.

    Also, the intellectual honesty in your response is much appreciated. Check me out; I’m an anti-troll!

  26. it still looks to me like the focus of this post is on male identity rather than on malignant masculinity

    If that were the case, I wouldn’t have noted that there are men targeted, too, nor would I have noted that men who don’t engage in this sort of behavior need to be part of the solution.

    I also feel you on wanting to reduce trolling through socialization, but the problem is that it’s a fundamentally asocial and individual enterprise.

    In some cases that’s true; in others, it simply is not true. With regard to Kathy Sierra’s situation, for example, her torment emanated from a dogpile that more and more dogs kept joining. I have experienced harassment from both rogue individuals who get their sights set on me for whatever reason, and I have experienced a sort of mob of trolls who descend en masse from one website or several acting in concert.

    It’s akin to the distinction between stranger rape by a serial rapist and date rape by a guy getting egged on by his mates to take advantage of a drunk and unconscious girl in their midst. Both are equally heinous for the victim, but one is “fundamentally asocial and individual” and one is not. The latter would have been exponentially less likely to happen were its participants not socialized into a culture of rape.

  27. There is no such thing as malignant *masculinity*. Masculinity isn’t a disease. There’s only socially sanctioned sociopathy, and that’s what Shakes and others have been talking about.

    The reason it’s important that the violence comes from men is that ONLY MEN ARE EXCUSED WHEN THEY DO IT.

    That has nothing to do with maleness. In some totally different society, it could be women doing these things, or vicious octogenarians with a social free pass.

    It’s the FREE PASS that’s the point. That’s why the men who actually cause the problem are invisible. They’re invisible BECAUSE “RESPECTABLE” PEOPLE LET THEM BE INVISIBLE. That’s why the language says women somehow suffer rape all by themselves. That’s why women need to grow thicker skins. That’s why women get raped because they didn’t take the threat seriously enough.

    The point Shakes and others make is that the free pass is the problem. Not women. We need to be looking at that free pass. We need to revoke it.

    Melissa, by writing this, and by all the other people writing this (including me), the real problem is pointed out. The real problem is the men who are given a free pass by too many people.

    The real problem is all those nice, polite, respectable people, women as well as men, who give that free pass.

    Great work, Shakes and all the Shakers, in doing so much to illuminate the real problem. (And my apologies for yelling in bold caps. Can’t help myself.)

  28. Michelle Malkin is a bad example for another reason – she moved! She had posted phone numbers of women and refused to do anything when they got death treats. She told them to suck it up. When she got a taste of her own medicine, shje had the money to move her Maryland home to an undisclosed location.

  29. Nik E Poo

    Moreover, I don’t understand how the masculinity of these jackasses is relevant to solving the problem.

    Masculinity: the trait of behaving in ways considered typical for men

    So, lets go down the list .. check off anything that is considered “masculine” by our culture:

    – aggressive
    – punisher
    – fighter
    – in control

    This is the act of rape.

    or this list:

    – horny
    – provider
    – powerless to feminine wiles
    – impulsive
    – drinker

    These are the masculine qualities that men use to rationalize rape.

    Its exactly relevant.

  30. The passive voice reporting is a huge problem that I’ve only just become aware of. My recently adopted co-blogger Lauredhel wrote a great piece on it for Take Back the Blog as well.

    It’s astonishing how confronting it becomes even for women to read articles about genderised violence when the action descriptions are reactivised (this gets played out in comments to Lauredhel’s post). We’re so used to having the descriptions passivised.

    Lauredhel especially pointed out how having the subject of the sentence (“the man”) removed from the object of the sentence (“attacked (the woman)”) is exactly what makes the woman come to the foreground of the sentence so that the victim is the one who gets blamed for the violence.

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