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.