Tuesday, April 03, 2007

A lot of anger flowing downhill

Readers here may or may not have heard about a recent development in the blogosphere, in which a prominent tech-blogger decided not to make her keynote presentation at a conference after receiving an escalating heap of hate mail and death threats. This one blogger's choice to publicize her experience has brought forth many stories of similar experiences from other women, and to some soul-searching about the relative merits of developing a thick skin versus fighting for some measures of protection.

I've been wanting to blog this story, because it disturbs me but doesn't surprise me, but I hadn't found the right essay out there or the right way to express my thoughts. femsignHowever, yesterday Orcinus totally captured the essence of my reaction, which is (a) that this treatment is more than a bad feature of those nasty anonymous Internets, but is, rather, a simple extension of the misogyny that's been keeping women "in line" for centuries:
Hate crime is a low-level form of terrorism designed to disenfranchise, stifle, and ultimately remove certain people from the public sphere by forcing them to erect imaginary boundaries of fear in their own heads. It causes people to change their behavior, shrink their horizons, and stop participating fully in their own lives. Suddenly, there are places -- the synagogue, the clinic, downtown after dark, professional conferences, the comments threads that form the living rooms of their own online homes -- that they can no longer approach with a feeling of acceptance, belonging, and safety. Walsh notes that the hate mail she gets has definitely had this effect on her own writing, and that of her other female writers.
Further, I agree with the subsequent argument (b) that such misogyny, in plenty of evidence in recent years, is part and parcel of the increasingly prevalent social norm encouraging violent fantasies about anybody that is disapproved -- most notably liberals, women, anti-war activists, immigrants, and academics.
Given that, it seems possible that Kathy Sierra may have been collateral damage in the right wing's continuing escalation of hostilities, both in the real world and on the Web. Years of acrid bile form Coulter and Malkin and Rush have corroded the tenuous bonds that keep these people civil, and given overt sanction to outrages that any serious civilization would regard as barbaric. It's hardly surprising that all those years of misogynist hate speech from the right have congealed into eliminationist threats against a woman who did nothing more than show her face in virtual public.
I don't wan't to discourage you from reading the whole thing, but it's noteworthy that the author thinks that people who find such threatening behavior acceptable will only change their minds when some respected male authority figure tells them otherwise. All rational men should keep this responsibility in mind.
Misogyny has always been a core piece of authoritarianism; and so many of the issues feminism addresses -- sexual violence, silencing women's public voices, respect for female authority -- depend, utterly and completely, on how effectively we can identify and reduce the authoritarian impulse in our culture. When women like Joan Walsh and Kathy Sierra are tempted to stifle their voices or hide their faces to shield themselves from a never-ending onslaught of male rage, we all feel a measure of exhaustion at how very far we have left to go.
(via Medley)


Sara Robinson said...

Thanks for the great link. I'm flattered that you think Dave wrote it

But this, too, was written in a female voice. (Check that by-line again.)


ACM said...

actually, I had no opinion on the voice. I just felt it was awkward to work around a pronoun there (not sure why), and so I went back to the blog to see who wrote it. had no idea there was more than one author -- having one of you below and image (and linkless) led me astray.

consider it fixed! :)