The Sort of Crap I Don’t Get

Over at Twitter, author Adrienne Martini asks me if I get the sort of jackassed comments and e-mails that Shawna James Ahern, a female food blogger, talks about in a recent post, and wonders if it’s a gender-related thing.

The short answer: No I don’t get those, and yes, I think it’s substantially gender-related.

The longer answer: I do of course get hate mail and obnoxious comments. The hate mail gave me a title for a book, after all, and the obnoxious comments on the site are just part of doing business as a Public Internet Figure™. This is why I have a robust commenting policy and am not afraid to follow up on it. Whenever jackholes pop up, I mallet them down, and that’s the way it should be.

What I don’t have, however, is the sort of chronic and habitual stream of abuse this blogger describes. There are constantly people annoyed with me (go search “Scalzi” on Twitter today and you’ll see some fellows mewling plaintively about me, for example; it’s darling), but it doesn’t appear anyone makes a hobby out of it. It’s all situational, in that I’ll write something that annoys someone, they’ll be annoyed and write about it, and then it all goes away. There are additionally and quite naturally people who seem to have a default dislike of me. So perhaps they are more inclined to be annoyed with me and they’ll become so quicker than the average person might, and thus be publicly annoyed with me at a higher frequency.

But again, they don’t do it all the time; they’re not making it their mission in life to ride me. And to be clear, people are annoyed with me, or may mock me, or may even call me names. But these people are not fundamentally (or, generally speaking, not even slightly) hateful or hurtful people and it would be wrong to characterize them as such. What I don’t receive, other than exceptionally rarely, is what I consider to be actual abusive commenting, where the intent is to hurt me, from people who are genuinely hateful.

What follows is my own anecdotal experience, but it’s also the anecdotal experience of someone blogging for 13 years and having been engaged in the online world for almost 20, i.e., decently knowledgeable. In my experience, talking to women bloggers and writers, they are quite likely to get abusive comments and e-mail, and receive more of it not only than what I get personally (which isn’t difficult) but more than what men bloggers and writers typically get. I think bloggers who focus on certain subjects (politics, sexuality, etc) will get more abusive responses than ones who write primarily on other topics, but even in those fields, women seem more of a target for abusive people than the men are. And even women writing on non-controversial topics get smacked with this crap. I know knitting bloggers who have some amazingly hateful comments directed at them. They’re blogging about knitting, for Christ’s sake.

Why do women bloggers get more abuse than male bloggers? Oh, I think for all the stereotypical reasons, up to and including the fact that for a certain sort of passive-aggressive internet jackass, it’s just psychologically easier to erupt at a woman than a man because even online, there’s the cultural subtext that a guy will be confrontational and in your face, while a woman will just take it (and if she doesn’t, why, then she’s just a bitch and deserves even more abuse). Cowards pick what they consider soft targets and use anonymity and/or the distancing effect of the Internet to avoid the actual and humiliating judgment of real live humans that they’d have to receive out in the world.

There’s also the fact that culturally speaking, women are burdened with a larger number of things they are made to feel bad about, things that men don’t have to bother with. Notes Ms. Ahern, about a recent trip to New Orleans:

From those brief 25 hours, I received emails that said, “Don’t you know that processed food is killing Americans? How could you have posted a photo with Velveeta cheese?” or “What kind of a mother are you, leaving your child for another trip? Selfish bitch.” or “Sausage? Andouille sausage? You don’t think you’re fat enough already, you have to stuff more sausage in your mouth?” There were complaints about where I ate, how much I ate, how happy I was to be with the people I sat with, that I was bragging by listing the people with whom I had dinner. There were comments about my weight, comments about my parenting, comments about the way I spend money, comments about the farce of gluten-free, comments about my photographic skills, and comments about how often I posted on Twitter (for some, that answer was: too much). Nothing goes undiscussed as being disgusted in my online world.

I can contrast this with how people approach me on similar topics. When I post photos of processed cheese, I don’t get abused about how bad it is and how bad I am for posting about it. People don’t abuse me over my weight, even when I talk explicitly about it. I go away from my family for weeks at a time and never get crap about what a bad father that makes me, even though I have always been the stay-at-home parent. Now, it’s true in every case that if I did get crap, I would deal with it harshly, either by going after the commenter or by simply malleting their jackassery into oblivion. But the point is I don’t have to. I’m a man and I largely get a pass on weight, on parenting and (apparently) on exhibition and ingestion of processed cheese products. Or at the very least if someone thinks I’m a bad person for any of these, they keep it to themselves. They do the same for any number of other topics they might feel free to lecture or abuse women over.

It’s this sort of thing that reminds me that the Internet is not the same experience for me as it is for some of my women friends, and why I’ve spent a substantial amount of time drilling into Athena’s head that the Internet is full of assholes who like to void themselves all over the women they find. I’m sad this is still the case. But being sad about it isn’t going to keep me from trying to build those defenses into her, so that when inevitably she runs up against these people, she can deal with them properly, with a sound that approximates that of a flushing toilet.

That this will outrage them and make them more inclined to rail at her doesn’t negate the necessity. It makes it more of a necessity, alas.

(Update: Useful follow-up post is useful, and you should visit it.)

317 Comments on “The Sort of Crap I Don’t Get”

  1. Yes, it is. There’s also the fact that as a female blogger a substantial portion of the poo-flinging tends to be about what violent and sexual things said poo-flinger would like to do in retribution for, say, one’s daring to express an opinion on water-board politics.

    It’s been interesting to me to occasionally be in a discussion where there are other women participating and to see a great deal of vitriol thrown at them for saying things not all that much different than I am (and in a politer fashion), but because my moniker apparently scans male for a lot of people, they don’t read their pathetic issues into their disagreement.

  2. That’s fascinating. I definitely have to say this is the first time I have come across this issue.

    As a woman (a minority and a fat woman even) who has been active online for about 3 years now, I don’t get the abuse you are talking about. One reason: only my friends read my blog (thank you, friends!). But another, which might carry more weight, is that I use an acronym for my name (tmso – old nickname I got while on a fire crew). It is gender neutral. And I can tell you with much confidence that most folks think I’m a guy. It’s too bad if my perceived gender influences their reaction to what I write or comment about.

  3. Excellent post, John. I don’t have too much more to add other than I don’t think you get women abusing other women like this either–it definitely seems to be men lashing out in the vilest ways possible. It’s easy to begin armchair psychoanalyzing the guys who go in for this kind of abusive behavior–and perhaps I should resist–but it seems that these guys are only after a sense of dominance. Engaging them in conversation, answering their attacks reasonably, none of that seems to work, and as you noted, it serves to only infuriate them further. They simply want to cow female bloggers and make them feel shame for having a voice and the temerity of having something to say.

  4. there’s the cultural subtext that a guy will be confrontational and in your face, while a woman will just take it (and if she doesn’t, why, then she’s just a bitch and deserves even more abuse).

    AHA! Meta-Kafkatrap. They’ve been doing this crap since the middle ages. It’s a Catch-22, and a logical fallacy somewhere in the realm of circular reasoning.

    OTOH, you, John, seem to be doing an excellent job of Internet-bully-proofing Athena, an effort I heartily applaud. May she grow up to be a Force To Be Reckoned With, like both her folks before her.

  5. Phil:

    “I don’t think you get women abusing other women like this either–it definitely seems to be men lashing out in the vilest ways possible.”

    In my experience women are criticized on a personal level across the board more than men are, but I’d agree that in general the most vile comments to women bloggers and writers are by men.

  6. welcome to today’s installment of “I hate people.” :/ I love many individuals, and I know that people on the whole are capable of wonderful things, but OH MY GOD this stuff drives me batty.

  7. I learned a long time ago that the proper response to a personal attack for one’s perfectly ordinary behavior is to be utterly unapologetic. “Yes, I am eating a muffin, and it will make me fat, and I will take up more room on the airplane and you will be uncomfortable and wow, it really sucks to be you, baby.”

    Watching people try to shame the shameless is hilarious.

  8. Phil at #3 this is real life rather than internet life, but

    ‘At Washington and Lee University, Ali Greenberg, a student newspaper columnist, argued in May that women on campus diminished one another more than any man did. Lunch conversation at sororities “generally follow a boys-and-beer pattern,” she wrote, while dinner consists of “judging other girls … ‘Do you think she is pretty?’ ‘She gets around,’ ‘Why are guys into her? I just don’t see it.’ ” ‘ I think men are more likely to do this to someone’s face (or ‘face’, internetually) but women are just as guilty of abusing other women, they just do it behind their backs.

  9. Great post, John, and well thought out. Gay male online writers also tell me they see a lot more abuse than I’ve ever seen in similar situations, which I suspect is just more of the predictable same.

  10. Purely anecdotal observation: I have many female friends who blog or maintain online presences, and I think there’s also a tendency of women to attempt to engage in intelligent discourse more often than men will when it comes to trying to refute the idiocy of troll-commenters. As part of healthy online discourse, I get it, and I do the same thing. As part of trying to keep one’s garden troll free, it’s like troll fertilizer.

    I don’t like to reach for the banhammer or have things heavily moderated because I love the idea of discourse – but man, trolls make it HARD. Especially when I don’t always have the time to play whack-a-troll.

  11. I have to disagree, the harshest comments I have seen come from women to women. Calling someone a bitch is not on the same level as another women’s comment on the author leaving her children.

  12. And of course, it can get much worse:

    Anecdotally, I have seen internet disagreements turn violently ugly far, far more often when a woman is the target than when a man is. It’s possible that men in general take these threats less seriously, brush them off more easily, or just keep quiet about them more often, but I would be very surprised if that tells the whole tale.

  13. Great post.

    Abuse is abuse no matter if it happens verbally, with a fist, or via an email. Letting it continue only teaches the abuser that what he’s doing is ok and reinforces that the abused person should stay quiet to avoid getting worse treatment. Of course, this statement of mine is far too simplistic, but that’s the basic gist of things.

    Thanks again for writing this post. It’s always nice to hear that it’s okay to stand up for ourselves. :-)


  14. This is another episode in the ongoing series of warmth and hilarity called “Women Can’t Win”. You describe one facet of this in your post – if we take it, we’re proving that we’re available targets and if fight back, we’re bitchez. Simply existing in public makes us targets. Have kids and work outside the home? Selfish, neglectful bitch. Have kids and don’t work outside the home? Selfish, lazy bitch. Don’t have kids? Selfish, self-centered bitch. Want to sleep with men? Slut. Don’t want to sleep with men? Castrating, man-hating lesbian. You get the idea.

    Phil, I think the most violent abuse comes from men, but there is also a great deal of woman-on-woman judginess floating around. Read the comments at Feministe sometime and feel the horror. I would bet a lot of money that the hateful comments Shauna hears about leaving her daughter come from other women.

    Thanks for the idea of internet-proofing your daughter. Mine is 11 and I am now thinking about how to approach this with her.

  15. @ 3 and 8: I wonder if the difference might be in the perception of what counts as “behind someone’s back,” because I agree that women can certainly be vicious to each other. The way people treat anonymity online is fascinating. If I send an email to someone, even if it’s from, I still feel like I was the one sending the comment. I’ve read that women tend to be more socially aware and empathetic in general, which might support the idea that even anonymously, we wouldn’t be as likely to send nasty direct messages or comments.

    On the other hand, again anecdotally it seems like the more ongoing mocking Ahern talks about, such as in “satire” twitter feeds or blogs, does come from women. I wonder if that type of mocking isn’t seen as going on behind the virtual back, rather than to the face.

    All in all, it’s sad and frustrating.

  16. Obligatory Penny Arcade comic link (warning, has a couple bad words):

    My 12 year old daughter was the victim of cyber-bullying last year (a fellow cheerleader was jealous of her) which led to a long conversation about how some people behave badly online, and we’ve had several conversations along those lines since and I’m sure we’ll have more in the future.

  17. Just sad.

    One could probably find a counterexample by looking hard enough, but that seems unworthwhile and, more important, unworthy.

    There seems to be some subset of men that seem to think women are responsible for everything that’s vile in the world. It dates back into the mists of time, Eve, the Serpent, and the Apple being an early archetype of who gets blamed for it all. Where the “bile” comes from is not particularly clear, but it certainly seems to build up into some form of explosion, whether that be in the form of vile blog responses, or worse things.

    I hate to posit an up-side, but if one of these guys is lancing his “vile bile outlet” against some poor woman’s blog, he’s probably not busy physically attacking anyone. On the other hand, they might work their way up from one to the other :-(.

  18. Just as a mild aside, but related, outside the blogosphere, I am repeatedly disgusted (alas, no longer shocked) by comments made on YouTube, especially by men about women in the video, in damn near any context possible. It’s the sort of thing that can make me despair about the human race.

  19. Mel at #8 thanks for the link, and I think you’re absolutely right. Guys have the confrontational gall to post vile comments right out in public, safe behind the anonymity of the internet (though being part of a crowd works in the same manner in real life), while perhaps women tend to reserve their cutting commentary for more private forums/circles of friends. The first tends to be more shocking but ultimately easier to dismiss as rank foulness, while I would guess that the second would be more hurtful, coming as it does from seemingly rational and thoughtful acquaintances.

  20. While being criticized for being a “bitch” by a man is maybe less hurtful than being criticized for being a “bad mother” by a woman, I don’t really think either of them is as unsettling as having someone post explicit torture-rape-murder fantasies about you. And that last category seems to largely come from men.

  21. I speculate that the difference in your online hate experience is different because you cater to different audiences. The hate there is more endogenous than it is here, regardless of the gender attacked/attacking.

  22. Phil @ #3: Women can be just as cruel and unusual in their abusive behaviour as men. This case, for example, exhibits an inchoate rage that’s beyond appalling. And yep, the blogger in question is a knitting blogger, for goodness’ sake.

  23. Tina:

    I agree that this site is particularly civilized. I also suspect that a woman who ran a site that was in all ways similar to mine would still get more abusive e-mail and comments than I do.

  24. Well spoken, John! I just think it’s a shame that equality hasn’t spread to the web as much as we had hoped. Did she do an analysis to she the percentage of male vs. Female flame she is getting? I’ll bet it’ll be female… As for me, I am grooving to Donovan and sighing. What the he’ll happened to all of the ideals we had in the ’60’s?

  25. In the dawn days of the Interwebs when we had just left the cave and were posting to Usenet, I recall more open long-running feuds between men. It might have been there were just fewer women posting at that time and so the men had to vent their spleen at one another while beating their chests and editing their comments with vi. Given the amount of Feynman’s views on women that were quoted, they certainly weren’t better adjusted.

    The joke used to be that if you said, “The sky is blue.” someone would argue with you and take objection to your statement. These days I’m more convinced a woman could say, “Sky.” and be both attacked and lewdly propositioned over the statement.

  26. I’m a female and I can tell you that girls and women can be, and are, crueler to each other than any boy or man could dream of being. While I wholeheartedly agree with #15’s posit that “women can’t win” (theoretically, at least), in my experience the “fairer sex” heaps more bile, vitriol and generalized bitchiness upon each other than our opposite number heaps upon us.

    Which is neither here nor there, really, cruelty is cruelty regardless of who’s the perpetrator and who’s the victim. And it’s inexcusable in any context.

    At least I had the satisfaction, when I was told by a third party that someone considered me a “f—ing bitch”, of telling the third party “Tell them I’d rather be a f—ing bitch, than a bitch who isn’t getting any.”

    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.

  27. I’m a “female”, and I can pretty definitively say that I’ve gotten more cruelty from men than women in my life. Anecdotal evidence doesn’t really constitute proof of anything. And that which does not kill us sometimes leaves us damaged and less able to succeed.

  28. Two things:

    1. If someone wants to say something bad, have the huevos to say to my face.

    2. My wife has worked in a female dominated industry, cosmetics and a male dominated one, beef industry(marketing). She says that by far, not even close, women are worse to women. She says some while men think with their junk she can handle those idiots. But the women are just effing mean.

  29. As regards to whether it is men or women who are more abusive to women in online comments, I think we’re running the risk of sliding away from the primary topic here in order to pursue one that’s tangential to it. Let’s not make it a “who is really meaner” contest.

  30. As a female blogger, I’ve mostly been quite fortunate in having only a few scattered trollish comments and hate mail come my way over the years, but when it does, it’s pretty nasty. Why aren’t I more of a target? Not sure, but might have something to do with the fact that I blog about physics, so (1) my traffic is automatically going to be lower given the subject matter, and (b) I’m dealing more with condescension and similar behaviors from the self-appointed Science Police rather than the more overt forms of misogyny and sexual harassment — they happen, but they are rare occurrences, and usually appear elsewhere on the Internet rather than on my blog. (I have been dismissed as “fluffy” so many times I’ve embraced it and made it my mantra. :))

    But when I DO address more cultural issues, like the chilly climate for women in physics or other male-dominated communities — that’s when the knives come out. And I have been simply appalled at what fellow female bloggers — many who also write about science-related issues — have to put up with on a regular basis.

    It’s highly unpleasant, even at the levels I experience, and there are rare days when I question why I bother. But I love being part of the Intertubes, and damned if I’ll let a few misogynistic trolls with inadequacy issues keep me away from what I love.

    I look forward to the day when the Wrath of Athena banishes the trollish sorts back to their cyber-caves to lick their wounds. :)

  31. Sigh. The abuse that lady had to deal with was uncalled for. I wish I could say that it was only a few people here and there, but anytime you are part of some group that isn’t considered ‘normal’, the abuse follows, and some of it is vile beyond belief. As an atheist who like to wander around the ‘net looking for things to read by other of my ilk, I have run in to some really sick stuff. People saying that I–and other like me–are unAmerican and should be tried, tortured and exiled/murdered in our own streets, you name it. Disclosure: Having been told that I don’t love my country on several occasions because I’m atheist and/or against Republican/Tea-party nonsense, I hearby declair that I spent 9 years in an Army uniform (8 year contract + 1 year extension).

    On another blog dealing with women’s rights some of the nice comments about abortion were that any woman who had an abortion for any reason at all should be raped/murdered/forced to have another baby etc.

    John, I personally applaud the job you do on here, and I’m glad that you are instilling the (sad but too true) knowledge that the internet, and life is filled with intolerant “glass-bowls” into young Ms. Scalzi. (hint time: nothing bad is meant by Ms. I’m from the south and around here Ms., Mrs,. and Mr. are considered–at least when I was a child–as polite forms of address. Ms./Miss Scalzi is the formal, and if I knew her Miss/Ms. Athena would be the familiar).

    Any way carry on and don’t bop me on the head with that mallet.

  32. I look forward to the day when the Wrath of Athena banishes the trollish sorts back to their cyber-caves to lick their wounds. :)

    Now I want to write this up as a Wonder of the World mod in Civilization IV.

    (Hopeless gaming geek, nothing to see here, move along…)

  33. This is genuinely scary stuff.
    Thanks for the post.
    (my own experience has been good so far, but I’m not high profile, not American, and not blogging on politics, and not overly much on sexuality)

  34. I don’t know Scalzi, I figured you MUST have received some nasty emails after the creation museum outing and the Ayn Rand critique. I’m actually quite amazed you didn’t.

    I have three older sisters and while I’d agree that the most vile and reprehensible comments probably come from men, I’d guess a lot of negativity is female on female. Women, in my limited experience, tend to fight each other more than they fight men.

    And frankly Scalzi, you have the best moderated threads I’ve seen online. I would think that is one of your core competencies as a blogger. You write well thought out pieces and encourage thoughtful commentary; that’s kind of a big deal.

  35. nisleib:

    Oh, I got some nasty e-mails about that stuff, to be sure. But, as noted, then it goes away. I don’t have people who make it their mission to harass me on a continuing basis.

  36. I think this quote from Shawna’s blog sums things up perfectly:

    “How sad and small does the life of someone have to be to spend time online finding people to write shit about?”

    The sad part is that there are plenty of people out there with the time and inclination to do this, male and female.

  37. Scalzi:

    Be careful, you are tempting fate here. When you say, “I don’t have people who make it their mission to harass me on a continuing basis,” that’s like the scene in the movie where everything is going badly and the protagonist says something like, “Well at least it isn’t raining.” You know what happens next: torrential downpour.

    You could be inline for a cyber-stalker now. You jinxed yourself!

  38. I am deeply, deeply torn about the movements by google and FB insisting on “real” identities. On the one hand, I think having to put your actual name to your words would certainly curtail some of the abuse. The whole mechanism that allows it to flourish is that there is next to no chance that the words you use will be brought to light to your employer, wife, or kids.

    On the otehr hands, anonymity can also prevent harrassment of the minority from the majority. Some people can’t say what their beliefs truly are for the same reason. (ie, admitting to being gay in a small town, homophobic town)

    I think the ultimate solution is ignoring the trolls. I don’t think what she did constitutes feeding the trolls, I think it shows her resolution to not let them win. Feeding the trolls is trying to answer each of them or attempt to engage them in a dialogue. I think the Banhammer does that well, too. Not letting the comment see the light of day beyond a flicker takes away it’s power.

  39. This is no different (though perhaps not as bad) as the abuse any woman who lets on that they are a woman in certain online gaming contexts. I’m convinced that there’s a huge element of sexual failure here, with the cycle being: guy acts like an entitled prick->guy gets rejected by women->guy gets pissed off and blames his failures on women as a class->guy lashes out where he thinks he is safe from reprisals. (i.e. anonymously.)

    Unfortunately, I think this has also happened enough where it has created a nasty sort of subculture with these idiots acting out because they see others doing the same because the prevalence of it makes it seem more culturally acceptable.

    Sadly, I think there’s a pile-on effect where once some poor woman becomes a public target, more idiots jump in.

  40. Not infrequently when I think that the comments on a particular blog are abusive, I am informed by those who know better than I that things are a lot worse on other sites, which thankfully I don’t visit…. and I’d rapidly lose interest in any site where this was a recurring tone. So, thank you for the moderation on this site and a special thank you to the hefty mallet that you have as backup.

    I read somewhere a way back that internet was still a male-dominated medium. I don’t know if that is still the case – but if there is still a ridiculous ‘this is our turf’ feeling out there amongst a threatened internet male clique, that might go some way to explaining the disproportionate abuse directed towards female bloggers. I would hope that if that is in any way the case, that it is a rapidly dying breed… Naiive no doubt, but I’m still hopeful!

  41. Do you reckon that the same or different people are abusive towards women on the web and less or not so towards men. Of course I’d like to think that anyone writing a courteous comment here would act similarly elsewhere, but has anyone any idea whether that is the case or not?

  42. It’s not just the internet, it’s the world. And any woman who stands up and fights back will double the abuse. and risk violence in person

  43. There are entire newspapers where one can’t read the comments without sinking under the filth of misogyny and racism. It wasn’t being pro-vaccination that made me turn on comment moderation in my blog, it was discussing some sexist advertising, after which the comments about “needing to get laid so I would stop being a man-hating Femin*azi” just would not stop. Why can’t we all just have a sense of humor about the abuse, smile, and dance a jig, seems to be the feeling. My daughters aren’t on the unfettered internet and I’m not certain how and when to allow them on it.

  44. On the topic of women being crueler to women than men are: that can be an outcome of patriarchal oppression too.

    Growing up in India, the men in my life never told me what I could and couldn’t wear, where I could and couldn’t go, or what I could and couldn’t be. They didn’t have to because the older women were always there to do it for them. The older women did it because they had so thoroughly internalized the values of the patriarchy that they acted as its enforcers.

    In that vein, when the college women mentioned earlier by #8 Mel discuss each others’ worth, whose values do they use?

  45. Josh Jasper@46: Yes and no. While physical violence is not possible online, this sort of mental abuse is far more common online. You don’t see young men wandering into random stores in the mall and loudly proclaiming the female cashier a “dumb slut” very often, but you sure has hell see that sort of behavior online constantly. What we’ve made culturally unacceptable in the physical world seems to have become very much culturally acceptable online.

  46. This seems a math issue more than a gender issue.

    I write about writing. Potential audience? Let’s say 100k? Internet Anonymous Jerk Quotient? Let’s say 10%. You’re looking at ~1000 jerks who give you problems. And at least a portion of ‘writing jerks’ would take time to formulate arguments, or send long winded expositions on how you’re ‘wrong’.

    I write about food. Popular topic, with a much lower threshold for interest, and a much larger threshold for every mom thinking they are an ‘expert’. With FoodNetwork and many top Chef shows – potential audience? 1Mil+? Internet Anonymous Jerk Quotient? 10% (might be bigger with a larger lowest common denominator, but lets use the same number). You’re looking at 10,000 jerks who are hounding and giving problems, many of which are not the type to formulate long arguments or long winded expositions.

    You say you ‘think’ a woman in the same position as you would get more abuse, and while it’s possible I’m unsure. I do know some moderately successful female bloggers who don’t get that sort of abuse. It is an interesting experiment to try however.

  47. Steve – While not as frequent it’s frequent enough. Ever see a woman get a wolf whistle, or an unsolicited come-on from a random passerby, and then get threatened or abused for just *ignoring it*? I have. And most women I know have experienced it.

  48. What’s that you say? We’re not a post-sexist society? Obviously the US needs to elect a female President, so we can become post-sexist as well as post-racist. (Did you know all racial bias in the US magically ended on November 4, 2008? True fact!)

  49. D. Paul Angel @ 40

    I fall on the fence of wanting people to post their full names in all comments. The fact that I am an American man and have all of the cultural privilege and baggage that comes along with that might explain my preference. I can imagine a number of circumstances where posting anonymously is better for the poster, but ultimately, I think forcing full names would make the Internet more courteous.

    The problem, of course, is how to stop people from lying about their name?

    It’s sad the comments women bloggers have to suffer – there are a lot of cowards on the Internet.

  50. John Barnes at #9: “Gay male online writers also tell me they see a lot more abuse than I’ve ever seen in similar situations, which I suspect is just more of the predictable same.”

    Thus is demonstrated the direct link between sexism and heterosexism.

  51. Josh Jasper@51: I am not denying it exists in the real world. My point is that if it was as prevalent in the real world as it was in the average XBox online game, it’d be the equivalent of women getting wolf whistles every time they appeared in public, constantly. It’s the difference between “it happened to me last month” and “it happens every time I go online”. (This is not to minimize anything…it should never, ever happen anywhere.)

    Whether it’s because most of the offenders are more comfortable from the defense of anonymity or whether online cultural norms are taking a very bad turn, I don’t know for sure, but I think it’s a bit dangerous to say it’s just like physical world just because it may make the problem seem less severe then it actually is to those who don’t haunt the internet.

    I am hugely concerned that there’s some definite retrograde motion in gender relations going on online. I worry that we are raising a generation of young men who are coming to believe that treating women like this is acceptable behavior and I worry that it will start spilling over into the real world and what gains have been made over the last few decades will start to reverse.

  52. I have limited experience blogging, but I did write a weekly op-ed column for nearly 15 years, and abusive phone mesages (and later emails) were extremely rare. I suspect that was because my column ran with a little picture, and trollishly inclined readers could see I was old, and directing sexually-themed abuse my way just wasn’t appealing to them.

    On the other hand, every time someone set out to do actual harm to my employment and career because of something I wrote, the someone was female.

  53. Todd Stull at #53: “…ultimately, I think forcing full names would make the Internet more courteous.”

    Based on what I’ve seen on news websites using Facebook comments, this theory does not quite bear out.

  54. D. Paul Angel at #40:

    I’m not deeply torn about it at all. I don’t know from Facebook (I don’t use it), but Google’s policy is intensely stupid. There are reasonably functional ways of limiting assholery without requiring True Names, or more to the point in Google’s case: Names That Look True To A Particular Subset of US Culture.

    (That said, I don’t wish to instigate discussion digression …)

  55. Let me just make one correction:

    Cowards pick what they consider soft targets and use anonymity and/or the distancing effect of the Internet

    Since when you talk about men who make their lives’ mission to abuse women online, the first example that comes to mind ain’t even using a pseudonym.

  56. Kate:

    Agreed, and as that was in fact closer to my actual intention with the statement, amended. Thank you for picking that up.

    Bearpaw, D. Paul Angel, et al:

    I do agree we shouldn’t do too deeply in the thickets re: Google’s “true names” policy on this particular thread; it’s interesting but I think digressive.

  57. It reminds me of the case of Kathy Sierra a few years ago. Female blogger. Male trolls. Explicit and repeated death threats with sexual violation thrown in for good measure, complete with gruesome photoshopped images of said death and violation. Then they published her home address and where her children went to school.

    She closed up shop, and I don’t blame her.

    And she ran a goddamned User Engagement blog, which if that isn’t the tech equivalent of knitting, I don’t know what is.

  58. Steve Burnap at #55: “I am hugely concerned that there’s some definite retrograde motion in gender relations going on online. I worry that we are raising a generation of young men who are coming to believe that treating women like this is acceptable behavior and I worry that it will start spilling over into the real world and what gains have been made over the last few decades will start to reverse.”

    This. I used to participate in a somewhat popular gaming community. Years ago, I got the occasional abusive message via anonymous private message. Over the years, I’ve seen more of the same starting to show up in public threads, with things eventually getting to the point that whole swaths of the community are openly hostile towards women. While I would have eagerly attended a real-life meeting of this community years ago, there is almost nothing now that could convince me to show up at one of these meetings.

  59. I think that there’s two issues here that are related.

    My impression is that most of the hate mail that our Host receives is “topical” in that it actually relates to something that he said, rather than something that he **IS**. Railing at Scalzi because he disparaged Ayn Rand is (while dumb) fair game. As is insulting his work (which I would never do because why would I be here if I didn’t like his work???) OTOH, the food blogger seems to have gotten a lot of criticism for things that are unrelated to her blog. How she looks, is completely unrelated to the value of her blog, and thus should be off limits.

    That said, I think that the Velveeta criticism is perhaps (I didn’t see the actual comment, so it might be overboard) fair game, if she has a blog on cooking and advocates Velveeta. Scalzi doesn’t get comments about his bacon problem because this isn’t a food blog (Except WRT Bacon).

    Upshot: I think that the original is conflating two issues: some people are overboard in criticizing content. Those people Scalzi probably gets, maybe as much, maybe not. Some people are overboard in criticizing the appearance of the author. Those people Scalzi doesn’t get, and those people are trolls.

  60. I hadn’t much considered this whole problem until yesterday’s ittybiz post (, but now I’m wondering something:

    Could women bloggers who face this kind of crap switch to fully-moderated blog comments, and then buddy up with another blogger to moderate each other’s comments? “You delete the abusive bullshit on my comment threads, and I’ll delete yours.”

    I know this is kind of a “see no evil” sort of idea in that it doesn’t so much make the evil go away as just make it invisible. But since much of the motivation of the abusive assholes seems to be to affect these women’s state of mind–attacking their self image, their self confidence, et cetera–it does seem like shielding one’s self from those attacks would be helpful.

    As bloggers, you still get to see and interact with the legitimate commenters on your blog, while remaining largely unassaulted by the haters. And there’s certainly no reason I can think of why such cross-moderation arrangements would need to be public, either; who says you’re obliged to divulge steps you take to secure your personal safety? So the haters get to spew and flame away, equally ignorant of the fact that they’re having zero effect on the mental state of their intended victim.

    I don’t know. I mean, I’m a man and many ranks below A-list blogger status, so I obviously don’t have the correct perspective to properly evaluate this idea. But that’s exactly why I’m asking. What do y’all think?

  61. Brian @63

    I get that you are a Reasonable Guy, and you are in Reasonable Guy mode, looking for rationality here. I would encourage you to read the referenced post, where people send her messages hoping her child is taken by pedophiles. Or the fake twitter feed created in her 10-month-old daughter’s “voice,” mocking the child’s skull on the eve of a surgery her parents were very worried about.

    This kind of stuff is beyond the pale of Reasonable People to parse. Scalzi gets less of it partly b/c of the kind of community he’s created, partly b/c he moderates well and effectively, and partly through male privilege. That last part is what he’s acknowledging here.

  62. I was shocked –though I don’t know why, I work as a psych nurse– when I first discovered there were trolls for knitting blogs. I’ve seen many knitting blogs change to moderated comments presumably due to the trolls. Not sure if the gender of the blog author matters (yes, there are many male knitters) and I don’t know the gender breakdown of the trolls, but the comments I’m aware of seem to focus on appearance and in at least one case religion. I guess if someone feels powerless and inadequate, s/he can always try to put someone else down to make him/herself feel better.

  63. @phil .. I would disagree with you that most of the hate comes from men. Unfortunately for my sex, women are undoubtedly the most hateful, cruel people on the internet. do a search for hate blog and pioneer woman or dooce or bloggess or any other well known female blogger. You’d be surprised at the hate and anger and pure vitriol out there by women towards other women. It’s horrible. It’s one reason why I quit blogging.

  64. Once again, folks: We don’t have to make this into a contest between which of the sexes is worse when it comes to abusive comments aimed at women bloggers and writers. Indeed, let’s try not to do that; it distracts from the larger point.

    This is the second time I’ve gently suggested we wander away from that particular line; I would be disappointed to have to ask a third time.

  65. Quote by @Brian: “I think that the Velveeta criticism is perhaps (I didn’t see the actual comment, so it might be overboard) fair game, if she has a blog on cooking and advocates Velveeta.”

    I think it’s pretty obvious you didn’t bother to read the original blog that was linked. Ms. Ahern is a food blogger. She was posting about being in New Orleans for the Food Bloggers Int’l convention where she said: “The plate arrived. I could tell by the bright-orange cheese with the weepy edges that the cheese nestled in my grits was Velveeta. For a moment, I paused. I haven’t eaten anything like this in over ten years. Velveeta? And then I thought, “What the hell? I’m in New Orleans.”

    Damned if that wasn’t a good breakfast.”

    I suggest you go read the death threats that comment solicited and then come back here and talk about how that “criticism is perhaps deserved”.

  66. Sorry John. I didn’t mean to make it into a men vs. women thing. I think mostly it shocks me deep down to see how hateful women can be to other women for NO good valid reason.

  67. Steve Burnap @55: “My point is that if it was as prevalent in the real world as it was in the average XBox online game, it’d be the equivalent of women getting wolf whistles every time they appeared in public, constantly.”

    –>You are suggesting that they don’t.

    Sit down at a cafe sometime and, instead of watching the women walk by, watch the men watching the women walk by.

    Now consider that the women walking by are, despite appearances, actually aware of this scrutiny. Whistles don’t have to be audible to be heard.

  68. One of the most highly trafficked posts on my now defunct blog, was a post about my love for Diana Wynne Jones. I had posted a picture of myself standing next to Diana Wynne Jones, and a male commentator felt the need to comment “what huge tits you have”. Rather than just deleting the comment, I gave him a piece of my mind, and the idiot then came back and tried to justify himself by saying it was meant as a compliment. The comments quickly piled up – a lot of women apparently enjoyed my response and were only too happy to join in my defense against this jerk – but the point is, the post was about Diana Wynne Jones. She was such a fantastic author, such an influence in my life, and I had something to say about her. Not about my tits, or her tits, or whether commenting about a strangers’ tits is ever appropriate, or anything related to tits at all. Yes the guy was a jerk, yes I can shrug off jerks being jerky. What really got me down was how he had managed to completely derail what I had to say about what I wanted to discuss on my blog. It was depressing, and it’s the reason I have never again posted a picture of myself on my blog. I doubt that kind of thing happens to many male bloggers, too (and if it does, I’m willing to bet there are homophobic overtones involved).

  69. I recall that John did once have a lighthearted, jokey thread about the merits of various diet colas in which someone tried to turn it into a thread about the poisonous evil of soda pop. There were hotlinked pictures of people killed by death squads, if I recall correctly, and general ranting aimed at John and the commentariat.

    But he came down on them like a ton of bricks and it didn’t last long. And it arguably *was* topical.

  70. #62 by Lytah
    The problem with this is role modelling. From the late 1990s until maybe a year ago male role models on tv, movies, and music, were judged on just how aggressive, macho, selfish, and generally dickish they could be. And that has fed back into the most recent crop of kids coming online believing that they must have a nasty line to give to anyone and everyone, and that they prize the ability to be nasty in response to anyone. It’s going to take a while to work that through the pipe. Thankfully the media cycle is beginning to change again.

  71. Angelle @ 65:

    I’m by NO means disagreeing with you. And perhaps shouldn’t have singled out the appearance issues, and should have mentioned the parenting ones.

    What I was trying to say was that there are two orthogonal issues here: criticizing on irrelevant issues, and overboard/offensive/aggressive reactions.

    I would guess that John gets some overboard reactions, although maybe not as much as Gluten-Free-Girl. What John doesn’t get (again, I may be projecting here) is the comments on irrelevancies.

    four comments (Note I don’t agree with ANY of these statements):

    1) Your book was poorly written.
    Your food looks unappetizing. or Here are some articles about Celiac’s disease that disagree with you.
    This is on-topic, and reasonable. I bet John gets these, although not very often because his books aren’t poorly written.

    2) Your book was so badly written that it made me vomit. You should die in a pile of your own vomit, and fall on, killing your stupid cat.
    How dare you show Velveeta. Don’t you know this is killing our children????????
    This is on-topic, but hateful. John gets some of these. Gluten Free girl may get more.

    3) You are so ugly that I hope your cat eats you alive.
    Nice topless picture of your kid, I hope the pedophiles get her.
    This is off-topic, and hateful. I doubt that John gets these at all. Gluten Free Girl gets a lot.

    4) Your daughter is fat and you should go on a diet.
    This is off-topic, but at least civil. I kind of doubt that either one gets these, because if you’re going to bother to post something off-topic, you’re pretty fired up about it for some reason…

    My only comment was that we were conflating types 2 and 3. I think that the difference between what John gets and what GFG gets is MUCH MUCH bigger in type 3. Which I think puts the problem into more stark relief.

  72. on the velveeta: I did read it, but not very carefully, and I didn’t read the previous pages. So, I wasn’t clear on whether the velveeta was in something she had made or not.

    Since someone was criticizing her for reporting that she had eaten velveeta but wasn’t recommending it, then it is an over-reaction to a mis-understanding, and sort of between types 2 and 3, I’d guess.

    My main point, thought was to try to single out the “You’re fat” and “Your kid should be killed by pedophiles” from the comments that at least relate to the topic at hand (food), because I don’t think that the Velveeta ones show the problem as well.

  73. I think in this case it’s being female plus blogging about food.

    I’ve been on the ‘net since 1993, been blogging since 2000 (though a few of my blogs are offline). I’ve never gotten that kind of hatred. Well, apart from the cult I used to belong to when I post about them, but that’s not because I’m female, it’s because I had the temerity to leave.

  74. Brian:

    “What John doesn’t get (again, I may be projecting here) is the comments on irrelevancies.”

    Ah ha ha ha ha HA ha ha!


    I do get lots of comments that are tangential and largely irrelevant to the entry. But (again) they don’t tend to be antagonistic toward me directly.


    “Your daughter is fat and you should go on a diet.
    This is off-topic, but at least civil.”

    You have a different definition of civil than I do. I would mallet that comment so hard. Because “your kid is fat” is the brain dropping of a troll.

    Beyond this, I think the comment varieties you propose as orthogonal aren’t really the point. How something is said is just as relevant regarding incivility (and abuse), and that’s often the case independent of ostensible subject matter.

  75. My main point, thought was to try to single out the “You’re fat” and “Your kid should be killed by pedophiles” from the comments that at least relate to the topic at hand (food), because I don’t think that the Velveeta ones show the problem as well

    Well, look, I’m glad we can–if we squint carefully enough–figure out a way in which some of the comments were not completely out of bounds. But why? It’s an inappropriately dispassionate response to a genuinely awful situation.

  76. I’ve been blogging for about 10 months and am lucky enough that I only got my first hateful comment this past weekend. I decided to take a “do not engage the troll – delete instead” approach, and I wrote up a new post explaining why I was implementing a comments policy. But that’s easy enough for me to do when I only get a few comments on each post. I don’t know how people with larger blogs manage it. And I definitely don’t understand the rationale behind posting hateful things in the first place.

  77. There were a few times when I disagreed or was even annoyed with something you blogged about and I took it up on my own blog to voice my disagreement. However, I can’t think of a single one of those times when I didn’t later begin to see the light in what you were saying and found myself agreeing with you.

  78. Gili @72: I also am a fan (male) of the work of the late great Diana Wynne Jones, and if I had been reading your blog at the time I would certainly have posted something relevant, in at the very least a desperate attempt to put the conversation back on the rails. I say this now in a poor attempt to provide what meager comfort that I can for your encounter with idiocy.

  79. –E @71 Well said.

    And it is an exercise I heartily recommend for any man who considers himself to be an ally of women. You don’t have to do anything, fellas. Just observe, and try to put yourself in her shoes.

    I have been working on a SFnal project about this for a while now, and am pretty sure it will consume the next 10 yrs of my life in one form or another. Because it’s that important.

    Brian @ 75

    I know you’re not disagreeing, but it does look an awful lot like you are attempting to Explain Away What We All Just Saw.

    Let me continue by saying that I believe you are extremely well-intentioned. You want a reason for this, preferably one that is not “some men are particularly vile to most women, and some of the worst of it happens on the internet as a way to silence women’s voices.” But sometimes, the reasons are not the ones we would prefer, and not ones we can address simply by limiting or adjusting our own behavior. Do you see how “Well, she does bog about FOOD” is only a few mincing footsteps from “she deserved it/ brought it on herself/ was asking for it”?

    Also, I agree with our host that was some seriously uncivil civility you posited. I would add that these categories are not actually orthogonal. But I also agree it’s beside the point.

  80. We have two such anonymous hobbyists. One of them we have affectionately named, “Tiny Penis Man” because apparently he has one (also he commented on our blog post about stereotype threat that mentioned as an example that men who attack women bloggers are bad in bed because they have tiny penises, among other reasons). He likes to go anonymous on other blogs and attack our comments there because when he comments on our blog, his stuff just goes directly to trash. (Well, directly to trash after we had fun adding editor comments to the first comment he left.)

    He also doesn’t know how to mask his IP address which is pretty silly if you’re going to tell everyone that you have such a tiny penis that you have to spend your life attacking female bloggers just to feel big.

  81. Good post, John, and good comments by others. There’s a sub-type of the male that just seems compelled to hit at (not hit on, that’s a different sub-type) women. I heard them calling radio station request lines, I heard them calling theatre box offices, my wife tells me about them, I see some of her email from them, commenters on other blogs … there are days I’m just ashamed to be human male. Sorry, ladies.

  82. Angelle:

    Yes. Attempting to rationalize people being assholes often elides the essential point that being an asshole is very often (indeed, usually) an irrational act. And while getting to the root of why someone is being an asshole can be a fine intellectual exercise for a lazy summer’s day, from an entirely practical point of view it’s usually easier and more effective to mallet them and get them out of stream of discourse.

  83. I do not intend to minimize anything…but surely you’d agree that there is a difference in scale between leers and the all to common experience of the mere existance of a female name onlineprompting language like “stupid c*nt”. The tales of that are rampant.

    Drawing equivalency like this inadvertantly minimizes a truly extreme problem online. Yes, there is a problem offline…but there is a much worse problem online.

  84. Brian @75: I hope you didn’t intend it this way, but your referring to two bloggers as “John” and “Gluten Free Girl” can read as trivializing and distancing to the latter. Like one of these people is my good friend John, the other just some girl with a cause, whose name I can’t be bothered with.

    This sort of unintentional disparity–referring to her as Shawna would have been perfectly clear in context and put them on equal footing–is, perhaps, a small step toward the problem rather than the solution.

  85. …notices that the title of the other blog is explicitly “Gluten Free Girl”… well, maybe there’s still a point about presentation in there somewhere…

  86. Steve Burnap @87:

    I’m pretty sure that continuous objectification, whether “appreciative” and indirect, or nasty and personal, is offensive to an intolerable degree. We can argue whether getting stabbed in the gut is worse than a death of a thousand small cuts; the practical point is that both suck, and neither should happen.

    To disregard one as minor by comparison to the other is offensive.

    Neither situation exists in a vacuum from the other. They are both the result of the same thing: men who consider women as objects rather than people.

  87. The thing that often gets me is how often men (I am not going to say people, because sadly I have only every noticed men doing this), when a woman does something really cool or really amazing the response from many men is along the lines of “you’re so cool, I want to **** you.”

    I can never figure out whether these men are attempting to compliment these women, or because they are so much more cool, amazing and successful make them deal on these guy’s gutter level.

    It’s vile whatever the point is.

  88. David at 79: “Well, look, I’m glad we can–if we squint carefully enough–figure out a way in which some of the comments were not completely out of bounds. But why? It’s an inappropriately dispassionate response to a genuinely awful situation.”

    Yeah, that. A certain amount of dispassionate attitude might be arguably reasonable in the context of actively figuring out what the fuck is wrong with a society in which this behavior isn’t rare and how to change that. Otherwise, no.

  89. @Brian .. I’m a little stunned. You think “your daughter is fat” is a civil comment? Truly? Apropos of what?

    And the conversation seems to have slid into “men are ugly to women online”. Many of the comments made to Shawna (like many of the ones made to me when I blogged about food) were made by women. This isn’t about the ugly macho jerk picking on the innocent woman. It’s about the ugliness of PEOPLE for no valid reason who get their jollies by saying horrible things about people they don’t even know.

  90. The gaming world is the worst of all. I deal with it by playing a male toon with a male name (and never saying a word on ventrilo or any voice chat system). This has actually been liberating and fun for me, because when I played a female toon, I couldn’t separate which abuse was just jerks being jerks and which was directed at me specifically because I was female. Now that I pretend to be a guy, there is less abuse, but it hasn’t gone away entirely, so I get to see what the world would be like for me if I was a guy. Still not a rose garden, but a better place, no doubt about it. Now I am writing a novel based on the experience.

  91. And as a general note to any woman who receives offensive threats online:

    If there is an IP address available, note it. Take screen caps of the threats. If it continues, continue recording and creating a file.

    And then report it.

    No, the police will not do much about it. At first. If it continues, you step up to the FBI. If other women have the same problem from the same stalker and you all report it, it starts to become something.

    This is not an easy approach, and it will often feel as if you are spitting into the wind. But this is an approach where numbers make a difference. The recent case of Dennis Markuze, crazy threat-maker to atheists, demonstrates the power of making your problem into the police’s problem. (tl;dr version: once they got the news media on board, and started retweeting all the threat tweets to the Montreal police, the Montreal police arrested the guy.)

    The way to deal with bullies–that that is what it is–is to present a united front and enlist more powerful allies.

  92. e@91: I don’t intend to mimimize anything…my point is that as bad as things are offline, they are much worse online. I am not disregarding anything as “minor”. I am saying that there is a new issue online that is worse. It isn’t a online gut stabbing for a thousand offline cuts….it is a thousand or more gut stabbings. This is a new issue that is worse then what happens offline, not because what is happening offline is minor or trivial but because this is a major new issue…and I worry that with the new generation, we will find ourselves sliding backwords. I don’t think it is offensive to suggest that many are underestimating a horrible new trend in misogyny.

  93. Steve @99 “I don’t intend to mimimize anything…my point is that as bad as things are offline, they are much worse online.”

    I don’t think anyone’s having difficulty understanding your point. They’re responding the way they are because your point is not a point. It is an unsubstantiated claim, and irrelevant to boot. Even if it is “much worse” online – and you’ll have to provide some hard evidence before ANYONE is likely to believe that – that doesn’t change the impact of “real life” abuse, no matter how “harmless” it may seem. The only reason I can think of to say “problem A is worse than problem B” is to minimize problem B. Whether you intend to or not, that is exactly what you’re doing.

  94. Me @ 77: I didn’t mean to imply that being female wasn’t the primary cause of the abuse. I realized belatedly that my second paragraph may lead people to think I’m minimizing.

    Edward @ 91: Within three months of my husband’s death, all but two of his friends propositioned me; some of them were married. I discovered that this is common for many widows as well as some widowers. My feeling on that is that they were trying to get something they didn’t have — their friendship with my late husband — back. Since that time, when the cool/frak thing has come up, generally it’s boiled down to something similar: the guy wants a trait in his life he doesn’t himself possess, but doesn’t realize how offensive the approach is. That’s just my own experience, and not commentary on the experience of other women.

    Additionally: Seanan McGuire has a post about her own really vile stalkers.

    I’ve gotta say: I have gotten the weight criticism a lot, but mostly when I was younger. Now that I’m actually obese, people don’t seem to comment on it unless they’re plus-size fetishists. It was worst, oddly enough, when I was actually anorexic (by body fat percentage) at 163#: I have very dense and large bones and therefore large muscles, and, at 5’7″, my ideal weight is 230#, not 153# or lower.

  95. I volunteer as a moderator on a large-ish (around 10,000 regular members; perhaps 5,000 regular posters) message board, and … well, I don’t get this *personally*. Part of that is being a guy (despite the fact that my username there seems to scan as female for a lot of people); but more of it is probably because I *am* a moderator, and can wield the banhammer (or rather, get a fellow moderator to do it, should it involve me).

    And, to get onto topic, we get a lot of trolls. We have trolls who are still trying to come back and feeding our kill counts *years* after they were originally banned. After a while they usually devolve into spamming shock images as fast as they can before we inevitably catch up and delete their comments. The thing to take away here is 1) trolls are persistent and 2) for the troll, it’s not actually *about* anti-americanism (the linked yarnharlot blog post at #24 is a good example) or velveeta or whatnot; they’d troll over a differing opinion on *navel lint* if they had to. Trolling, to these people, is an end in itself.

    Now I think about it, though, the instances of abuse directed towards moderators do tend to be directed towards the female ones; one example I can think of is where some jerkass told a (male) moderator that [the troll] hoped that the moderator’s girlfriend got cancer – which seems to neatly illustrate John’s point; the person who’d annoyed this troll was a male … and yet he targeted the moderator’s *girlfriend*.

  96. As someone who gets rape and murder threats on the regular for political-ish writing, and who literally once got a death threat for saying something critical about Martin van Buren, I appreciate the sigboo here, Mr. Scalzi.

    And yet, somehow this thread turned into a lot of people wanting to talk about how sorority girls say mean things about others’ appearances. Amazing.

  97. “Turned into it” until the Scalzi Mallet o’ Correction turned it back into a plowshare, that is. Still, the part where people would much rather talk about catty comments than threats of rape and mutilation and murder is so widespread in pretty much every Internet discussion of blogstalking…

  98. Steve Burnap @99: “my point is that as bad as things are offline, they are much worse online”

    –>I don’t think it’s up to you to tell millions of women what is worse. I’m confident they can decide for themselves.

    You opined (back @55) that the harassment that takes place online is in excess of real-world harassment. I observed (@71) that you were perhaps underestimating the amount of equivalent harassment that takes place in the real world. At least one person with a female-sounding name (@83) has confirmed my observation.

    I applaud your efforts to defend women, but continuing to explain how you know better what women experience is perhaps not the most productive use of your time, and a distraction from what I suspect we would both much prefer: solving the problem, rather than dickering over magnitude, frequency, and variety of harassment in various locales.

    Moving along…

    My personal best guess, simply knowing how humans work, is that the way to stop bad behavior is for others who might otherwise be mistaken for allies of the offenders to call it out. When women defend each other, it sets up an “us vs them” dynamic. When men show contempt for men who harass women, it weakens the position of the harasser.

    This is, obviously, easier said than done. It is also a very slow process. I often wonder if the eruption of sexist nastiness on the internet is the frantic thrashing about of desperation. They didn’t need to be assholes before, because the women weren’t so prevalent. In this case, the noise and fire is a sign of progress, the horrible rough patch that must be worked through, around, and over until the crap is finally relegated to the backwaters of the internet.

    That thought gives me a little hope. Time will tell. I just wish it would tell faster.

  99. A couple of the subjects which threaten people the most is what they eat and how they spend their money. I’ve been to several lectures on food choices (which is of course what gluten free girl is writing about) and the rage which people felt was amazing to me. “I’m not going to give that up. You’ll pry the wheat bread out of my hands over my dead body.”
    And the money lectures (on budgeting and making thoughtful choices with your free money) which were common sense sort of stuff and absolutely non-confrontational were greeted with fits of anger and shouting “No way am I giving up up HBO (or going out for my daily mocha, or my boat, etc.) You can’t take that away from me”.
    And all of these were in person, not online! So I’m not surprised by the reaction she gets. But knitting? That is puzzling.

  100. If you think True Names will solve the problem of women getting abuse or create a more polite Internet, my experience suggests you’re wrong. Back in the early, early days of the (equivalent of the) Internet, I used to participate in discussions on various discussions groups, like, back in the 80’s before the flood of AOL users when the community of users was relatively small. Not everybody used their real name, but it was fairly common; I used my full name and affiliation back then. Believe me, it didn’t stop the comments posted on the board I got about being a man-hating bitch who’d never get a boyfriend when guys disagreed with me. I was one of the few females posting on the board, and a discussion was much more likely to get personal if the women participated. To be fair, there were also plenty of men who would jump in to quash it back then, too.

  101. My eyes were opened when Kathy Sierra was terrorized into abandoning her blog, her speaking events and — so far as I know, her livelihood — when misogynistic taunts turned to threats, and the threats in turn targeted her conference calendar and her home address. When the online trolls suggest they’ll show up at your front door to visit upon you all the things they’ve cooked up in their fevered brainpans… well it’s enough to convince you there really are monsters, after all.

    In Kathy’s case the closet monsters were encouraged by silence from the rank and file… silence they took for tacit approval. And they cranked up the dial on their rhetoric and vitriol, and we lost an original and endearing voice on the Internet.

    Clearly, hers is not an isolated case.

    My takeaway: no appeasement, no equivocating — ever! — for willfully mean online behavior. Mallet with abandon!

  102. I’m not sure if you read Tiger Beatdown, but this topic arrose there as well

    I’m not sure how often it happens to male bloggers but in this case, when the blogger moderated comments the moderated individual was so put out that he had to take to the vast internets including writing two blog posts about how very wrong it was that he was modded.

    Maybe this person would have felt just as jilted if a man had moderated him but I suspect not since I think a good many bloggers consider it acceptable to delete posts that appear to be there solely for the purpose of self promotion.

  103. Sigh, I just got told that I was a dirty scumbag with no regard for human life. However it is something that I’m used to from the jerk involved. And all because I happened to point out that one of his favorite companies had just had to hand over $500 million for breaking the law–which he tried to claim was them trying to be humanitarians. I expressed the belief that instead they could have used the money to better human life since they were more than happy to hand it over as a fine. For daring to say that maybe greed was the motive all along I got told to STFU and that (as stated above) I was a dirty scumbag with no regard for human life.

    Disclosure: I am a registered organ donor, registered eye donor, registered bone marrow donor, and give blood.

    Now, to the topic of hate speech, there are several causes. In this case it is a person who believes so devoutly in his cause that any–and I do mean any–criticism is taken as a personal attack akin to punching the person in the face, spitting on them or slapping their child in the face.

    There are also a strange class of people out there who just like to fling the poo just to create havoc.

    There is a sick class of people who want to cause fear in others, or deride them, in the hopes that by doing so they will have someone the can point to and say “I am better than them“.

    Sadly, the comments directed at this lady appear to be of the final variety. In my case the first variety is what i just dealt with, and to be honest, I could almost admire the guy doing it. He’s never been against rushing off to study up on something new to him and coming back to try to argue. His big problem is that instead of arguing the points he invariably turns to personal attacks regarding someones mental health, IQ, morality, or some such nonsense. Sigh. Humans.

  104. Steve B, I think one of the other reasons it can seem worse online is because it’s concentrated.

    IRL, if one in twenty men is a sexist asshat, that means that there will always be one near any given woman, but he will be dilute enough that perhaps he doesn’t feel confident being direct. I suspect the incidence of direct sexist asshattery in real life increases as the concentration goes up: fraternities, bars, and other environments where objectifying women is acceptable behavior would, I suspect, tend to attract the asshats, giving them a mutual-support system wherein they egg each other on.

    The double-edged sword of the internet is that the asshats can find each other more easily.

    So is the internet equivalent to some conversations that go on at fraternities/men’s clubs/locker rooms when the wives/girlfriends aren’t around.

    The difference with the internet is that the women have access. The illusion of privacy, of “it’s just us boys” is broken every time someone with a feminine name turns up.

  105. Not long ago, I had my own first experience with anonymous harrassment — I had posted a short, light-hearted vignette in which a character said something unflattering about rural Mississippi. Based on the response, I might as well have stopped writing the story at that line. Nothing else was worthy of comment. For the first time, I had to delete feedback and disable anonymous comments (I got sock puppets instead, but at least I made the stalkers work harder).

    I also went through three days of beating myself up because I was “letting it get to me so much”. I called myself a wuss for being bothered by it. I wondered if I should delete the post, since it was nothing but a source of stress. I worried that I was overreacting by deleting the anonymous comments. I just returned to this thread after reading a lot of the linked material, and it’s good to know that I’m not alone — and that the self-doubt is common, too, and I don’t have to buy into it.

    (I also wondered why all those ardent natives of Mississippi thought that pissy anonymous comments would make me think better of their state. I had to give up wondering why they assumed I agreed with that specific character.)

  106. Female bloggers get more/worse hate online seems like a dangerously broad conclusion to draw based on the presented facts and the difference in audiences. A food blog is going to attract a group of people with very broad socioeconomic backgrounds and some of those backgrounds are going to increase the probability of negative posts. While Whatever attracts a large audience I doubt it has a fraction of the diversity of income, interests, upbringing, and mindset of a food blog. Somebody who hates people in their 40s is unlikely to end up here unless they also happen to hate (or love) satire and science fiction. On the flip side, everybody eats.

    I would contend that the amount and persistence of vitriol on an blog has a lot more to do with the breadth of an author’s intended audience than their gender. Seems like a classic example of Correlation does not imply Causation.

  107. From the blog in question:

    I guess it’s just part of being in the public eye. This is what people tell me. I think it has more to do with the fact that we seem to have fallen into a position of derision and judgment in this culture. Everything is to be doubted. Someone has to be wrong.

    This, for me, was the money quote. Because it seems very true. I’m not sure if it means we’re a less mature culture than we were 30 years ago, or maybe it’s just that the anonymous digital bullhorn of the internet allows people to say things on-line they’d never, ever say in front of real people. Mocking is the web culture pass-time. Angie Tempura syndrome. If the object of derision is a notable woman, then it’s double damage. Does anyone remember the vitriol directed at Condi Rice? Highly racist and/or sexist, and often coming out of mouths that should know better? How about any of the other female politicians who have stepped into the spotlight in the last 10 years? Palin? Clinton?

    I’m not sure why men who’d never utter a crass word in front of their mothers launch into a nasty tirade at the first sign of a successful female in the workplace, or on television, or on the internet. Perhaps its inadequacy — as my wife is fond of rationalizing most male overreaction down to a question of penis size. And to be honest, sometimes when I see the things some men say and do, I can’t say my wife is wrong. It really does seem like an envy thing. Or a shrinkage thing?

    Pity the poor male ego, which must lash out at everyone and everything ‘larger’ in the world.

  108. #116 Brad — The trash talking of women on the radio call-in lines I referred to started in 1966, I suspect it had happened before, it’s just that that’s when I became aware of it. It’s been around for a long time. Now that I type that, I remember some of the neighboring “men folk” talking about a divorced mother in the neighborhood in the 1950’s who was a successful (commercial) real estate saleswoman, and my Dad telling them to be ashamed of themselves, with expectable results.

  109. Deirdre @101.

    I still find the behavior wrong, and the prevelence disturbing, but your insight gives me an odd sort of empathy for those people that I didn’t otherwise have. Since I sort of view cool people doing cool things as just added value the world- something to appreciate and applaude, but never really a reflection of me. To view these comments on such sad personal terms makes me feel for their underlying humanity more.

    A world is with more empathy, which I get to be a part of, makes for a good day. Thank you.

  110. Thanks for speaking out on this. It’s important that the guys speak up, too. In part because the misogynists behind many of these attacks don’t think women are important enough to listen to, just attack.

    In the course of blogging about things both geeky and political, I have been threatened with rape, death, being raped to death. I have been told I should just die already. I have been told I’m unfuckable and the fact that I was raped as a teen should be taken as a compliment. I have been told that I wasn’t raped, because women are lying whores. I have been told that having been raped isn’t a big deal, because I “already have a hole for it. It’s not like he had to cut one or anything.”

    I have gotten those comments for talking about rape, Body acceptance, sexism, sexism in comic books, and Penny Arcade.

    Make of that what you will.

  111. Steve Burnap @87: This is a difference in degree only, not in kind — and it’s surprisingly easy for leers to turn into wolf-whistles, crude propositions, and then on to verbal abuse and threats when it’s a bunch of men and one woman and the mob mentality takes over. These things are all part of the same continuum, and the next step up is sexual violence. Perhaps it would help to think of the leering as a “gateway drug”. And I also wonder how many of the same guys who leer at women walking past go online and make “wanna f*ck?” posts at anything female they find there, just because they CAN.

    Edward Brennan @91: I submit that the female equivalent is “I want to have his/your babies!” — which I do hear occasionally from women expressing admiration for something particularly cool that a man has said or done. I’m quite sure it’s intended as a compliment, but sometimes I wonder how it comes across to the recipient.

    Marnie, #110: In the wake of the VA Tech shootings, I had a victim-bashing gun troll show up on my LJ. I tore him a new one, then thought better of it, deleted the entire exchange, banned him, and made another post about having done so (and warning my friends that he might show up on their journals too). Years later, doing a Google search on my LJ username, I found that he’d spent three whole posts on his own blog whining about how I’d banned him from mine. Apparently, however, he was sane enough to stop there. Some of these guys aren’t.

  112. not sure what exactly the ‘on topic’ subject is.

    women get more threats of rape from men than men get from women?

    rapists are more likely male than female, so threats would likely follow the same pattern.

    women get more threats of violence than men?

    per capita of writers by gender or just in raw numbers? raw numbers I kinda doubt. per capita or by percent maybe. but John refers to anecdotal information and then i.serts his own anecdotal experience on top of it.

    David Letterman just got death threats from some Islamist extremist for cracking wise about the kiliing of al queada number two. Salmon Rushdie. straight out death threats to public figures doesnt sem to be gender specific. though it may be a higher percentage by gender, except that sort of statistic wasnt mentioned in the swirl of anecdotes.

    The one statistic that I did see mentioned, that women are more judgemental of other women, is a statistic I had read regarding job interviews. but that statistic was labeled as off topic. so its back to anecdotes I suppose.

    there probably isnt a lot of statistics about blogger stalkers but there might be some numbers regarding celebrities. doont know if there is a gender bias for celebrity stalkers and celebrity threats or not. pretty much everyone famous has body guards.

  113. @#120 GeekGirlsRule:

    Keep speaking out. What happened to you is something that should never happen to anyone. I really don’t understand the the need for supposedly ‘intelligent’ people to wish bodily harm on others. As an atheist, I have read some of the most vile things aimed at people who have the same like of woo-belief that I have. In one comment that later got deleted, the poster more or less said that every atheist should be gang-raped and set on fire so that we would know what hell would be like. By a loving Xian who was worried about our souls even.

    Keep talking about your personal experiences. There are people out there of all ages who need to know they aren’t alone. :D

  114. Seems like an exelent opportunity for a study. Set up a couple of blogs, female and male host and have them post similar posts. Then see what happens.
    Maybe have a group write or at least edit them so the posts are very similar. The hard part would be all of the work building up the readership.
    It would be great if you could get the same people to comment on both sites and see if there was any difference in their behavior.

  115. Hi, John.

    Yes, women get this crap. You get less of it if you make it clear that you’ll kick the stuffings out of selected perpetrators, and demonstrate your ability to do so. Trouble is, a lot of people find it very stressful to have to do that. I don’t. My natural temperament in this matter is a lot like yours. That’s not a fair basis on which to run a civilized society, since temperament is only a little less arbitrary than gender.

    There are two classes of women who get treated worse than average. One is women of color. They get it online, and if no one’s watching they get it face-to-face as well. Very nasty. But the group that hands-down gets the creepiest online treatment I know of is attractive women who work in tech-related areas — and btw, blondes get it a bit worse than brunettes. Some of these women don’t just get stalked. They get entire campaigns of harassment mounted against them. It’s not unusual for their persecutors to succeed in driving them out of the public discourse.

    I get a lot of grief in some circles for my views on moderation. The complaints almost always come from men, and what they generally boil down to is that I failed to be adequately sensitive to their emotional needs on some occasion when they were unthinkingly treading on the toes of everyone around them. That is: I told them that other people’s feelings mattered too, and I didn’t stop with mere verbal admonitions. I doubt they’ll ever forgive me for it. I remain impenitent.

  116. The first and last time I played a Yahoo public fantasy baseball league with an identifiably female screen name, I won the league and was then threatened by vile violent sexual threats repeatedly from 2 of the other people in the league. Fortunately, I never do such stuff under my real name. Now I use a gender neutral screen name. It is much better.

    I don’t even want to talk about MMOs online–the rank misogyny, sexism, and homophobia make me turn off general chats. I’ve left guilds over guildchat. I get enough random sexist crap IRL–I don’t need it in my entertainment. This cartoon really says it all.

    I’ve heard anecdotal evidence in all of the blogging communities I hang out in that female bloggers deal with lots of hateful crap, including threats of rape and torture. I have never heard it of a male blogger (other than random trolling, which isn’t personal).

  117. And for those who think that it’s not that all that bad really, the recent experience of Rebecca Watson, surrounded by people who have self-nominated themselves as intellectuals defending the principles of the Enlightenment, and thus claiming therefore not to be affected by misogyny which they insist derives only from religions, has utterly shattered that particular delusion.

    You can see a typical screnshot of the abuse directed to her at :

    May I offer, as a an additional suggestion. that you could recommend to Athena physical self-defence lessons aka a martial art. When I did this for my young daughter I chose an art combining kickboxing, Jujitsu and Krav Maga masters; this is an art which has been designed to very substantially reduce the damage done to the artist, and which enters no competions of any kind outside the normal incidence of grading reviews.
    The rational behind this restriction is that, as soon as people enter into one-on-one combat for prizes under the watchful eyes of judges, it ceases to be about self-defense and becomes a sport. People get into the habit of believing that there’s a judge there to stop it, which is not a useful belief if someone who does not know the rules attacks you. And the vast majority of people who attack other people don’t know the rules

    In the particular art I chose for my daughter you cannot gain your blackbelt without being able to fight off 2 opponents simultaneously, including those armed with knives; Blackbelt First Dan requires you to do so with 3 opponents, similarly armed. Again, this is realistic, because on the whole nasty people do not helpfully form a queue enabling you to take one out at a time.

    At the practical parental level I still worry about my daughter, who is now, many years later, a junior doctor, particularly when she’s working in A&E, since there may not be enough security staff around to cover the boozed-up, drugged up people who frequently attend A&E. I worry a great deal less than I might otherwise have done if she were not trained in self-defence.

    Of course, worry is the default setting for parents, so we will never escape it, but Athena may well enjoy a chance to demonstrate that she includes the goddess of war in her repetoire…

  118. htom @ 118: well, that would seem to be a good example of how not every man is a gentleman. And kudos to your father for saying something. In my own circle I know that many military women have to work against the cultural bias to achieve the same amount of respect; though sometimes this respect is grudgingly given. Both of my Army mentors are female senior chief warrant officers, and it’s been interesting (and sometimes disappointing) seeing how different kinds of male subordinates respond to them. My hat is off to them for their ability to remain professional and composed, even when some of the men under them devolve into buffoons. If it’s tough being a woman in the public eye, I’d wager it’s especially tough being a woman in the service. Especially those who command. They not only have to fight the potential prejudices of peers and superiors, but the bullshit from below as well.

  119. John, as the parent of an 8 yr old daughter, I’d love to hear how you’re training Athena how to experience the net safely.

    Thanks for this post. I have somehow been largely free of this kind of vitriol, but am aware that it’s out there and very, very ugly.

  120. I’ve lost track by now of who said it, but there are blogs run by women who do cover a broad range of topics and do deal harshly with obnoxious/trollish comments, in much the same way John does. They get death threats, rape threats, photoshopped gruesome pictures, fat-hatred, etc., etc. So, I don’t think it’s a theoretical issue (“What if a woman blogged like John does? Would she get tons of abusive comments?”). The evidence exists. Shakesville ( has incorporated the worst/most hilariously awful comments into its lexicon (Shaxicon).

  121. I appreciate your insightful post, John, and the thread. I was a female by-line sports writer in the 1980s (I know, to anyone who is…well, much younger than me, the idea of a female sports writer is a big “so what”, but for those of us who are a little older you’ll recall the good old, bad old days when there was one token woman on ESPN, and she wasn’t a sports-babe but rather a woman who knew her stuff but wasn’t especially “cute”) and have spent several years working in maximum security psychiatric prisons and similar environments, so I’ve had plenty of opportunity to get comments of this sort face-to-face. In addition, I’ve had an on-line presence for several years regarding my experiences with my foster children (no real names, of course) and the joy and struggle that they bring.

    In my experience, there are two basic sorts of attack: the one that supposes that a woman is somewhere that she shouldn’t be, and the one that supposes that she is making a bad job of something that she should be doing well. I think that John hits the nail on the head that, with attackers of either sort, as soon as she disagrees with the attack a woman is often called a bitch or worse. I’ve had both sorts of attacks from both men and women, although men seem to be drawn more to type 1 and women to type 2 (again, my personal experience). I don’t think that either is qualitatively worse or more hurtful – for me it all boils down to how much of it I chose to accept.

    Even as a young sports writer, I let most of those comments roll off my back because I was doing what I loved doing, and that outweighed the vitriol. Since I’ve gotten older, I have three interchangeable responses to “You’re a bitch!”: 1. You say that like it’s a bad thing. 2. Everyone has to have a hobby. 3. And?

    BIG kudos to you for trying to idiot-proof Athena as much as possible. She can’t stop the fact that they’re out there, but she can choose how she responds.

    Finally, taking from my experience in the criminal justice system here, anyone who posts a rape fantasy directed explicitly at someone as a threat has committed a crime, and cops get ISPs to reveal users all the time. There are things that it’s ok to shrug off and things that are just not OK. I’d encourage anyone who has been subjected to that to report it to their local authorities.

  122. I’ve been fortunate in that my current preferred MMORPG (STO) cares more about how you play the game than gender. All but 1 of my PCs are female, and I’ve never had to field any sexist rubbish, although I have seen some trash talk in chat. Other games I’ve participated in have been worse. I’m relatively lucky; the people I play and game with have never treated me differently. I neither ask nor give quarter, and you’d better not cause a problem because I will fix it for you :)

  123. Joe @115 – your comment seems to suggest some fairly serious classism.

    A food blog is going to attract a group of people with very broad socioeconomic backgrounds and some of those backgrounds are going to increase the probability of negative posts. While Whatever attracts a large audience I doubt it has a fraction of the diversity of income, interests, upbringing, and mindset of a food blog.

    Which background is that, that increases the probability of negative posts?

    What evidence do you have that only people from a narrow socioeconomic background (which one is that, by the way?) like SF/F?

    What evidence do you have that there is any correlation between SES and aggressive, hostile misogyny?

  124. TheMadLibrarian@133: This is likely because many men play female characters. (For various reasons.)
    Also, many female gamers choose male characters to avoid harassment. Because of this, character gender is not particularly tied to actual gender.

    You might experience something different if you let on that you are female in real life.

  125. I composed a longer response but instead of arguing I will simply say: there are just enough commenters here who apparently live in such a rarefied world that they are unaware of the sexism in our culture from their own experience and need it proved to them to make me despair.

    and then there’s –E to cheer me up.

  126. I find it very interesting (as in frustrating) that a lot of the commentary about keeping women safe, whether online or off, surrounds teaching [i]them[/i] the rights and wrongs of self preservation, whether that’s a certain mental state to deal with perpertrators or, as some people suggest, martial arts.

    Shouldn’t we be teaching men not to harass, stalk, threaten women as well?

    Bringing attention to the problem and moderating spaces is great. But it’s one step. We all should be making societal conversations at ALL levels to make harassers think twice. Don’t remain silent any more. Don’t laugh off that rape joke. Don’t say ‘but she provoked/wore/said…’. Don’t think a threat of harm is baseless. Talk to your friends about the concept of privilege. And if one person runs out of teaspoons, there’ll always be someone else to step up and continue the dialogue.

    Sharon at #131: Shakesville was one that immediately sprang to mind of Women Blogging While Unapologetic. I almost said earlier ‘what if the person writing this blog post was a woman?’. But the thing is this sort of post has been written and this discourse had by women over and over again. We’ve been saying this for years, and having trouble being believed as if our lived experience isn’t valid. This pays right into the harassment merry-go-round. When a woman expresses these frustrations and views, calls out the harassment (see Rebecca Watson), she is harassed MORE, dismissed, vilified, threatened.

  127. @10 @86 @108:

    I’m in full agreement with wielding the Mallet of Loving Correction immediately. My copy of Don’t Shoot the Dog is not to hand, unfortunately, but one of its many good points is that as a language-oriented species we tend to engage with the words someone is using, not the person’s actual problem behaviour (whining, fighting, being a jerk online, whatever). And in the case of trolls the words aren’t really the point. Refusal to engage, plus banning if necessary, is the best option.

    I’ve never encountered much online vitriol directed at me, and I’m grateful for that, but my audience is very small indeed. (In my personal life anyway. In my professional life, it is my ambition to one day write an article that combines breastfeeding, circumcision, and vaccination and watch the Internet explode.)

  128. TNH—I, for one, much appreciate your moderation policy, because it makes Making Light somewhere worth posting.

    Brad R. Torgersen—Oh, this sort of thing is definitely not a recent development. The adult who taught me how to comport myself online* received many a credible death threat back in the Usenet days. In fact, he had people trying to get him sacked from his job for wasting his employers’ time—but as he was a systems designer, and went online while programs were compiling, his boss just shrugged. And he’d received a few credible death threats. The topics under discussion were usually television shows or movies**.

    Anyway. That’s part of the reason I go by the initial; it saves a lot of harassment. (The other, more embarrassing reason is that my first name is long enough that I’m bound to typo it sooner or later.)

    *”Do not post anything online that you would not want your mother, your boss, or your worst enemy to read.”

    **”The smaller the teapot, the bigger the tempest.”—Rob Durbin

  129. “In my professional life, it is my ambition to one day write an article that combines breastfeeding, circumcision, and vaccination and watch the Internet explode.”

    Ooh! I wanna watch.

  130. Jason@64: I think that the idea of women moderating each other’s blog comments has some merit. I suggest it would actually be really handy to have men who want to learn about the problem do the pre-filtering type moderation. That way they could see the vitriol, and the bloggers wouldn’t have to deal with it. I suspect said men would get sick of it quite quickly, however, and use their option to withdraw.

    One thing that doesn’t seem to get much traction is cultural differences within the anglosphere. The harassment on the street stuff seems to be noticeably worse in the US then in Oz/NZ. I wonder if the trolling is likewise biased towards the US, but because those trolls have global reach it is affecting everyone? I don’t know, because the online forums I frequent are so polite that I’ve never seen anything like the stuff being talked about in those forums.

    I do periodically offer to help moderate blog comments because I read blogs that come under attack. If they’ll accept it I’m willing to do the work. I feel I get the benefit and it’s good to put something back.

  131. From what I’ve seen, nothing stops (or at least blunts) this sort of thing faster than doing what she did, which is to talk openly about it and share it with her readers, who seem to be offering near-unanimous support in the comments. Even if just to have that affirmative counter-example to the constant drip-drip-drip of negativity day after day. The people who engage in this sort of malicious abuse-for-sport are almost exclusively cowards, and thrive when there’s no collective voice bearing down on them. When you have good people around you, sunlight is the best disinfectant, because they can’t stand with you against it if they don’t know about it. It always warms my heart when something like this goes viral and becomes an impromptu crowdsourcing project (either for offering support or inundating terrible people with an ocean of their own medicine). Increasingly, good people are getting better at correcting for this subhuman idiocy.

    Beyond that, block these cockroaches as soon as they appear. There is no shame or defeat in shutting out the voices of people who to burrow in your ear and hurt you for no reason other than personal amusement.

  132. TNH @ 125, for the first 16 years I was a software engineer, I didn’t work with any other female software engineers. Not. A. One. Now I work on a large team with a significant number (and percentage) of women, which is awesome.

  133. Amanda @137.

    I think everyone, male or female, needs to learn that the sort of behavior that is being discussed here, and is vastly more often perpetrated by males, is wrong. It is important that society does not condone or stand by and casually accept this sort of behavior. As far as the vast majority of what you said in your comment I wholeheartedly agree. But, yeah there is a but, when you wrote, “Shouldn’t we be teaching men not to harass, stalk, threaten women as well?” I feel damned, as a man, for the sort of behavior that I do know better than to engage in, that I do know better than to harass, stalk, or threaten ANYBODY. I have called out other people on this. I know many women and men who do the same.

    I agree it is important to understand that this is a predominately an activity engaged in by some men. I don’t think it is mere coincidence that many males are more likely to engage is this behavior. I would even say vastly more men throughout history have been the perpetrators of this sort of behavior. I think we would agree that it is a societal problem more than that of a few bad apples or anything like that. I do believe that how we bring up people can make them better people, and in certain cases better men.

    But can’t some men at least be acknowledged to be basically decent human beings who don’t engage in this behavior? That some of us men can be on the side of good? I think you believe that many, possibly even most men are worthwhile and have learned those lessons. It just helps if you include us on your side. Otherwise it sort of hurts to be damned in with a group as vile as that. I do believe that the male aspect and the behavior is involved and need to be understood in those terms. But I do believe most men fall outside of that part of the Venn diagram not within it.

    I hope one day we live in a society where the threats that many people, again predominantly men, engage in don’t bring forth a desire to attempt to change our own behavior to be more safe. I also wish I did not have to lock my car. To learn how to take precautions are prudent against a known threat. It does not make the people perpetrating the offenses right in any way, and it should in no way absolve us from the responsibility of doing more. But it is part of an attempt to prudently and proactively do what we can.

  134. Edward @143: I think you need to read Derailing for Dummies, link above. Also see TNH’s comment at @125. TL;DR version: it’s pretty freaking rude to interrupt a discussion in which nobody has said all men are jerks to say “because that is a thing that I might have incorrectly felt some people were saying, you all need to drop everything you’re doing and reassure me, stat.”

    Steve @55: I’m not going to get into the meatspace/cyberspace dichotomy here, and I really do think your heart is in the right place, but ‘getting harassed every time they go outside’ was pretty much my life from age, oh, 14 to around 30, as it is for rather a lot of women. I’m a bit surprised you seemed unaware of this.

  135. For those (e.g. Stras @#50) who feel like this is all a bit anecdotal and fuzzy, there is actual scientific evidence to back up John and others’ impressions: a study comparing the private messages received by silent IRC chat bots with different names. Feminine names got an average of 100 malicious messages *a day*; masculine names got about 4.

    Basically, if you present as male on the internet, look at how much harrassing or annoying personal trolling you get, then multiply it by 25 to start to get a clue what it’s like for someone presenting as female.

  136. To processed food Nazi’s out there:

    I love Velveeta. LOVE it. Love IT. But you know what my favorite way of preparing it is? Burned Velveeta toast. That’s right. Two pieces of bread completely covered with the glorious orange semi-food and placed under the broiler until it get very dark. Not charcoal-ish, mind you, just dark brown. The almost-burned skin of the cheese product rises up almost like a souffle and gets hard and chewy. You peel it off and eat it separately. Underneath (if you hurry) is a molten pool of luscious dripping Velveeta coating bread that is softly steamed in the middle and crusty around the edges.

    It’s what the angels eat.

  137. Mythago @144

    I apologize to anyone if it came across as a drop everything now, that was not my intent. Reading it over again, I might have stated my point stridently enough to come across that way. I meant it as a comment as reaction, more than a call for Amanda, or anyone else, to do anything beyond consider it- as in discussion. I was also not trying to be rude and hijack the discussion. I thought I was addressing Amanda’s comments that I quoted, and the part on her worry of having to train women defensives against this bad behavior. I do think that my worry is of far less importance to the topic of the original post which I surmise to be that of the abuse that women suffer in this way and what we should do to make it stop. I guess I did not make clear.

    I wrote, ” I think you believe that many, possibly even most men are worthwhile and have learned those lessons.” I am sorry if you feel that the message I was trying to get across was that she was writing all men are jerks. I don’t believe that is what she wrote which is why I quoted it what she wrote directly in my comment. I don’t like putting words in other people’s mouths and I apologize to Amanda if she feels I did.

    I read both derailing for dummies, and TNH’s comment as I read the comments above. I actually try not to be that dismissive of anyone, even jackasses I believe often have something to offer. Though I do understand how my male privilege does make that far easier than most people because I am less likely to face it. Lack of experience in this definitely limits the range of my response.

  138. @Edward Brennan:

    Generally speaking, in such discussions, a good rule to live by… if the descriptions of any group do not describe you, then we are not talking about you. Honestly, I understand the temptation to say “but I’m [x group] and I’m not like that!” and have been guilty of it myself in the past. But it really is derailing, because we are not here to talk about the people who are not the problem. We know there are awesome guys out there. Many of us have them as friends, husbands, lovers, fathers, brothers, uncles, cousins, etc.

    We know. The problem is not the decent guys but the ones who aren’t, who are so common that I frankly I can’t think of a female public figure who hasn’t had to deal with them.

    Returning the focus to men, or people of any group, that aren’t the problem is derailing. Because that’s not who we’re talking about, and it should be pretty obvious.

  139. Nonny @ 148.

    Thanks- I will live by that rule in future. My desire definitely is not to move the focus.

  140. Someday — and by that I mean the real and foreseeable future — we should talk about what Edward Brennan is discussing. Males who appreciate the benefits of civilized society, and want to live in one, get shortchanged too. But that really is a subject for another day.

  141. This is the first time I’ve left a comment here that isn’t under my real name. I’ve been stalked and harassed online for more than eleven years, mostly as a result of my job, which includes moderating a board with about two hundred thousand registered users.

    I’ve received 1700 plus emails in less than a day with the same obscene message. I’ve been impersonated, gotten death threats, been inundated with obscene images and threatened with many kinds of violence.

    There have been numerous attempts to get me fired and more than one attempt to have me committed, which was a surreal experience.

    It doesn’t seem to matter that they’re banned from our forums or that I delete their emails unread and remove their comments on my blog and websites. Even with zero engagement on my part they keep going. You’d think they could find another hobby by now. One of them was fired for his behavior after my supervisor went to his supervisor but that really hasn’t slowed him down. If anything he has more time now.

  142. Doctor Science@145, thanks for that link. read it. very good info. I think one important nugget that study shows is that it isnt what a woman says or does that causes the attack. It is only her gender. the bots they used in the study were silent. the only difference was the name they presented. it doesnt matter if the woman was talking about processed cheese or politics or knitting. even being completely silent, the bots with female names got 25x more threats than the bots with male names.

  143. I don’t think I’ve ever had any of this kind of abuse apart from once, and it’s obvious from my name that I’m a female blogger. On that occasion, it came from someone known to me personally who is also known for being a psycho (he head-butted a fellow (male) speaker at a conference). Otherwise, not. I come across it on public opinion threads, however, and it is pretty vile. It’s usually from men but I have come across women doing it as well, but not nearly so much. I’m wondering if in the food blogger’s case, it involves one person and sock puppets.

  144. Amanda enquired:

    “Shouldn’t we be teaching men not to harass, stalk, threaten women as well?”

    In my experience, limited though it is, an encounter with a woman capable of beating them to a pulp is an extremely effective method of teaching men that harassing, stalking and threatening women is not a good idea. Not all males enrolling in martial arts classes have learned that fact beforehand, but most of them catch on pretty quickly. Admittedly, the less bright ones tend to accumulate a lot more bruises before they see the light, but they usually get there in the end…

  145. With regards to the question of effective coping techniques for online assholery toward women: it would be interesting to see how ‘chattiness’ and ‘perceived sex of chatter’ interact. The study linked above (comment #145) didn’t test this–after their initial experiment showing that even silent bots (with male names) get attacked, they decided merely to vary the names of silent bots for the second experiment. But that first experiment showed that decreasing numbers of malicious messages were sent to ‘male’ bots as they became more talkative. I wonder whether the same pattern holds for those with female-sounding names. Whether the relatively lower likelihood of attacks is due to the perception that extroverted people are more likely to have back-up (friends) than are more introverted, silent types. If so, female bloggers arguably fall on the chatty end of the bell-curve, their regular readers doubling as back-up.

    How unfortunate would it be if the female bloggers who’ve commented above represent the segment of their population who catch the least shit from trolls?

  146. mythago@144: : it’s pretty freaking rude to interrupt a discussion in which nobody has said all men are jerks to

    of all the cbonversation on Whatever, from gay marriage to economic issues to wars to intelligent design to health care reform to yoeu name it, it is invariably a natural part of the conversation to identify the problem and distinguish and refine the category.

    almost any thread on intelligent design will contain someone saying that while most ID’ers are christian, not all christians insist on violatng the separation of chuch and state and not all christians believe a literal interprtation of the bible.

    in most conversations about gay marriage, some will spend words pointing out that while most opposition to gay marriaaage comes from christians, not all christians oppose gay marriage.

    many times i have seen it was a christian who will maake such a commment so as to hold onto ttheir christian values while supporting evolution or supporting gay rights.

    but this natural progression of conversation of refining who/what the source of the problem is, is invariably met with hostility when the conversation is about gender issues.

    what is a natural part of coversation for any ther topic suddenlyy bbecomes ‘rude’ in gender issue conversations.

    nobody said all men are the problem. sure. but usually in a discussion of ID no one said all christians are the problem when somze christian pipes up that jhe is not an ID supporter but he is a chriistian.

    that christian isnt being rude.

    and that christian isnt trying to make it ‘all about them’.

    nor is that christian lording his privilege over everyone else by explicitly defending his beliefs as not inherently being the source of the problem.

    but make the conversation be about gender issues, and have a man suggest that the problem isnt all men but only some men, and he is derailing for dummies, making the thread all about him, and worse.

    It is a natural part of any conversation about social issues. why people want to demonize it around gender issues, I dont know. but it takes one problem and adds another problem on top of it. it makes the problem harder to discuss.

    just as no one said all men are the problem, neither did anyone say that the discussion must entirely be about how some men are NOT part of the problem. but defining and further refining what is and is not part of the problem is a natural *part* of any conversation of social issues.

  147. once got a death threat for saying something critical about Martin van Buren

    Julia S: surely I can’t be the only person here who wants to know what you said.

    Mind you, I don’t find it at all implausible, coming as I do from a country where you could very easily get a death threat in person for saying something critical about King William III.

  148. Greg:

    I don’t think your analogy isn’t as good as you think it is, and I think you’re trying to pick a fight here that in my opinion doesn’t need to be picked, which in itself is likely to derail the conversation. So I’m going to tell you to drop it, please.

  149. [TW for discription of harassment and abuse]:

    Steve Burnap:

    I play games online, and I’m a young programmer, so I’ve dealt with my share of online nonsense.

    On the internet, I have never had a group of large drunk men surround me and demand that I take off my shirt. This has happened in real life.

    On the internet, no one has ever tried to run me over with their car for having the audacity to ignore their catcalls. This has happened in real life.

    On the internet, I have never had to sprint through a creepy vacant lot in the middle of the night to get away from someone demanding to know why I wouldn’t get in their car. This has happened in real life.

    On the internet, no one has ever groped me. This has happened in real life.

    You are correct that, taken as an individual action, a stranger asking for my number is not as bad as a stranger calling me the c-word. The trouble is, these are not individual actions. In real life, there’s a decent chance that the pattern will go like this: “guy acts like an entitled prick->guy gets rejected by woman->guy decides he’s going to teach the **** a lesson->woman ends up physically threatened, injured, or dead.”

    Online, the language may start out a little more vile, but in real life, the consequences are significantly more dire. Every wolf-wistle, cat-call, and “hey baby” is an assertion of ownership. Challenging that assertion is almost guaranteed to escalate the situation, and may lead to assault.

    I know that you’re trying to be an ally. When several women tell you that your assessment of our lived experience misses the mark, it behooves you, as an ally, to take a step back, check your privilege, and listen, rather than assuming you know our lives better than we do. Real world harassment is more common, more frightening, and more awful than your comments on the subject seem to suggest.

    Those of you who’ve suggested women mitigate our risk of rape by learning self defense might find this interesting: Five reasons why “teach women self defense” is not a comprehensive solution to rape. The argument also tends to carry the hidden assumption that all women are capable of becoming total badasses, if we’re dedicated enough. Women should be free of rape and the threat of rape whether or not they’re capable of, or willing to inflict, force capable of preventing it.

  150. ajay @ #158

    I agree with you, enquiring minds want to know: what sort of criticism about a relatively obscure former president from the 1830s inspires a death threat?

  151. Elusis @133
    You seem to have misunderstood what I wrote. I’m not saying the misogyny isn’t a problem on the internet (it is). I’m not even suggesting that the conclusion that is drawn in the blog post is wrong. I am saying that Scalzi has presented an anecdote to establish that point, and in my opinion the anecdote falls flat. The internet encourages silos of thought and establishes forums for very strong confirmation bias. For every author on the internet there is a group or groups that will hate them with a passion. How likely those groups are to pursue an author is at least in part due to the likelihood of those groups being within the author’s potential audience.

    “Which background is that, that increases the probability of negative posts?”

    I didn’t point one out. Very much on purpose. My point is the probability of encountering an individual from a background that would induce negative posts is a function of the breadth of your audience. The background that would induce negative posts would vary by the authors topic, tone, and the topics relationship to societal hot button issues.

    “What evidence do you have that only people from a narrow socioeconomic background (which one is that, by the way?) like SF/F?”

    Narrow is your word, not mine though I appreciate your attempt to re-purpose my words. I also didn’t mention SF/F fantasy readership though I would contend that SF readership (note on “F” on that) is more homogeneous than the readership of a food blog. If you disagree that from a socioeconomic standpoint the potential audience for somebody that writes about food is larger than the potential audience of Whatever then I can’t help you (see food network vs. Sci-Fi channel ratings).

    Readership statistics are tough to find, however in a post on Charlie Stross’s blog he points out that the readership of his blog is overwhelmingly male. See #95.

    While the Whatever blogs stats probably aren’t exactly the same I’d wager that the readership of this blog is primarily male.

    What evidence do you have that there is any correlation between SES and aggressive, hostile misogyny?

    There are mountains of statistics that prove SES has an impact on a person’s behavior. Look up any crime statistic correlated to income from the last 50 years.

    Using domestic violence as a proxy here is one example:

    “people with lower annual income (below $25K) are at a 3-times higher risk of intimate partner violence than people with higher annual income (Bureau of Justice Statistics, Intimate Partner Violence in the U.S. 1993-2004, 2006.)”

    “On average between 1993 and 2004, residents of urban areas experienced highest level of nonfatal intimate partner violence. (Bureau of Justice Statistics, Intimate Partner Violence in the U.S. 1993-2004, 2006.)”

  152. I work at a website with a few modeerators and until recently I was the only female. It has been enlightening to see the difference between the “mods suck” comments and emails we get and the “specific mods suck” comments and emails we get. With few exceptions I can recall, the male mods never get weirdly sexualized or threatening emails and never get called out specifically as having axes to grind with specific male commenters who presume that I have some sort of issue with them personally.

    While I play it very very mild on the site, it’s odd to see the female-authority-figure role as something that is responded to in a much more agrresively gendered way (someone suggests I should be spanked, at the waaaay outside some generalized rape threats) than the male-authority role (where it’s more of a “fuck you asshole” situation that is never elaborated on). We have a new moderator who is female, though with a male-sounding name and I’m curious to see if this pattern continues with her. Thanks for the post.

  153. Annalee said:

    “Those of you who’ve suggested women mitigate our risk of rape by learning self defense”

    I’m not sure who you are addressing here; I have at no point mentioned rape but I have suggested to John that he might consider the possibility of Athena taking physical self-defence classes to buttress the mental self-defences he is helping her to build.

    You seem not to be familiar with the way that children’s self-defence classes are usually structured; the first lessons are always on how to make as much noise as possible, and the wise parent lays in an ample supply of ear plugs beforehand. Children are not taught that they should try to fight off much larger opponents, though of course some could; they are taught to shout and run.

    Children should always be taught how to be as safe as possible in a wide range of situations; for example, many if not most people sexually abusing children are close to or part of the family itself, so learning that bad touching is bad touching, no matter who is doing the touching, is vitally important. The instructors can give a child the confidence not only to make vast amounts of noise but also to disclose things which they may have been threatened about; not all instructors are total badasses but most can do a good enough imitation to reassure a child that it is safe to speak out.

    ‘The argument also tends to carry the hidden assumption that all women are capable of becoming total badasses,’

    No, it does not. Very few people are capable of being total badasses, and the possession of a Y chromosome does not provide a guarantee that you can get there. Oddly enough, it seems to be the guys who like to harass, stalk, and threaten women who believe that it does, but as I noted above a little education goes a long way. Admittedly there is some wear and tear on the parental finger nails the first time you watch a large guy with a baseball bat go after your much smaller unarmed daughter, but it taught him a much needed lesson, and he never failed thereafter to address her as Ma’am… .

  154. The knee-jerk, culturally trained impulse to silence women is hammered into all members of our society, including the female ones. I guarantee that a large percentage of the people who post poisonous bashing about weight, parenting and processed cheese are actually anonymous women who take the opportunity to bash a woman whose outspokenness and happiness they envy.

    This is not to say that men do not make abusive posts–they absolutely do. But in my experience, the ones they tend to make are more violent and threatening. And snotty remarks are often framed in judgments about whether you are an appropriate sex object. I.e. “I do not find you physically attractive–your worth as an entity in the universe stands on this sole plank, naturally, so be aware that My Great and Wonderful Penis has annihilated your worth.”

  155. It’s really gratifying to come back to this the next day and find it still going in a smart, civil way. You guys are awesome.

    Funny story: I was telling the Songwriter (my husband) about this thread yesterday and mentioned the exchange between Steve Burnap and –E. His position was that Steve was right, it IS worse online than IRL.

    What?! I sputtered

    Well, he said carefully, recognizing a minefield when he sees one, I don’t see that much of it, and I’m out with you a lot.

    I gaped at him. And explained that, yes, when he’s with me, I get substantially less harassment. Probably due to the perception that, since I’m with a male, I am “taken.” But every time I leave the house alone, I am catcalled/propositioned/followed/leered at, etc. I am a fairly self-confident woman, and I am pretty good at ignoring, deflecting, shaming and otherwise getting myself out of these situations. But yes, every single time I am out in the world, this is what happens.

    He gaped at me. If this shit happened all the time, he sputtered, why didn’t I tell him about it?

    Because it happens all the time and it becomes a fact of life like the air we breathe. If I start telling you every time it happened, I said, we might never have time to talk about anything else!

    And we gaped at each other, realizing that despite spending almost two decades in each other’s company, we still live in such different worlds.

  156. Arinn Dembo:

    Please note my earlier posts in this thread about how we don’t need to make this a contest about which sex is more abusive to women online. It’s not necessary for the overall discussion here.

  157. TNH@#150: Agreed! Might suggest it the next time John has a reader subject week, if it hasn’t come up by then.

    Annalee@#160: “The argument also tends to carry the hidden assumption that all women are capable of becoming total badasses, if we’re dedicated enough. Women should be free of rape and the threat of rape whether or not they’re capable of, or willing to inflict, force capable of preventing it.”

    Amen. This, and redoubled. It also ties in to the discussion TNH proposed: It seems a common SF meme that the ‘proper’ way to respond to a societal-level threat is not to try and fight the threat at the societal level, but to enable/force individuals to respond to it at their own level.

    I think it’s an interesting question:

    * How much of this is because of individual image: the idea that women should be able to fight off rape (or sexual harassment at all levels) because that strength/ability is a good thing in and of itself, even with the proviso that rape should never be a possibility;

    * How much is because of fatalism: the presumption that we’ll never be able to completely eliminate the possibility of rape/sexual harassment at a societal level, so it’s best to prepare women to deal with it as individuals;

    * How much is because of people resisting the suggested steps to eliminate the threat at a societal level? This is more operative at the larger context level TNH proposed, but I can see it being used as an argument-from-hyperbole here. “You could eliminate the possibility of rape by putting surveillance cams everywhere, but I don’t want to live in a police state!!!” On the sexual harassment level, you already see this a lot in the people who toss around ‘political correctness’ as an epithet.

  158. picking a fight?

    I dont understand that at all. but your blog, your rules.

    If discussing the source of the problem in any detail is off limits, then the only other conversatiin on this thread is discussing possible solutions. as far as that goes, the one bit I would throw in is in response to the suggestion that women learn a martial art.

    personally, I think suggesting someone learn a martial art in response to violent statistics is not much different than suggesting someone get a gun. It isnt something to be suggested lightly. This isnt anti-gun or pro-gun. this is just more a matter of the practicalities of firearms and martial arts as a defense from violence. the realities is that to safely carry a firearm for defense you have to train with that weapon regularly. you have to learn, understand, and follow the local laws. failure to do either can get you into more trouble than you had to begin with. granted knowing martial arts isnt the same as having a firearm in that your kickbox skill cant be taken by the bad guy and used against you like a gun can. but the main problem with deadly force and violence is that good people without constant training hesitate at the last moment. and combi.ed with an overconfidence that might come from having a gun or karate classes, might get a person more trouble than they would have otherwise.

  159. wow I go and do work for a day and you guys go crazy with the talking!
    Meg at 16, everything you say rings true to me

    Phil @ 20, you’re welcome/thank you/I agree.

    Angelle@ 167, Jessamyn @164, several others: I have a private blog I share with my friends on LJ. A lot of this talk here has actually inspired me to make a public one in defiance of mansplainers and sexism and trolls. (also, Jessamyn, fellow librarian here-rock on!)

  160. Joe@ 163

    I think the full quote is interesting, especially the last line:

    “Intimate partner violence affects people regardless of income. However, people with lower annual income (below $25K) are at a 3-times higher risk of intimate partner violence than people with higher annual income (over $50K).*
    (Bureau of Justice Statistics, Intimate Partner Violence in the U.S. 1993-2004, 2006.)
    *Please note that those with less resources are more likely to report incidents of violence.”

    Several possible interpretations, of course, but one is that people with more resources might have multiple ways to deal with violence, while those with fewer resources have only the police and are therefore more likely to be included when statistics are compiled.

    But I was even more interested in your original assertion at #115, because I would have drawn the exact opposite conclusion. I would think a blog where someone writes about movies, television, books, photography, politics, religion, and kids would draw a much larger (and potentially more hostile) audience than a blog about gluten-free food, making it even more striking that she gets those kinds of abusive responses.

  161. Well, he said carefully, recognizing a minefield when he sees one…

    Yeah, I wish I had before I said anything…some things are just impossible to suggest without being labeled a troll are being accused of being in denial about the problem even when the only thing you are trying to suggest is that there is general denial about how bad things are in other areas.

    I truly think that many here are in denial about just how bad this issue is, but I can’t apparently suggest it without being accused of trollishness or attempting to derail the conversation or being in denial about other things or whatever. Maybe I’m wrong, sure, but clearly wrong or right, this is not a position I can take in public. Oh well.

    I just suggest people look more closely online, in particular at gaming networks, filled with teenage boys, currently teaching each other what is acceptable behavior. Because really, yeah, it is true that as a man I likely cannot see what a woman alone experiences in public. The only true test would be for E, etc. to try spending a bit of time online on XBox live or similar network “open” as a woman, and see for themselves. Especially if you are a parent of either a teenage girl *or* boy.

    That’s all I’ve ever meant say. Look for yourselves and decide for yourself.

  162. Iliadfan@ 173

    Fair point on the quote. They don’t go on to explain the reporting bias but it seems unlikely to me to that it makes up for the 3x difference.

    Here is a more general but thorough citation on the correlation between income and homicide:

    And here is a probably more relevent poll on the correlation between income and self reported mental health (mental health maybe is a better proxy for online hostility than violent crime?):

    To this point:
    “… I would have drawn the exact opposite conclusion. I would think a blog where someone writes about movies, television, books, photography, politics, religion, and kids would draw a much larger (and potentially more hostile) audience…”

    My point is more about the audience than the content. I wouldn’t be have come here if I hadn’t read OMW, but I come back for the other discussions (I came for the cake but I stay for the coffee). I assume that is true of a great deal of the audience here. For example, the number of self reported authors and forum moderators in this thread alone give you an idea of the audience. I’ll posit that authors and forum moderators are more educated than the average American and education is another predictor of general mental health.

    The proximity between an author’s situation and topic and the situation and views of your readers is a good predictor of potential hostility. The more breadth in your audience the further you are from some of your readers.

  163. One thing that has surprised me is who some of the online harassers are. For example, a married couple I know are tag-team online bullies. They’ve been banned from games for harassing other players. I’ve asked why they do it, and they say because it’s fun. These two people are highly educated (both have graduate degrees), gainfully employed, and leading functional lives. In the “real world” they are perfectly nice people. Only in the online space do they engage in this behavior.

  164. Steve @ 174

    Well, I certainly don’t think of you as a troll! I was using the example to illustrate that another man who I admire very much and is a Friend to Women made the same assumption.

    He just had the benefit of being able to see the look on my face as he did so, and recognize, “Hmm, maybe I am not doing quite the thing I mean to be doing.” One of those areas where meatspace trumps cyber.

  165. We have managed to create a society (I’m American; please apply appropriate salt grains) wherein most people, in general, in open forums, understand that there are things you do not say.

    Use of certain racial epithets, for example, will get a person in trouble. This obviously has not eliminated racism, but in many places, racists (a) at least know enough to be ashamed of being racist, and (b) don’t act out the most obvious and violent racist behaviors as they used to.

    Which is to say, you don’t see a whole lot of lynchings and cross-burnings nowadays.

    Illegality alone did not put a stop to that. Lynching, for instance, was always illegal. It’s murder. But it wasn’t prosecuted because folks in local law enforcement often felt no need to investigate and pursue a case. They didn’t suffer censure for their neglect, and they might have suffered in various ways if they did pursue the case; even the “nice guys” wouldn’t stand up against it.

    We are currently in that situation with sexism, both in real life and online.

    Women who are raped or abused, or threatened with rape or abuse, have a hard time finding allies in law enforcement. They have a hard time finding allies amongst NON-law-enforcement. Most rape and abuse victims know the person who assaulted them, and if they make a public accusation, the mutual friends immediately start rationalizing. “Oh, he couldn’t have done that. It must be a misunderstanding.”

    This is normal, human behavior. We don’t want to believe people we know and like could do terrible things, so our brains try very hard to reconcile the two things.

    This is the problem.

    It’s all well and good for nice guys to not be sexist asshats. That, however, is not enough. You need to make it clear to your fellow men–many of whom are both nice guys and sexist asshats simultaneously, because human psyches are complex things–that being a sexist asshat is not acceptable.

    Men, if you really want to help women, here’s what you do:

    The next time you’re in an all-boys environment (e.g., a locker room) and one of the men makes a sexist comment, tell him it’s not cool. Embarrass him for saying it.

    The next time you see a guy make an unwanted come-on to a woman, tell him, “Don’t be a jerk.”

    The next time you see a nasty sexual comment about a woman online, call the writer out on it. If you have computer skills to track down his IP, pass that information along to the target of the comment, and contact the jerk’s ISP yourself–they don’t require that the target do the reporting. As a witness, you are also damaged.

    I realize these are not easy things to do, and they very much risk turning you into a target as well. Be smart. Obviously you shouldn’t confront a group of teen boys hanging out harassing women in the mall; but you should contact security or the police and make them come deal with it.

    The sad truth is that a man making the complaint will be taken more seriously than a woman making the complaint. Use your privilege for Good.

    If you are not actively opposing sexism, you are a condoner. Silence = approval.

    Men, please speak up. Let your fellow men know that sexist asshattery isn’t acceptable behavior.

  166. Steve @174: I don’t think that you’re a troll, or anything approaching one. I think you’re seriously concerned about the abuse and harassment that happens in online games, and I appreciate that.

    But when you’re talking to women about problems they face every day, and they tell you that you’re mistaken about the severity of those problems, do you really think it’s more likely that they’re “in denial,” or that you’re missing something? To borrow Tiger Beatdown’s analogy, you may have read the recipe, but we’ve actually eaten the food. When we tell you you’re wrong about how the food tastes, it is significantly more likely that we’re saying so because we know what the food actually tastes like, rather than because we’re “in denial” about it.

    I am certainly not “in denial” about online harassment. I’ve played online games. I have many friends who play online games. We swap horror stories. You have no disagreement from me that X-Box Live is a cesspit. People on X-Box Live behave appallingly towards women and other minority gamers, and the damage their bullying inflicts is very real. I think it’s great that you’re trying to raise awareness about that problem.

    It’s just, while you’re doing that, I know you don’t want to dismiss or erase the harm women face as a result of street harassment. Both kinds of harassment are awful, and both are often downplayed or dismissed by people who don’t want to think about this stuff. That’s why we asked you to reconsider your comparison–so that you don’t accidentally contribute to one problem while trying to fight another.

    If you want to learn more about street harassment, the street harassment version of Fat, Ugly, or Slutty is

  167. “Men, if you really want to help women, here’s what you do”
    “Let your fellow men know that sexist asshattery isn’t acceptable behavior.”

    I’m not going to deny that men are pigs, but it seems to me the original point of this post was about how women receive a disproportionate share of comment abuse, not that men are the ones to blame. In fact, if you read the examples that are linked, it appears that it is mostly women are who making the comments (especially the indignation about a blogger treats her baby, or what she chooses to eat). The fact is, women criticize other women more harshly than men. That happens, too. I suspect that is especially the case on the knitting blog, since I’m guessing men do not comprise the majority of commenters (I say that even though two male friends of mine are quite into knitting).

  168. From this comment:

    Annalee@#160: “The argument also tends to carry the hidden assumption that all women are capable of becoming total badasses, if we’re dedicated enough. Women should be free of rape and the threat of rape whether or not they’re capable of, or willing to inflict force capable of preventing it.”

    I agree that women should be free of the threat of physical and sexual violence, but then I think everybody should be free of the threat of physical or sexual violence. Unfortunately I don’t see how this is going to come to pass because in spite of social pressure, home-of-origin teaching, and the law, there will always be outliers who simply don’t care about being civilized.

    It’s because of these outliers that civilized men — and especially civilized women — need to learn to defend themselves, just as it’s a good idea to learn defensive driving: because you can’t always count on the other people in the other cars to be paying attention to what they’re doing.

    In the end, if you’re a woman, and it’s down to just you and that outlier, and the nearest help is too far away to be of any assistance, it’s up to you the woman to be able to take matters into your own hands. Could be with a tazer, or a mace, or some brass knuckles, or a handgun, or martial arts, or military combatives, or simply a swift kick in the outlier’s groin. I don’t think a woman has to be “badass” to be capable of self defense, I just think she has to have training and/or equipment, and the will to use both — just like men, when in a similar situation.

    Meanwhile, on the preventative side of the coin, I think fathers bear a particular onus to exemplify in the home, while their sons are young, what it means to be a ‘gentleman’ in a society which often doesn’t provide positive reinforcement for non-macho, non-forceful, non-jerks. And if the father isn’t present, then the task falls to the mother; which can be harder, but still possible. The key being that it’s important for boys to digest the fact that there are other ways of being ‘manly’ than being abusive towards women. Unfortunately, lots of boys never get this message, and the poison keeps passing down from generation to generation.

  169. Hey John, thanks for once again, bringing up something huge for people to discuss and learn from. Everyone here is part of a change that’s occurring. It seems to me that all of this comes with the territory. I want to encourage female bloggers to hang in there and keep going. They say that working to change the things you can, accepting the things you can’t change, and having the wisdom to know the difference is the key to moving forward. There’s so much here I’m finding difficulty in absorbing it all, but I wanted to comment regarding voice for female (and male) writers. At first, I didn’t think it applied, but I think that trolls attacking knitting bloggers could mean that the knitting blogger is writing the perfect things for her audience. Knitting is about creating something — something useful and potentially beautiful. The discussions are about yarn, technique, imagination, emotion. Probably pretty raw meat for an angry troll. Finding your own voice is no easy thing. I think now, from the view of old ladydom, that when a troll is attracted, it could even be a good thing. It might mean the blogger is on the right track, because it elicited the angry “shut up!” or put-down reaction. The last time this happened to me, the guy indicated Ursula Le Guin was elderly and getting ready to die, so she wasn’t worth much. Because he attacked Ursula in the process of trying to shut me up, it was easy and pleasant for me to tell him where he needed to go. I have been so appalled by the behavior for so long that I can scarcely form thoughts, but I realize, I have formed them. These people are not even worth bothering with — that’s my genuine opinion. If women want to blog, then this is part of the territory or landscape and cannot be changed directly; by the same token, we should each develop a policy and never deviate — ideally, before it happens, not after. And let it bother us as little as possible and move on.

  170. Rico, I believe John already addressed the question of whether he considers discussion of “which gender abuse women more” to be worthwhile. To respect his wishes, I will only address one part of your post on that topic:

    “The fact is, women criticize other women more harshly than men.”


    Moving along…

    John’s main point–you know, way back there in his original post?–was that women get abused online more than men.

    Some of the commenters (including me) have expanded this discussion to the realm of “why does this happen” with a side-order of discussion of the sorts of abuse that happen.

    Women do indeed abuse each other online. That is not under question. And women should call each other out on it.

    But do women sexually abuse each other online? Oh, they can be nasty online and in real life, for certain! And it can have a sexual component–the most common form of it is called “slut shaming,” wherein some women try to belittle other women for being sexually active.

    But do women threaten other women with rape? Do they gather groups of their friends (or create sockpuppets) and repeatedly wish death and violence on other women, with graphic descriptions?

    I’m sure some woman, somewhere, has done such a thing. With several billion people in the world, the possibilities are broad.

    But women are being actively terrorized online by people who are overwhelming male. At the risk of throwing this comment into active moderation because of too many links:

    a current discussion of death threats

    a summary/follow-up post after a massive situation in the atheist community this past summer; please follow the links to get the whole story

    Those behaviors do not exist in a vacuum. There aren’t two or three drooling troglodytes who are terrorizing all the prominent women on the internet. This is a pervasive problem, and the majority of perpetrators are men.

    The majority of excuse-makers are men as well. Some very intelligent, generally “nice” men.

    Women can and should police each other. But to police the men requires other men. Sexist asshats will ignore women who call them out. “They’re just defensive bitches” they will say, and go right on being scum. If they think so little of women, why would they listen to one?

    Whereas they might listen to another man. And men who are in the middle–those nice guys who can’t believe their friend would really rape a woman, and therefore question, in all innocence, the verity of all assaulted women–might also listen.

    It’s not an either/or problem. But if you don’t like abuse against women online–whether it is perpetrated by men or women–then it is on you to speak up.

  171. Brad @181:

    You’re talking about a hypothetical world where rapists are outliers. I’m talking about the real world, where one in every six women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. That’s not outliers doing that. That’s a culture that tells men that their masculinity is rooted in their ownership of women, and that tells women that men have the right to claim ownership over us.

    When we live in your hypothetical world, I would be happy to talk to you about the best way to protect society from your hypothetical outliers. But here in the real world, where rape is a normal part of our culture and most rapists assume that all men are rapists, we have bigger problems.

    I am in no way suggesting that women have never successfully fought off attackers. Nor am I suggesting that women who want self-defense classes shouldn’t take them. What I’m saying is, acting as if that’s going to solve the problem is like sticking a band-aid on a hemorrhage, then implying it’s the patient’s fault for bleeding to death (because “she should have fought him off” really truly is right up there with “she shouldn’t have worn that dress,” in terms of victim-blaming nonsense that people say and believe).

    Most women employ a variety of strategies to mitigate their risk of being raped. But no matter how many strategies we employ, we might still be raped. And no matter how few strategies we employ, it’s still not our fault if we are.

    You are spot-on about the need for examples of positive masculinity. The negative stereotypes young boys internalize about their gender hurt them as much as they hurt women. I’m a big fan of the Men Can Stop Rape campaign, which empowers young men to develop positive conceptions of masculinity, and use their strength to create a safer world.

    –E is right that we’ve drifted a fair distance from the original post. I’m not minding the discussion as it stands, because the opportunity to discuss these issues online with men who are being civil and respectful is actually a bit rare. But Scalzi, if you want the comments to head back in the direction of the original topic, I can quit sidetracking.

  172. I’m a lower-profile long-time netizen (back to 1981 vaguely, becoming more visible when I started moderating the Fidonet SF echo in 1987 or whenever that was), male, not a soft target…anecdotally I check you 100.00%. I’ve heard of (and occasionally been shown the actual messages) a constant stream of reports by females below my level of prominence up to much much higher getting such off-the-wall idiotic hateful comments. At least some of whom wield a pretty mean mallet themselves, and that hasn’t been enough to discourage the idiots.

    I get essentially zero stuff anything like that directed at me.

    It’s bloody disgusting, is what it is.

  173. I was going to make a general comment about some of my fellow men here not getting one key difference between street harassment and online harassment, but Annalee said it already, better, and from a woman’s perspective.

    Alpha Lyra 176: For example, a married couple I know are tag-team online bullies. They’ve been banned from games for harassing other players. I’ve asked why they do it, and they say because it’s fun. These two people are highly educated (both have graduate degrees), gainfully employed, and leading functional lives. In the “real world” they are perfectly nice people. Only in the online space do they engage in this behavior.

    Why do you continue to associate with them? People who are nice to you and nasty to others are not nice people. Internet harassment is no less vicious than, say, phone harassment. If someone told you they’re always nice “IRL” but like to call people on the phone and harass them to the point of tears, would you continue to associate with them?

    I really think such people should be ostracized, if not publicly shamed. At a minimum, anyone who knows them and knows about it should tell them it’s not cool. This is what men in this thread are being asked to do with regard to sexism on the part of other men (and I highly approve and engage in such correction whenever I can).

    (Scare quotes around ‘IRL’ are because I think it’s a mistake to consider the internet somehow less real. The internet is just a communication technology; I’ve often wondered whether, when the telephone first came out, people thought making threats over the phone was somehow different than making them in person.)

  174. E. @ #178:
    If you are not actively opposing sexism, you are a condoner. Silence = approval.

    Wait a minute, E. – I totally agree with your general point, but can we please lay off the general anathema. Yesterday, on another site, I made a pretty reasonable (IMO) observation that saying “George Lucas raped my childhood” every damn time he does something geeks don’t like is not only mallet-worthy hyperbole but is actually pretty offensive and triggering to a lot of rape/abuse surviviors. It certainly is to this one.

    When the responses included “well, no wonder you got raped. It’s the only way you’d get laid with an attitude like that” you bet your arse I checked out of that thread. I’m not going to apologise for not wanting to hang around and be told I deserved to be sexually assaulted any more.

  175. Greg@187: That study says that women are harsher to other women than men are to other men. It does *not* appear to have examined how harsh men are to women.

  176. –E,

    I attempted to provide a citation of my own, but I suspect the link I provided made my post unpostable, so I shortened it. It’s from the Yale Law Journal: If the first post shows up anyway, then I apologize for the redundancy.

    I wanted to clarify that by “women criticize women more than men,” I meant to say that they criticize women more than they do men, not that they criticize women more than men do. I was unnecessarily vague there.

  177. Folks, John has repeatedly asked us to drop the who-is-meaner subthread, and the last time he asked he also asked us not to make him ask again.

    Please, please stop before he has to ask again. The Mallet of Loving Correction will come out, and that’s no good for anyone. Plus it’s a sign that our host is annoyed, and it’s rude to annoy your host, especially in a specific way he’s asked you not to.

  178. I have to say that my worst hateful comments: calling me a bad mom, wishing my children serious illness, calling me a bitch, etc. have all come from women.

  179. Ooops! And now I see you’ve asked people to stop talking about who is meaner as I scrolled down. My apologies, and it’s really beside the point of your post anyway.

  180. I missed that injunction on my first read through, and I’ll desist (except to just cautiously point out this: I was only saying we are equal opportunity offenders. I didn’t think I was saying any of us are meaner). The larger point, at any rate, is that women get a disproportionate number of negative comments from both genders.

  181. Annalee @ 184: I don’t think rape is ‘normalized’ to the extent you seem to be implying. Since the majority of undetected (read that as: no criminal record nor prosecution) rapists are serial offenders (linked citation document) then we cannot assume that a 1 out of 6 ratio for victims implies a 1 out of 6 ratio for perpetrators. If the ratio of perpetrators were in fact 1 out of 6 then I’d probably agree with you. But because the ratio of perpetrators appears to be much smaller than the ratio of victims, I do think it’s accurate to describe rapists as outliers. Ergo, a small number of men committing the bulk of the rape. Ergo, these are not ‘normal’ men, and whatever they might think of themselves — hey dudes, I’m not a rapist! — the rest of us aren’t obliged to agree with their assessment of themselves. And yes, there are things we can do to make that small number of rapists even smaller, but I don’t think we’ll ever make it zero. Which is why I think it’s worth it for women and teenaged girls to take steps to be their own last line of protection, if everything else fails. This is not ‘blaming the victim’ as much as it’s just wanting women to be ready to defend themselves. Which men should also be ready to do, as a matter of precaution.

  182. Craig @189: Your situation highlights the catch-22. If someone speaks up, he makes himself a target. But if they say nothing, the crime keeps right on happening.

    I don’t fault you for bugging out when the situation turned as it did. You DID speak up! You’re not required to stick around and keep taking hits. Please take some consolation in the thought that there were probably others reading that thread who read your words, witnessed the subsequent poison spewed by others, and are slowly moving in the direction of less tolerance for thoughtless words.

    Rico @191: Thank you for clarifying what you meant. But I don’t understand how that fits into the original discussion topic, i.e., “Women receive more abuse than men.”

    That women abusers follow this pattern (abusing women more than men) is not enlightening. Either way, men are not abused (by anyone) as often as women are abused (by anyone). It doesn’t address either the relative percentages of people within a particular gender group who are abusers, nor what percentage of abusers are one gender or another.

    (And that is without even discussing the relative quality or frequency of the abuse from a particular quarter. This is a very, very complicated Venn diagram.)

  183. Brad, I want you to ask yourself whether you are making a point just to make a point, and in doing so are missing Annalee point to you. Think rather carefully about this, and then also ask yourself whether the path you are taking the conversation is going to be fruitful as regards the larger topic of entry.

  184. Brad @ 196: rape may not be normalized, but sexism is.

    Consider: it’s still common comedy fodder in sitcoms to make jokes about women liking shoes and shopping, or the sexual appeal (to hetero men) of catfights, or a man duping a woman into sleeping with him.

    It is all over our popular culture. It reduces women to objects, and hetero men to pathetic, rutting gorillas.

  185. JS @ 198 — Here’s the point Annalee seemed to be making:

    I’m talking about the real world, where one in every six women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime… here in the real world, where rape is a normal part of our culture and most rapists assume that all men are rapists, we have bigger problems.

    JS, those are some pretty broad statements. With the implication being that anyone who doesn’t perceive same, is somehow not living in the ‘real world.’ You’re a self-confessed disliker of argument-from-anecdote, but it seems to me any time it’s implied by anyone that rape and sexual assault is both common and accepted (among men, to say nothing of the larger culture) we’re straying too close to argument-from-anecdote. Hence I supplied the statistical citations, which indicate that the bulk of sexual assault — against women, by men — is perpetrated by a statistical fraction of men — e.g: outliers.

    To drag this back around to the question of women bloggers being harassed to a much greater degree than men, and also whether or not the harassment is being carried out primarily by male users, what I’m wondering — because I can’t seem to find reliable statistics yet — is whether or not we see the same model playing out: a minority (outliers) doing the majority of the harassment; and not even realizing what they’re doing is ‘harassing,’ just as a good many undetected rapists would not even call what they do rape.

    I think most everyone on this blog can agree that part of the problem is that ‘good guys’ aren’t doing enough to point out poor or offensive or even dangerous behavior, when its exhibited. I’ve seen my fair share of behavior — both on-line and in the real world — that I’d call over-the-line. As I’ve grown older (and especially since I’ve been a father to a girl) I’ve tried to steel myself. To be the one who makes people uncomfortable, or points out that a thing is not okay. I’ve not always been good at it, because I am too often conciliatory in public spaces. But I do think there is value in clearing one’s throat and saying, “You know, dude, I think you’ve gone too far.”

    But I also think the problem isn’t helped when, in the rush to grapple with the problem, too-broad statements or too-generalized assumptions are allowed to pass without critical examination. This is why some people get bristly when it comes to questions of “who is meaner” and why this keeps popping up. Because when statements are made which implicate men et al, as a general rule, either explicitly or implicitly, there is a natural tendency by some men to say, “Hey, wait a minute…!” At which point — as mythago pointed out — the discussion gets derailed into assuaging men, and not helping women.

    So, I think it’s worth it to be careful that the seeds of derailment aren’t sewn via hyperbole.

  186. E. @ #197:

    Aw, bless – but I hope I didn’t give the impression that I disagreed with your general point. It’s no more “women’s work” to say that on-line sexism (and flat out misogyny) just isn’t cool, than cooking or doing the laundry is. Just as our host does a pretty good job of calling out racism and homophobia, despite the hideous disability of being a straight while guy. :)

    It particularly annoys me when folks complain about SF/F fandom being stereotyped as a pack of poorly socialised man-children who have problems relating to women who don’t have Zeppelin breasts barely contained in crotch-flossing spandex, then passively (or actively) enable folks who do exactly that. (I don’t know if it was Ron Moore’s intention, but the BSG re-boot brought some very insecure chaps out of the sexist closet.)

    I’m a First Amendment fundamentalist, but someone’s constitutionally protected right to be an asinine dick-bag doesn’t oblige anyone else to give them a platform. It certainly doesn’t prevent people who know better from exercising their speech rights to say “just stop it.”

  187. E @ 199: I think sexism and sexual assault are related, but they are not the same thing. I also think there is a difference — of degree — between stating that women are shoe-shoppers, and calling a woman a terrible epithet, just as there is a difference of degree between the epithet, and making an actual threat of physical harm. When we assume “it’s all the same thing” we rob the true crime of its magnitude, and we hyper-inflate the non-crime to ridiculous proprtion.

  188. Brad:

    Again, allow me to ask you whether you’re trying to make a point just to make a point and missing Annalee’s larger point entirely. From where I sit you very appear to want to try to make a big deal of the point that you believe only a small minority of men are doing abusive things, which whether or not it is true is entirely irrelevant to the fact that the result is that women may generally feel unsafe and at risk. You don’t need a whole lot of predators for the predated to be at risk.

    Your choice to suggest that Annalee’s statement is overly broad misses is a choice you can make because you don’t have a one in six chance of being sexually assaulted; you may wish to entertain from that perspective rape is a normal part of the culture — “normal” in this case being something that every woman must incorporate into her world view.

    So again: Ask yourself whether you are listening to what is being said to you, or if you’re barreling past it to make a point which seems to be of relevance to you, but not especially relevant to the larger discussion. Because from where I’m sitting, that’s what it looks like you’re doing.

  189. Annalee, I don’t think that armed females will solve “the rape problem”; but I don’t think that blaming rape on an aspect of some males’ poor culturization will solve it either. Men have to learn to understand “No!” and obey, and women have learn to say “No!” before it’s too late. Absent that, we wander into trying to read the minds of the participants, and I’d rather not have to do that. There are always going to be those — of all kinds — who don’t get the message, or who will ignore it, or change their minds, and they will cause problems for everyone.

    So called “Run Foo” has been effective. Other forms of defense, both armed and unarmed, can also be practical in some circumstances. Each of you gets to weigh the costs and benefits of all of them, and make your choices. I pray you never have to use or regret them.

    If I was King … but I’m not.

  190. Brad @196: I’m sorry, but in what way is “1 out of every 6 women” an anecdote? That’s a statistic. It comes from here.

    Your citation pegs perpetrators of rape and sexual assault at about 12% of men, which a little more than 1 man out of every 9.

    While 1 out of 9 might meet the statistical definition of “outlier,” it does not come anywhere close to meaning what the term “outlier” implies when it comes to rape: that it’s some kind of rare, freak thing perpetrated by social pariahs who outright reject the rules of the civilized world and can’t be expected to change.

    The thing is, studies have clued us in to another rather important thing about rapists: they think they’re normal. In a survey of college-aged men, 6% of respondents were willing to admit that they were rapists, as long as the question didn’t include the word “rape.” These are not people who have decided to laugh in the face of societal norms. These are people who thing that alcohol, coercion, and force are socially acceptable ways to get sex.

    And that points to a problem that’s a little bigger than a lack of self-defense training.

    As it happens, I’m pretty serious about my self-defense training, to the tune of working on it daily. But I also know that the only way I can be 100% sure that I’m safe from being raped is if I’m never in the presence of a rapist.

    And how do we make it so that more women are never in the presence of a rapist? We make it clear to that ninth man that he is not normal, until he gets the message. Then the tenth man, then the eleventh, until the only rapists left are social pariahs who outright reject the rules of the civilized world and can’t be expected to change.

    That means the other eight men stepping up and loudly, publicly supporting women and their right to consent. That means embarrassing people who make rape jokes in front of you, because one of the people listening to that joke–or the person who told it–might be thinking that all men get sex that way. That means telling game makers who play rape for laughs in their games that you’re not going to buy their products. That means calling out trolls who threaten women bloggers and telling them they’re sad, pathetic losers with whom you’re ashamed to share a gender. That means doing the very long, hard, difficult work of trying to empty the sea with a teaspoon.

    Which takes more commitment than placing the burden of safety on those least able to carry it. But personally, I have enough respect for the eight out of nine men who aren’t rapists to know that you’re more than equal to the challenge.

    htom: I have indeed had to use techniques to mitigate my risk of being assaulted. I’d be hard-pressed to name a woman who hasn’t. Almost all of the times I’ve used said techniques, they’ve been effective.

    But I refuse to regret my choices, because I have never been the person who made the choice to assault me.

  191. I live in England, and it does seem to me that there is a very large gap in world view between those of us who first decided that we had to take back the night- note the verb ‘take’- almost 40 years ago, and the attitudes to this on the other side of the pond in 2011. I can’t decide whether this is a generation gap or a continental gap or a combination of both.

    It was always clear to me that we would have to take it, since it was blindingly obvious that no-one was going to give it to us. I do not expect women to be total badasses, not least because very few people are capable of being total badasses; I do, on the other hand, wonder why so many women cannot apparently grasp that attending self defence classes has two functions; it gives them worthwhile skills and it also demonstrates to the men in the same classes that women act and are therefore subjects, not objects.

    One of my daughter’s fellow students who went on, like her, to be an instructor, has phocomelia as a result of his mother taking thalidomide during her pregnancy. He is therefore seen as an easy target by nasty people, just as girls and women are seen as easy targets by nasty people. In his case the nasty people learnt otherwise. We could sit around till the cows come home agreeing that abusive behaviour to people suffering from phocomelia is totally unacceptable in a civilised society, but it would not do anything to discourage nasty people looking for easy targets. Being kicked in the head, on the other hand, does deter nasty people.

    I come back to the generational/continental gap; somewhere along the line the understanding seems to have changed from ‘we have to change this’ to ‘someone else should change this’ which more or less guarantees that it certainly isn’t going to change.

    And since John may feel I have strayed too far from his boundaries, and therefore mallet me in what the shto would regard as thoroughly tasteless behaviour, I had better abandon this before I phase….

  192. (Hopefully not OT) What can we as blog readers and comment-leavers do about the entire issue of trolls and abusive commenters? Some of the science-based blogs I read have a stated minimal-moderation policy, and develop a troll infestation. With known trolls, this leads to lots of comments that say “Ignore the troll” or “Don’t feed the troll”, but what else can we do? Do resolutely on-topic comments help drown out trolls and indicate that the rest of the readers don’t care, or is it silent approval?

  193. #htom @ #204
    Men have to learn to understand “No!” and obey, and women have learn to say “No!” before it’s too late. Absent that, we wander into trying to read the minds of the participants,

    Errr… Tom, this might be a crazy idea but how about men take absolute and unconditional ownership of what they do with their dicks? It’s been working for me so far… And, yeah, I don’t think any mutant mind-reading powers are required to discern that if someone is unconscious or barely able to string together a coherent sentence, your idea of “consent” is somewhat self-serving. And unless you’ve clearly and explicitly negotiated such things in advance, when a woman is crying or struggling she’s really not into you at all.

  194. –E,

    “Thank you for clarifying what you meant. But I don’t understand how that fits into the original discussion topic, i.e., ‘Women receive more abuse than men.'”

    I was responding to the thread. It seemed to me that the original point was “Women receive a disproportionate amount of abuse from people,” and many of the responses appeared to say “Yeah, women do receive a disproportionate amount of abuse from men.” I was trying to provide sufficient balance to favor the original point over this second one. I think, perhaps, we agree on substance.

  195. (Annalee — I was thinking of “regret” in the sense of not preparing, or for the fatal consequences to an attacker, but that’s my bad, I wasn’t clear.)

    I think this behavior (rape) begins with a lack of respect of the other, and then slowly slides down a bumpy slope. Grab offenders (either variety of plumbing) and drag them back up.

  196. John @ 203: using that argument, then both death by heart disease and death by cancer are every bit as ‘normal’ as rape, yet I’m not sure even the callous among us would suggest that either of these diseases is in any way ‘normalized’ regardless of how much any of us has to think about them, or incorporate the risk of same into our daily paradigm. We accept that they exist, that they are problems, and we expend a good deal of intellectual and medical capital on combating them, but they are not normal in the same way tornadoes will never be ‘normal’ in the plains states. But I ‘get’ you: the discussion seems to be parenthetical to The Discussion, thus it’s not “on task” in the way you’d prefer.

    Annalee @ 205: My point was that shaming and calling-out and applying social pressure can diminish the minority number, but it won’t make the number reach zero. And while we can erect external protections — police, security guards, etc. — there is no external safety measure which can bring the number to zero, either. Thus the woman really is her own last line of defense, and that it’s good sense for women to take this seriously. I never, ever wrote that women should take the burden alone. I never blamed the victim. I did not even imply it. I said that when all else fails, women should be able to have their own resources to call upon — training, tools and weapons — to keep themselves from being harmed.

    More broadly, I like what Craig Ranapia said, about men taking responsibility. Which is — unless JS wants to correct me again — Annalee’s main beef: men not being expected by society to take the burden of responsibility for ensuring that women don’t have to deal with abuse, assault, or violence. It’s a familiar one. I heard it a lot back when my wife worked for a domestic violence shelter. And I generally agree with it, because I absolutely believe in individual responsibility for one’s actions. And I even agree that historically men have been “let off the hook” in this regard. I just don’t ever see us perfecting our shaming/countermeasures to the point that the potential danger of assault drops so low that no woman ever has to worry about it.

  197. I just don’t ever see us perfecting our shaming/countermeasures to the point that the potential danger of assault drops so low that no woman ever has to worry about it.

    The potential risks of killer bee attacks or being devoured by sharks or tripping over your cat and sustaining a fatal fall are not so low that nobody has to worry about these things ever. And yet, somehow I doubt that you or I spend a lot of time worrying about cat-related falling deaths, even if we have a lot of cats, and we don’t structure our lives around avoiding killer bees.

    You don’t seem to perceive that there is a meaningful difference between reducing a threat to zero, and reducing it to a point where it is not a pervasive, constant presence that forces people to shape their lives around its existence. You also seem to be arguing that because it is impossible to do the former, we can’t (and perhaps shouldn’t try to) achieve the latter.

    WRT self-defense: I would like to gently suggest that the posters advocating women learn self-defense take a moment to pause and realize how patronizing that sounds.

  198. Mythago @ 214: “You also seem to be arguing that because it is impossible to do the former, we can’t (and perhaps shouldn’t try to) achieve the latter.” Actually, no, this is you putting words in my mouth. I never said we shouldn’t try, just that there are practical limits on the effectiveness of shaming, social pressure, socialization, and external measures like police. Whatever is left after these fail, is something women are going to have to deal with. As for the ‘patronizing’ comment, you’re going to have to explain that one for me. It is patronizing to exhort women to learn and use self-defense techniques? How?

  199. using that argument, then both death by heart disease and death by cancer are every bit as ‘normal’ as rape,

    Uh, yes? If I was told that someone had died of either heart disease or cancer I wouldn’t think it abnormal, as opposed to if someone had died in, for example, a plane crash.

  200. Brad:

    “But I ‘get’ you”

    I don’t think you get what I’m saying at all, actually, which is: That you’re so intent on being right on a particular irrelevant point that a) you miss the thrust of the larger argument, b) you look clueless and also come across as trying to minimize a life experience others have to deal with that you have no experience of. Whether you’re aware of it or not, you’re coming across as telling a woman trying to explain her experience something along the line of “oh, it’s not that bad.” Your counter to my point trying to equate the cultural issue of rape with the medical issues of cancer and heart disease is further evidence of a certain cluelessness in a rush to be “right” about a point (and for that matter, yes, in fact, heart disease and cancer are pretty normal aspects of life, given their predominence as a form of mortality and the extent to which both touch on the daily life of people who have either suffer from it, or work to avoid them. So I think your assertion regarding them is wrong).

    Which is to say, Brad, as tactfully as I could I was trying to clue you into to the fact you were — unintentionally and while meaning well — presenting very poorly. I understand your intellectual desire to make a specific point, but what I really wanted you to do is to clue in as to whether doggedly making that intellectual point, particularly as it was not especially relevant to the larger discussion, was worth coming across as being oblivious.

    Please note that this is coming from me, not from Annalee, who may not agree with my assessment. But again, from where I’m sitting, you’re coming across as continually minimizing another person’s actual life experience (bolstered, incidentally, by data which makes it clear her argument and experience is not merely anecdotal) because you need to be right about one particular point which in the long run isn’t particularly useful. I find it painful to watch and I’m not sure why you don’t see that’s what you’re doing. It’s especially painful because I know you mean well, and because I think well of you. And the fact that the particular topic is rape and sexual abuse, which is freighted with all sorts of social and cultural baggage that means it’s a subject that men in particular need to be aware of their lack of cultural experience (on the side of being predated) adds yet another level to it.

    What I’d like for you to do, Brad, is to give some thought to what I’m saying to you now. I like you and think well of you and value your presence here on this site. But I really don’t think that right here and now you’re coming across the way you think you are. Please think very carefully about what I am saying to you. And also know that while I am not going to tell you that you cannot be on this thread any further, that I think you want to consider what benefit you accrue from continuing to argue here at the moment.

  201. I suspect that Mythago isn’t allergic to bee venom. Yet.

    I don’t get the “patronizing” thing, either.

  202. Also, I think this particular discussion of Annalee’s is now at a point where we are branching very significantly from the rest of the comment thread, so let’s go ahead and bring it back in. Thanks, folks.

  203. more on martial arts:

    the problem is that rape is common enough that it affects the way many women relate to the world, haave to deal with the world, and have to plan their day around the world.

    the suggestion that women learn martial arts is a comic book response to a real life problem. it grossly oversimplifies the realities and reduces the problem to being caused by individuals not having super powers.

    why is rape a problem in the US? why is sexual harrassment towards women a problem in the US?

    if you say because women dont have guns, martial arts, super powers of kick assery, then you are relating to a complex cultural issue inheent in a society as if there is no such thing as society, no such thing as culture, and we are living in some libertarian world.

    point in fact, many a woman *could* arm herself with 9mm handguns this very moment. but that wouldnt solve the problem if they shoot a would be rapist and get convicted for murder instead because she lead him on, she shouldnt have dressed that way, he was only joking, she shouldnt have taken it so seriously, and insert *cultural* pressure to excuse rapists.

    guns isnt the solution any more than martial arts because the problem isnt simply a matter if *individual*power*differences* that can be rectified by giving the woman a power advantage.

    women *have* been standing up to rapists in the US for some time. But the problem is the US hasnt been standing up for those women. It is a cultural problem that creates cultural pressure on the woman to keep quiet, not press charges, not make a fuss. And it is a systemic government problem that has given law enforcement a history of not prosecuting, not protecting, not pursuing those that women stand up to.

    suggesting the solution is guns or kickboxing is almost the equivelent of a 30-something person living in their parents basement giving advice on how to maintain a household budget in tough economic times; it will be something he read out of a comic book, or magazine, or some other fantasy worldview of how he thinks things work that has nothing to do with anything. like “join Costco” or something. as if that would solve all your problems.

    this is an extremely complex problem, it has individual dynamics, cultural dynamics, gender dynamics, enforcement dynamics, and feels like trying to solve a set of equations with five or six unknowns, while riding a unicycle.

    “get a gun” or “learn karate” so grossly oversimplifies the problem that it is clear your are living in the gender equivelent of your parents basement.

  204. Greg:

    I’m going to make the assumption that you did not read the comment I made immediately preceding yours, in which I explain it’s probably best that we snip off this particular line of discussion.

  205. In a QED fashion, we’re seeing right here that a couple of vocal proponents of a particular viewpoint can seriously affect the whole tone of the debate.

    My experience of being in positive communities is that it’s a very liberating experience for men as well. It really is true that hearing a diversity of viewpoints makes the discussion more interesting. It’s one of the things I value about this blog. That means that every single member of the dominant group has to consciously STFU and listen more than they’d like to. Even though my voice is special, and valuable. It’s hard to deny you the beauty of my thoughts. But I try. And I think it kinda works. At least, other people write really good stuff too, and I get to read it. I want more of that.

    thank you.

  206. @221 Ahhh, its a kinder, gentler mallet after 10PM. The kind covered in pink fuzz that squeaks when you hit something with it.

  207. Yeah, sorry, totally derailed your thread, there. >_<

    Thank you for standing up for women bloggers, because it is serious nonsense that people think death threats and rape jokes are an appropriate response to–well, anything, really.

    I really don’t want to see the internet losers like that are trying to create. That internet would be an incredible waste of copper.

  208. I’m not sure whether it’s okay to help explain it to you, htom #218, or whether Scalzi would prefer not, so I’ll go ahead and he can decide, as it is rather relevant to the topic in terms particularly of the blog link to Tiger Beat and her mansplaining Professor Feminism and criticism of women in general. Men have politically, socially and legally held the power in all countries and still do, though women have made inroads in some countries. A large part of holding that power and the unconscious privilege that comes with it is being able to intimidate women physically and with threats of same and of disapproval, which is something both men and women can employ to attempt to control other women with a much higher success rate than with men, since women live perpetually from birth in a climate of violence of which rape is a big but not total part. Another large part of holding that power and the unconscious privilege that comes with it is to view women as the equivalent of kids on various issues, of having to need to have things explained to them because their understanding is inferior, to be taught, to be told what to do for their own good, rather than accepting that women are perfectly capable of figuring out their own choices.

    So telling women that they should take self-defense lessons is patronizing because you are acting as if they haven’t thought of their circumstances in a violent society, need it explained to them and need to be instructed in how they should live their lives according to your much wiser views as if they were children. It’s patronizing because it’s you insisting that they should do what you say for their own good. It’s infantilizing women rather than listening to them. It’s treating them not as your equal — even though we know the suggestion is made with good intentions — but as if they were your inferior who you are trying to help improve. As such, it is indeed a form of blaming the victim, especially coupled with the analogy of having to lock your car or your door. Locking your car or front door is not at all the same thing as taking martial arts training or carrying a gun, and none of those has any definite success rate at stopping theft and rape attacks, although they may make us personally feel more secure (or not.) And to say that the fact that roughly 9 million women will be raped in the U.S. alone is outlier is further patronizing to women, as Scalzi was delicately trying to point out, and bringing the focus on men and what’s important to men and how men are viewed in society while downplaying the trauma, worries and difficulties in society experienced by women that make it impossible for them to be equal in the society in terms of safety and control. It’s patronizing because you’re a guy and you shouldn’t be telling her what she should do about your fellow men bothering or attacking her. It’s patronizing because you’re mansplaning about a subject, and for that matter, statistics on the subject, that every adult woman knows way better than any guy — claiming to be the expert when you are not. It’s patronizing because in many countries, women have to veil themselves on the argument that men cannot control themselves in terms of violence and sexual dysfunction, and this allows women to be tightly controlled and not have say in their lives, and the argument that women have to take self-defense courses because some men cannot control themselves in terms of violence and sexual dysfunction also allows women to be tightly controlled and not have a say in their lives.

    It is women’s right, as equal adults, to decide how they will live their lives. That includes women who are disabled and not able to take self-defense classes, women who do not have the financial ability to take such lessons or access to workable free ones, women who do not want to hit others even in self-defense or fire a gun at them, women who prefer to follow the advice of law enforcement that running away if possible or even passively submitting has a better survival rate than grappling physically with an attacker in most situations, and women who get drunk at 2 a.m. in club clothes, go home with an attacker, change their minds about sex and never took a self-defense class. You can say that it would be better for a woman not to do that, but it’s patronizing and blaming the victim for the behavior of her attacker and for living in a violent society that continually threatens women as easier targets because of their gender.

    It doesn’t matter if we can’t ever totally eliminate violent crime and rape and sexual harassment from the world. What matters is trying to increase the number of people, men and women, who view women as equal beings who are entitled to safety and sexual safety whatever their life choices, and regardless of issues of violence towards men. And one of those aspects of safety is the Internet, where martial arts very seldom come into play. And on the Internet, listening to women on the issue instead of mansplaining how they should fix the problem will greatly improve the climate. It will also mean you don’t get called patronizing and that women don’t have to take a patronizing tone back trying to explain that you’re acting like Tarzan and treating them like Jane.

  209. Uh, I also kind of missed, cross-posted on the Mallet warnings, so if I seemed to be further derailing, I apologize. Do as you see fit, as always. I know these debates are wearing for you to umpire, but we appreciate that you tackle tough issues. I wish female bloggers were freer to do so also.

  210. #210 by Craig Ranapia on September 1, 2011 – 7:23 pm

    #htom @ #204
    Men have to learn to understand “No!” and obey, and women have learn to say “No!” before it’s too late. Absent that, we wander into trying to read the minds of the participants,

    Errr… Tom, this might be a crazy idea but how about men take absolute and unconditional ownership of what they do with their dicks? It’s been working for me so far… And, yeah, I don’t think any mutant mind-reading powers are required to discern that if someone is unconscious or barely able to string together a coherent sentence, your idea of “consent” is somewhat self-serving. And unless you’ve clearly and explicitly negotiated such things in advance, when a woman is crying or struggling she’s really not into you at all.

    You have to look at the hard cases. Hypothetical: There are roughly a score of young adults at a party. People of both sexes notice that A and B are going at it “hot and heavy”, commenting that A has just asked C (who’s out of town) to marry him, and others that B has said this is her “last chance” to fix A’s attention on her. A and B approach the hosts and request A’s car keys. The host turns to the designated non-drinking couple of the evening, they agree that B — but not A — can be allowed to drive home. (This is an idiosyncrasy of the hosts; they’re really opposed to drunken driving, and you consent to their decision as to whether you can drive home when you come to the party; if you are unable to drive, someone else will take you home, you can pick up your car in the morning.)

    Laughing, B agrees to take A home, he consents, and they leave together. Talk turns to whether they’ll do it in the parking lot, along the way, his parking lot, her parking lot … the remaining young ladies even start a pool as to how many times, if any, given A’s wobbly state.

    Next morning A appears, gets his keys, and leaves. Life goes on.

    Two weeks later, B accuses A of raping her that evening in his apartment. He says there was sex, but it was consensual. She did not mention this encounter to her roommates; he did not mention it to his.

    Two weeks after that, B withdraws her complaint; the County Prosecutor drops the criminal charges. Honor Court removes A’s scholarship, citing A’s drunken behavior.

    C declines A’s offer of marriage. A year later, he asks again, she accepts.

    (my role in this fabrication would be host; my roommate and I did have parties like that. Keys were put in a giant brandy sniffer.)

    What happened that night, and later?

    (Actually, something happened in each of the two week intervals, if that’s not too big a hint; it’s a hypothetical and while I have an answer, it’s also a fabrication.)

    Both parties have to take control of their behavior, and even then it can be a mess.

  211. Kat, if I understand correctly, you consider my treating women as equals to be “patronizing” because I am a male?

  212. FWIW, regarding the knitting blogger: the harasser (a woman) took issue with a Canadian knitting blogger for alleged anti-US posts (this was a ridiculous allegation). Knitting didn’t enter into it at all. The harasser has a blog of her own, on which she writes frequently about her ongoing mental health issues, medication, and therapy. I don’t know how typical this is, but I do know that the woman who was doing the harassing got a lot of harassment back from fans of the better-known blogger.

  213. htom @228.

    I think it might be sort of like coming into a conversation between two expert knitters and starting to explain your feelings on knitting because you’ve read a few books on the subject, talked to a few people but have never held yarn. The conversation that they are having has a level of expertise, based on experience that you personally as a non-knitter do not.

    In a sense, by treating them as equals in this situation where, even though you are their equal in a broader humanity sense, you are not their equal in this area of life because you do not have their greater experience in the subject.You end up belittling them in that way.

    In the case of “how women deal with rape”, you are limited, like I am, because a man will not ever have those experiences, and will never have that level of “holding the yarn” expertise. It is not about equality it is about your equality not equating to their equality+experience.

    I agree that you might have some interesting ideas from an outside perspective, and as a bright guy you might have something to say- but that is just it, a bright+guy might equal woman+experience. But then that leaves out the bright part for women.

    Since the women not being bright part of the equation, an accidental omission on your part, is part of an equation that is a well known part of misogyny going back generations, I think it might sort of explain the entire mansplaining equation.

    I am not saying that you don’t think women are bright, but by mansplaining you don’t show it. In its absence it is how you come across to some people like me. That is at least this man’s take on mansplaining, others with better experience on being on the other side of it might have a better understanding than I do.

  214. A number of people have been citing Naomi Dunford’s “Death Threats” post as an example. I think it’s not as perfect an example as people might think, once placed in context:

    The examples she quoted had to be snipped to look more menacing than they actually were.

    Anything else I can say on the matter would be more than a bit derailing from the topic at hand, so I’ll stop here, but I wanted to clarify things for those who had mentioned that situation.

  215. First of all, John, you do a great job. Obviously, discussions like this often take a form of depth-first search, meaning that one line is followed regardless of whether it would be dubbed a success. You act as a limit (of course, your blog and so forth), but you do it in a totally awesome way. Thank you. That is certainly a big part of why I love reading this blog.

    The general problem is in my opinion that the tone around many parts of this internet, be they anonymous or not, is greatly lacking. For myself, I try to be moderate but also call out when something seems like a no-go for me. However, most of the time I try to follow the “Don’t be a dick!” by Wil Wheaton.

  216. Joe @175 –

    1) if you think that male fans of SF/F authors are less likely than the general public to engage in acts of misogyny, harassment, sexism, and abuse (with lashings of racism and homophobia thrown in whenever possible), you have never been to a Con.

    2) Mental health is not a good proxy, and I feel it’s ableist of you to say so. We are talking about sexism and misogyny, pure and simple, not mental health problems. Unless the DSM 5 is going to finally include Gender Rigidity Disorder and Sexism Dysfunction NOS as diagnostic categories.

    It would be nice to be able to explain away casual harassment and abuse of women as the act of the mentally ill, but that is both highly unfair to the mentally ill, and undeservedly exonerates those without mental illness.

    Sexism (and racism, and homophobia, and etc.) are like Palmolive: You’re soaking in it. It may be uncomfortable to think that this kind of abuse comes from people just like you: who have the same levels of education, the same hobbies, move in the same circles, etc. But that doesn’t make it not true. Trying to “other” the people who commit online or offline harassment of women is fundamentally dishonest.

  217. Sheila O’Shea @231: That blog post does more to prove the point about how women bloggers are treated than it does to challenge it.

    “Fat,” “ugly,” and “cow” are the least of the epithets the author of that post levels at Ms. Dunford. The others are worse. He’s also spreading private business of hers that has absolutely nothing to do with him all over the internet. Classy.

    On top of that, he admits to sending a threatening letter. He just mocks her for taking it seriously, because it was a pop culture reference and therefore a “joke.” Unoriginal threats are still threats, and cowards have a habit of couching their abusive behavior as “comedy” so that they can punish their victims further (and avoid trouble) by claiming it was all a big laugh and their victims are weak/stupid/liars for feeling threatened.

    Since studies have shown that people using feminine names online are subjected to twenty-five times more abuse than people using masculine names, I think it’s safe to suggest that her gender played a big part in his choice to harass her. If he’d heard nasty rumors about Scalzi, or Cory Doctorow, I somehow don’t think he’d have been as quick to send threatening letters and air their private business on his blog.

  218. mythago wrote, whilst I was fast asleep on the other side of the pond:

    ‘WRT self-defense: I would like to gently suggest that the posters advocating women learn self-defense take a moment to pause and realize how patronizing that sounds.’

    I would like to forcefully suggest that posters might try actually reading the posts of those who have commented on children’s self defence, adult’s self defence, and disabled people’s self defence, before they make profoundly patronising comments.

    And yes, I know; an Utopian dream…

  219. I’m female on the internet, and have been for about thirteen, fourteen years now (since about mid-1997). In my time I’ve been cyber-stalked for posting on a moderated fat-acceptance newsgroup (said stalker would follow up any post I made with a private email to me full of bile, spite and shite – the worst was 1600 lines of the same insult, copied and pasted over and over). Said stalker was using a name I identified as male (and wasn’t just attacking me – they were attacking a number of people using the same newsgroup with the same sorts of tactic) and a number of throwaway email addresses to do so. It was very disturbing when it happened, and I had to admit to being very happy that I was (hopefully) living on a different continent to this person (I’m based in Australia; I suspect they were based in the US).

    I’d point out this person didn’t stop me from posting to the newsgroup. What succeeded in doing that was a patchy newsfeed (ah, the joys of living in Australia) and a lack of time.

    These days, some ten or twelve years on from there, and I haven’t been treated to the same level of sheer bilious hatred for the perceived crime of being female and being online for a long while (and no, that isn’t an invitation to anyone who wants to start slinging shit at me). I suspect my main camouflage here is being so very boring and dull that nobody’s interested in what I have to say – most of the time I stick to writing posts (somewhat infrequently) on my personal Dreamwidth and InsaneJournal accounts, or commenting on other people’s journals. I don’t have a huge readership, and if I’m honest with myself, most of the time I wouldn’t want one. The larger the readership, the greater the potential that one of the readers is the type who’ll get offensive if I step outside the lines they’ve drawn for what constitutes “acceptable behaviour” for me.

    But yeah, being female online does mean I make some choices to avoid this sort of behaviour. I don’t use IM systems any more – I used to use IRC for a while, and I used to use AIM and Yahoo!IM, but I got sick of the sort of nincompoop who’d take any vaguely feminine (or at least not obviously masculine) nick’ as being an invitation to cybersex. It got to the point where my standard reaction to “A/S/L” included the word “partnered” at the end, just to ensure the twit went away and didn’t come back. (Which was insulting – I’m not available for sex, therefore I’m not worth a conversation.) I also don’t participate in game chat on any online games I’m playing, either. Not worth the hassle. My Xbox360 isn’t connected up to the household wireless (okay, this is mainly because I don’t see the point in spending another $150 on a wireless dongle to do so, but it’s also because I’ve no interest in becoming involved in the kinds of conversations which are immortalised on sites like Fat, Ugly or Slutty). Again, not worth the hassle. I don’t use Twitter all that often; I don’t use social networking sites.

    Maybe I’m “missing out” on a big part of the whole internet experience. But if I am, it’s the part I’m quite happy to be missing, thanks.

  220. Stevie, et al:

    I think we’ve reached the useful end of the “women should learn self-defense” discussion. I don’t think there’s any question that women learning to defend themselves physically against aggression is a very good thing; I don’t think there’s any question that it’s only one element in a much larger situation. So let’s have that as read moving forward.

  221. Annalee — have a look at the tag cloud on the Salty Droid blog. Note that most of the names are male. Have a look at any of the other names on that list and see if he’s any gentler with them. Example:

    Naomi Dunford didn’t get the Droid’s attention by being an outspoken woman; she got it by selling smoke-and-mirrors marketing advice and attempting to dodge taxes with the money she earned from it.

  222. John, thank you and noted. Going back to your comment much earlier in the conversation:

    ‘How something is said is just as relevant regarding incivility (and abuse)’

    This has remained largely unexplored in the discussion so far, but it seems to me that the tone in which something is said/written can be just as horrid as specific insults; in some ways it can be worse because there is much more wriggle-room available to enable nasty people to weasel their way out of it, usually with the addition of overt insults.

    I don’t know how we can tackle that beyond pointing out to people that it’s been spotted…


  223. This post speaks more to where the thread has gone than to the original post.

    I was once a poltical office holder in a small, to remain unnamed, community. Its citizens were highly educated and self-selectedly weighted to be left/liberal/eccentric. There was a dispute as to whether a man accused of a sexual assault of another member should be expelled from the community immediately without waiting for results from the legal process, etc. A woman, who I generally liked and respected, said that because of inherent bias in society, the presumption of innocence should be reversed in sexual assault cases and we should assume he was guilty. I don’t think we formally expelled him; I am not sure we even had a chance to take the vote. I believe he left under the social pressure or for outside legal reasons. I believed that the people who called for his outlawry were wrong, both as a matter of principle and because I knew him and did not think we had the whole story. To be blunt, I did not totally believe the accuser and thought there was a good chance there had been consent or more than normal levels of ambiguity.

    I can see people drawing up the usual battle lines and preparing the usual speeches, but Rod Sterling-ing, did I mention the victim was also a man? Was I more wrong for wearing the anti-homophic hat and Golden Thread of Justice hat over the don’t-blame-the victim hat? (And to be fair, the other side was also holding up a principle despite the gender identity of those involved.) Part of this rests on the idea that I believed there was a good chance the victim wanted the sexual contact, but then wanted to disavow it. Change a few body parts and my narrative becomes icky and very non-PC. Which social narrative of repression and empowerment gets me the cookie in this contest? The women had very clear and personal (in the good sense of the world) reasons for making the political choice of wanting this man out. I had clear (if not particularly personal-yeah, I admit I’m a breeder) reasons for thinking he deserved a chance. (We could argue whether society was homophobic in being quick and efficient in tracking down a gay “predator” where it would have hemmed and hawwed on a hetero situation. Or whether I was sexist for ascribing more agency to an adult male actor than I would to a woman in the same situation.)

    To get to something like the point: I imagine that if the complaint came from a woman, I would have probably swallowed my principle (Golden Thread) and let them stone him; I don’t claim to be a good person. (And in this somewhat bottled culture at least, Don’t blame the Victim was a pretty strong internalized commandment, even for me.) Would that be supporting the sisters and taking back society for the disempowered? Or would that be infantilizing women by reinforcing the idea that women need special protections from [male] hegemony? And the assertion of that protection takes precedence over the more abstract principles of modern liberalism?

    We agree that women are much more likely to be targets of online abuse than men are. We are unclear on the distribution and/or significance of the genders of the abusers. If we managed to put a clamp on the “male” type of abuse, have we tackled the “serious” problem? I ask this honestly. Do women want to give (the male controlled) hegemony consent to police the borders of intra-gender hostilities? Do they want men to lock up (metaphorically or otherwise) their own bad actors (and their own bad actions), and then leave it at that? [Obviously, we all, but mostly you, want hegemony to become gender balanced, but just as we have to do something while we wait for True Socialism, we have to come up with some intermediate points first.]

  224. going way back to Alpha Lyra @176: The couple you know are “perfectly nice” in real life because they are aware that if they acted that way in real life, there would be serious consequences. If they tried to constantly troll their bosses, they’d lose their jobs. If they are rude to their friends in real life, those friends go away. Online, the consequences of their behavior are no more than “darn, we need to go find a new site since this one banned us”. They don’t treat you that way because they don’t think you’re helpless; that’s about it.

    And getting back to our host’s original point –

    I don’t see that it’s at all useful to fret that it’s impossible to cleanse the Internet of fuckmuppets, or that we’ll still have to deal with trolls even if 99% of the ones we have are hit with permanent cleansing rays of enlightenment. The issue is not that there are assholes on the Internet, but that there is a particular, extremely pervasive type of fuckmuppetry that is directed at female bloggers/commenters/internet types because they are female, and/or because they are female and have acted in a way that the fuckmuppet thinks females shouldn’t act. Reducing this crap to ‘wow, that was an outlier’ levels means digging into what’s behind this mentality, and observing that women can be jackasses too or that people are touchy about politics doesn’t really further that discussion.

  225. John, sorry. I did see it, but thought the “this particular discussion of Annalee’s” was referring to the Brad/Annalee back and forth about “outliers”, mostly based on you making several suggestions to Brad to consider whether further exploration of “outliers” was actually fruitful.

  226. Not every guy does this, okay? Just stating that out loud. But there sure seems to be some kind of rogue THING that apparently crops up in the male gender a lot compared to the female one where they just have this RAGE against women. I honestly think it’s that they hate that women exist. Maybe it’s a rage because they can’t get laid, maybe it’s a giant power trip because women are inherently less strong than men and thus easier targets to pick on and make themselves feel strong, maybe they’re ashamed about their dicks, I don’t know what it is specifically. But dear god, whatever it is makes those people totally unhinged.

    I consider myself INCREDIBLY lucky to have had very little harassment for being female online. Probably for similar reasons to Megpie, because I have managed to stay under the radar enough. I have blogs/online journals and have for years and the latter has occasionally been targeted by those brief “making fun of online journal” sites (that’s okay, I’m sure I said dumb shit and that was fair game), but I don’t plmp myself for attention and have presumably few readers (I won’t check stats). I’m sure that’s why. I also think it helps that I don’t post my e-mail address anywhere that’s easy to find– you have to hunt for it. it really cuts down on my “youre fat n ugly” random e-mails out of nowhere and I haven’t gotten any in years! Once people notice that you are female, on the Internet, and exist in larger numbers, though… here come the death threats because HOW DARE YOU EXIST. And really, it doesn’t matter what you said online, it’s that you exist and talk while owning a vagina that’s offensive.

    What worries me is that I am tentatively plotting to be a lot more public online/possibly do my own business in a year or two, and thus I’ll be next in line to start getting the death threats and stalkers. Oh goodie! I’d disguise my gender, but in the modern era where people are tracking your ass down and you have to publicize yourself out the wazoo especially with your smiling picture attached to your work, I don’t think that’ll be doable. I think from the getgo I will just shut down ALL possible methods of contact and conversation with me. No blog comments, no e-mail posted on my website. You cannot “chat” with me, there will be no “community.” Because if i put myself out there, the creeps will come after me. I’m enough of a “crazy magnet” in real life, so I know damn well that it’ll be a billion times worse on the Internet if anyone notices I”m here.


  227. Sheila @238: I’ve never heard of either of these folks before. I guess Salty Droid is a TMZ-clone? Looking at his root site, he’s just a terrible person, from what I can tell. Although his writing is so awful, I’m not entirely sure what his appeal is. I don’t Naomi Dunford either, though Salty Droid apparently thinks she’s a “chubby-spider”. I gather that she’s involved in some controversy involving debunking a charity or sleeping with Dave Navarro or some thing. Doing a quick review of the site however, I think it proves John’s point more than you think.

    Doing a quick search on the one of the Itsy-bitzy spider articles, I find 234 record of ‘fat’ in the comments. In the one you link, there were, iirc, 34 mentions of ‘fat’. Did a search of an article on James Ray…a man found guilty of manslaughter for three people…and it doesn’t occur once. Neither one is fat, judging by the pictures. Dunford is actually quite thin, if the pictures Salty Droid uses are accurate. Articles on someone named Dean Graziosi or Brian Clark (whoever they are) turn up no results for ‘ugly’ and only one for ‘fat’…but only in the context of a ‘big fat paycheck’, though the author and commenters all hate them. It seems like this only showcases that commenters appear to have no problem throwing such epithets against a female target but don’t go there for a male one.

    In the other article you linked to show fairness, it does show that he is abusive to men as well as women. However, here we have an article where he’s actually directly responding to the target citing how in-shape he is and Salty Droid directly challenges that (by stating that he must have been a manatee if the picture shown is the best shape he’s been in 10 years)…but the comments only have 3 occurrences of people calling him fat. That seems to reinforce the point John was making, to me.

  228. “… a choice you can make because you don’t have a one in six chance of being sexually assaulted; you may wish to entertain from that perspective rape is a normal part of the culture — “normal” in this case being something that every woman must incorporate into her world view.”

    Thank you, John. From the bottom of my heart.

  229. Jennifer @ 244.

    I really wish I understood why some men behave this way. I’m don’t know how much it would help solve the problem but it would help I think with educating some of them not to be. For others, I am sadly not sure that is possible. It is not to excuse the behavior, it is just that with many of these people I think that not letting them to engage in it . A more proactive mallet is needed for some more than others- a mallet registry to coordinate- I really don’t know. The frustration makes me mad especially because I see the problem, and although I see ways to mitigate their destructiveness and try to implement them when I can, I don’t have any great silver bullet. I can’t remotely begin to say it will get better (not even good just better), even if I hope it will.

    All I can say, is that I value your comments here, and although I can definitely see how your proposed approach could work, I would miss not being able to interact with you more fully. I would miss you as part of my community. I don’t think it is fair to ask someone to put up with all that crap, and I won’t. I just feel at a loss.

  230. Thanks for doing the legwork on insult frequency, WizarDru.

    Whether or not she’s done something for which she deserves to be called out, there is a difference between calling someone out for bad behavior and carrying out a gender-based campaign of abuse, harassment, and threats.

    Michael Vick, for instance, tortured animals for sport, for which I and many people hold a rather low opinion of him. But anyone who uses his behavior as an excuse to hurl racial epithets at him is still a racist.

    Likewise, whether or not Ms. Dunford has done things worthy of censure, anyone using that as an excuse to call her a fat cow and send her threatening messages is still being a sexist jerk.

  231. I feel at a loss too, Edward. I don’t think we can really fight someone’s ticking time bomb inside them. We can talk about men publicly shaming those men (and good on those guys for doing it), we can talk about all these self-defense moves for women, but we can’t really solve their desire to dominate and attack in the first place. What would solve that anyway? Brain damage? Drugs? Act of God? I don’t know. I was reading that “Kill Me” story by Vylar Kaftan that just went up on Escape Pod, about a woman who (long story short) rents herself out to be killed and resurrected every 3 months because some men just have that urge to kill a woman. I wrote a similar story (except with robots and no live female S/M interests) that creeped me out so bad that the only person I’ve shown it to is my shrink. I’d be afraid to publish it in case one of *those* guys saw it. But it does seem like those men *need* a target. And hell, it might be a better way to solve it if they had a willing victim or a robot to beat on instead of live, unconsenting women. Then again, the unconsenting is probably a large part of their pleasure in that :(

    It just seems like that’s the only way to “solve” the problem is not to make yourself fully available if you’re out as a female, you know? If anyone else with more experience in this topic has other thoughts on how to handle it before I start, let me know, but I suspect there isn’t really anything else unless you just disappear with Kathy Sierra.

    I possibly “get” it more than other people a bit because (a) my brain does tend to figure out dark side thinking better, and (b) I’ve had some friends with abusive husbands and I’ve gotten to see how they operate up close and personal. The guys can be acting perfectly friendly at the time (and I actually have the knack of coming off as totally inoffensive even to those guys, so I’ve never been their target or driven off the way that these guys usually want to drive off their wife’s friends), but you can just feel the seething rage going off behind their eyes, the pressure, the buildup. The level of rage that they openly let out goes up and down, but it’s always there. It’s like hanging out with a ticking time bomb. Though as far as I know these guys never acted like this online, because they had a nice target at home to kick already.

  232. When I was running a MUD, I noticed that the sort of vitriol I came in had a very different flavor than that directed at the male admins, and that’s been my experience consistently in some 30 years (yikes) of arguing on the Internets.

    I think that the notion of a strong woman is very objectionable to some people, and when they witness a woman speaking her mind, it terrifies them and they feel the need to shut it down immediately. There’s a lot of people with one thing or another invested in shutting down diverse voices on the Internet and the effort to silence women is part of that (imo).

  233. …”those men NEED a target”

    If you can’t control your impulses to hurt people, you don’t get to run around loose.

    Full stop.

  234. Actually, real life is a pretty broad spectrum. Some countries have it worse than we do. Some have it better. This, in itself, is evidence that “real life” is subject to variation and possibly amelioration.

  235. [Note: This comment anonymized because I don’t want to be linked to things I say about my work location
    Note, also: Sorry about the length — this is something I’ve been thinking about writing for a while, when an appropriate thread appeared]

    So, I was moved to write this comment because of Brad R. Torgesen above, but lo! I have seen the warnings of Impending Malletinization and so went back to the original post to make sure that it has relevance to the larger conversation. I’m glad I did, because I had a mini-epiphany while doing so. (Ya gotta read to the end of the comment for the mini-epiphany, tho’.)

    Two or three years ago I was reading a thread here (or possibly on Making Light) which dealt with the idea of privilege. I honestly don’t remember what specific thread it was, but it dealt with some privilege that I have — it might have been straight privilege, male privilege, or white privilege. I really don’t remember. I do remember being very put off by many of the arguments being made — the inference that I drew that people were trying to shame me by proxy, that I was bad for being [straight|male|white]. That really got my back up, especially because so many of the comments seemed to amount to saying shut the fuck up. But….

    What saved me at the time from replying and showing my ass was that a closer reading of those comments (and by closer, I mean actually paying attention to what they said as opposed to just taking offense where I might be able to justify it) showed that they were saying shut the fuck up and listen. Well, I’d like to say my consciousness was instantly raised and I became a better person overnight, but sadly I’m not that cool. I thought then (and think now) that I was a fairly socially aware person, that I was a fairly keen observer of the world around me, and that I had some insights that might be valuable to the conversation.

    But I tried shutting up and listening instead. And reflected, as the months and years went by, on my privilege and how fucking exasperating it must be to listen to some privileged jackass bloviate about crap he never has to deal with. A slow, slow process, unfortunately, but I thought about these issues and believed that this had made me a better, more empathetic person.

    So, fast forward about a year and I was working on a software project as the lead tester. Now, this was not an exceptionally impressive achievement as I was the only tester at the time. I’d been on the project for about six months when the lead at the time got another job, so hey, I get to be the lead! Yay! Now, because she was concerned about leaving the project with a relatively new person as the lead (only!) tester, my lead at the time did two things — she made sure I had the knowledge I needed to train my replacement and she actually found that replacement for the ‘junior’ testing role (this was unusual because we were both contractors, and usually contractors don’t have any say in this process, but in any case she knew someone from previous work (let’s call her Clementine) who she thought would be good and endorsed her as a candidate, which carried weight with our customer).

    For a couple of weeks, I worked with Clementine. We were heading into a release of our system, so we were doing a lot of what is called “regression testing” — testing to make sure you didn’t break anything while adding stuff — which is a great opportunity to learn the system for a new employee. I was thrilled to find that Clementine was smart, quick to learn, and trustworthy. I was also happy to find out that she was a pleasant person to share an office with — sometimes that doesn’t work out so well, even with technically capable people.

    So: smart, level-headed, personable, great tester (methodical and creative — tough to find!) — Clementine was awesome.

    The night came when we deployed our software — our team had a tradition where we’d all go out to dinner before the deployment, which started at 6 PM. So, then the developers do the deployment work which took about five hours (nasty database updates for that deployment) and then Clementine and I were up — after the deployment, we were responsible for the ‘smoke test’ — basically making sure that nothing went catastrophically wrong, all the basic features work, etc. This took us about an hour and a half. When we finished, it was about 12:30 AM (and we had to be back in the morning), and since everything had gone fine I told Clementine she could go home — I still had about an hour of mindless paperwork to do, but there was no reason for her to hang around for that.

    She said that she’d wait, she’d rather not walk to her car alone.

    And I thought: “Oh my god, she’s crazy!”

    I was really kind of stunned for a moment, but I regained my composure (I think and really, really hope that I did so before she saw how gobsmacked I was) and offered to walk her to her car right then and so I did. Because, even then, I wasn’t a total jackhole. Then, I went back up to my office to do my paperwork.

    And to think.

    A lot. About privilege.

    While I thought about privilege, it turns out, I was more than happy to mount a spirited defense of myself. Arguments for the defense (refuting the charge of Being a Priveleged Jackass):

    * Our office is in an office park in a suburban area where I have literally seen more deer (three — one of which was literally wandering around in the parking lot about 6PM one day as I was leaving) than anyone you could think was threatening (zero) — or, really any pedestrians who didn’t work in one of the buildings
    * The parking lot is very well lit, and as it turns out, her car was all of about 50 yards or so from the door
    * (Here’s where I thought I had a real slam-dunk (and also why I’m posting anonymously…)) Our office has 24 hour security, and not just rent-a-cops with walkie-talkies. Our building is guarded by federal cops who routinely carry assault rifles and combat shotguns.

    Clearly, in order to not feel safe in these environs, one would have to be unhinged. The defense rests.

    The prosecution had but one argument: shut the fuck up and listen.

    Now, as it happens, I still believe that Clementine’s assessment of the possible threats to her present that night in that place was wrong — I think it was safer than she thought.

    The point is that that doesn’t matter. I finally glimpsed, for a moment, dimly, through a cracked lens, how dangerous the world might look to her. That she’d been raised in world that shares many similarities with mine, but is fundamentally different. The way we’ve both seen the world and been present in it has colored our perceptions of it.

    I could have (if I was a total jackhole) laughed at her concerns and there is only one effect I can imagine that having — demonstrating that I, individually — and perhaps as a representative of men in general, did not understand her concerns. I honestly think that if I hadn’t learned about the concept of privilege before then, I actually might have done that — people being bad at risk analysis is something of a hobby horse of mine. Thankfully, I was partially inoculated against jackholery by then — as a direct result of reading about — and, importantly, subsequently thinking about — privilege.

    Because here’s the thing. I really do believe that Clementine perceives the world as more dangerous than it really is (at least in late night suburban office parks with guards with military hardware standing by). But, after reflecting on my own privilege — I am absolutely fucking certain that the world is actually more dangerous than I perceive it to be.

    I’m a 6 foot tall 280 pound guy — I’m overweight, but it’s the kind of overweight that lots of people might interpret as ‘linebacker gone to seed.’ Plus, white. My perception of the world is not reality — but the fact is that I really am safer simply because of how I look.

    Clementine, on the other hand was about 5 foot, maybe 100 – 120 pounds, and Asian. The world is actually more dangerous for her than it is for me.

    This sucks, on many, many levels.

    Anyway, if you’re wondering “why is he going on (and on…) about this”, I want to thank people I don’t even remember for helping make me more aware of the world around me — specifically, the people I share it with. Like I said earlier, I think there’s a real possibility that I might have dismissed or even ridiculed Clementine’s concerns that night — all in the interest of educating someone about risk assessment — had I not had that privilege conversation brewing in my head for a couple of years. I’d be pretty fucking ashamed of that, and I’m glad I didn’t do it. So, thanks.

    My tangential point — to those of you who are trying to raise awareness of privilege among the privileged — please don’t give up. It might take some time (too damn much time in my some cases) but trust that you are actually reaching people. I’m one of the most privileged people on the damn planet — I’m a straight, white, male, upper-middle class American. Somebody’s gotta keep me in line, because I know now that I can’t be trusted to do it by myself, even with good intentions.

    I know it can feel like a thankless, endless task, but please, try to remember that those of us who lurk are also reading your words, and they matter.

    Oh, the mini-epiphany? That the original post was in fact about privilege in the first place. When I first read it a couple of days ago, my takeaway was that many women are treated much worse than men online and that sucks, but was not news to me. Going back to re-read it made me realize that it’s only because of my privilege that I was able to read it that way. I have the option of recognizing the problem. Not everyone does.

  236. Anonymous: kudos for being willing to listen. From my POV as a former recipient of both sexual assault and workplace harrassment, here are a couple more data points you might not have considered:

    1. Clementine can be pretty confident you won’t assault her in the parking lot: the two of you just spent several hours alone together in an isolated space, and anyone she might report it to knows you better than they know her.

    2. A nonzero number of people know she’s working late, and I’m guessing the parking lot is empty enough that her car’s pretty easy to pick out. The deserted nature of the parking lot, if you’re worried more about an individual stalker than a random passerby, is a bug, not a feature. The deer are unlikely to come to her aid if she screams.

    3. She, or someone she knows, may previously have been harassed by a security guard, either here or elsewhere. (I don’t know how it is where you live, but here many security guards are moonlighting cops. I’ll pause while you consider the odds of success in accusing a cop of sexual assault or harassment. Mind you, I have nothing against law enforcement officers and my own experiences with them have been overwhelmingly, though not uniformly, positive: but they’re big, armed guys and they have an understandable tendency to close ranks when one of them is accused of a crime.)

  237. Anonymous, I too appreciate your post here (and no, it wasn’t rambling). But at the risk of sounding as if I’m jumping on you – I’m not, this is just more data for you – please consider that your privilege affected not only your ability to see the world through her eyes, but affected the validity of your risk analysis. In other words, you chose the relevant data points you did ‘for the defense’, as it were, because you were using a privileged viewpoint to look for those data points, and you overlooked data points that were highly relevant to Clementine’s risk-analysis – so that your belief that her analysis was still incorrect (if understandable) was flawed, because she was using different information than you were.

    From what you’ve said it seems as though your risk analysis may have not considered things like:

    – The only possible threat to “Clementine” was a random stranger in the parking lot, and not another employee of the facility who had a right to be there (perhaps even someone she knew).
    – She had never received any threats or inappropriate behavior in the past (say, a co-worker following her asking ‘but why won’t you go out with me?’) that would make her especially wary of walking to her car alone.
    – If she *were* attacked, she would have the ability to alert the security personnel in sufficient time that they would be able to prevent any harm.
    – The threat to her was immediate – somebody jumping out at her on the walk to her car – and not potential, such as a co-worker seeing her go to her car alone and deciding to follow her.

    Please consider, also, that people are generally not making only a risk analysis but a risk-benefit analysis. The chance of being assaulted by a stranger on the way to the parking lot may be small, but if that risk can be dramatically lowered by asking an apparently safe, big-guy male co-worker to walk me to my car, then it’s worth that small amount of effort.

  238. (Poor phrasing above – to be clear, what I meant is that the bullet points were what appeared to me to be assumptions Anonymous was making that may very well have been untrue.)

  239. I think sexual harrasssment in the workplace has been reduced from what it was a couple decades ago. and i think thats because a systemic solution has been implemented. women are better able to sue the company if an employee harrasses, so companies implement training about what is unacceptable behavior and have better methods of reporting, investigating, and policing bad behavior. not that it is yet perfect, but I would hope that blatant ‘sleep with me or you are fired’ situations are at least *less common* than they were say twenty years ago.

    if blogs are to workplace, then a good moderation policy is the equivalent of a good anti harassment policy at the workplace.

    not perfect, but it can make things better. hopefully it might also train people to the point of changing the culture itself.

  240. mythago, I had a woman friend ask me to walk her to her car one night. We knew each other for a long time, so I knew some of her history and knew she had experienced some pretty evil shit. I did not hesitate to grant her request and did not get into a discussion about whether her view of danger was more valid than mine. partly because it didnt matter. partly because she wasnt trying to get into an argument with me about the statistical risk of my neighborhood.

    “yoir neighborhood is dangerous enough that I require an escort” is wholly different from “I would feel better if someone walked me to my car”

    I can understand that my assessment of my neighborhood safety *for my safety* is going to be better than the safety for a woman. I can get that my assessment is likely more ptimistic than it deserves but if you want to argue that some woman you know nothing about must have an infallible assessment of reality, because her experience doesnt color her perception the way it does the man in that interaction you also know nothing about, then that reveals more about your bias than anything else.

    I get my experience can color my perceptions of reality, *because* I get thats true for all people. men and women. white and black. privileged and non privileged.

  241. Anon: I remember that conversation on Making Light (well, or at least, a similar one, watching someone who clearly felt attacked try to slow down and listen, which impressed me at the time because it had to be difficult). Reading your comment here has given me faith that sometimes just making a small difference can lead to a big one.

  242. 2. A nonzero number of people know she’s working late, and I’m guessing the parking lot is empty enough that her car’s pretty easy to pick out. The deserted nature of the parking lot, if you’re worried more about an individual stalker than a random passerby, is a bug, not a feature.


    Definitely a non-zero possibility that’s obvious in retrospect—but kinda illustrates the nature of privilege (at least on my part) when you don’t have it come to mind first.

  243. Annonymous, you’re my new hero. That’s it exactly. It’s very difficult to discuss women issues even with great, reasonable guys on the Web, because the response tends to be: I think the women in my life are beautiful, strong and better than me, so you are being patronizing, making me look bad, tarring all guys with the same brush, avoiding that women have to take responsibility for their behavior, pretending guys don’t go through stuff too, don’t know what you’re talking about, etc. And that’s reasonable guys who are on our side and love their daughters, such as in this conversation. So imagine with the millions of other guys who don’t believe that, who sometimes strongly believe the exact opposite of that, and how they react to women opening up their mouths about nearly any subject on the Internet. All those worries that we have in the lighted parking lot, when the odds of danger are low — but must still be worried about however low they are because we’re women — become very tangible and much higher when you’re participating in the Internet, often with people whose technical abilities to find out information about you, like where you live, is much higher than your own. And on the Net, law enforcement is very little and limited; you could be harmed by someone hacking electronically on the other side of the globe. And most women, we aren’t trained to handle those situations and even when we try to handle them reasonably, someone else will think we did the wrong thing.

    It isn’t just men, of course. It’s millions of men and women who are going through mental turmoil. Not a mental disease like schizophrenia or manic depression, but trauma, disassociation, maybe even from childhood, that effects their view of the world, from belief in conspiracy theories to an inability to separate their identities from their favorite authors. And that turmoil then can fixate very easily on a woman, not just because a woman is an easy target with less power and less likely to fight back, but because the society doesn’t just limit what women can do; it expends a lot of resources and media to constantly defining, commenting on and criticizing female behavior, words, appearance and essence. We’ve been taught, from the time that we are small, that you are supposed to give your opinion on female behavior and that the woman should listen to you. So when you do that, male or female, and the woman does not listen to you and agree, it seems to generate far more anger than it does with a man. Women are supposed to be told what they are supposed to be, whether it’s to be pro-American, a stay at home mom, a working mom, a trainee in martial arts, a not drinking and not flirting party goer, etc. So if Clementine had decided that she’d risk going out to her car alone at 12:30 a.m. and another woman colleague heard about it, she’d probably read Clementine the riot act for doing so. So women bloggers who do acquire enough people listening to them on a subject are then going to get it from all sides.

  244. I write a personal finance column for MSN Money. Sometimes people don’t agree with what I write. Fine. That’s what the comments section is for: To let readers share their own points of view.
    But what enrages me are the readers who don’t address my premise or whether I supported that premise — instead, they attack me personally, calling me “ugly” or “fat” or suggesting that I get a makeover.
    What has that got to do with what I wrote???
    The reason they do this: The quickest way to devalue/dismiss/shoot down a woman in the U.S. is to tell her she doesn’t look good. The corollary being, “If you are not ornamental, you do not deserve to breathe air.”
    Yes, I know I need to grow a thicker skin. I should not let these trogs bother me. However, I do think that comments like “Die, cunt, die” are a LITTLE over the top.

  245. I wound up here via a Geek Feminism link list, and the topic really hits home. I’m a feminist scholar working mostly in the field of trauma studies. I discovered BitNet back in 1987, and never looked back. In 1993 I put up one of the first substantive humanities web sites and became a net.personality when there just weren’t that many women visible in electronic environments. I enjoy the freedom and speed of cyberculture(s) and wouldn’t ever give it up. On the other hand, I’ve endured an unending raft of abuse, misogyny, bile, and threats throughout this period. Not all of them come via email or post comment (some crazy people apparently still prefer to write letters), but all of them focus on the projections of the authors: I’m a man-hater. I’m a Commie. I’m a bitch. I deserve to be raped. People would be happy if I was dead. And so on. Lately (in the last 5-6 years) the insults have started to include accusations that I’m a “racist” and a “sexist” — the result of right-wing spin / talking points that insist that any feminist or anti-racist is actually a “white-hater” or “man-hater.” I’ve started to see a pattern (similar to that which liberal political sites are seeing) of right-wingers targeting my work and attacking in packs either as volunteer or paid shills for right wing organizations.

    What I’m trying to say here is that the misogynistic crap spewed on female bloggers is often political in nature. The right wing includes both men and women in its ranks, and while the men will make the “lesbian Commie manhater” remarks, right-wing women take the role of enforcing the patriarchy: You’re a horrible mother! No man would want you! You’re a murderer for supporting abortion! etc. Often these attacks aren’t based on the subject of a blog or post, but on the belief among supporters of patriarchy that a particular woman is getting out of line. In this sense, apparently personal attacks are often really political attacks in disguise. And feminists recognize this fairly readily, because we pretty much invented the phase, “The personal is political.”

    There’s nothing like carrying a shot-gun from room to room (because it would suck to be shot in the kitchen when you’d left your gun in the living room), waiting for the arrival of the person who threatened to rape and murder you. Or being told by your local police (who have no idea what cyber-stalking is) that they can’t do anything until the guy shows up. Or having a female police officer come over to your house to tell you (secretly and illegally) that the guy you’re waiting for has been charged with rape and assault multiple times. Or to hear that the guy left his home suddenly (four states away), and that no one knows where he is… especially since his last threatening email said he’s “going on a long drive.” Yeah, all that’s pretty bad. But it’s infinitely worse because you know that he’s already killed a lot of people — he’s a Vietnam war vet who lovingly describes his joy at gunning down “gooks” from his helicopter. In fact, the whole harassment thing started because I made a statement about disliking the racist epithets that vets were still using, 25+ years after their service, to describe Vietnamese people (and other random flavors of “Asian”).

    But that didn’t upset me nearly as much as the fact that the BitNet community from whence my harasser sprang kept downplaying the importance of the abuse that this right wing vet and others of his kind were heaping on me, despite its increasingly graphic nature. Mind you, this was an environment with a majority anti-war vet presence. Guys who liked to think of themselves as feminists. But the cross-male bonding and “buddyhood” went a lot deeper than their convictions about feminism or equality. Some of the women on the list, who were much more conservative than the majority of the men, also joined in telling me that the threats were not “real” and I was making a big deal out of nothing. As other women inhabiting e-space have described, my choices were either to keep my opinions to myself (i.e., tolerate racism & sexism) in my community, or to engage in public discussions in which my opponents grew ever more abusive (making myself a public spectacle and punching bag). I engaged in discussion at first, until I eventually realized that the opportunity to spew hatred at me in a public forum was actually the whole point of the exercise, and that daily exposure to that circus of abuse actually normalized it for the community, including those who wrote to me back-channel (almost all of the women and the majority of men, actually) that they thought I was correct in calling out racists. (Let me also say that I wasn’t some community “outsider” but co-owner of the list, and, arguably, the person who published, via traditional media, more writing by Vietnam vets than anyone else in the country.)

    As it turns out, the threat was only a threat — he sent the email about the “long drive” to terrify me and then took off to Texas to visit a friend without telling anyone (including his wife) where he was going. It took the FBI three days to locate him and then, of course, no charges were made because cyberstalking isn’t “real stalking” (not that anyone took “real” stalking seriously in those days either). Not much seems to have changed in the ensuing years, though, because many feminist friends have shared similar stories, year after year.

    I’m less public than I once was, but I still get a couple of hate mails a week from right-wingers responding to material from the website I maintained from 1993-1999 (The Sixties Project). Most of them think that I wrote the Black Panther Party Platform, so they clearly don’t read very well. But it doesn’t matter. They have hate and they’re going to spew it, and spew it in a particular kind of way because they “know” I’m neither male, nor white, and they “know” I’m an evil Communist set on destroying Amurrika. The insults and abuse I receive are always both gendered and raced — that is the fashion in which these men express their political viewpoints.

    What’s the lesson in this? It’s clearly true that a minority of men engage in this outright abusive behavior, just like a minority of men rape or physically assault women. But, as other folks have mentioned, this doesn’t make women safe because we never know what category you guys fall into until we get to know you. And sometimes, even then, we make serious mistakes. (A true psychopath is often charming and very difficult to spot.) You guys have choices in how you respond to this situation. You can go around whining that you are a great guy and say it hurts your feelings to be lumped in with the evil sons-of-bitches. Or, you can understand that women live under siege in an environment where trusting “men in general” is not exactly a survival trait. (1 in 6, remember?)

    And if you decide that whining is not for you, the best way you can help us is to make male decency visible. Every single decent guy in the virtual room needs to kick the cyber-butt of the jackass(es) who abuse. In my own cyber-life, I have to say that the people who have hurt me most are not the slimeballs who hurl their crap in my direction, but the male “allies” who tell me backchannel that they feel bad about what people are saying to me, at they same time they manage only a weak defense, or even maintain silence as they witness sexism and racism. I don’t need men to fight my battles, but I do need allies who are willing to publicly stand by the beliefs they profess to hold. Because, as others point out, there are more decent guys than abusive guys, and we should visibly see that in public debate. Otherwise, the “decent” guys are talking the talk, but still avoiding giving up some of their male privilege to stay “outside” such debates.


  246. Kali Tal, I know that I have sometimes had the fear that if I speak up when a woman is being attacked I’ll be accused of being a “white knight” and thus part of the “male protection racket” that I heard so much about from the radical feminists I knew and studied with in the 70s. And that’s not just fear of an unjust accusation; I’ve sometimes feared that I would be doing just that, i.e. disrespecting women’s ability to defend themselves online.

    I’ve mostly overcome this, and the comments from women on the topic in this thread are further reassurance that my preferred mode (speaking up for anyone, male or female, who’s being unfairly attacked) is appropriate. But I daresay there are other men in a different stage of that worry.

  247. Xopher @266: Not having been alive in the 70s, I’m probably missing some context, but when it comes to bile on the internet, dealing with “white knighting” seems like a problem I’d prefer to having to fend for myself. When someone’s being a jerk to me, the way my friends and other members of the community react to it matters a lot more to me than what the jerk is doing. Their silence is more hurtful than any troll’s abuse.

    There are plenty of ways to stand up for someone without patronizing them or putting words in their mouth–see upthread where Scalzi stood up for me without suggesting that I was any sort of delicate flower. “I statements” are something of a trite cliche in conflict resolution, but they work.

    When dealing with a harasser (and this train of thought has officially left the previous station; I’m not suggesting that Brad was harassing me), declaring that you’re not cool with their behavior for your own sake is often a more powerful message than trying to “defend” the target. Harassment isn’t really about the target, or whether they’re strong enough to defend themselves. Harassing behavior hurts the entire community, so any member of that community has a right to not be ok with it.

  248. Ms Freedman @264: I don’t think you need a thicker skin, or to not let it get to you. You’re not under any obligation to accept this bad behavior, or personal attacks. I think you should follow the advice in John’s follow-up What to Do About the Dickheads. Presumably has a comment policy and some moderation? Ah, yes, I see that they do, including a robust reporting system, and a requirement to use Windows Live ID’s. Good. Use them. If other readers don’t flag the trogs, do it yourself. Then be done with it. Let the mods do the malleting for you, that’s their job, while you can smile smugly to yourself that the got what they deserved.

  249. Xopher@266, I agree with Annalee that “white knighting” is the least of my problems online. I also agree with her recommendation to focus on the fact that *you* think a harasser’s language is out of line. I don’t need a rescue, but pretty much every person I know appreciates strong back-up. The sad truth is that men who don’t take women seriously often *do* take men seriously, and the insults that disqualify women in their eyes are not effective against anti-sexist men. I use my white privilege to take public stands against racism on a regular basis. I suggest that men do the same with their unearned privileges. You’ll get called all sorts of names (just like I get called “race traitor” and a bunch of other uglier epithets) but that’s the price of being a decent guy in an ugly world…

  250. I would love to be called a race traitor! And I wear the epithets thrown at me by sexist men who accuse me of gender treachery as badges of honor too.

  251. No, Brad, Malkin is a non-white apologist for racism. It’s exactly the opposite of Kali Tal’s experience, as I’m nearly certain you quite realize.

  252. Malkin’s issues have little to do with gender (as a huge fan of the white patriarchy, she has no real use for women herself), and everything to do with us-versus-them partisan politics. She’s using gender to duck criticism for her cherry-picking. If you call her a “fascist bitch”, she stops listening after “fascist”.

  253. No, let me be clearer. Doc, please don’t call any woman, even an excrescence of evil like Malkin, a bitch. It’s a sexist insult, and using it is offensive to all women, even women who hate Michelle Malkin as much as you and I do.

    I’m trying to entirely expunge it from my vocabulary, personally. I try to think what I would call a man and use that (usually; I’m still hesitant to call a woman a dickhead).

  254. Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply “When I call her…” I try not to engage her, even on her comments. In fact, I generally prefer to pretend she doesn’t exist. My point, rather, was that a gender-based insult wouldn’t register with her. The only reason she commented on it was to try to score points against “libruls”.

  255. Malkin is a minority female blogger who takes disgusting flak from men (and some women) for her politics. Unless I misread Kali Tal’s post, she is also a minority female blogger who takes disgusting flak from men (and some women) about her politics. Love her or hate her, Malkin is a good example of how abuse directed at women who speak their minds digitally is not a ‘right-wing’ problem — it’s a problem that seems to defy politics. You just have to be a woman who writes coherently about something you feel strongly about. I said up at #116 that racism and sexism often issues from the mouths (or keyboards) of people who should know better.

  256. You did misread Kali Tal’s post. A quote that shows how:

    I use my white privilege to take public stands against racism on a regular basis.

    And don’t think we don’t see what you’re trying to do by bringing Malkin into the conversation. You’re trying to derail it; we won’t let you.

  257. Brad, I think you need to reread that piece you linked to. Malkin isn’t concerned about the abuse she and other women take from men; she is solely concerned about the abuse she and other conservative women take from liberals. She’s not discussing gender issues in that piece. She’s trying to score political points. She is, in effect, playing a gender card. While your first two sentences in #278 are technically true, that’s not something Malkin actually cares about, except in how she can use it as a way to attack anyone and everyone to the left of John McCain.

  258. Xopher, I’m trying to keep people honest. The only thing I found objectionable in Kali Tal’s post was that the abuse she was experiencing was specifically of ‘right-wing’ manufacture. In this regard her complaints read as very similar to those of Malkin, who (as Doc points out) highlights the ‘left-wing’ as a manufacturer of race and gender slurs. The lesson I draw from it is that right or left, if you’re a female blogger and you speak your mind on politics — or much else — people who should know better will come after you in nasty, gender-specific and race-specific ways. The ‘logic’ seems to be that it’s not really a slur, nor racially-abusive, nor gender-abusive, if the target has been deemed ‘fair game’ — for political reasons. Which is ridiculous. If we’re going to discuss female bloggers being abused, scapegoating the ‘right-wing’ is not only incorrect, but counterproductive. Since female bloggers on both sides of the Right/Left spectrum appear to be getting the same sort of ill treatment.

  259. Brad, no one here is scapegoating anyone. No one here, except perhaps you, is surprised by the idea that misogyny can be non-partisan. And while I think it is fair to note that those who favor a patriarchal worldview also tend toward conservative politics, no one here is drawing conclusions about the “right wing” any further than that, excepting where speaking to personal experience. Unlike Malkin, Kali Tal’s references were to specific individuals attacking her personally. Malkin was blaming all liberals for every attack on any conservative. So, what you’re doing isn’t keeping anyone honest, because no one here is being dishonest. Therefore, you are, in fact, derailing.

  260. Friends of mine who I consider to be reliable are friends of Ms. Malkin and can attest to her getting a fair amount of sexist crap flung at her, publicly and privately, above and beyond any flak she gets as a political blogger.

    Beyond that we’re engaging in a bit of partisan snippery here that I’m not entirely sure is relevant, and which should be wrapped up.

  261. Have you seen KirbyBit’s data analysis after she posted about the Penny Arcade fiasco? It’s interesting to me particularly because it gave me hard data to counter some common arguments (like “women are meaner”, for example).

    Essentially, she makes a distinction between angry criticism and troll comments who *only* contribute personal attacks and violent threats. The first is not the second; it leads to more engagement on the issue, while the second is so personalized at her it leads to less.

    Thanks for being another voice out there. I think the only eventual solution is to address the men who’s egos are so fragile and invested in some prototypical, faceless concept of womanhood that any actual woman who asserts individuality is perceived as a personal attack. But when people next wonder why there are more women on livejournal and less women in some other public forum, I’m going to point them to this post.

  262. Doc @ 282 – Yeah, Malkin could care less about feminism, and is in many cases actively hostile to it as a concept, but pointing out that misogyny hits her is still our responsibility if we expect to be honest activists. Back when (and still ongoing) comments about Sarah Palin labeled her “Caribou Barbie” I told people who used that language that they were engaging in miogynistic behavior.

    We owe the movement consistency. We should point out Malkin’s hatred of feminism and feminists *after* we tell people off for using misogynistic language to describe her. Not before.

    I’m not saying you’re guilty of using misogynistic language towards Malkin, but in a way, your comments on her politics are derailing the topic.

  263. Meg @284: To a point. When the first weapon an angry disagree-er reaches for is sexism, then I think it’s pretty academic whether they are also making valid points in the rest of their argument. All they’re doing is making it clear that their misogyny isn’t far from the surface, and it’s what they instinctively fall back on when they’re upset.

    I mean, if somebody offered a valid critique of Obama’s tax policies and added “but what do you expect from a [n-word]?” I don’t think many of us would be bothering to distinguish that comment from the guy who simply made a racial slur without the policy wonking.

  264. There is an unfortunate (because of the truth it contains) proverb among my Appalachian relatives that if you don’t like the dog, any stick will do to beat it; i.e. many, perhaps most, of the insults ever slung were slung not at the things people didn’t like but at the things they wanted to hurt. “Won’t pick up some sticks” metaphorically might be a start on defining “civility in discourse.”

    Re “white knighting” — I was alive, sort of adult, and nearly conscious at the time that a white male might get called on it. I think it was a fairly narrow historical window, sort of the moment when “Dances with Wolves” or “Avatar” (had they been made then) could have been viewed without irony — the period when the grievances were unignorable but the validating privilege of white males was still unquestioned. So at the time it was extremely important to say, “I don’t need you to nobly beat up the troglodyte for me, I need you to indicate your approval while I beat up the troglodyte.” I don’t really think any such moment is going to come round again.

  265. Excellent post. A few years ago I moderated a panel at Computers, Freedom, and Privacy conference with Ann Bartow of Feminist Law Profs talked about the abusive mail and comments she got and you could really see how much of an eye-opener it was for a lot of guys in the audience whose experience was totally different.

    And great discussion, too!

  266. When I posted under my actual name, the amount of abuse I got (and this was back in the prehistoric internet days of the early nineties) was just amazing — down to publishing my street address and calling for people to come over and “teach me a thing or two”.

    I have been posting under a pseudonym which is clearly a pseudonym (BEG=browneyedgirl) *and* does not conceal my gender and have gotten very little flack. Day and night.

  267. Puts me in mind of an epic newsgroup thread hotly debating whether a wolf-whistle aimed at a woman walking down the street was actually threatening, or “merely” felt threatening. It was a semantics argument at heart, but still it still generated astonishing levels of heat. I don’t think anyone disagreed that a woman couldn’t *feel* threatened, though.

    Dear Anonymous: bless your heart for the work you did in putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, and thank you for posting about it. The more good examples the world has, the better!

  268. It seems like most every prominent internet scribbler draws abuse. Last year, theater critic Terry Teachout ruminated on his portion thusly:

    “I don’t go out of my way to read everything that gets written about me, but I do see a fair amount of it in the ordinary course of my working day, and it never fails to strike me that a considerable number of the people who write about the pieces that they read, whether by me or anyone else, haven’t actually read them. Or, to be exact, they read until they encounter a statement with which they disagree, at which precise moment they stop reading, boil over, and start clicking away at their keyboards with what they imagine to be annihilating fury.

    “It goes without saying that the opinions of such folk aren’t worth knowing. But I wonder: are most people like that? In other words, might it be normal for the average human being to be incapable of considering, however briefly, the possible validity, however partial, of opinions in any way contrary to his own? I hesitate to suggest such a dispiriting notion, but the older I grow, the more likely it seems.”

  269. I got here via a complicated chain of linking which I now can’t quite remember, and in the grand scheme of things this may be seen as a petty and irrelevant remark, nitpicking of the worst type. I hope it doesn’t come across that way.

    After hitting the Gluten-Free Girl post linked at the beginning and reading it (and being suitably horrified), I was meandering through the comments when I got to #88. “the other just some girl with a cause, whose name I can’t be bothered with,” it said, and pointed out that not referring to her by name, Shawna, is trivializing.

    And I thought, “Wait, I thought her name was Shauna. With a U.” Glanced to the top of this post and saw Shawna, with a W. Shook my head, obviously mistaken. But I still couldn’t shake the idea that it was Shauna, with a U, so I went back to her blog. And she is Shauna, with a U.

    As Elayne, with a Y, I am probably more attuned (read: unreasonably sensitive) to what it says and how it feels when someone takes the time to be sure your name’s spelled correctly; as John and other conventionally-spelled names, y’all probably don’t give it a second thought, and I’m about 90% cool with that – I’m more concerned with whether someone’s heart and mind are in the right place than whether they trouble themselves with minutiae of irregular spellings. But getting someone’s name right can say a lot, too. So while I agree with what #88’s saying (use first names, or blog names, to show equal respect for both individuals), I am a bit rueful at the oversight of something as basic and personal as her name.

    (And of course, that’s only MY take on it. Ms. James Ahern might not give a damn or might not even notice, and it’s much less of a concern than the behavior that is the point of this entry. I still thought it worth mentioning.)

  270. I used to be a regular commenter on a female-run blog about sexuality (not a porn blog, but about the politics behind female sexuality) where the hate was so strong they not only went against the blogger’s real-life family and friends, but even started going against the commenters. I made the mistake of quoting something from one of my social networking sites – they googled it, found out my name and school, and plastered it all over the Internet with info from other commenters, accusing of us being “whores” and trying to get us in trouble at school for surfing a “porn blog.” When we didn’t get in trouble – because, duh, colleges don’t care – they wrote up a Reddit article saying that we had been disciplined for it. It was insane.

    That was my first real brush with the misogynistic Internet hate machine. As a female blogger, I don’t think shutting up is the answer, though. That’s giving the haters what they want, which is for women to stop having opinions. I’m just way more careful now about posting any real-life details of myself – anything that could cause the crap to leak into my offline life. Though from what I understand from talking to people on my campus after it all went down, it’s not like anyone would believe them anyway. But it’s still good to take precautions.

  271. Bravo. Good assessment. I get little hate mail & very few negative comments. Maybe it’s because my site has the word “liberation” in it. Maybe it’s because I don’t put up with bs & will not apologise or back down on my own website. That being said there are many in my industry who dislike my group because they feel we’re militant. LOL they have obviously not read the blog I write. We are primarily female, we have opinions & we express them with the policy of address the problem & not the person. Yeah, spooky I know.

  272. @Doc Rocketscience: Yep, there’s a community of moderators and my editor told me to flag any threatening comments to him as well.
    I just feel discouraged that such people are out there. That makes me sound impossibly naive. I’m not; I’m 53 years old and have seen some pretty appalling behavior in my time. But the Internet makes it so EASY to be a troglodyte.
    Don’t know where I heard this, but it’s apt: “Anonymity breeds animosity.” I guess that’s a more genteel framing of the Greater Internet Dickwad Theory.
    It’s encouraging to read the dialogue. I went back to school in my late 40s to (finally!) get a degree and these comments are reminding me of class discussions. In a good way.

  273. Even though it’s late in the game, I thought I’d relate my own little enlightenment story. I should note in advance that at the time I was married to a woman who was the third generation of professional women in her family – in 1970! I was also the son of a real professional librarian.

    I started work in January of 1970 in a management development program at The Phone Company. I moved into a large office. Most of the people there were much older than I but still – technically – reported to me. There was one young woman, my age, who was in a lower supervisory position, also reporting to me. Several weeks after I started I was talking to a much older, very experienced supervisor who informed me that my young contemporary had been booted out of the office I was using. I was a graduate of a very good small southern college. The young woman was a graduate, summa cum laude, of Princeton in mathematics. And, was a very good manager.

    I realized for the first time, at age 26, how privileged I was, through no achievement of my own. She had not been hired into the management development program and had been booted out of her office, simply because she was a woman. I was furious and went to my boss to ask that we change offices. Though he agreed with me about the injustice, he had been faced with a senior management decree that management development men (we were all men) be in the larger offices.

  274. I read this article and skimmed the comments, and I wanted to add something to it.

    For about the last ten years I’ve been a random online presence under gender-neutral names. I don’t make an issue of my gender unless it becomes relevant, and most people assume I’m male because of my style of writing.

    My politics are left-center moderate, which means that conservatives think I’m soft and liberals think I’m heartless, and I’ve been the target of a good bit of criticism for the things I say.

    When people think I am a man, they attack my ideas and tell me my thinking is full of crap. They respond to my arguments by breaking them down logically and dismissing their premises, but I rarely get told I am a worthless human being who doesn’t deserve to have opinions. I mostly get called another bleeding heart hippie or another fascist corporate apologist.

    When people think I am a woman they call me an ignorant bitch and complain that women just don’t understand politics or they just don’t understand science, and that I should probably put my efforts to something more worthwhile, and shouldn’t I be more focused on raising a family than on telling people off on the Internet? If I engage on economic or environmental policy, they tell me I should stick to “Women’s issues” like abortion or rape, and leave the more serious topics to people whose judgment is less clouded by hormones and emotion.

    When they think I am a man, they tell me my behaviour was abrasive or rude. When they think I am a woman, they announce to the world that my PMS is flaring up again and they won’t talk to me about whatever it is for three or four days to give my hormones a chance to ‘settle’.

    When they don’t know, they become increasingly aggressive about finding out, because they just cannot cope with not knowing which box to put me in. If something changes their opinion (in one forum, I had been generally assumed to be a man, until the day I said, “Um, nope. Born female, still female, been a woman for either 19 or 11 years now, depending on what you think the criteria are”), they change how they argue with me.

    If I talk about cooking or parenting, they assume I am a woman. If I talk about science, politics, or the economy, they assume I am a man. If I talk about fantasy, I’m a woman, but if I talk about science fiction, I’m a man (talking about Connie Willis and Octavia Butler just confuses them beyond belief).

    If, in a community, I am seen as reasonable, logical, and intelligent: man.
    If, in a community, I am seen as compassionate, emotional, or empathic: woman.

    And you know, no one thinking I was a man ever threatened to track me down and shove his genitals in my mouth to stop me talking until I ‘learned my place in the world.’

  275. I’m sorry I haven’t been here since I first posted my comment at #255 (pause for a geek moment — 2^8-1!…sorry). Real life, yadda, yadda.

    I hope somebody’s still reading these comments and particularly the people I respond to below:

    Lila@256 — On your point number 1, I don’t think that really applies — we weren’t the only ones there in the immediate area, just in our office (others were maybe 30 – 40 feet away in other offices) — I do think (if I’m interpreting you correctly) that you have a larger point that doesapply, though — that there was a trust built up between us, not just that night, but in the weeks before then when we’d shared an office. I heard her phone calls reassuring her sister through her first pregnancy and she heard mine dealing with a minor tragedy befalling a friend of mine. I don’t think either of us had any trouble imagining that the other was a Real Live Human Being. I suspect this is important.

    On point number 2 — I’m guilty, it’s a fair cop. You are right that I hadn’t considered that one at all. I truly thank you for bringing that possibility to my consideration.

    On point number 3 — I almost went into this in my original comment, but thought it might be a bit derail-y. These aren’t “security guards [who are] moonlighting cops”, these are actual federal police officers who are on duty as such (the nature of what they’re protecting is why I’m posting anonymously). I do have some understanding of the problems in dealing with such authority figures, but I really don’t think that was the case here. Among other reasons, Clementine’s security badge was mistakenly deactivated some weeks after the incident above and she cheerfully shared with me all of the (sometimes comical in a Kafka-esque sort of way…) trials and tribulations of getting it reactivated — I don’t claim to be a mind-reader, but if she had any reservations about the security staff, I really do think I would have picked up on it.

    On the other hand, your note that she might have been harassed by security elsewhere — well, again, a palpable hit. Another thing I had not even considered.

    mythago@257 I do want to say that what I offered “in my defense” was intended to be an illustration of my privilege — a kind of mocking my own beliefs about safety (I see that I didn’t phrase it as well as I could have). I believe that those things are true, but the fact that these were the things that occurred to me as relevant to Clementine’s safety does not mean that they were in fact the things relevant to her safety. To wit, two of Lila’s points highlighted concerns that I hadn’t even thought of.

    Your bullet points, I think, illustrate what I was trying (badly, as it turns out) to convey — I actually can’t understand what it’s like to experience external reality as someone significantly different from me.

    The best I can do is to listen, and try to understand. And then to speak up where voices can be heard, which I hope I contributed to here.

    Argh, I don’t think I’m really clearly conveying what I want to here, either. My apologies for my failures in communication.

  276. And now…I’m reading the follow-on thread (thanks, Scalzi, for thinking my words were worth expanding upon). I skipped to the end to see if the topic was still being discussed — only to find that Scalzi had closed the comments (which I take as a Very Bad Sign indeed).

    I’ve only gotten as far as Xopher’s comment:

    Only from within privilege can you be surprised to find that your life experiences are not universal.

    This, very much this. This is what I was trying to express in my giant comment above. Thanks, Xopher, your voice here is as strong as ever, as I’m sure it will be elsewhere….

  277. Ah — good to know. I apologize for my nasty implication.

    If it’s acceptable, I’ll be posting a response to some of the posts from that thread here tomorrow (I’ve currently got 16 open that I think deserve a response, but hopefully some will distill into something simpler…). It’s truly amazing how many words people will contribute willingly for no recompense to say things they believe. I don’t have some kind of high-tech text analyzer or anything, but I’d say that thread is pretty close to novel length….

    I just re-read that and realized it sounded pretty damn patronizing — what I mean to say is that I think that lots of folks were saying things that were really important to them and I’d like to respond — not that they need me to validate them, but that I wanted to respond to those who were responding to my initial comments.

    Hmm. I think I’m about to chase myself into self-referentiality here.

    Anyway, at least Xopher saw my response, and he’s one of my heroes — I always think things work out better if one’s heroes don’t know that they are heroes and…wait, I’ve ruined that, haven’t I…dammit!….

  278. anon@298: ). I do have some understanding of the problems in dealing with such authority figures, but I really don’t think that was the case here.

    I think what you are pointing to is a good example of differentiating “experience” from “fact”.

    The experiences involved were that she was afraid to walk to her car alone, and you were not. The fact was probably that neither of you had perfectly accurate risk assessments of the situation.

    But her fear is a valid feeling. It’s a valid experience. It is how she is feeling right then and there. And it is a place to start for people who aren’t afraid to give her space to be afraid without trying to “fix” it or tell her she’s wrong for feeling that way or soemthign else.

    You can be not-afraid and give her space to be afraid. And then from there do whatever is right for you. Walk her to her car withotu getting into whether she was overreacting or not was a great way to not only give her space but *maintain* it while acting on it. Usually what happens is when people act on something they arent’ comfortable with or cant identify with is they disappear the uncomfortable thing from their decision making process.

  279. Greg@304: The experiences involved were that she was afraid to walk to her car alone, and you were not. The fact was probably that neither of you had perfectly accurate risk assessments of the situation.

    Yes, that’s what (part of) what I’ve been trying to say. I’ve been given the knowledge that I don’t always express myself as well as I could hope in this thread….

    That’s why this experience resonated so strongly with the online discussions of privilege that I’d had — this was (what seemed to me) a totally unreal level of fear of the outside world. So, what’s the problem? Her understanding of the risks? My understanding of the risks? The risks themselves? The answers to those questions can lead many places, but none of them are likely to be happy, as none of us yet dwell in paradise.

  280. Ugh. So I am still working my way through the follow-on thread, but I got as far as Greg @ 196.

    And I just want to say — DUDE, stop making those arguments for my side.

    You are making us look bad.

    If this seems unfair — like you are being attacked for no reason…maybe you should think about that.

    But, mostly, you ARE NOT HELPING.

    I know you think you are — I know you have progressive politics and all that. That’s not what this is about. I wrote my initial comment specifically “pour encourager les autres” (but (hopefully)less creepy) — I wanted those who spoke out against the marginalization of women to know that even if they don’t see any significant gain, they still may be affecting people who don’t comment….

    You, on the other hand, are actively twisting my words — I know you are not stupid, I know you can parse a sentence. You quoted me as saying “the inference that I drew that people were trying to shame me by proxy, that I was bad for being [straight|male|white].”

    I wrote that and I meant it. I don’t know whether it’s kind to assume you don’t know what the word ‘infer’ means or that you don’t. I’m going to err on the side of your ignorance — I inferred that, I never said that it was implied by anyone else. The fact is that I was ashamed of (some few) behaviors I’d been a party to and rather more that I just went along with because that’s just what the group/troop/high school class did.

    Because you know what? Aside from the few saints among us, we all do terrible things to one another — I happen to be one of the kids who took more abuse than he got . But, hey! Even though I was abused through elementary, middle, and high school — and was pretty much a pariah in college — I still got a good job, which led to a better job.

    Then, of course my company went out of business — so I have no hope, right? No, a friend of my dad’s got me an interview with a giant company that is one of the few in America that you can expect to employ you until you retire.

    Oh, yeah, that was all because of how awesome I am.

  281. And now I’ve got to Brad R. Torgesen’s comment. I apologize for the serial comments, Scalzi — mallet as thou wilt.

    I do recognize that insisting on dictionary definitions can be a way to derail a topic. But.

    priv·i·lege   [priv-uh-lij, priv-lij] Show IPA noun, verb, -leged, -leg·ing.
    a right, immunity, or benefit enjoyed only by a person beyond the advantages of most: the privileges of the very rich.
    a special right, immunity, or exemption granted to persons in authority or office to free them from certain obligations or liabilities: the privilege of a senator to speak in Congress without danger of a libel suit.
    a grant to an individual, corporation, etc., of a special right or immunity, under certain conditions.
    the principle or condition of enjoying special rights or immunities.
    any of the rights common to all citizens under a modern constitutional government: We enjoy the privileges of a free people.

    I don’t think it’s a special or unreasonable use of the word privilege to refer to unearned benefits. You seem to be using the term privilege to mean “something that has been earned” — I think that is more traditionally known as an honor.

    I really know that it is uncomfortable to recognize one’s own privilege — and if you’ve done it in one arena, it might be even MORE painful (thankfully, I got it pretty much all in one go) as a poor white man, well things suck — of course they suck if you’re a poor white woman even worse. And when you get right down to it, even if you are a perfectly respectable brown person who happens to have an interest in WWI airplanes you might still be treated like a terrorist. But, please, let’s all talk about how good we have it.

  282. Aaand here’s where I get to Scalzi’s note discoursing about the word privilege.

    Ooops. Sorry, I promise I won’t post another one ’til I’ve read the whole thread….

  283. I was going to say — best to go through the entire thread and then discuss, because otherwise you’re appearing to do a play-by-play of an event already well in the past. Also, rather than address each thing in itself, perhaps best to consider general themes unless something in particular needs to be addressed.

  284. Anonymous @298: I got what you were saying. Please take my comment as simply throwing out a few more data points for your analysis, not as a criticism.

  285. Anonymous 303: Anyway, at least Xopher saw my response, and he’s one of my heroes — I always think things work out better if one’s heroes don’t know that they are heroes and…wait, I’ve ruined that, haven’t I…dammit!….

    Um…you do know that I’m not Xopher Murtagh, right? I’m not anybody famous. I started using the name Xopher when I was 9, and never stopped. Others have thought of the same thing, and some of them are actually significant people.

    Much as I blushed reading the above, I can’t accept hero-worship not rightfully mine.

  286. I came here from Ilona Andrews’ blog post link to this page… Most of what you’ve written matches my experience. Many years ago, I was one of the first handful of autistic adults blogging about daily life, and sure enough, the autie women like me got more hatemail than our male counterparts, and it was more vicious & often scary. Even though a lot of people said I’d made a big difference in their lives, I eventually quit because I’d gradually become afraid to say anything at all lest my words be twisted & used to hurt me.

    As a side note, the now well-known idea that anonymity is linked to trolling is just a theory that people latched onto as “common sense”; there were no studies, research, or evidence to back it. (What evidence does exist points to the opposite: only a tiny percentage of anonymous users misbehave, and trolling/abuse/bullying is common on sites that require real names like Facebook.) Trolls & abusers, based on statements I’ve seen, don’t have a problem with having their legal names known because they feel that they’re doing the right thing (trolls in the same manner as offensive comedians, abusers for reasons similar to bigots spouting what they insist is the “truth”).

  287. And now…I’m reading the follow-on thread (thanks, Scalzi, for thinking my words were worth expanding upon). I skipped to the end to see if the topic was still being discussed

  288. I’m a woman and I think women trolls are the worst, but men can be bad too. What gets me is if you point out the misbehavior of the troll, Ie nasty comments, off topic, they insist they have a right to do this and you should just ignore their posts. I just think its wrong to turn a blog on a TV show into a personal chat room and talk about things like hockey, no matter how amusing it might be. Also some of these trolls have the nerve to complain about privacy on a PUBLIC comment board, you want privacy go to a chatroom and have a private chat, talk on the phone or email.

  289. People who think women abusing women is worse are just as sexist as the women who love going after other women for things they’d never criticise a man for. Sexist abuse is racist abuse … its telling people they have no right to take part in the world. My 6yr old daughter was sexually assaulted by 6 boys in her class and underwent a 4 month campaign of gendered violence that the teachers condoned as rough play by the boys. We are living in a world where being female is the new black … if you get my meaning. And calling a female bitch is the equivalent of calling a black person n*gger – don’t do it.

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