Friday, 31 August 2012

Misogyny Online: Women Speak Out

I don't know why this happens for some women, but I kid you not the horrific nature of the abuse many of them suffer is beyond the pale. I get stupidity myself, mostly from political posters on political G+ posts. Is there a reason for this and what can we do about it?

I love Google Plus and have a lot of interesting conversations there, mostly political or geeky ones. This conversation was kicked off by a rather interesting post that linked a Skepchick article about haters who pick on women. I get my fair share of haters, usually political ones from America who are ideologically aligned with the Republican Party. You'll often see the acronym GOP used to describe it, which stands for Grand Old Party. Their hate is the generic kind they dish out to anyone who disagrees with them and I'm not bothered by it. What I'm seeing over and over again, though, is stories of women attacked not for being "dirty lib'ruls" (the kind of crap I get) but for being female.

Anita Sarkeesian

Canadian-American blogger Anita Sarkeesian's Wikipedia page was locked after abusive users repeatedly filled it with profanity, lies and pornography. Her Kickstarter fundraiser was plagued by a concerted campaign to shut it down, and her YouTube channel received a flood of vile messages. If that wasn't bad enough, a programmer created and posted a game online that encourages users to punch an image of Ms. Sarkeesian. Black eyes, bruising and cuts appear on it each time the mouse button is clicked.

When Stephanie Guthrie found out about it and decided to out him on Twitter, she got pulled into a firestorm of threats and abuse that caused her to go to the police. She said later on, "[The game] normalizes the idea that violence against women is normal or funny. There might be a woman, or man, thinking about dating this guy. And perhaps they should be aware that he created a game about battering a woman."

This is a pretty well-known case, but the fact that a woman got hammered for speaking out against sexism is ridiculous. Did they feel threatened by it, as one man asked in a videolog? I have no answer apart from the usual "lonely misfits living with mama" trope. I can stereotype, too. What was interesting, if you step back a bit, was the nature of the abuse. Many of the abusers relegated this feminist blogger and videomaker to her biological function. Let's flip it over for a moment and imagine that a man is the subject of the abuse. He's featured in a video game designed to intimidate him and depicted as a sex object being abused by women... nah, wouldn't happen, though I'm sure there would be a lot of doubting of his intelligence, etc. It's the gendered nature of the abuse that's so startling, as if the trolls think that the internet is a male bastion and women aren't welcome. The fundraiser smashed its modest $6000 goal, fueled by sympathy from people appalled at the abuse. It's hilarious how such vile behaviour can be leveraged to the advantage of the victim. It's not always possible, of course, and it helps to have a sympathetic audience.

G+ Women

On Google Plus I have the odd conversation with women who have been hammered either because they have certain beliefs and suddenly realise they've been trolled or have hopped into an environment in which trolls are common. As I said, I usually get idiots and it's usually to do with political discussions that trolls jump into. I block and ignore, and it's over. What's going on from the troll's point of view, though?

Commenter E. L. Weems says,

I have experienced being repeatedly told that I'll burn for eternity in Hell, that I'm a jezebel, and I was online stalked and harassed by an alcoholic man in Seminary. I also get what I call "audio off preaching", which means they just start rambling with their own little speech and don't acknowledge or consider anything that I say.

It seems to depend on the troll and the environment. I'm friendly with a Liberal who hopped into a thread on Paul Ryan's stream and was shocked, I tell you, to discover that if you jump into a put full of vipers you're going to get bitten. However, this is not what happened to Ms. Weems.

Cindy Brown, whose posts I am forever resharing, said,

This was [on Usenet] before the internet was a known thing -- mid nineties.  In the first case, the address they found was for the wrong person, in another city with the same name.  I sent her a warning and forwarded the info to the police who basically raised their eyebrows, patted me on the back and sent me on my way.  The second case was right on the heels of this and involved a fellow in Florida who spent years flooding the forum with abusive crap (and who sent mail to me -- po box) .  When I went to the police with those letters, they traced them back to this guy who basically should have been institutionalized but they did nothing further about it.  I wound up go off the 'nets after that, but in retrospect, I suspect the second guy wasn't functional enough to come out here to do anything.  However, he was after me for years.  I went back to the forum for a quick peek after several years and he was still at it.  I just couldn't enjoy the space anymore and have never returned to it. 

Maybe these would be taken more seriously now, 10, 15 years later.  But not back then.

Anti-stalking legislation has since been passed. Cindy is deaf. Now try to imagine going through that when you can't tell if someone is sneaking up on you or not. I've been in that boat and it was partly due to failing to run like hell from trolls when I saw them but as both these women pointed out they were in their own territory and could block, etc., it's just that the trolls were persistent.

What can we do about it?

When I get the really stupid ones, I play with them for a laugh and block them when I get bored, but when someone annoys me, I give them a virtual slap. Sometimes by acting aggressively I can make them respect me. At other times I have to drop them and for the most part they leave me alone. I haven't had a stalker on Google Plus though I've heard of a lot of people being horribly mistreated. I asked the two commenters I mentioned earlier about whether or not the way you come across makes you look like a prey item for trolls. Cindy said, can't require people to play  that role.  I for one refuse to do it. And for people who literally cannot play that role for whatever reason?  Bad behavior is bad behavior and just because no one steps in at the right moment to head it off is no excuse for the behavior.

So people ought to behave anyway. But they don't, and as I pointed out, even being aggressive when people misbehave doesn't always work. It's a tough one, but I find that if you find a safe group to play with and are quick to block trolls, you should be okay. If they keep coming after you it might be worth avoiding posting publicly and sticking with those people you feel safe with. Avoid posting anything too controversial and be sure to keep such posts restricted to those circles in which they are acceptable. It works for me, but there are no easy answers and there will always be exceptions to the rule.

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