Sheelzebub has some information on how a tech blogger named Kathy Sierra is being stalked, harassed, and threatened. It reminds me of the time that I got a threatening letter sent to my house because I had banned someone from this blog. It frightened my dad (whose house my domain was registered to) enough that I thought he might make me stop blogging. Instead I ended up convincing Dreamhost to offer privacy protection services — apparently getting a threatening letter sent to my house was a good enough reason to overcome their reservations about the idea — and life continued on as normal.
Sheelzebub hits on another point that I have thought of before, especially when I used to get all those “you’re censoring my freedom of speech!” complaints [emphasis mine]:
This is silencing. For all of the whining about freedom! of! speech! what these morons in this case, what the sniveling twits over at AutoAdmit don’t get, is that harassing, stalking, and threatening someone silences them. When someone’s too afraid to speak at a conference thanks to some graphic and nasty threats she got, she’s been silenced. And for any jerkoff who wants to go on and on about how she’s “letting them win” (because I know the concern trolls out there folks) get it straight–you’re not the one dealing with this.
I also think that flaming someone silences them. Bringing it back to Kotaku for a second (and then I seriously don’t want to think about those wankers again for a long time) — you can add sites like Destructoid, though it’s not nearly as vicious in terms of editorial content as Kotaku is — these sites silence women.
I. Silencing through Content
All too often these sites begin the process of silencing with the content that they post. Kotaku is, of course, the worst; the editors not only constantly make sexist “jokes” that demean women, inappropriately comment on women’s appearance and make other sexual comments about women who appear in their posts, but they also have in the past and continue to target women with harassing posts, often with the result of flooding the target blog with trolls.
The harassment happened with Faith and it’s happening again with Guilded Lily, who has had her banner and site linked when they discussed The IRIS Network and that post was linked again, by a different editor, with the text “many of which hate our guts”. Guilded Lily, of course, is one of the few feminist gaming sites that did not offer any real comment on Kotaku’s posts on the “where are the women bloggers?” debacle.
The editorial content on these sites are “official” which, especially when we’re talking about sites with a certain amount of popularity, gives them more weight than a personal blog or a comment in the post. What this means that, when women read these sites — and if you’re a woman interested in gaming you will come across them, most likely long before you find any woman-positive sites — you are shown time and time again that your perspective and your opinions are not only lesser than that of men’s apparently pressing need to drool over boobies, but that if you speak out against it (and even if you don’t) you set yourself up to be an object of ridicule — and who is going to be taken more seriously, the bloggers at these popular sites (many of whom have some sort of journalistic training behind them) or you and your personal site?
II. Silencing through Community
In the above section, one of my complaints was that the editorial content of these sites often inappropriately comments on women’s appearances. The belief that it’s always appropriate to comment on women’s looks is such that many people who read that complaint probably dismissed it out of hand, especially because there wasn’t anything blatantly misogynist in the post, just the offhand comment that the model “looks more like an alien now and more like a regular person before”, which people might argue is pretty tame compared to what many female celebrities get.
But consider the doors that comments like that, heck, posts like that (because it’s a post devoted entirely to this woman’s looks) open. A scant two comments down, we have the first commenter fetishizing Asians and basing his entire comment about what kind of woman he’s attracted to. The comments on her looks continue (some nicer than others).
Other kinds of comments that we see appearing on the thread are borderline sexual threats (“I’d hit her/that” is objectifying, but the “anal probe” comment pushes it into sexual violence territory, at least for me), blatant sexual threats, and if all that wasn’t bad enough… well, let me just quote the relevant bit: “I bet she cries when you bang her too. I love that!”. And in all this, those who spoke up were very, very few and completely ignored by Brian Ashcroft (the post author) and any other editor at Kotaku. And, just in case you were thinking that maybe this was an old post and that Kotaku might have gotten better, well, the article is from March 16 of this year.
And, of course, it’s the women (excuse me “girls”) who get blamed for being “attention whores”. Take this article by Florian Eckhardt, Why Do Gaming Guys Hate Gaming Girls? in which he linked a piece about misogyny in gaming communities. The article itself, while short, isn’t bad, though it didn’t generate much commentary. But, even then we have variations of the “women are attention whores” theme cropping up.
A scant four comments down, we get this:
I think its the smugness that girl gamers pulls out of their hat. Those girl gamer sites are annoying really. Hard to find someone who is attractive, who can play a good game and is at least humble about it.
In a similar vein, we have complaints about women “who feel the need to remind us that they are girls” and another commenter turns the issue into some kind of hilarious social experiment.
Kotaku isn’t the only mainstream site which has users that talk in sexual threats and otherwise degrade and threaten women. Take this post by Faith on Destructoid, Tetris is keeping women in the kitchen (update). Since Destructoid doesn’t allow for links to specific comments, I will excerpt some here.
Husky Hog apparently thinks that the supposed opinion of one feminist is responsible for the continued oppression of women when he says, “Fucking way to go women… way to keep yourselves down”. And then we have Doro minimizing all women with his “LOL. Chicks.” comment — as if the post in question is problematic not because of the analysis but because of the gender of the poster in question. And to top off the not-so-bad comments, we have Pangloss and his hilariously funny “joke”:
This article was interesting, until I realized that it was written by a woman. She could have easily spent the time it took to write that making me a sammich.
Not to be outdone by Kotaku commenters, though, we have nerpin offer up the usual sexual threat when a woman offers an opinion that doesn’t please misogynist men: “That girl could use a hot dicking.” On the only slightly less creepy side, we have puppetpallmich who says, “fuck women” and then behive01 following it up with, “Literally.”
This is, of course, on top of various insults to Mighty Ponygirl’s personal site, her name, and various iterations of calling her crazy (“crazy bitch” makes an appearance, as does “dingbat broad” and “Silly broads.”).
With comments like that, not many women are going to feel safe in posting their opinions. They may be “just words”, but the words used and the frequency with which they show up gives them power, and one of those powers is in discouraging women from posting their comments. This, of course, leads to fairly one-sided discussions where it’s only the males’ point of view, with some token women who generally agree with the majority opinion (lest they lose their “honorary guy” status), being presented in the comments. It becomes a self-perpetuating cycle where women are silenced by the misogynist atmosphere, which allows the men to say increasingly sexist things without anyone calling them on it, which normalizes sexism and makes it look “okay”, which just serves to further silence women and drive them away from the site.
III. Silencing Through Trolling
Another powerful tool that mainstream sites, if not employ then at the very least are party to, is having their members troll sites that are negatively highlighted. I first encountered this with the website Something Awful, which would have the Awful Link of the Day. At first I thought it was funny, until I noticed that highlighted sites would be bombarded with e-mails and other hateful comments. The line was finally crossed for me when one woman shut down her website because of the harassment she received due to the SA goons’ trolling. Her only crime? Being highlighted as an ALOTD because she was transsexual.
But I’ve seen that pattern over and over again elsewhere. The only time I ever got it here, that I am aware of, was when I said something nasty about Vox Day because of a post he made about rape. And with my discussion policy that I have now, if something like that happened again, it wouldn’t affect my readers. But that’s not the case for many sites who don’t have moderation, and even for those who do, I know from personal experience that getting hateful comments calling you names and saying you’re worthless does take an emotional toll.
So, whether they mean to employ them or not, trolls are a very powerful tool for silencing those who hold differing opinions to the ones employed on mainstream sites. Going back to the post on Tetris that Faith made on Destructoid, not only were comments made on the original post but Feminist Gamers got trolled as well. Even though she specifically asks her readers not to do that, Faith is aware that her post encourages harassing comments (“…please don’t post an nasty messages on her blog. You can post them here for us to read instead.”) and therefore it is quite unsurprising that those comments did, indeed, spill over to the original thread.
As the above case shows, the site in question rarely has to sic their readers on other blogs, but rather the method of criticism that’s employed in the originating post encourages harassing comments, which (especially on large, unmoderated sites) inevitably will spill over into trolling other sites. What put Guilded Lily, who I mentioned in section one as being harassed, on Kotaku’s radar was her post about Gender Politics in Tamriel. In this case, it wasn’t a direct attack but rather that the subject matter was already being treated as ridiculous, and in an effort to bring a better understanding one commenter linked her post. It was that attempt at creating an honest and respectful debate which lead to the trolls discovering her site.
Most of us will just adopt some sort of discussion policy and start moderating comments. Sometimes we do what Guilded Lily did, and use the trolling to foster debate and discussion on the issue. But there are times in which women get discouraged and stop speaking up. The Kotaku trolling problem was actually one of the driving factors in the loss of a wonderful feminist blog called The Geeky Feminist. The loss of her voice was felt by the feminist gaming community, and because of the rampant trolling (which were the same kinds of comments that I highlighted in my previous section) encouraged by a post that mocked and misrepresented an issue raised by several people in the gaming blogsphere, Kotaku bears some responsibility for chasing away one of the unique voices in the gaming community. Exactly the kind of voice that Brian Crecente claimed he was having trouble finding.
There are people who could read all this, and still offer up to the solution that the women experiencing harassment should “grow a thicker skin” or “just ignore it”. And there are women who do just that; any of us who have even a modicum of popularity need a pretty thick skin to continue posting, and there are also people like Faith — a vocal “just ignore it” advocate — who has to put her theory into practice practically every time she blogs. But, consider this: there are farther reaching consequences to the rampant online harassment than just the question of hurt feelings, and more reasons than not wanting to face a torrent of harassment that might give a woman pause before speaking out online.
One of them, as the personal anecdote I shared in the beginning of the article illustrates, is personal safety. For the most part, what happens online stays online, but someone could always look you up and start sending you threatening letters or otherwise begin stalking you. Especially if you’re blogging by your real name.
Another thing that might happen is that a woman who gets harassed by a popular site will have as one of the top hits for her name the post where the harassment originated. As Jessica Valenti describes in her article, this could have possible consequences on finding or maintaining a job:
And for young women applying for jobs, the reality is terrifying. Imagine a potential employer searching for information and coming across a thread about what a “whore” you are.[From How the web became a sexists' paradise by Jessica Valenti]
This is on top of all of the potential implications for the men and women who absorb and regurgitate the misogyny and other bigotry that is found on these sites. Yes, there is a certain degree of hiding behind the anonymity of being a commenter on the internet that allows some of this harassment and bigotry to flourish, but it isn’t confined just to the internet; it’s in popular culture and is beginning to creep into the way that we talk to each other and treat each other in real life.
There may not be much difference between talking about giving women “hot dickings” online to saying it to your buddies in real life, even in front of other women. But, if that line can be so easily crossed then I’m not so sure that I can confidently say that the line between saying and doing is one that won’t ever be crossed.