Tuesday, October 25, 2011

#MenCallMeThings

Coming back to blogging after some time off is a difficult thing. Looking for a subject that seems adequate for (re)breaking the ice can have a paralyzing effect, at least for me. Fortunately, the blogging gods provided me with a ready-made subject upon logging into my account for the first time since July. Highlighted in bright orange on my dashboard were the words "1 comment awaiting moderation"; eager to engage in conversation with my readership, I clicked through.

The comment was posted to an older piece I wrote on Pepsi's marketing of "slim" cans to women. My response to the introduction of a soft drink can that is, in the words of Pepsi's chief marketing officer, "a perfect complement to today's most stylish looks" could be called flippant at best. Which is why I was surprised to receive this comment months later:
Hate to even address a sociopath feminist, but guess what? Women will buy this garbage because they are morons. If the actual cognitive condition of your sisters causes you distress then start complaining to them directly (the ones who choose to buy the sugar water, not the company providing them their choice). But alas, your lack of personal boundaries will prevent you from doing that, borderline personality disordered as you are. Myself, I don't care what someone else drinks. I do care that individuals like yourself feel entitled to make judgmental comments about this. Curtail your entitlement to what goes into your own gullet dear.
Now, this comment basically had the impact of providing a moment of levity for my partner and I while we were both stressed about about other things. It's not particularly violent in its rhetoric, although the ableist language (and the condescension) rankles. I treated the comment as just one more piece of evidence that feminist blogging is an essential practice, and put it aside for the bigger and vastly more interesting matter of figuring out exactly how to pitch my dissertation prospectus to folks who don't care about the internet. 

But the broader phenomenon of abusive comments on feminist blogs is not something to be set aside lightly. There has been a lot of talk lately about the role of threats -- of violence, of rape, of death -- play in working to silence feminist voices in the blogosphere. S.E. Smith, in her early October post on Tiger Beatdown, describes the type of threats she receives on a daily basis as a prominent voice on a feminist blog:

All of the bloggers at Tiger Beatdown have received threats, not just in email but in comments, on Twitter, and in other media, and the site itself has been subject to hacking attempts as well. It’s grinding and relentless and we’re told collectively, as a community, to stay silent about it, but I’m not sure that’s the right answer, to remain silent in the face of silencing campaigns designed and calculated to drive us from not just the Internet, but public spaces in general. To compress us into small boxes somewhere and leave us there, to underscore that our kind are not wanted here, there, or anywhere.
*GAG GAG GLUCK* You have discovered the only vocables worth hearing from Sady’s cock-stuffed maw…die tr*nny whore…[slut walk] is a parade for people who suffer from Histrionic Personality Disorder aka Attention Whores…I know where you live, r#tard…why don’t you do the world a favour and jump off a bridge…Feminazi…
A small sampling of the kinds of things that show up in our inboxes, in comment threads, on attack websites, in things sent to our readers.
Out of this post came a Twitter hashtag, #MenCallMeThings. Feminist bloggers, tweeters, commenters and other net-inhabiting women posted their experience with harassment and threats from men, both digital and otherwise. Sady Doyle collected and categorized many of them here, and they are simultaneously completely terrifying and completely expected: you're a bitch. You're a hysterical nag. You're an ugly cunt. You're a lesbian. Your only purpose on this planet is as a hole for me to fuck. You're a bitter hag. And so on, and so forth.

When asked how she knows these comments are directed at her because she's a woman, rather than because...well, because of anything else, she writes:
What matters is not which guys said it: What matters is that, when you put their statements side-by-side, they all sound like the exact same guy. And when you look at what they’re saying, how similar these slurs and insults and threats we get actually are, they always sound like they’re speaking to the exact same woman.When men are using the same insults and sentiments to shut down women and “feminine” people, across the board, then we know what’s going on. And we know that it’s not about us; it’s about gender.
While the comment I received contains nowhere near the level of vitriol of the comments made to women who take up the cause of women online, it is part of the same larger pattern. I published this one, so that I remember that its there, and so that I can go back to it if I ever happen to forget (unlikely) that sexism exists. I won't be publishing similar comments in the future. The signal to noise ratio on the subject of feminism is already bad enough. I have enough daily reminders that sexism remains a problem -- a problem whose consequences are sometimes symbolically violent, and sometimes physically so -- without  seeing this type of abusive, misogynist comment appear in my inbox.
 

1 comment:

theroadsgoeveron said...

Sarah,

Thanks for the interesting and disturbing post. Being that I read some politically charged material that often ranges into topics of women's rights, I have personally been witness to the kinds of rhetoric you describe above in the usually depressing comments sections of the articles I read. I was particularly interested in the point made above about how all of these kinds of responses, when put side by each, tends to look uniform, as if from the same person. I find this particularly disturbing since it points to some kind of socially sanctioned misogynist rhetorical sphere that these people are using. This is why I am also a little disturbed about the essentializing tendency of the #mencallmethings hashtag. While I'm sure that the majority of responders who make such comments are men, I'm sure we can both agree that not all men use this kind of repulsive rhetoric or anything like it. Wouldn't it be more helpful to figure out exactly what kinds of men post these comments (if they're so similar, I'm sure the men share some commonalities too), and call them out specifically? Speaking for myself, I'd rather not be lumped in with that lot :-)

Evan

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