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Nov 09 2011

Not just making it up

Chris Bertram at Crooked Timber was on the trail of internet misogyny last week too.

Anyone who blogs regularly gets annoyed by commenters. We do our best to screen out the worst here at Crooked Timber, but inevitably some get through, and, just as inevitably, they can sometimes upset us. But though I’ve had my intelligence, good judgement and moral character questioned many times, I’ve never had to cope with the kind of abuse female bloggers sometimes get. And the women at CT have had that too, from behind the protective shield of anonymity (though I did work out who on one occasion and warned a fairly prominent academic about what would happen if he came back).

Many interesting comments. This one from Henry Farrell (of Crooked Timber) for instance:

…you folks are only seeing the comments that make it through. There is a steady-ish (it is a little slacker at the moment) trickle of nasty stuff which doesn’t. Most of it, but not all, is drive-by. And the really vicious stuff is aimed at our women posters. The shit that we guys get is mostly laughably generic – communist, socialist, idiot-professors etc. The comments that the women posters get are more intense, vicious and personalized.

And John Quiggin, also of CT:

My experience here and elsewhere is entirely in line with Chris’ post. Even when being deliberately provocative, I don’t get anything like the abuse directed at women bloggers even on posts that would seem unlikely to offend anybody.

It’s not our imagination.

36 comments

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  1. 1
    BenSix

    Men get plenty of abuse. But there’s a difference. I’ve been called a dick many times on the Internet but I’ve never been abused for owning one.

  2. 2
    bad Jim

    BenSix, that’s why we have self-abuse!

  3. 3
    Joshua

    I really hate being human sometimes. Like right now when you see people who let that reptile/primate primitive part of their brain control how they respond to women saying things they don’t like. So instead of responding like a literally civilized human being and arguing against her point, they respond with the closest thing to rape that they can manage. The only thing that I can think of as a real purpose of such a message is to traumatize the recipient into shutting up. This is literally a glimpse of the days when our ancestors were willing to stick an axe in your face (and sadly is reality elsewhere).

  4. 4
    bad Jim

    It’s not just a matter of finding the most hurtful thing you could say. Women are singled out for abuse, as though their contributions are at worst illegitimate and at most negligible. This is almost certainly not instinctive behavior but rather the result of life-long socialization; men publicly denigrate women with the expectation of peer approval. There is a reason we refer to patriarchy.

  5. 5
    Goodbye Enemy Janine

    One does not even need to be a blogger, just being online with a female persona will do. I am sure that many of the readers here are also readers of Pharyngula. While the women and many of the men there work at keeping misogynist language in check, there are eruptions. Many of the regulars have gotten similar types of statement as was related in that article. The was the worst (so far) that I received.

    And for these efforts, hoggle declared us to be puritan nazi censurers and masturbated in order to spite us.

  6. 6
    Goodbye Enemy Janine

    Sorry about not closing the tag.

  7. 7
    Chris Lawson

    One of the few violent, threatening emails I received on my blog (for daring to criticise Noam Chomsky’s political views, of all things), spent as much time fantasising about sexual violence against my female family members as it did on making nasty comments about me. So, yeah, even when the blogger is male, the sociopathic commentariat feels it’s OK to make sexual threats against women.

  8. 8
    Torquil Macneil

    This is almost certainly not instinctive behavior but rather the result of life-long socialization; men publicly denigrate women with the expectation of peer approval.

    If that were the case, we would expect similar levels of violent rhetoric in more public spaces, wouldn’t we? and we would expect the most socialised to me the most misogynistic. No, I think this comes from a deeper and darker source, the fury that some men feel about the sexual power that women hold over them, the power to reject them in a way that diminishes or even destroys their sense of worth at the deepest levels. Only male sexuality seems to be constructed in this way (although you can see the same thing in women, they tend to direct it towards a specific target rather than the whole sex).

    I don’t actually think it is OK to denigrate women publicly these days on the whole, in the UK at least. You are much more likely to find men publicly denigrated or abused for laughs based on their sexuality (again, the UK being the ref point ere). And that is not a sly ‘men are the real victims of sexism’ point.

  9. 9
    dirigible

    “You are much more likely to find men publicly denigrated or abused for laughs based on their sexuality”

    Those laughs at men that I hear are mostly disguised complements or homophobic slurs.

    And men (at least the men I work with) are perfectly happy denigrating women in the UK when women aren’t present. I think the Internet creates a *perceived* absence of presence that the self-serving contradictions of troll psychology thrive on.

  10. 10
    Torquil Macneil

    Dirigible, I guess we mix in different sorts of groups but it is at least true that you will not see women openly denigrated in public discourse in the UK, isn’t it? And while it would be considered comic to (say) have a man punished for stupidity or coarseness by a blow to the genitals in a light hearted sitcom or similar, a similar level of violence directed at a woman would be scandalous. That does not mean, of course, that women are not discriminated against, just that may be implausible to think this level of violent rhetoric is culturally encouraged or engendered.

  11. 11
    julian

    And while it would be considered comic to (say) have a man punished for stupidity or coarseness by a blow to the genitals in a light hearted sitcom or similar, a similar level of violence directed at a woman would be scandalous.

    What sitcoms?

  12. 12
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    I guess that Torquil Macneil has never watched any episode of “Little Britain”.
    Or never heard that a woman who makes a complaint is brushed off with “oh, it’s that time of the month again”.

    No, I think this comes from a deeper and darker source, the fury that some men feel about the sexual power that women hold over them, the power to reject them in a way that diminishes or even destroys their sense of worth at the deepest levels.

    Oh, so it’s biology again because that makes more sense to you (and is fortunately not something you can do anything about).
    Do you realize that your explenation means that men are misogynistic because they can’t rape women at their will anymore? So, what was it when they were still allowed to?

    Us evil women again, denying men sex and therefore driving them mad. Seems like we’re to blame again, after all.

  13. 13
    sailor1031

    It seems to me that until this phenomenon is actually studied and fact-based conclusions reached, we can hypothesize all we want about the motivations of such vile mysogyny but we won’t have anything usable. One question one ponders is whether this type of behaviour carries over into other areas or is it just limited to hatred of women?

  14. 14
    Bruce Gorton

    Torquil Macneil

    While violence against men is trivalised in media – it is men who largely write the media. The problem isn’t women, it is men enforcing gender norms on other men.

    Including the positively terrible ideal of “tough” – which roughly translates to men being expected to not only take violent treatment, but to almost seak it.

  15. 15
    Bruce Gorton

    seak=seek

  16. 16
    Sheesh

    That the “nut shot” is a staple of physical comedy is really a result of patriarchy though, isn’t it? (And as mentioned right above, this sort of comedy is largely written by and for men.)

    It’s funny exactly because it’s emasculating, and it wouldn’t be emasculating if becoming more like a girl — less “testicled” — wasn’t seen as bad.

    Otherwise stepping on a rake would be as hilarious as a nut shot in all contexts… right?

  17. 17
    Sheesh

    Oh, and I should have added — now consider the example of a lady hit in the crotch with a tennis ball (something that is a staple of home video laugh shows when the target is MALE). Where’s the funny there? It’s not. It’s basically never featured for laughs. She can’t be more emasculated, in fact she can’t be more degraded by that action because she’s the most base already. The only way for a joke like that to play out is the “lady rides bike without a seat” trope — which trades on the only thing worse than a women is a non-virgin, so haha when a woman gets poked in the “junk” in a penetrative way.

    Now that I think about it, I guess that’s just more subconscious rape culture programming.

  18. 18
    Torquil Macneil

    “Oh, so it’s biology again because that makes more sense to you (and is fortunately not something you can do anything about).”

    It’s biology (insofar as it is biology) because that makes more sense, but I don’t see why that means we can’t do anything about it.

    “Oh, and I should have added — now consider the example of a lady hit in the crotch with a tennis ball (something that is a staple of home video laugh shows when the target is MALE). Where’s the funny there? It’s not. It’s basically never featured for laughs. She can’t be more emasculated, in fact she can’t be more degraded by that action because she’s the most base already. ”

    Sheesh, that seems to me an odd reading. If the situation were reversed, would you read it in the same way (that is, if it were acceptable to laugh at a woman being hurt in the genitals and not a man)? Surely the most natural way to read this (Occam’s way) would be to accept that portrayals of violence against women in at least some situations are culturally less acceptable than portrayals of violence against men. And, speaking from some experience here, I ave to say that being hit in the balls is unspeakably painful, but not in any sense emasculating, or at least no more so than any other equivalently painful assault.

    I have never seen a joke about a woman riding a seatless bicycle, is that common in the US?

  19. 19
    Pteryxx

    sailor1031 says:
    November 10, 2011 at 6:09 am

    It seems to me that until this phenomenon is actually studied and fact-based conclusions reached, we can hypothesize all we want about the motivations of such vile mysogyny but we won’t have anything usable. One question one ponders is whether this type of behaviour carries over into other areas or is it just limited to hatred of women?

    Try reading Lisak’s research on undetected rapists. About 10% of men in general will self-report that they have threatened a woman, held her down, or gotten her too drunk to fight back in order to rape her, as long as the word “rape” is not used. That population exhibits significantly more misogynistic and violent attitudes than the average, and also commits disproportionately more domestic violence and child abuse.

    That doesn’t mean misogynistic trolls in general can be assumed to be predators, but the actual predators are probably overrepresented within that population. I think it’s disingenuous to assume the large minority of undetected rapists and the large minority of misogynistic trolls wouldn’t overlap.

    Many of the motivational factors that were identified in incarcerated rapists have been shown to apply equally to undetected rapists. When compared to men who do not rape, these undetected rapists are measurably more angry at women, more motivated by the need to dominate and control women, more impulsive and disinhibited in their behavior, more hyper-masculine in their beliefs and attitudes, less empathic and more antisocial.

    Lisak quoted from “Understanding the Predatory Nature of Sexual Violence” (pdf link)

    Essay source: Lisak and McWhorter (separate papers) as cited in “Predator Theory” (link to source)

  20. 20
    Pteryxx

    And, speaking from some experience here, I ave to say that being hit in the balls is unspeakably painful, but not in any sense emasculating, or at least no more so than any other equivalently painful assault.

    But we’re talking about media portrayals here. Audience and bystanders aren’t expected to point and laugh at just any painful assault. Other kinds of painful assault don’t inherently humiliate the target, or mark the aggressor as dishonorable. (When was the last time you saw a media portrayal of a stand-up fight between manly-men involving a crotch shot? Fleming used them in James Bond stories to mark the villains as evil twisted monsters.) And comedy portrayals of crotch shots often have the target instantly scream in a feminine, high-pitched or opera-singer voice, as if they were literally emasculated.

  21. 21
    Torquil Macneil

    And it’s true that the comedy crotch shot is always in the context of a man acting in a manner that is arrogant or sexually overbearing (although not actually threatening in a comedy situation), so I take your point, but it is nonetheless true that it is more acceptable to portray acts of violence against men, especially sexual acts of violence than against women.

  22. 22
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    Torquil Macneil

    It’s biology (insofar as it is biology) because that makes more sense, but I don’t see why that means we can’t do anything about it.

    The problem with your pseudo-scientifical biology arguments is that you never ever provide any evidence or research to support it other than “it makes more sense”, which is also commonly know as an argument from “I don’t give a fucking shit and now go and make me a sammich”.
    In short: You’re telling everybody what’s right and true (remember, it’s biology, that’s science) and that they should therefore just stop.

    If the situation were reversed, would you read it in the same way (that is, if it were acceptable to laugh at a woman being hurt in the genitals and not a man)? Surely the most natural way to read this (Occam’s way) would be to accept that portrayals of violence against women in at least some situations are culturally less acceptable than portrayals of violence against men.

    First: being hit by a tenis ball is usually an accident, not violence against men.
    Second: in the genre at hand, funny home videos, you see plenty videos of women being hurt or hurting themselves, often in much more painful and dangerous ways than a ball in the balls*. So it’s obviously absolutely OK to laugh at women getting hurt. It#s only the nuts-shot that isn’t funny, because well, you can’t get any worse when you’re already a woman.
    Oh, and you score another “scienticism point” for invoking Occam’s razor and most natural.

    *And of men. I’m generally shocked that people find those things funny when you can see that the people in those videos must have seriously hurt themsleves.

  23. 23
    Joshua

    Just to clarify things a bit I’m not saying that all of this is hard-wired behavior. I just don’t want anyone ignoring the examples of behavior that have been identified that could be fairly described as programmed.

    If it ends up that part of this situation involves brain function that is hard-wired, I want science and society poised to find ways to deal with it through things like outlets, or other methods. I am not trying to create an excuse. Even if part of this was hardwired, it is still behavior that must be stopped or controlled.

  24. 24
    Sheesh

    nonetheless true that it is more acceptable to portray acts of violence against men, especially sexual acts of violence than against women.

    I don’t think anyone is disagreeing with this statement as it stands. I think we’re more talking around it: why it is more acceptable. In short, emasculation is funny, rape is funny, especially rape of men (on cable and the internet anyhow, where “pound me in the ass prison” is a widely used trope), but punching ladies in the crotch is not widely considered funny. Why would it be in relationship to a man, when the act is written by a man and broadcast to men. I think we can all agree, in general, that comedy relies on novel reversals of power imbalance — i.e., truth to power, underdog success, etc. Kicking the powerless is not funny to normal people.*

    *See all Republican attempts at news satire: “So there’s a new report out about poverty. You know what’s so funny about the poor? Haha, they’re poor! Hahaha!”

  25. 25
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    nonetheless true that it is more acceptable to portray acts of violence against men, especially sexual acts of violence than against women.

    I’m not so sure about that. There are several tropes at work.
    One of them is toxic masulinity. Men fighting is portrayed as positive. You know, a pub brawl. Something absolutely OK.

    Secondly, violence against women and children is usually seen as worse than violence against men because they are considered weak and unable to defend themselves or to take it, they are inferior and therefore need special protection. It’s only a nice idea on the surface.

    Thirdly, (sexual) violence against women is used as a means to punish the male hero. They are degraded not only to being useless lumps that need to be rescued, also their assault is portrayed as less important than the pain of the male hero who can’t help her.
    If you want an example, I recommend watching Harry Potter 7-1. When the kids are caught, one of the Snatchers makes rape-threats against Hermione. They are subtle, because it’s still a kiddies movie, but the adults get them. And the reaction of Ron is given much bigger room than her own reaction. Also later when she is tortured, Ron’s feelings are what is being portrayed.

  26. 26
    Pteryxx

    Re the OP, while reading the comments at Crooked Timber I noticed this in Salient’s subcategories of trolls:

    Folks that make intimidating and brutal comments that do not rise to the level of overt threat, intentionally as provocative & hurtful as possible. These folks love getting called out for their shit—means it’s working! They tend to either voice fantasies aloud while referencing the target in third-person, or address the writer directly to describe various torments that they allegedly feel the target should receive.(…)

    In nearly every single case that I’ve been able to follow up on, the person held some kind of position of authority within some kind of organization (including a hell of a lot of left/lefty/leftist organizations—local Democratic party offices, organizers of atheist retreats that have more than a couple dozen attendees, co-chair of some socialist club in university, but also including organizations like a management business or executive position, teacher/principal, lawyer who was a partner of a firm, uh, a couple police officers… running out of memories… oh yeah, lots of doctors, holy god did the doctors ever clutter up the newspaper comment section type places and Facebook back-and-forths back in the day of lax moderation, sorry doctors).

    source

    Compare to this from Lisak, quoted in “Predator Theory”:

    In the course of 20 years of interviewing these undetected rapists, in both research and forensic settings, it has been possible for me to distill some of the common characteristics of the modus operandi of these sex offenders. These undetected rapists:

    • are extremely adept at identifying “likely” victims, and testing prospective victims’ boundaries;

    • plan and premeditate their attacks, using sophisticated strategies to groom their victims for attack, and to isolate them physically;

    • use “instrumental” not gratuitous violence; they exhibit strong impulse control and use only as much violence as is needed to terrify and coerce their victims into submission;

    • use psychological weapons – power, control, manipulation, and threats – backed up by physical force, and almost never resort to weapons such as knives or guns;

    Also from “Predator Theory” itself:

    It is the modus operandi that keeps the undetected rapist undetected: they correctly identify a methodology that will put them under the protection of the rape culture. They are unlikely to be convicted because the story doesn’t fit the script. In fact, they are unlikely to be arrested because the story doesn’t lead to easy convictions. In fact, they are unlikely to be reported because rape survivors know that the tactics these men use leave them with little real recourse.

    link to “Predator Theory”

    …I’m starting to theorize that the persistent misogynist harassers ARE the undetected predatory rapists. Aren’t Salient and Lisak describing the EXACT same behavior? Plausible deniability, dismissal by the culture, pushing their attacks right up to the edges of accountability? And there seems to be a LOT of anecdotal evidence about powerful, high-status men committing real-life sexual harassment… which fits very neatly with what Salient describes.

  27. 27
    Sheesh

    Yes, Gilliel. I basically agree. It’s the relative values of both masculinity and femininity that makes male violence “acceptable” as Torq puts it.

    [Getting more OT]

    Broadly, male violence is good when it’s protecting ‘honor’ or ‘the weak’, especially women, children, wounded brothers etc, but also good when it’s emasculating or dehumanizing foes, see the raft of torture sympathizers (I guess this is rationalized as defensive violence). Female violence is good when it emulates male violence, and bad in basically every other case. Male violence is bad when it preys on the weak (not including torture) or defiles some cherished idea (not including the cherished ideas defiled by torturing, haha). Male violence for violence sake is often portrayed somewhere between good and neutral, e.g., bar fights, gladiators, martial arts cinema, etc. So again the nut-shot “is funny”, if it is at all, because it plays to the idea emasculation “is funny” because being like a women “is funny” because men going from powerful and thus masculine to degraded or castrati (thus women) “is funny”. This requires both that masculinity is paramount and essentially good, while emasculation, becoming more like a women, is essentially bad. Emasculation can’t be bad if becoming more like a woman is essentially good.

    (I’m quoting is funny there because, maybe it shouldn’t be so funny. Also: Perhaps this page on the nut shot chronicles the zillion uses for humor and sometimes drama.)

    I guess I’m not being very coherent so, I’ll leave it there and just lurk it out. Sorry for having a hand in some of this derail.

  28. 28
    Pteryxx

    re my post @27, I cc’d it over to Pharyngula so I don’t derail the discussion here… sorry.

  29. 29
    Bruce Gorton

    Giliell, the woman who said Good-bye to Kitty

    Not the only example from Harry Potter – if you know about centaurs Dolores Umbridge getting dragged off is disturbing, and made worse by the kids’ treatment of it.

  30. 30
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    Bruce
    To come to the aid of Harry Potter: That’s something that was changed from the books to the movies. I just recently watched an interview with J K Rowling about how she had to fight for keeping the women in the front row of the final combat for Hogwarts

    Uhm, end of OT

    Oh, and Giliell is enough, even Gil is OK, I react to that in meatspace, too

  31. 31
    The Ys

    If the situation were reversed, would you read it in the same way (that is, if it were acceptable to laugh at a woman being hurt in the genitals and not a man)? Surely the most natural way to read this (Occam’s way) would be to accept that portrayals of violence against women in at least some situations are culturally less acceptable than portrayals of violence against men.

    No, sexual violence against women is portrayed in different ways in TV ‘comedies’. Men “spill” drinks (or deliberately throw them) on women’s white or light-coloured shirts and show off their bras – or more normally, their lack of bras – and the women are shown as humiliated and embarrassed while the men laugh at getting an eyeful. Or even worse, the women are embarrassed at first but then start cooing and prancing because they suddenly have the men’s attention when the men were ignoring them before…because everything’s juuuuuust fine as long as the men are paying attention!!!! Women’s clothing gets torn (deliberately or accidentally) and the women are portrayed as shameful or slutty because someone forced them to show a bit more skin, and the women are embarrassed…and the men are getting off on getting an eyeful. It doesn’t generally include physical pain, but it’s graphically disturbing because it plays right into the “women are sexual objects and it’s perfectly cool for men to humiliate them for sexual gratification” meme.

    Part of the showcasing involves humiliation – and not just physical humiliation, but emotional humiliation. That’s definitely not a healthy message to pass along.

  32. 32
    Hertta

    There are movies where rape portayed as funny. Have you seen Crank from 2006? The protagonist, professional assassin Chev Chelios, is poisoned and has to keep his heart rate up to stay alive. There’s basically just one female character, Chev’s airheaded girlfriend. In one scene Chev thinks it’s a good idea to have sex with her in the street in Chinatown. To keep his heart racing, you know. The laughs come from the girl not wanting to have sex in public. There is grabbing and pulling and wrestling to the ground and ignoring of protestations and screams of “NO!”, as in she’s being raped.

    Of course eventually she’s so turned on, that she wants to have sex right there and then. And so they fuck with a lot of chinese people cheering them on. (Trigger warning, obviously.)

    See also the comments on YouTube.

  33. 33
    Ophelia Benson

    Ugh. Torquil, you’re derailing the thread.

  34. 34
    Torquil Macneil

    Me derailing? My last comment was many hours ago!

  35. 35
    Marvin

    This is my first comment on this abuse of female bloggers, but it does strike me that this problem seems from the UK to be either largely of a younger generation or a US based attitude that has spread through the internet. The whole “make me a sandwich meme” seems very strong and it is hard for me to understand. My only two theories are:
    1. This started among young males who noticed they were getting comprehensively trounced in educational achievement and have fallen back on gender stereotype more extreme than their grandfathers would have thought acceptable to gain some small sense of self worth.
    2. Its a computer phenomenon due to using the internet to look at porn and getting some sort of computer + women = sex always malfunction.
    The rape threats people put out are abhorrent and I don’t understand why these people can’t be talked to by the authorities or at least verbally slapped down by their peers. My quick and dirty research for the UK comes up with a figures of around 85000 reported rapes per year, now we have not had a serious terrorist attack since 2005 which only then killed 56 people. I’m sure if I threatened terrorist atrocities rather than sexual atrocities on the web I would be paid a visit.

  36. 36
    Christinia Milani

    Why didnt I think concerning this? I listen to what precisely youre stating and Im so joyful that I came across your blogging site. You actually understand what youre discussing, and you also designed me experience like I should really understand much more concerning this. Thanks for this; Im officially a big supporter of one’s blog

  1. 37
    Moderation, censorship, and The New Stasi at FtB | Lousy Canuck

    [...] far, PZ Myers and Ophelia Benson have borne the brunt of the assault by the douchebags, though Stephanie Zvan is rapidly climbing [...]

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