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Mar 03 2013

One particular kind of harassment is “just a joke”

Catching up. This is from way back in January but I didn’t get to it then. It’s a post on the Ms blog about online harassment of women and what men can do about it, by Ben Atherton-Zeman.

He starts by saying that women get more online harassment than men do.

Racists harass people online; so do homophobes. Most people agree this is harassment. But my gender’s online harassment of women seems to go unquestioned, even defended, in most circles. Yet men’s online abuse of women has been well-documented by women such as Laurie Penney, Jennifer Pozner, Emily May and many other women.

“The sad part is that it works,” says feminist blogger Soraya Chemaly. “I have spoken to many, many women writers who ‘tone down’ their voices or stop writing entirely as a result of threats. … I mean, who wants to wake up in the morning to ‘Stupid cunt’ or ‘I’ll go from house to house shooting women like you.’”

Chemaly adds, “The point of the harassment, like harassment on the street, is to make the public sphere seem dangerous and to portray women as provoking a violent response through their actions.”

Pozner agrees. “It’s about the policing of women … using threats to keep us silent.”

And there isn’t much reaction, except from the targets themselves. There isn’t a great deal of blogger solidarity or human solidarity or progressive/liberal solidarity with women who are targets of harassment. That’s changing – some of that change happening right here, with you guys setting the example – but it’s slow.

But most men have remained silent, as we do with many forms of our gender’s violence against women. Many of us blame the victim, suggesting things women can do differently to ameliorate the problem. We tell women to grow a thicker skin, not to “feed the trolls” and not to assume all men feel that way.

Like Vacula. Ben A-Z missed something there: that suggesting things women can do differently to ameliorate the problem is not just victim-blaming, it’s also helping the harassers and telling the women to change what they do in order to appease people who are harassing them. It’s saying “if those harassers are harassing you for speaking out then you should stop speaking out.” It’s treating harassers like weather or a steep mountain, rather than as human beings who can decide how to treat people.

Think of the labor movement. Think of union organizing and strikes. The labor movement often encountered violence from the owners and the goon and scabs they hired. Progressives and liberals didn’t advise union organizers to stop organizing in order to avoid the violence; they did everything they could to expose the violence and to stand with those on the receiving end.

Men’s online abuse results in women hesitating to write, stopping writing altogether and fearing for their physical safety. Many women have told me that such abuse doesn’t just happen when women are writing about feminism, it happens to them all the time. Amy Davis Roth blogged about atheism and was subjected to daily harassment as a result. Roth described a “typical day” as “Wake up. Make coffee. Block hateful messages on Twitter or other social media … Make art.”

All the time. Once it starts, it doesn’t stop. Harassment becomes a career for some people (who promptly accuse the objects of the harassment who write about the harassment of “doing it for the hits”). It gets so non-stop and so obsessive that you can find two adults spending an entire hour doing a podcast to discuss a few comments that A Target made on a Facebook post. No really. I know that sounds incredible, but it’s true. Two adults, plus three callers. An entire hour. A few comments. By one person. On a Facebook post. “Dramatic reading”; discussion; more discussion; more discussion. For an hour.

Ben A-Z has some suggestions for what men can do to help.

1. Listen to women’s experience of online abuse and threats by men. Let us read articles about it – the ones linked here are a good place to start. Instead of suggesting solutions, we can take in how hurtful the comments are.

4. When men harass women online, speak up. We can say something like, “As a man, your harassing comment offends me,” in the Comments sections.  Say how it hurts you rather than speaking on behalf of the target.

5. Name the specific silencing tactic being used: name-calling, focusing on a woman’s appearance instead of her argument, etc.

7. Watch for “professional trolls” from the “Men’s Rights” or “Father’s Rights” groups. They will often use terms such as “misandry” and refer to the feminist movement as anti-male or the domestic violence movement as an “industry.”

8. Send supportive emails, letters, candygrams, etc. to feminist women. Thank them for the good work they are doing–not just when they are targets of online harassment, but all the time. “If you see someone doing good work, you can be sure they’re being told they’re fat and ugly,” says Emily May. “Nice emails counterbalance the noise.”

Good advices. You peeps are already doing them. Change is happening but my god it is slow.

Speaking of that, though – Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker signed Adam Lee’s petition a few days ago. That’s good. That’s very good.

10 comments

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  1. 1
    SallyStrange

    Dramatic readings of Facebook posts is really scraping the bottom of the barrel.

  2. 2
    EllenBeth Wachs

    Dramatic readings of Facebook posts is really scraping the bottom of the barrel.

    Doing whole podcasts on them is scraping even lower.

  3. 3
    SallyStrange

    Yeah. That too. Blech.

  4. 4
    bcmystery

    I just added a small (but ongoing) tip to the jar. I’ll increase it whenever I can. Thanks for your great work, Ophelia.

  5. 5
    Ophelia Benson

    Thanks to you, bc!

  6. 6
    Brony

    To expand on some of this.

    1. Listen to women’s experience of online abuse and threats by men. Let us read articles about it – the ones linked here are a good place to start. Instead of suggesting solutions, we can take in how hurtful the comments are.

    Also go out of your way to share these articles. Consider posting them on facebook and being willing to defend them from the people you know that are part of the problem. Its difficult but important!

    4. When men harass women online, speak up. We can say something like, “As a man, your harassing comment offends me,” in the Comments sections. Say how it hurts you rather than speaking on behalf of the target.

    Also point out that it weakens them. If they are unwilling to actually respond to a persons real argument they are making themselves weaker because they are choosing avoid the ability to support what they believe. This leaves them less able to defend their beliefs when they need to which is essentially a “flaw-building exercise” that will make them easier to defeat someday.

    5. Name the specific silencing tactic being used: name-calling, focusing on a woman’s appearance instead of her argument, etc.

    Bone up on your logical fallacies, non-literal language use, do everything possible to frame it as a betrayal of the audience because they are being dishonest, and a betrayal of themselves because it is cowardly and weakening to what a strong person should be.

    7.Watch for “professional trolls” from the “Men’s Rights” or “Father’s Rights” groups. They will often use terms such as “misandry” and refer to the feminist movement as anti-male or the domestic violence movement as an “industry.”

    Good indicators of their presence:
    *They bring up the most painful and serious example of bad things happening to men that feminists also want to see gone.
    *They bring up feminist outliers like SCUM to represent all feminists, or the most petty things that some women might do like dislike doors being held open, or some women wanting dinner paid for after dates
    *Getting sources out of them to demonstrate their universal characterizations is almost impossible

  7. 7
    Tenebras

    @1 and 2 They’re not scraping the bottom of the barrel, they’ve already dug a hole through the bottom of it and are currently scraping bedrock.

  8. 8
    Eristae

    Fuck, it peeves me that I go to that petition and sit there with my finger hovering, wondering, “Is some asshat going to go through that list and start targeting people on it?”

    Bah! I feel like a cowardly weenie.

  9. 9
    Deen

    Thanks for the link, reading it now. Small quibble:

    Progressives and liberals didn’t advise union organizers to stop organizing in order to avoid the violence;

    I bet it’s not that hard to find self-proclaimed liberals or progressives who have said pretty much exactly that. There will always be a market for people who say things like “I want the same things you do, but you shouldn’t be so militant about it (Look at me! I’m the reasonable middle!)”.

  10. 10
    leebrimmicombe-wood

    There were no end of handwringing liberals who deplored the civil rights movement for being too militant, too forward. MLK wrote about this with considerable disappointment.

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