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Minas Tirith Forums » The Prancing Pony Archive » Online Misogyny
Author Topic: Online Misogyny
Roll of Honor Wandering Tuor
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Jessica Valenti, editor of the Feministing website, recently wrote an article for The Guardian about online harassment and abuse of women.

1. The immediate impetus for her article was (I assume) the horrific threats made against Kathy Sierra – a software programmer who runs (or ran) a techie website called Creating Passionate Users. This revolting incident has been reported previously; Valenti summarizes it as follows:

Sierra . . . announced that she had canceled her speaking engagements and was "afraid to leave my yard" after being threatened [in online forums] with suffocation, rape and hanging . . . Sierra had been receiving increasingly abusive comments on her website . . . over the previous year, but had not expected them to turn so violent - her attackers not only verbally assaulting her ("f*** off you boring slut . . . I hope someone slits your throat") but also posting photomontages of her on other sites: one with a noose next to her head and another depicting her screaming with a thong covering her face. Since she wrote about the abuse on her website, the harassment has increased. "People are posting all my private data online everywhere - social-security number, and home address - a retaliation for speaking out."
2. Valenti also describes what happened to a 23 year old law student named Jill Filipovic, who writes a blog called Feministe:

Filipovic . . . recently had some photographs of her uploaded and subjected to abusive comments on an online forum for students in New York. "The people who were posting comments about me were speculating as to how many abortions I've had, and they talked about 'hate-f***ing me . . .".
3. Finally, Valenti relates her own experience. She, along with a group of other young bloggers, was photographed with Bill Clinton.


(Valenti is in front with a grey sweater and dark hair.)

Commenters at various websites started calling her “the intern”, etc. . . . and then Ann Althouse got involved. Althouse is an allegedly center-left blogger (whose posts nevertheless always seem to be mocking liberals) and self-described feminist. As told by Valenti: "Althouse devoted an entire article (titled 'Let's take a closer look at those breasts') to how I was 'posing' so as to "make [my] breasts as obvious as possible", and noted that she 'should have worn a beret . . . a blue dress would have been good too'." And the comments at Althouse’s site were even worse:
The post. . . ended up with over 500 comments. Most were about my body, my perceived whorishness, and how I couldn't possibly be a good feminist because I had the gall to show up to a meeting with my breasts in tow. One commenter even created a limerick about me giving oral sex.
The first two incidents are obviously disturbing. The third is of a different type, but still pretty offensive IMHO. On the basis of a group photo where Valenti did the standard three-quarters pose that a lot of people use, a supposed feminist basically equated her to Monica Lewinsky and speculated that the whole group photo had been a set-up so that Clinton meet a pretty young woman. (Besides running the Feministing blog, Valenti is the "house blogger" for NARAL, so implying that she's a bimbo is a bit of a stretch, to say the least.)

In any case, this turned into quite the little blogospheric firestorm; Althouse claimed (falsely) that she wasn't commenting on Valenti's appearance or calling her a bimbo, only deriding her hypocrisy for meeting with Bill Clinton. (I guess all good feminists are supposed to loathe and shun Clinton. Or something.)

[] Has anyone seen anything like the first two incidents?

[] As to the the third incident, whose side do you take?

I think Althouse simply fell prey to the green eyed monster, wrote something stupid, and then assiduously (like some posters here [] ) ignored the First Law of Holes, kept writing ever more bizarre "explanations", excuses and digressions - she speculated that the name Feministing was a portmanteau word combining "feminist" and "fisting" ( [] ); that the Feministing website was "sexed up" with breast pictures (apparently referring to T-shirt ads), and generally acted like a horse's ass.

But I know Althouse is popular, and maybe someone will take her side.

From: My place | Registered: Jan 2002  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
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That broad in the gray sweater is hot. Nice chesticles. []
From: Chicago | Registered: Nov 2001  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Faramir Ranger Captain
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I concur with Kalkin. [] Way to go, WT.
From: california | Registered: Sep 2006  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Roll of Honor Adulithien
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a supposed feminist basically equated her to Monica Lewinsky
That this is even an insult is part of the problem. At worst, I think Lewinsky is an opportunist, and there's not necessarily even anything wrong with that. She was swayed by a charismatic man in a position of incredible power, and wanted a share of that power; I am certain that many people would be swayed by such power, especially in a society that glorifies power and status to the extent that our does, if not solely because we are all human. Plenty of men have walked down her power-seeking path, too, it's just that men aren't taught to use sex as leveraging power, and not all of them get propositioned by the Prez. []

As for seeing anything like the first two incidents, sure. Ask any sex worker who's ever had anything posted online. If there's a forum involved, all kinds of f*cked up stuff results. In the current divided, partisan political atmosphere, I would imagine this happens to plenty of people who blog about politics, too. I know a few people who blog about political issues, and this is the norm for one of them (only one because the other two are not widely-read in any stretch of the imagination). I suppose feminism will continue to fall under the "political" heading, too, as long as people in search of civil liberties are viewed with mild suspicion and women's health remains a public, politicized issue. It seems like anything that can offend beliefs of any sort could be open to this type of abuse, especially in the anonymous arena of the Internet.

Do these cases prove that people feel entitled to extreme degrees of abuse because the victims are women? Yes and no. Femininity is peripheral, here. It has little to do with sex, and everything to do with perceptions of that sex, and the degree to which that sex plus other things disrupts the beliefs of an already entitled populace.

As for Althouse, this is classic. Priviledging masculinity in a broad social context generally results in competition among women due to social heirarchy. The catfight is an invention of patriarchy... you can see this in the Ramayana as much as you can see it in Slut (i.e., you can see this across different cultures and time periods).

Even if you want to debate whether or not modern society does priviledge masculinity, I bet we can probably agree on two things: 1) If men do not have higher priviledge, this is a very recent development, historically speaking. 2) To speak of being a feminist is often to speak from a defensive position, especially when addressing society as a whole.

So in this sense, Althouse does have something to prove to higher world of men, even if this is only a perception on her part of men being in a higher class (an arrangement which a self-professed feminist must challenge or assert herself over). With this position comes a general competition with others you perceive to be peers/opponents/insults to your cause, and that seems very obviously to be what has happened here. Why else would you need to call someone out on such a completely superficial level, thereby embarassing your self as well?

From: Austin | Registered: May 2002  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Roll of Honor Aikanáro
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I pretty much agree with almost everything Addie just said [] so shall try to make this brief.

Priviledging masculinity in a broad social context generally results in competition among women due to social heirarchy.
Exactly. In its simplest form, the virgin/whore dichotomy and the way anyone not upholding the prevailing cultural standards (set by the patriarchy, of course) is considered a 'bad woman' regardless of whether or not they actually fit the usual criteria.

2) To speak of being a feminist is often to speak from a defensive position, especially when addressing society as a whole.
Ah, because culturally, 'feminist' translates to 'bitter woman who hates men because she's so very unattractive' perhaps? The reason so many young women even if they do believe in feminist ideals hesitate to describe themselves as such.

Has anyone seen anything like the first two incidents?
All the time. Most of the feminist/woman-centric blogs I frequent have complained of such things at one time or another. Only the most extreme examples are ever made widely known - the outcry over the misogynist and racist AutoAdmit for example, but the assumption is that if you're not a white male online, you're a target for such comments.

Neither is it a problem solely for left-wing women. Over at Modestly Yours, (which seems to have readersand contributors from all over the spectrum) the reasons for comment moderation were recently discussed - turns out they're getting a lot of the same offensive vitriol with regards to their appearance and/or threats that are sexual in nature.

It sickens me that some men think it acceptable to say such things about women. Any women - but especially thosethey don't know, simply because they disagree with some opinion posted on a website somewhere. It's proof enough there doesn't even need to be a debate regarding 'masculine priviledge' - if anyone has examples of women threatening and objectifying men in such a way, let me know.

As to the the third incident, whose side do you take?
This incident I haven't actually heard a lot about, but the excuse that it was Bill Clinton seems a little thin - if Althouse thought the meeting somehow hypocritical, that would have been the matter to discuss. Comments about Valenti's choice of clothing and the increasingly bizarre digressions seem to prove there was more to it than that, and I think Addie ^ has covered that rather well.

Vanima i metta nauva, nan anda ar sarda nauva i mallë.

From: Mar Vanwa Tyaliéva | Registered: Jan 2003  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Thingol of Doriath
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As for the verbal threats and attacks... I think that's an Internet phenomena. I seriously doubt that the people writing these threats are hit-men named Guido.(*) They are, more than likely, young pimply faced kids who have been locked in their bedrooms with their computers throughout their adolescence... lacking any social skills. We've seen this phenomena here at MT as well... []

Anonymity is a great dichotomy with the Internet... both wonderful at times and insidious at times. When people like Sierra, Valenti and Filipovic have a public persona on the Internet, they open themselves up to these kind of anonymous threats/attacks. If the interaction took place in "real life", these Internet bullies wouldn't dare make any of these threats... let alone act on them. They probably wouldn't dare to have even opened their mouths to voice an opinion. But under the great umbrella of Internet anonymity... [] I'm sure that Ann Althouse has herself been the subject of similar blogging... which makes her comments all the more ironic. []

A little off topic perhaps, sorry...

(*)- my apologies to all Italian-Americans for the stereotype. []

From: Sverige! | Registered: Oct 2002  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Roll of Honor Gna
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1. I checked out Sierra's techie website that WT linked, and I guess I'm at a loss to understand what exactly elicited the hateful attacks on her. She linked some of the more aggressive posts, which are truly frightening and appalling. I won't pretend to understand the motivations of her attackers, but the thought that springs to my mind is that they are somehow threatened by her knowledge and expertise. I wouldn't assume that all of her attackers are male, either-I think it's reasonable to speculate that some may be females, who also feel threatened or inadequate when confronted with a blog posted by a competent and knowledgeable woman.

2. Filipovic's blog has a weird (IMO) little graphic at the top of the page, but I don't think it's particularly outrageous or offensive. Plenty of women on this website have repeatedly expressed obsessions with or interests in weapons such as guns, knives, and swords, so it's not particularly unusual. Again, I'm at a loss to understand the attacks on any deep level.

3. I think Althouse's attacks on Valenti represent a relatively common online phenomenon: the people expressing misogyny in various hateful ways are not always male. I certainly wouldn't assume that all of the bizarre misogynistic attacks online arise from socially inept and isolated young males. The jealously or resentment from other females online is somewhat bizarre, since the positive attention from males (e.g. that expressed by Kalkin and Faramir in this thread) does not necessarily represent genuine relationship possibilities or RL competition. IMO it's more difficult to rationalize or explain than old-fashioned resentments and catfights over males and male attention that occurs IRL.

I had a strange interaction in a professional context online just the other day-I received a phone call from another scientist who wanted some reagents from me; ostensibly he had obtained my phone number and e-mail address from a recent publication of mine. That in itself is perfectly normal, because published reagents are generally made available to other scientists, and e-mail addresses and contact numbers for the senior author are included with both the e-Pub and print versions of journal articles. What was weird was that this guy also mentioned my university webpage (and the photos of myself that I'm forced to include), both in the phone call and in his subsequent e-mail. I don't think this is necessarily misogynistic or sinister...it just reminded me that I'm kind of trapped in a semi-public online representation, with which I'm not especially comfortable. [] As a not particularly physically attractive individual who is usually reluctant to be photographed, I guess I fret over possible negative and hateful remarks. But I think I have to get used to the risk.

From: Andustar | Registered: Jul 2003  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
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