As some of you may remember, back when the online harassment was first focussed on this website and some of the contributors at Freethought Blogs, I started a series of guest posts where I reached out the the men who were leaders in our community to weigh in on what they saw happening. It was a very successful series with 20 contributions. The series was called, Speaking Out Against Hate Directed at Women. I will link to the posts in that series at the end of this article.
It was a very popular series for many reasons. The series gave some of the leaders a way to speak out against the harassment that we had begun to see, at a time when none of us were really sure how to deal with it. It can be difficult when you see the people in your community being targeted with harassment and you don’t know what to do about it. It was also popular because it showed where the majority of the leaders, who happened to be men, stood on the issues.
A few weeks ago there was a post on Ms Magazine blog called, How Some Men Harass Women Online and What Other Men Can Do to Stop It by Ben Atherton-Zeman. It has been making the rounds again because it gives some good, practical advice as to actual things you can do when you see online harassment. The article gave 10 examples of actions you can take to be an ally to the women being targeted without participating in what is known as, White-Knighting. Here is part of that list of suggestions:
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.
2. Reach out to the target of the abuse. Ask her what she’d like to you do, if anything.
3. Write, “I think you’re right,” in Comments sections of articles, Facebook postings etc. of feminist women. Whether or not they’ve been harassed or attacked, agree with them and do so publicly.
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.
The final 5 suggestions can be found in the original article. One of the important take home messages from this article is that we need to raise the social cost payed by harassers in our communities. For a long time there has been little consequence to bad behavior online. This is especially true for people who roam the internets with pseudonyms. With anonymity comes a sense of power in trolling and online abuse. But we are not powerless in our response. If more people to speak up and say this type of behavior is morally reprehensible and it is not an acceptable part of an enlightened, secular future, then we can put a stop to it or at the very least marginalize and dull it’s effects.
Remember, there are things we can do to combat the negativity. Raise your virtual voices. Speak out. It makes a difference.
Over the past month I have had quite a few people ask me if they could contribute to the Speaking out Against Hate series. And after rereading the Ms Magazine post and realizing what a difference it makes to give people a chance to speak up and a forum on which to do so, I have decided to occasionally revisit the original series with guest posts from members of the secular community. This time around, I will open it up to men and women who wish to speak out against the hate and online harassment that has attempted to overshadow the good of our community. I will, in each post, link to all earlier posts on the subject so it’s easy to revisit the foundation that this series was built on. If you want to speak out against the hate directed at women and would like to submit a post for consideration. Please use the contact link on our website and let me know.
And now to kick off this second part in the series, I present to you a short essay by Russell Glasser.
Broadly speaking, I’m into geek stuff. Some of my biggest hobbies — computer games, programming, and atheism — were extremely male-dominated for most of my early life. I didn’t understand why this should be so, but I could see obvious evidence of it in the gender ratios of my college classes, and the behavior of guys on the internet. I would frequently read articles on game development sites about how to address the gender ratio, but a lot of the solutions seemed offensively stupid to me, like producing more games about dating, cooking and cleaning. Often they carried a heavily implied message that women just want more touchy feely stuff in games so they’d be better at them, because “analytical” stuff is for male gamers. (Subtext: women are dumb.) Recognizing this pattern helped me realize that the gender imbalance was not just based on circumstance or differences in brain chemistry; being unwelcoming to women was in some ways ingrained in the institutions.
I know a lot of women gamers. My little sister grew up playing Super Mario with me. My wife has a great head for strategy, beats me at competitive shooters, goes for 100% completion in platformers, and gets crazily obscure MMO achievements. As an enthusiastic nerd myself, I have regularly enticed the people in my life to try and enjoy the games I like, regardless of their gender.
There are things that give me pleasure and satisfaction, and I would like them to be available to as wide a group as possible, not just niche interests. Thus, the more gender balanced my hobbies have become, the happier I’ve been. But a lot of men do not like this. Gaming used to be more of a boys’ club, and the relentless hostility towards women like Miranda Pakzodi and Anita Sarkeesian makes it clear that some of the boys would prefer that it to remain that way forever.
Likewise, atheist activism has previously been extremely slanted towards men. For a couple of decades I’ve often heard my fellow atheists speculate about why more women aren’t active in the movement. As with gamers, many times the (wrong) answer is put forward that women just aren’t that interested because they’re not good at critical thinking, or they aren’t aggressive enough to have the arguments. But I know firsthand that many of the women in the community are brilliant, passionate, and well-spoken.
When I write a blog post or express an opinion that people hate, I get vigorous disagreement, and I might even get called an idiot because of what I said. But over and over, I’ve seen totally disconnected criticism aimed at posts written by wome. Like: “Well, she’s a pretty girl, so obviously she is dumb.” Or: “She’s ugly, so I don’t care what she says.” Or people think it would be funny to ignore the post and ask “Why aren’t you making me a sandwich?” Or even some variation of: “I hope you get raped,” followed by graphic descriptions of the rape they would like to see.
This isn’t normal social behavior. Part of it is just the anonymity of the Internet — what the Penny Arcade guys refer to as the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory. But when I compare my online experiences to that of my women friends, it’s pretty obvious to me that I don’t get dismissed for my appearance or sexuality, or threatened sexually, at anything approaching the same level. Conversations about women I respect such as Rebecca Watson, Greta Christina, and Jen McCreight are much more likely to devolve into rambling irrelevancies about their personal likeability, or how they look.
My concern about sexism is not just what people say to women. It’s also the kneejerk tendency to justify the behavior. Women get harassed in games? It’s just video game culture! There aren’t very many women speaking at conventions? Women just don’t understand the nuances of our subject! Some men fail to understand boundaries and ask for dates in inappropriate settings? Don’t hate on socially awkward men, they can’t help themselves!
These kinds of dismissive remarks have a much bigger effect on the conversation than the individual incidents of condescension and/or harassment could have by themselves. It may be true that in some cases, people just aren’t socially conscious enough to behave appropriately. But since an angry backlash begins every time such a conversation starts, it has the effect of legitimizing the behavior, shutting down the criticism, and making an effort to prevent changes from happening. It is a way of not taking real problems seriously, and that is a big problem in itself.
Prior posts in this series can be found here:
If I missed any contributors in the above list please let me know. It’s been a while since I last updated this series and the Surly family adopted a shelter puppy last night. With all the dog shenanigans in the last 24 hours, I haven’t gotten much sleep. If I forgot anyone just let me know in the comments and I will edit and if you would like to be considered as a guest poster in this series, send a message through our contact link.