In a coincidence that’s meaningful to no one but me, I decided to start writing under my real name (and fantasizing about developing a broader readership) right around the same day I first heard about Kathy Sierra. Since then, I’ve been following the endless discussions about cyberbullying, anonymity, blog civility, to what degree this is the natural consequence of the internet’s fundamental character, and to what degree it’s the natural consequence of a misogynistic culture (online or off).
Everyone seems to agree it’s the natural consequence of something, anyway, and was therefore totally predictable. Being viciously, persistently attacked for the crime of Writing While Female is something practically everyone with an opinion on the matter regards as par for the course–regardless of whether they believe that fact is outrageous and deplorable or merely, you know, the way the cookie crumbles. (And regardless of whether they believe Sierra’s real mistake was Writing While Female or Writing While Having a Legal Name or Writing While Writing ‘Cause Hey, Welcome to the Internet, Sport!)
And this agreement that bitch should have seen it coming the real problem (whatever that may be) is old as the internet leads many, many people to the same handful of conclusions. It fascinates me to see how, sometimes in the same breath, people offer the following advice to bloggers, as if every bit of it is perfectly obvious, consonant with all the rest of it, and guaranteed to end the problem:
Anyone with half a brain will take precautions, including but not limited to: writing under a pseudonym, making that pseudonym male or gender-neutral if you’re one of them lady bloggers, disabling anonymous comments, masking one’s personal information, being circumspect about publishing identifying details, and not writing anything that might inflame the crazies. (Like, you know, a tech blog.)
If you fail to take all of those precautions and thus attract yourself a crazy, the proper course of action is as follows: quit being a whiny titty-baby, because no one ever carries out online threats, and it’s probably some 14-year-old in his parents’ basement anyway.
If you’re pretty sure it’s not some 14-year-old in his parents’ basement and your safety is legitimately threatened, contact the authorities. Then quit blogging if you can’t take the heat.
Either that or keep blogging, because if you don’t, the terrorists have won.
Special bonus advice for women: be afraid, be very afraid. The threat is especially real for you.
Special bonus advice for women, part 2: if you’d just quit living in fear, the threat would go away, because it’s all in your head. Liberate yourself!
Taking all of that in in dribs and drabs, separated by lots of intelligent debates and lots of pointless horseshit, I had the same reaction a lot of women have when trying to process information about online harassment and safety. It goes like this:
Half of brain: Oh my god, I’m not doing enough to protect myself. I’m such an IDIOT! Why am I using my real name? Why am I writing about issues that I know people fucking freak out about? What kind of a narcissistic twit am I anyway to think my little voice will add anything useful to the blogosphere? Why do I feel the need to do this at all? What have I already published that people could use against me? What if there are already crazies out there Googling me? They could find out where I live in ten seconds. Should I be walking the dogs alone at night? What do I need to go back and delete? The whole thing? Should I start using a pseudonym? Why did I even name my blog after myself instead of at least coming up with a clever title for this one–like, could I trumpet “KATE HARDING” just a little louder? Could I be more fucking arrogant? What is wrong with me? WHY AM I SO STUPID?
Other half of brain: Wait, WTF? All I’m doing is publishing writing under my own name–i.e., the thing I’ve wanted to do most in the world since I was six. (Okay, the thing I’ve wanted to do most in the world since I was six was actually to publish writing under my own name and get paid for it, but that’s a trivial distinction.) I take responsibility for every word I’ve written, and I’m even proud of a lot of them. Why should some imagined psycho stop me from doing what I love and taking credit for it?
First half of brain: Because that imagined psycho might turn out to be real and come after me.
Other half: Well, you know what? FUCK HIM.
First half: Way to ask for it, dumbass.
Other half: Isn’t this all moot until I have more than four readers?
First Half: That psycho could be number five. You have no way of knowing.
The conversation continues in an endless loop, but I trust you get the gist. My favorite part of Chris Clarke’s awesome post on how not to be an asshole was where he acknowledged not only that women have heard all this shit a thousand times before, but we’ve heard it from ourselves. THANK YOU. Jesus.
Both the conversation I have with myself and the advice above it, for all their contradictions, have one clear message running through them: it’s my problem to fix. Not the psychos’. Not the culture’s, to whatever extent it fails to discourage and punish the psychos, who are often not even proper psychos but perfectly sane, if very angry, assholes. Mine. Alone.
And yes, it certainly blows for men as well as women. The only person I know who’s suffered serious harrassment as a result of expressing opinions on the internet is my very large boyfriend. When it was happening, he felt frightened and powerless, which was the harassers’ secondary goal–the primary one being to make him shut up forever. They didn’t succeed at the primary goal, and this is all well in the past. But when I met him, not quite a year ago, and Googled him, as you do, I instantly found a site devoted entirely to explaining why and how my soon-to-be-boyfriend was a pathetic bitchass vile fuckwad who sat around in his parents’ basement trying to abridge people’s freedom of speech and had the i.q. of a fencepost and smelled like a monkey and deserved to be killed slowly and painfully and didn’t know shit about shit BUT OH HE WOULD LEARN WHEN TEH INTERNETS ROSE UP AGAINST HIM which was totally forthcoming and also he’d never seen a naked woman in his life.
That was still up, after all those years. Which was cool insofar as it made me laugh my ass off (followed promptly by my making damn sure he’d seen at least one naked woman in his life); much less cool insofar as it represented the merest taste of what he’d actually been through. So my boyfriend bristles when people talk about online harassment as a women’s issue. Understandably.
And to that I say, honey, I love you more than anything, and I don’t mean to diminish what you went through one bit, but maybe you should close this window now.
Because online harassment is still a women’s issue.
It’s a women’s issue because those goals up there–making somebody feel afraid of speaking, making somebody feel powerless to stop what’s being done to them, making somebody feel like the only recourse is to shut up and hide out forever–are the goals a whole lot of men still hold dear and work towards for all women.
You, dear male reader, are totally not one of those men. I know this, and I appreciate it. I really do. But here’s where all this victimy girl shit concerns you:
every time you don’t tell your buddies it’s not okay to talk shit about women, even if it’s kinda funny;
every time you roll your eyes and think “PMS!” instead of listening to why a woman’s upset;
every time you call Ann Coulter a tranny cunt instead of a halfwit demagogue;
every time you say any woman–Coulter, Michelle Malkin, Phyllis Schlafly, Condoleezza Rice, Hillary Clinton, Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, any of us–”deserves whatever she gets” for being so detestable, instead of acknowledging there are things that no human being deserves and only women get;
every time you joke about how you’ll never let your daughter out of the house or anywhere near a man, ’cause ha ha, that’ll solve everything;
every time you say, “I don’t understand why thousands of women are insisting this is some kind of woman thing”;
every time you tell a woman you love she’s being crazy/hysterical/irrational, when you know deep down you haven’t heard a word she’s said in the past 15 minutes, and all you’re really thinking about is how seeing her yell and/or cry is incredibly unsettling to you, and you just want that shit to stop;
every time you dismiss a woman as “playing the victim,” even if you’re right about that particular woman…
You are missing an opportunity to help stop the bad guys.
You’re missing an opportunity to stop the real misogynists, the fucking sickos, the ones who really, truly hate women just for being women. The ones whose ranks you do not belong to and never would. The ones who might hurt women you love in the future, or might have already.
‘Cause the thing is, you and the guys you hang out with may not really mean anything by it when you talk about crazy bitches and dumb sluts and heh-heh-I’d-hit-that and you just can’t reason with them and you can’t live with ‘em can’t shoot ‘em and she’s obviously only dressed like that because she wants to get laid and if they can’t stand the heat they should get out of the kitchen and if they can’t play by the rules they don’t belong here and if they can’t take a little teasing they should quit and heh heh they’re only good for fucking and cleaning and they’re not fit to be leaders and they’re too emotional to run a business and they just want to get their hands on our money and if they’d just stop overreacting and telling themselves they’re victims they’d realize they actually have all the power in this society and white men aren’t even allowed to do anything anymore and and and…
I get that you don’t really mean that shit. I get that you’re just talking out your ass.
But please listen, and please trust me on this one: you have probably, at some point in your life, engaged in that kind of talk with a man who really, truly hates women–to the extent of having beaten and/or raped at least one.And you probably didn’t know which one he was.
And that guy? Thought you were on his side.
As long as we live in a culture where the good guys sometimes sound just like the misogynists, the misogynists are never going to get the message that they are not normal and that most people–strong, successful men included–do not hate women.
When you trivialize what even the women you love are saying to you, when you let sexist remarks slide, when you insist that women view things from your perspective (rational! calm! reasonable!) because you don’t feel like trying to see theirs (emotional! hysterical! nuts!), when you sit around laughing with other men about how crazy chicks are before you go home to the wife and daughters you love more than life and always treat with respect, when you say the fact that online harassment disproportionately affects women somehow doesn‘t mean we should be considering it through the lens of women’s experiences in particular, you’re not fucking helping. You’re being willfully obtuse. You’re enjoying the luxury of not having to take what we’re telling you seriously–and that’s why we get so goddamned frustrated and angry and hysterical.Because we don’t have the option of not caring about this shit, and you just keep telling us not to.
And because the really bad guys don’t pop out of thin air as fully formed misogynists. They need encouragement and reinforcement in order to completely miss the fact thatthere’s something deeply fucking wrong with them. Subtle sexism gives them that. Keeping your mouth shut about overt sexism gives them that. Not really listening to the women you love, let alone women you don’t even know–thereby being one more guy sending a message to women that we’re only worth listening to on men’s terms–gives them that. Telling yourself and anyone who will listen that that’s just the way it is, and people need to quit whining gives them that. How can they clue into the fact that there’s something deeply fucking wrong with them when so many guys are acting just like they do in public, or at least never calling them out?
And that goes double on the internet. It’s all well and good to advocate for ignoring trolls, except for the part where they don’t go away. They replicate like fucking Gremlins, and not a few of them are nakedly hostile toward women just for being women. And whenever a woman says, “Hey, anyone else notice how trolls especially go after women and say some shockingly hateful shit, apparently just because we’re women?” tons of good men come out of the woodwork to say, “Hey, trolls do this to everyone, not just women!” and “Maybe they just don’t like what those particular women were saying!” and “The reason you’re not taken seriously is that you insist on playing the victim!” and “I’m not a dick, so this hurts my feelings!” Not nearly as many say, “Yeah, wow, good point.”
(In case my beloved ignored my directive to get lost earlier: Thank you for being one of the latter, especially in light of your own experience with harassment.)
I read a lot of feminist blogs. I read what fat acceptance blogs there are out there. I read the comments–the moderated comments–and from those, I know bloody well the only reason I haven’t yet heard I’m a worthless cunt who deserves to be raped is that nobody knows I exist yet.
If the internet ever figures out that I exist, you can be damn sure I’ll hear that and worse. And if it escalates into something truly frightening, one of the first things people will say is that it could have been avoided if I hadn’t been so stupid as to blog under my own name, to make it so easy for people to hurt me.
This theoretical trauma could also have been avoided, of course, if I’d never blogged at all. If I hadn’t fallen in love with writing when I was six. If I’d developed a talent for something else. If I’d been born male. If I’d not been born at all–shit, if I’d only had the foresight not to be born at all, I wouldn’t have been raped when I was 17, either. Seriously poor planning on my part–everyone knows the more invisible a woman is, the safer she is. You can’t get more invisible than not existing!
My generation of women was taught to believe we could grow up to be anything we wanted to be. All I can ever remember wanting to be is a writer named Kate Harding. Not a firefighter or a cop or a soldier or an astronaut or a dogcatcher or anything anyone worried might be remotely dangerous. Just a writer named Kate Harding.
So that’s what I am, and will continue to be, because I love it and I don’t know how to be anything else. But it is fucking dangerous, as it turns out. Dangerous because I use my real name and especially dangerous because it’s a female name.
But hey, that’s my problem to deal with. I should probably quit whining now.