Media Re: Virtual Dystopia
posted by April 30 at 11:37 AMon
The Washington Post finally stumbled into the Kathy Sierra story today, months after bloggers were all over the story. Unfortunately, the Post’s story adopts a typical “on the one hand, on the other hand” style, suggesting that while “some female bloggers” are feeling “stifled” by violent threats, others are managing to suck it up and deal. I mean, everybody knows that if you can’t handle threats of strangulation, throat-slashing, and rape—along with the publication of your address and social security number—you’re better off being silent. Rape and death threats: the price of entry for blogging while female.
As evidence that not all women bloggers are “being stifled” (again with the passive voice!) the writer quotes Michelle Malkin—an extremely prominent right-wing blogger—telling other women bloggers they ought to get thicker skin. “‘First, where have y’all been? For several years, the unhinged Internet underworld has been documented here,’ she wrote, reposting a comment on her site that called for the ‘torture, rape, murder’ of her family.” She urged women bloggers to “keep blogging” no matter how ugly the threats may get.
But come on. Kathy Sierra (who blogged about the incredibly contentious world of software development) is not Michelle Malkin. I’m not Michelle Malkin. Very few bloggers in the world come close to Michelle Malkin’s prominence. That doesn’t justify threats against her, of course, but it is a bit unfair of the Post to cite Malkin’s experience as in any way typical of all women bloggers—as if “some women” just can’t take the heat, while “other women” can.
Even worse, the passive voice used throughout the story (bloggers “are threatened” and “made targets”) moves the spotlight onto the victims, and off the violent predators who are driving them offline. The culprits, as Shakes notes, are “painstakingly not mentioned to the point of utter silliness,” resulting in paragraphs like these:
A female freelance writer who blogged about the pornography industry was threatened with rape. A single mother who blogged about “the daily ins and outs of being a mom” was threatened by a cyber-stalker who claimed that she beat her son and that he had her under surveillance. Kathy Sierra, who won a large following by blogging about designing software that makes people happy, became a target of anonymous online attacks that included photos of her with a noose around her neck and a muzzle over her mouth.
As women gain visibility in the blogosphere, they are targets of sexual harassment and threats. Men are harassed too, and lack of civility is an abiding problem on the Web. But women, who make up about half the online community, are singled out in more starkly sexually threatening terms — a trend that was first evident in chat rooms in the early 1990s and is now moving to the blogosphere, experts and bloggers said.
Does it matter who’s doing the targeting, the threatening, the harassing? Of course it does. By failing to talk about the perpetrators of these online crimes, the Post implicitly says it’s OK for men to threaten women, publish their personal information, and bully them into silence. The only solution the offer: Get thicker skin. The obvious alternative—prosecuting the men who are doing the threatening, the publishing, the bullying—goes unmentioned.