November 6, 2011

Misogyny in the Blogosphere

Misogyny hard to spellThe Guardian had an interesting article yesterday, "Women bloggers call for a stop to 'hateful' trolling by misogynist men" that deserves a read. As an atheist blogger, I expect a certain amount of hate mail from Christians and Muslims. But as a man, threats of rape and other gender-specific degradation are not among the things I've faced. It is important for me - and for other men reading this - to keep this in mind and help where we can.

Recognize the Problem

The first thing that male members of the blogosphere must do is acknowledge that there is indeed a problem. Women expressing themselves are being treated in a manner some of us never see and would like to pretend was rare.
The frequency of the violent online invective – or "trolling" – levelled at female commentators and columnists is now causing some of the best known names in journalism to hesitate before publishing their opinions. As a result, women writers across the political spectrum are joining to call for a stop to the largely anonymous name-calling.
This is unacceptable and appears to be far more common than I realized. Most of us value the contributions of women and agree that they deserve far better than this.

I know some men become defensive the moment gender enters the conversation, and this is unfortunate. We need to face up to the reality that how many of us have been socialized contributes to this problem. And as I'll explain below, each of us bears some responsibility for allowing it to continue.

Be Part of the Solution

Therapy misogynyMisogyny is one of those areas where one does not have to be a purveyor in order to be part of the problem. Our silence and tacit approval can provide the context within which it thrives. This means that if we want to be part of the solution, we are going to need to stop ignoring it and be willing to speak out against it.

I'll give you a recent example. A woman I work with recently confided in me that some misogynistic comments a co-worker made really upset her. Worse yet, she explained that I was present when the comments were made and that I did not say anything. After a sleepless night and quite a bit of guilt, I realized that she was absolutely right. I hadn't reacted because I was so used to hearing that sort of garbage from this person that I had come to tune it out. After she brought this to my attention, I resolved that this would not happen again. And the next time it happened, even though no women were present, I reacted.

I commented that this co-worker did not seem to like women very much. He became very defensive and claimed he was merely joking. I said that I didn't find these particular comments funny and that I valued our female co-workers. When he said he did too, I explained that I had a hard time simultaneously valuing them and referring to them in blatantly sexist terms. I don't know if I got through to him, but I hope he thinks before opening his mouth next time. I'm not looking forward to calling him out publicly in a group setting, but I'm prepared to do that if necessary.

Here are some thoughts on how we can help to support women online:
  1. Recognize that women sometimes just want to be heard and be prepared to listen without rushing into problem-solving mode.
  2. Shut down inappropriate public comments from trolls. Threats of sexual violence are not funny and have no place in public discourse.
  3. Find alternative ways of expressing disagreement with women that do not involve gender-specific insults.
  4. Learn about male privilege and realize that even the most pro-feminist men still have it.
  5. When we see a woman speaking out, especially about a controversial subject, let her know that we appreciate her voice and her willingness to share it. Positive comments really can help someone faced with a sea of hate mail.
What would you add?

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