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Female Bloggers Dodge Harassment, Threats

Posted by Melanie Phung on Tuesday, May 1, 2007 at 11:26 pm

Very disturbing article in the Washington Post yesterday. According to Sexual Threats Stifle Some Female Bloggers, “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.”

The author of the wonderful blog Creating Passionate Users is facing death threats. She’s just one of innumerable numbers of women who have stopped blogging or participating in online communities because of intimidation and sexual threats. The moral dilemma for me is that she says the more attention she’s getting, the worse it gets. I’m struggling over whether we other bloggers should drop the subject entirely and get her name out of the spotlight. But this is an important issue to me and I think it needs to be discussed — and nothing I say or don’t say will change this situation. What makes some people so vile? And what is it about the anonymity of the Web that turns already-vile people into full-blown sociopaths? And, specifically, whence this hostility toward women? And why?!

Some people critize female bloggers who decide to exit the space after being threatened and harassed as being thin-skinned; they say it’s “just talk”. I think those people probably have pretty poor instincts.

It reminds me of an interesting aphorims I read once: In The Gift of Fear (a book I haven’t read but have seen referenced many times), Gavin De Becker says that at core, men are afraid that women will laugh at them; and at core, women are afraid men will kill them.

I don’t know anyone who’s laughing.

Updated May 7, 2007:
Slate has an article that mirrors some of my thoughts on the issue (i.e., why “just ignore it” isn’t an actual solution to the problem).

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Comments (2)

Category: Blogging,User Behavior

2 Comments

Comment by Johnny

Made Wednesday, 2 of May , 2007 at 1:12 pm

“Some people criticize female bloggers who decide to exit the space after being threatened and harassed as being thin-skinned; they say it’s “just talk”. I think those people probably have pretty poor instincts.”

I would never critcize a female blogger for exiting because in the end, it’s her call. But it is “just talk”. It’s a low risk event, made even lower by the fact that the people have left trails talking about it — trails that can only lead back to them. So they are unlikely to do anything now, if they were likely to have done something they would have done it. Which may not be a comforting thought to women, but it’s true act when choosing behind trying to get attention by threats and actually doing something. These threateners just want attention not to do anything real.

She is still much more likely to be hurt in a traffic accident than she is by anyone threatening her through the comments of her blog and other blogs in this fashion.

Ignoring them is the best way to handle them, reacting to them is the worst.

Comment by Melanie Phung

Made Wednesday, 2 of May , 2007 at 2:09 pm

I do have sympathy for your point of view. And that’s generally how I feel about low-level bullying that just rises to the level of annoying. But sexually-explicit death threats are, IMO, in a different category.

The point isn’t really whether to react to the threats or not, or that the police might be able to trace the harassers via IP address if something did happen.

Kathy herself sums it up well:
“It really doesn’t make much difference whether the person intends to act on the threat… it’s the threat itself that inflicts the damage.

While I understand that it’s statistically probably that I’ll be in (another) traffic accident sometime soon, this thought doesn’t carry with it the sort of psychological terror that comes from knowing there are people “just talking” about torturing you. For every hundred people who “just talk” there’s probably one person who’d act on that sort of encouragement from an anonymous mob. And these people are posting her photo and address everywhere… I don’t know how one is supposed to ignore that. The odds of being stalked may be statistically low for any one individual in society, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a very real and present danger for certain people who are singled out for whatever reason.

It just makes me sad that this is the level of discourse the Web fosters (among other, more “noble” things, too, of course).

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