The RP History Month’s Great Debates: Feminism, Security & the Blogosphere

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NYC Weboy brought to my attention some shameful and frightening – if woefully unsurprising – phenomena underway here on the mean streets of the blogosphere.  I urge you to read his post, because it includes all these great links that really illuminate the story, but in a nutshell:

Recently, tech blogger Kathy Sierra was subject to so much harrassment and terrorization via vile and vicious comments/e-mails that she ultimately became too petrified to leave her house.  She may even have suspended all blogging while she tries to cope with pornographic and violent photoshopped e-mailed images of herself (for example).  Ultimately, she became too scared to continue blogging freely and comfortably as she’d been doing.  Nonetheless, she successfully launched a blog-ologue (i.e., a dialogue) about her situation: prominent female – and a few male – bloggers have stepped up to weigh in on her and their blogging experiences, and the larger issue of the gendered and scantily regulated nature of the blogosphere that is home to few women and a lot of men and a whole lot of quacks who revel in the anonymity of insulting and even assaulting women in ways considered unacceptable in the “real” world.  Wesley astutely laments over a) the inability here among women across partisan divides to join together to respond to this invidious problem, and b) for some commentators to resort to tried-and-true blame-the-victim responses.  Yuck.  And spare us all the further isolation and pain. 

What follows is my thoughts on Wesley’s post and the larger issue of a resurgent feminism underway in the U.S. (originally posted as a comment on his site):

I’m fascinated and concerned by what’s unfolding here. I’m not sure I’d blame the Bush Admin. so much for the resurgence of feminism, at least not without pointing out all the demographic trends underway in this country demonstrating women’s increasing independence.  It’s these changes that are basically forcing discussion and addressing of issues that directly affect our lives, i.e., our relative lack of power in politics and business, and the work-family imbalance. For example, we see now more women living alone, or unmarried, or raising children on their own; or girls easily outpacing boys in college enrollments and school performance. These trends reflect more or less a whiter, more affluent population than the general public, while other relevant trends include the disenfranchisement of enormous groups of black men from the mainstream economy and society.  Black women across multiple income brackets have long felt the impacts of an absence of men as peers.

The Bush Admin certainly hasn’t helped translate these shifts into women’s power and autonomy, given how punitive and out-of-touch with virtually everyone’s daily lives their policies have been, but I wouldn’t overemphasize the Administration. The general conservative shift of our politics over the last 25 years has stalled policy-oriented changes needed to support women’s lives overall, even as the changing economy has given many women the economic power to improve their lives, though it’s largely oppressed further native and migrant women in low-income sectors. The confluence of women in politics with professional women trying to balance work and family could have a profound effect on politics in the coming decade, if we can keep up the cultural momentum, and as Wesley rightly points out, bridge the partisanship and internal gender divides.

All that said, the blogosphere is still new and predominantly male, and what’s playing out now is the usual divisive effects of too few women in status roles here.  I.e., because there’s so few prominent women bloggers, there’s unlikely to be the solidarity Wesley seeks. This almost never happens when pioneering women (or other minority groups) are making those first in-roads into a new area. The upside of all this publicity is generating the needed dialogue and discussion, which ideally means more women and their allies (e.g., men like Wesley) speak out, and generate the sense of community that can foster collective action about this issue.  It strikes me from the back and forth among these prominent women that they definitely don’t have any sense of solidarity to draw on in terms of feminism and/or gender issues. But we’re getting there, and this is one of many painful, initial steps.

Finally: YIKES, how scary to be harrassed and terrorized like that. And there are too many of us – women, gay men, racial minorities, to name just a few crudely bounded groups – who know too well what that’s like. How awful. Perhaps, and hopefully, Sierra will come back to blogging when she’s ready….


1 Response to “The RP History Month’s Great Debates: Feminism, Security & the Blogosphere”

  1. April 7, 2007 at 1:27 pm

    Cross posted at my place:

    You’re right, of course, that the resurgent feminism around now is a broader social trend that can’t simply be blamed on Bush failures – I didn’t mean to be that broad brush about it, but I can see where the impression could be given. And yes, I think there is something to the fact that these women don’t see themselves as “sisters” in a common struggle because there are so few and they are so preoccupied with other issues. I do think, though, that this is the first time I’ve seen such a cross-section of women so united on a topic where they can all relate, which is why I think it’s a hopeful sign that women in the blogosphere can gradually come together on women’s issues – at the very least, finding common ground on this issue.

    And just to be clear, one reason I’ve been so affected by this discussion is that it’s happened to me – because of my status at Lucianne.com as the token liberal dissenter, I’ve been subjected to all sorts of harassment over my color, my sexuality and my politics, receiving ranting, swear-filled, hate-filled e-mails that really left me shaken. It’s hard not to a) respond in kind and b) not to have some fear that these people could find you and possibly hurt you in some way. I don’t mention this to be dramatic or to look for sympathy; I’m a big Weboy and I can take care of myself. But it’s scary and disheartening and you feel very, very alone when it’s happening. And that, I think, is not so unlike other ways in which women, gays and other minorities are harrassed, so that you wind up feeling abused and alone. I’m not hopeful that things will change all that much in the short term, but I think it’s likely that out of these harrassing behaviors will come some new bonds across the blogosphere. At least, I have to have that hope.

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