I’m a man, and yet I’ve *still* never threatened anyone with rape…

Right, I’ve been looking at this for a few days, and thinking about how to handle it. I mean, I’ve got to have an angle, right? If I’m going to start talking about she-bloggers being on the receiving end of horrible abuse, I’ve got to have a position.

I mean, this has been everywhere over the last week – the Guardian, making the rounds on Freethought Blogs, I’d put good money on Skepchick having covered it.*

This is the shocking news that the worst bile of the internet is reserved for ladies who blog, and that it’s past time people started talking about it.

Laurie Penny, the woman who has officially said enough is enough:

“I believe the time for silence is over,” Penny wrote on Friday, detailing a series of anonymous attacks on her appearance, her past and her family. The writer sees this new epidemic of misogynist abuse as tapping an old vein in British public life. Irrelevant personal attacks on women writers and thinkers go back at least to the late 18th century, she says. “The implication that a woman must be sexually appealing to be taken seriously as a thinker did not start with the internet: it’s a charge that has been used to shame and dismiss women’s ideas since long before Mary Wollstonecraft was called “a hyena in petticoats”. The net, however, makes it easier for boys in lonely bedrooms to become bullies.”

Cue the GIFT:

You guys know Penny Arcade, right?

Others who have stepped up include Helen Lewis Hasteley and Caroline Farrow. And those are just the people that I don’t know. Here’s Ophelia Benson getting angry and rigorous in her disemination of the evidence, and a sleep deprived Jen McCreight reading off her hate-mail a few months ago:

Anyway, what was my “in” that I found?

Thank you, Brendan O’Neill!

(And Ophelia for pointing him out.)

So, I set about rooting though, although she’d already pointed out the gold. My first gem.

“These campaigners want to stamp out “hateful trolling” by men… Who exactly is supposed to do all this “stamping out” of heated speech – The state? Well, who else could do it?”

Missing the point entirely; the original post wasn’t a plea to the government to “stop these horrible trolls”, or to any internet superheroes or white knights who were passing by. (Unless I misread it.)

It was raising awareness. Awareness of how much abuse there is. Just the sheer volume of it. Like, a couple of dustbins full a day, if you’re lucky.

It’s true that it is both an unrealistic and unappealing thought that the government might clamp down on these trolls. That isn’t what anyone wants. The only way we might possibly limit their behaviour is by getting rid of the culture of “ignore them where possible and tolerate them wherever else”. Hateful trolls are SRS BSNS.

And another clever bit of straw-manning, when talking about rape threats**:

“There is an attempt here to treat words and violence as the same thing. Indeed, the Guardian report discusses “violent online invective” and quotes a novelist complaining about “violent hate-speech”. Anyone who cares about freedom of speech should sit up and take notice when campaigners start talking about words and violence in the same breath, because to accept the idea that words are as damaging as violent actions is implicitly to invite the policing and curbing of speech by the powers that be.”

Also, an appeal to “people who care about freedom”. As if there is a line in the sand here, between “people who care about freedom” and “people who don’t want female bloggers to be harassed”. But no, he raises a valid point; there is a difference between rape threat and actually raping someone. (Or even between rape threat and actual intent, assuming you can tell easily tell the difference – you can’t.)

But wait! No-one in either article said “words are as damaging as violent actions”. In fact, he’s the one who seems to be making a claim about the violence of words compared to the violence of actions. He’s denying that there’s any comparison. At all. Words can’t harm you at all.

Whatever happened to "ideas are bulletproof"?

“If I had a penny for every time I was crudely insulted on the internet, labelled a prick, a toad, a shit, a moron, a wide-eyed member of a crazy communist cult, I’d be relatively well-off.”

That’s actually pretty funny.

“Of course it is true that the standard of discussion on the internet leaves a lot to be desired. There is a remarkable amount of incivility and abusiveness on the web. But that is no excuse for attempting to turn the internet into the online equivalent of a Women’s Institute meeting, where no one ever raises their voice or “unstintingly ridicules” another or is crude. I would rather surf a web that caters for all, from the clever to the cranky, rather than put up with an internet designed according to the needs of a tiny number of peculiarly sensitive female bloggers.”

Oooh, I can see what you’re getting at, and it’s so close, but yet so far… You’ve got the wrong end of the stick here Brendan; no-one’s claiming that the internet should become inoffensive. And if they are, I’ll join you to fight them, side by side. I love that there’s some part of the world where only strong ideas can survive, speech can be truly free and religion goes to die.

But this isn’t that. This isn’t offensive. This is silencing and threatening. Rape threats are not being offensive in the sense of telling crude jokes, or calling people names – they are telling people to shut up before you shut them up. Unending derision and gender/race/whatever based slurs aren’t funny or forward thinking. They’re just the sorts of things that make people want to keep their opinions to themselves. And a web where people are silenced is not a web I want to surf.

For my part, while I’m not a woman, and state pretty regularly that I am not, even so I’ve managed to get some pretty stupid and hateful misogynist*** crap. No rape threats yet, though, which is good. *fingers crossed*

* Oh wow, would you look at that – Feminist Frequency hasn’t. Huh. You live and learn. I’d’ve thought this’d be right up her street…

** He was clever enough to exempt this in his previous statement, by agreeing that rape threats are “of course serious”, but then trying to talk about other things. Considering the other things are insults, though, we have to assume that the violent hate speech refers to threats. Or Country Matters.

*** I always want to spell this “mysoginist” – “my” looks 20% cooler than “mi”.

Posted on November 9, 2011, in Feminism and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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